Monday, 8 April 2013

Creating your own Poomsae?

Creating your own Poomsae? Many people would scuff at even the idea of creating your own
Defense against double wrist
grab followed by kick.
Poomsae. Our official Poomsae are sacred and holy. They are ancient forms developed over thousands of years through the history of the Korean people and they are perfect in themselves. Well that seems to be the general idea in Taekwondo, but the truth is that our Taegeuk Poomsae was introduced in the early 70s and our Black belt Poomsae was started in development in 1965 byt the KTA (Korean Taekwondo Association).

I love our Poomsae do not get me wrong, but I also think that creating your own Poomsae might help you and your understanding of the official Poomsae that we allready have. I have created several Poomsae over the years, but I have also discarded them after a while and I have never taught them to anyone else. My creative poomsae are mine and mine alone and I have only done them to help me understand what we allready have, not looking to outdo the KTA masters.

In one of my favorite Blogs Dan Djurdjevic has written extensivly about creating Kata (Hyung/Tul and Poomsae). He came up with three main reasons to create a Kata and in the quote below from his post Creating a kata part 2 you will see the reasons he sees for creating new Kata.

"As I said in Creating a kata: Part 1, you create a kata in order to:
    1. package and preserve "fragments" of knowledge; or
    2. fill a void; or
    3. improve existing forms." -Dan Djurdjevic
My creations would go into reason one, I have tried several times to rearrange sequences and techniques from around the Kukkiwon forms to make one form that drills my favorite applications in a logical manner.

The earliest attempt at making my own Poomsae was started a year or two after I "discovered" the whole new world of Taekwondo when you start analysing your forms for applications. I took my favorite applications, and one step sparring techniques and strung them together in a rather nifty way:p This way I got to train my favorite applications in a logical manner doing one Poomsae instead of doing all the Poomsae where I practised a bunch of things I did not understand and only a little that I did understand. The problem was that the more I analisyd and found answers to, the longer my "Eungyoung Poomsae" (Eungyoung = practical application) became. I discarded it when I realised I had applications to all the single techniques in the forms so I practised my applications through official Poomsae eventhough the flow might be a little off. (The next goal was to find applications that flowed with the form or at least in sequence with other techniques from the form.).

My next "Creative Poomsae phase" was to create mnemonics for stuff I needed to remember. For instance after going to seminars or practising with martial artists from differend styles, if I found something I liked and thought missing from Poomsae I would string them together into a form so I remembered what I had learned. I guess this is how one of the most famous Kata of Karate was invented by Tode Sakugawa;

Tode Sakugawa was a martial artist in Okinawa a few houndred years ago. He was an accomplished martial artist in the local fighting style of Okinawa and very cocky too in his yuth at least if the oral stories are true. One day when Tode Sakugawa was young there was a Chinese (some even say he was Korean) emisary that visited Okinawa. For some reason Sakugawa out of the blue tried to throw this Chinese official into a nearby river. What Sakugawa did not expect however was that the Chinese official was a highly skilled martial artist himself, using Sakugawas own strength against him he threw Sakugawa into the river.Sakugawa begged him for lessons in his martial art and after studying with him and the official traveled home he made the Kushanku Kata named after the official that taught him the techniques within the form.

According to both Iain Abernethy and Patric Mcharty (both famous for their research in Karate) the forms that Taekwondo is built upon (the proto Taekwondo came from Chinese Quan Fa, Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Shudokan base) were mnemonic devises to remember and teach the system. The key movements of the system were grouped together into longer strings of movements to help remembering things. So the applications came first, then the forms were created to remember the applications. The thing with mnemonic devises though is that it is not always they show excactly how the application is done in real life. Sometimes Mnemonic devises can be pretty abstract. In fact some research do show that the more abstract and surreal the mnemonic the more effective it is at retaining knowledge.

