Thursday, 10 January 2013

A Discussion on "Chumbi Seogi/Ready Stance"

As an instructor I usually teach beginners first the "attention stance" or "Charyot Seogi", then the bow, followed by "Chumbi Seogi" (ready stance) followed by Juchum Seogi (horse stance) and low block (Arae Makki). Other teachers teach in a different order, but I feel this order shows of much of Traditional Taekwondo Philosophy. But I am digressing (allready!) and to get us back on track; the point is that Chumbi Seogi or ready stance is one of the first things beginners learn in Traditional Taekwondo Dojang no matter wich "style" of Taekwondo you belong to. The instruction varies from "Copy my movement and look serious" instruction, to a more detailed one where the instructors shows the student all the movement details (how wide the stance is, where the toes point, the weight ratio of each leg, etc etc) and if he is lucky (the student that is) he is also taught to breathe along the movements. Unfortunatly this is where it starts and stops for most Taekwondoin, they perfect the movement but it is somehow "shallow" and it is only done because of "Tradition". Note this article discusses "Gibon Chumbi Seogi" from now on refered to as Chumbi Seogi. Below you will see a clip from how Kukkiwon wanted it performed in 1995. Today the hands are opened completly and then made into fists as they come to the solar plexus. 97% the same as this clip demonstrates:-) Look at 0:11 seconds into the clip.

I honestly believe that there is so much more to the Chumbi Seogi than what meets the eye, so it is a shame that the instuction is only focusing on movement with little to no "content".

Many are wondering what Chumbi Seogi really means, as ready stance sounds so simple. The esoteric movements, the breathing and the importance Traditional Taekwondo put on the Chumbi Seogi makes a lot of students to believe that "Ready Stance" is an overly simplified translation from Korean. That is not the case as "Chumbi" literally means "Ready" and it is used in everyday language. Chumbi Undong is what we would term "Warm up" (for training) in Korean. It simply means ready training.

The esoteric movements, the breathing is not meant to be used as "ready" as in this position you are ready to face all opponents or it is the ultimate fighting position as some others have stated in the past. It is as much a mental excersice as it is physical movements. It is "Mind-Body Training" in that you are using physical movements and breathing to get your mind ready for the excersice. In our training we usually do Chumbi Seogi before each and every Poomsae, in between all the Matchoe Kyorigi, every time we change technqiues in Gibon Dongjak training (basic techniques) etc. To sum it up: We do Chumbi Seogi a lot during training and every training! I know that our Dojang is not very special in this regard but many do not really stop to think why Taekwondo stress this movement so much that you do it so many times during practise. In more modern Dojang the Chumbi Seogi might only be relegated to Poomsae practise but there is a reason why it both starts and ends with Chumbi Seogi:-)

Like I wrote in the introduction I first teach the attention stance (Charyeot Seogi) followed by bowing followed by Chumbi Seogi followed by a "defensive" technique. The reason behind this is that first you must learn to have attention so you can learn something (attention stance). You then need to learn humility as we are going to study something potentially dangerous (to others) techniques (the bow). Then you must practise to use your mind and body together for maximum benifit (Chumbi Seogi). At last we can start to learn techniques, but we begin with a defensive one (first taught as a "block") to learn that we never start a fight.

To fully understand Chumbi Seogi you need to learn something from the culture that spawned Taekwondo. It was imported through different sources but the melting pot were everything was put together into one system was in Korea. Researching traditional Korean thinking and culture is therefore a worthwile endevour in my book:-) Not really neccesary for those practising Taekwondo as a way to get fit or learn a fun sport or something like that, but for those who wants more researching Korean culture is one way to understand the system that we practise today.

The seemingly unrelated topic you should look closer at when studying the meaning of Chumbi Seogi is "Ki".

"Ki" is often translated as "energy" or "life force". Actually the concept of "ki" runs a lot deeper than the usual translations let us believe. Ki is something all encompassing that connects every living thing. Not only that but it also manifests itself in very different ways; concentration of hard Ki manifests itself in stone and hard material things, lighter Ki becomes water and etheral Ki can be called gasses. I like to think of Ki as natures building blocks and processes. In Asia you talk about weather Ki, and explonations about different persons as having good Ki (good guys that makes you feel safe) and bad Ki (bad guys you do not want to meet).

Specific to Martial Arts Ki is often used to explain things we can explain as bio mechanicly efficient methods. These things can be studied in a western scientific way as power generation etc.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Ki is closely associated with bloodflow, breathing and body movement among other things and it is here that Chumbi Seogi comes in. I know that this is a very poor sumary of the subject of "Ki" but it is an enourmous subject that varrants its own seperate post or series of posts.