For instance in the army we had to first know the 6 safety rules for handling weapons before being issued with one. I had a hard time remembering them all untill a friend gave me a sentence to remember them by: "ti sure lange tær har vi" (translated it is: "We have ten sour smelling toes"). The first letter in each word of the sentence corresponded with the first letter of the safety rule. So the first rule started with a "t", the second with a "s" etc. That seemingly abstract sentence has made it simple for me to remember the safety rules so I have no problem retelling them today 9 years after I was finished in the army!

I am not saying that in Taekwondo forms today there are movements that are "abstract" mnemonic devises that do not have a real application in its present form, but the root arts of Taekwondo did in my opinion most likely have them if the Kata or Hyung were indeed mnemonic devises.

My most recent creation (and the only one I still practise) is a form containing all the Ho Sin Sul (Self Defense) techniques against Palmok Jabki (holding of the wrist). I will try to videotape it once my shoulder is Ok, but for now here is what I learned creating the form as a mnemonic devise.

  1. The form starts with gibon chumbi seogi. This is simply done so I get the Kigong benifits of doing the movement and the bonus of the hands being in the end position they are the most natural thing for an opponent to grab if they want to stop me from running away etc (the hands are low and forward).   
  2. Move left foot forward to long front walking stance and I do a pull out with my left arm and continue with an outward knife hand strike to the throat. The pull out is simply the "chamber" for the strike so it is one movement.
  3. I move the right foot forward in long front walking stance and do the same with the right arm.
  4. I move the back leg forward into horse riding stance, and both arms first shoot upwards, then down toward the hip and then up again in agyson/khaljebi mok chigi (throat strike with the web of the hand)
  5. Same place without moving I do sonnal arae hecho makki (open hand spreading lower block) wich flows into inward knife hand strike with both arms.
  6. Same place I do an outward middle spreading block palms facing me, flowing into reverse knife hand strike to the throat with both arms.
  7. I move my right foot a little forward and then swing my left leg back using my right foot as a pivot pint as I do a low block and end up in horse riding stance. I am now facing my starting point)
  8. I do the same with the opposite arm/ foot, facing once again to the front.
  9. I turn 180 degrees into cat stance and do a low spreading block with open arms, front kick with
  10. I do an open handed midle spreading block, grab the opponents head and do a headbut (yes we practise headbutting in our school), and knee him in the head (not in the self defense techniques but logical follow up) I land in horse riding stance and deliver a downward elbow strike to the back of the opponent.
 (I did leave out a sequence wich was very difficult to describe so it is not complete)

All this is done against wrist holding. Most are at the "same side" (i.e the opponent holds your left arm with his right arm) but there are also against "crossed grabs".

This is why I did it: I had a hard time remembering them (I know a lot of defenses, but recently there were 8 that everyone had to know. I think this was done to ensure everyone at least practise some self defense regularly and not "grading panic". As an instructor I have to teach these 8 defenses so I needed to remember them).

First I just did them one at a time, first on the right side and then on the left side and the footwork was as in application. This took a lot of space and it felt very long as a mnemonic devise (I did not like how long I did it as it took away from my training time and even though I did the movements there were no opponent so it was of limited benifit. I only needed to remember the techniques..)

Then I did them all without footwork in horse riding stance still first on the left side and then on the right side. Still it was too long and not effective as some of the techniques require some footwork to get the application right. I then did all the techniques at the same time with the right and left arm but still in horse riding stance. This was a step in the right direction as I practised both sides at the same time, but I got no footwork on those who were difficult.

I experimented some more and I am know starting to get found of the end result. I stop and I start at the same place, I dropped uneccesary footwork to get the form compressed so I did not have to have a lot of training space, I have included footwork in the beginning that I dropped in later techniques that uses the same kind of footwork. As it is allready shown I do not want to show it again, pluss I can do it in smaller spaces. The "advanced" footwork is included and the "advanced techniques are done as is. I now have no problem remembering the applications at all, and I can teach the 8 wrist defenses just thinking about the form I created. So when I do the form I do get some applicationt training in the sense that I do the body movement, when teaching the form is a powerfull mnemonic as I just think about the form and what comes next.

Move 1 the opening stance is explained above. The first two moves after that wich simply looks as two outward knife hand strikes are really defenses against same side wrist holding. You pull out against the thumb (toward your opposite ear) and then move your body weight forward as you deliver the strike with the arm you just freed. The defense flows into offense in one movement.

The horse riding stance section uses the same footwork in application, and is done with one arm at a time in application, but to save time I do the single arm movements together at the same time. What struck me was that some applications done with both arms really looked like technices from the forms (the wedge or spreading blocks both low and middle for instance). I took away the footwork as it was shown in move 2 and 3 (the outward knife hand strikes).

The next section I call "The Hapkido Dance Section" as the footwork we use is identical to the Hapkido dance I learned while in Korea. It is of course not really called the hapkido dance, but we jokingly called it that as that was what it looked like we were doing while practising it:-) Essentually you put one foot forward a small step, and then swing the other one around 180 degrees while pivoting on the foot you first moved forward. You can also do this 90 degrees. The footwork can be used in a large number of locks, throws and kicks so my Hapkido teacher said it was the essence of Hapkido.

Anyway the first one is a reversing of grip and straight arm lock (the low block in horse stance), the other using a similar foot work is a wristlock. The second one is difficult to explain so I omitted it from the form description above. Since these are unique way of doing footwork in the form, and the footwork is essentual for the applications I have kept them in the form also. This way I practise all the essentual movements to help the applications.

I then move into a cat stance while doing open handed low wedge block.This is a defense against a double wristgrab (the opponent grips both your wrists). You roll your hand outside of his, over than down releasing the grip, kick him and follow up with two punches. The cat stance is to show how to transport your body weight into the technique and it sets up the kick nicely.

Next I move forward and do a midle section wedge block openhanded palms facing me, here again against a double wrist grab I release by moving up and out against the thumbs. This is followed by a headbut and knee to the opponents face and a personal addition landing in horse stance and delivering a downward elbow strike. The stance is for getting the weight down with the strike, the strike is logical follow up and it is rare in our forms so I wanted to include it here.

What did I learn? 

  • Sometimes footwork is shown, other times it is implyed or not shown at all.
  • The stances are for body weight transition into the applications, not static stances.
  • Sometimes the techniques can be done in "abstract ways" to condense the form as a mnemonic devise (single handed techniques done in unison in my form is an example of this).
  • The techniques in the form can be larger than in application to practise the direction of power in the applications (some large wedge block in my form are very small in the application). 
  • Starting and ending at the same spot is not important other as a practical usage of training space (at least in my form).
  • Each Taekwondoin will have different ways of doing their applications. The way I do the movement in my form could be expressed in other ways allowing for the same form to have a multitude of variations. This is why I think in Karate styles the same forms can be recognized but there are noticable differences. For instance the low block in horse stance is a straight arm lock. It could be done with an open hand without changing the application, the stance could be changed to front stance and still have the weight transferred effectivly etc etc. That was one technique in the form with varius differences. This could be applied to each and every move.
  • The form helps me practise body movement that help me when I practise applications with a partner. It does not in any way replace partner training it only complements it, plus it helps me remember. I guess this might have been the way it was traditionally in the beginning of the Martial Arts as well?
All forms begin with a movement that is defensivly in nature. I guess most would say I strayed from this as the first move is an outward knife hand strike to the neck, BUT the defensive movement is the pull out or the chamber part of the technique. It is not obvious but it is there nonetheless. It would have been easy to change the order of the form and open with something looking like a block, but then the order would not correspond with the order the applications appear in the curriculum and the whole point of making the form was to create a mnemonic devise to remember the "new" curriculum material.

Have you who read this ever done something simular and would like to share the form and what they learned doing it? Please drop a comment below if you want:-)


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