Some think of Chumbi Seogi as an empty ritual done before and after basics and patterns, but for me Chumbi Seogi is "Ki" training. Here we use "Danjun breathing" along with hand movements in a good body posture (back is erect, feet shoulder with apart, toes pointing forward, the three energy centers are aligned).

First lets look at the body posture: your feet are one foot length apart or shoulder with apart from each other. Kukkiwon today uses foot lengths as these are easier for practisioners to measure during training as they can not see their own shoulders. The feet are paralell and the toes are pointing forward. Here the feet are perfectly balanced to move in any direction, and it is a relaxing natural way to stand. The Danjun (energy point a few inches below the navel), the Mjeung Chi (solar plexus) and "Mi Gan" (the "third eye" energy point in the middle and one inch above the eyes) are in a perfect line, giving the Ki a good way to flow through the body or as in the western way to look at it a good "body posture". Standing like this along with the feet in the correct position gives the body a natural healthy posture that does not stress any ligaments or muscles uneccesary. Most back and neck pain is actually caused by bad body posture like slanting etc. Bad body postures in the west can easily be identified as body postures where the three energy centers do not align in one straight line.

The hands then open and form a V shape along the "Danjun point" and as you breathe in you gradually close the open hands and form fists instead, lifting them to Mjeung Chi or the solar plexus (here the hands should be fully formed into fists) and then start to lower the fists down again while breathing out. The end position is the hands at the height of Danjun one fists length away from the body and with the empty space between the fists also one fists lenght. Many overlook the breathing simplifying it to breathe in on the way up and breathe out on the way down. The correct method of breathing is called Danjun breathing where you try to breathe all the way down to Danjun. Your belly should be completly inflated at the maximum inbreath. Google "Danjun breathing" or Danjun Hohop (hohop means breathing in Korean) to see articles on this subject:-)

Body posture, body movement, Danjun breathing and linking everything together as in Chumbi Seogi is a kigong excersice if I ever saw one. Kigung is training for development of Ki power. Chumbi Seogi should also focus your mind automaticly into the "now" if done correctly as the brain and internal organs gets a healthy dose of oxygen (the use of the abdominal muscles in danjun breathing along with the actual breathing:p ). This focus on the "now" is the reason why it is called the Chumbi Seogi or Ready stance.

Martial Arts are often catagorized in "internal" and "external" categories. Another way is "soft" martial arts vs "hard" Martial arts. Taekwondo is often put in the external, hard category but the huge numbers of times we do Chumbi Seogi during each session does provide a thought provocing glimpse that maybe Taekwondo is not so external and hard as most people think.

I see that there are many variations on the Chumbi Seogi around the world, as it too has gone through an evolution as has most of Taekwondo since its infancy. 13 years ago when I first learned Chumbi Seogi we would stand up on our toes at the maximum in breath and we would "jerk" the last part of the movement when breathing out. At my first trip to Korea in 2006 however I learned to keep rooted throughout the movement(s) and to keep a smooth pace throughout. On youtube and during competitions I have seen many practisioners lift the hands all the way up to the chin or shoulders when lifting them up during the in breath. My teacher say this is bad "Ki training" because you mesh the different types of Ki together. You should start at Danjun height and at the top height you should be level with Mjeung Chi (solar plexus). Lifting and focusing your Ki higher involves using the third eye energy center and according to my teacher this is not good. I checked the Kukkiwon textbook and it verified that the hands should not be lifted any higher than the Solar Plexus.

Here you can see one videoclip
where the practisioner lifts his hands too much.

Another common variation is the millitary super hard, and super fast chumbi seogi. This is a bastarised way of doing a Ki excercise and is just a hollow ritual without any content. In this variation the performer simply lifts his hands and lovers them again in the correct position at a very fast pace. For some reason the performers I see doing this are often from USA so it might have started as a variation by one of the Taekwondo pioneers. It is easy to see that all the benifits with posture, breathing and body movement comming together as one unit to focus the mind is lost in this way of doing it.

An important point in the performance is not to move your elbows around. The lifting of the arms should come as a pure movement of bending the elbows. Lifting the elbows makes the shoulders involved and they should be no part of the movement. The shoulders should stay down throughout the movement. Another important point to notice is that from "Moa Seogi" or feet close together it is ALWAYS the left foot to move to Chumbi Seogi not the right foot. This was explained to me as part of Um (Yin) and Yang philosophy.

My own teacher has recently introduced his own variation on the Chumbi Seogi. It starts identical as the normal Kukkiwon one, but at the maximum height of lifting the arms the arms are drawn a little back to the sides and then it continues back into the same ending point as in the Kukkiwon Chumbi Seogi. The reason for this change in movement? My teacher has studdied Kigong in Korea for many years now and he feels moving the arms to the sides makes the Danjun breathing process more natural. The hands move to the side and back making the inflation of the stomach and Danjun more naturally.

Currently I am teaching both methods as frankly I like the new variation that my teacher has made but my students would be deducted point if they do that in a Poomsae Competition. The variation is a well thought of, well intended and well explained (through the view of Ki training) but that is not what the judges in a competition is looking for.

In my own training I have completly gone over to my teachers variation.

Some people have speculated that the different chumbi seogi does have martial intentions/applications. Personally I am not convinced that they have, maybe except for Tongmilgi Chombi as seen in Poomsae Koryo. Richard has a great article on that ready posture complete with applications in Totally Taekwondo Magazine as well as a video clip on youtube:-) I see them as a counterweight to the "hard" training we do. I think that the frequent Chumbi Seogi is a way for us "hard" stylists to keep a balance between "hard" and "soft". After all we do Chumbi Seogi before we practise something and after we have practised it. In our Dojang we start with Chumbi Seogi, we then do basics but each time we change a technique, or combination we first get back in Chumbi Seogi before doing the new thing. Before doing a form we do Chumbi Seogi, after doing the form we do Chumbi seogi.

If you want a martial application to the movement though you could make the case of it being a defence against a grab of your wrists. Lift up, rotate over his hands and push down again. This should releace the grip he has. Personally for me the Chumbi Seogi is not a martial technnique but more a Ki gong excersise.


  1. Hello
    good post! i offered to post an article to TTD on the energy "clearing" of this motion as it relates to many kinds of Chi Kung styles. the editor preferred swallow form as he thought it sounded nice. Just as well, i am quite content to have you do the heavy lifting!

    a couple of considerations i would like to add.

    i remember when i was doing Japanese sword work (Toyama Ryu) how fascinated i was to see that the complex etiquette of kneeling/standing/presentation/examination of the blade so neatly fit the martial aspect of not getting caught by a sneak attack. that was when i began to realize that much of the motions we do have multiple levels of meaning.

    the key here "the intent defines the content and the effect". we can practice Tai Chi as a health exercise, or as a martial art. the motions remain the same, the intent behind them changes.

    my understanding of the classic ready stance, and the way i have always demonstrated it in its martial terms, was to have the feet turn slightly inward (removes the most vulnerable accupoints on inside of legs away from frontal attack, tightens lateral leg muscles, and stabilizes hips), the hands (fists) then strike outside to in @ 45 degree angle aiming for the ST25 area on both sides of body. this literally folds them over and takes much of the fight out of them.

    again-this does not take away from the Chi-Kung aspect. you do the motion for one or the other, but the mind must know which one it has decided upon.

    on a closing philosophical note: the attention stance (if relaxed) is comparable to the Wu-Ji (void) stance found in much of the internal arts. the left foot moves (male side, most martial arts were male) you then move into the Tai Chi--that is the world we live in. the one of opposites. So it is that every time we make that step, we move into, and make a statement that we are alive. I like the thought.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and your additional thoughts. I really appreciate that you take your time to comment:-)

      I like your observation: "the intent defines the content and the effect". I actually wrote something very similar in a book on Poomsae that my organisation published. The difference between a "hollow" Poomsae practise and a "deep" Poomsae practise can not be seen as it is happening inside the practisioners mind.

      And that last part was golden! I am so going to use that information next time I teach beginners:-)

  2. hello
    i forgot. since you have an interest in the "old ways" of doing things, i posted a video on a classical bunkai for a middle block on my channel:

    hope you find it of interest

    1. Hi Richard. I commented the clip in another post:-) I guess it "drowned" in all the other comments. I love the application you show here, and it is (by coincidence?) the same one I have for the same movement (I do have some variations too). I see the high block as a variation (lifting the arm up, or moving in doing the blocking motion in the opponents armpit to take away his "root". The singel knife hand block where the chamber is outside (modern kukkiwon way of doing it) is another variation (at least to me).

      Great job and I think what you do is important to Taekwondo because there is very very little videos about Taekwondo`s applications out there. You give out quality information:-) Your Bassai application was also very impressive (allthough I do not practise the form myself you did make me think on other techniques present in my forms in a new way).

  3. Thank you guys for all the information here. I have what I came looking for, plus some!

    1. You're welcome:-) happy to hear you found more than what you were looking for.