Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Importing foreign forms into your training?

I got an interesting question the other day in a facebook group I belong to, asking about what peoples points were regarding importing foreign forms into your own training/studdies and wether you would alter the form to suit the way you move or keep it as it is in the style you imported it from).

In a normal group he would probably be bombarded with "blasphemi" and other allegations but in
this group it was discussed civilized. I am not going to repeat what others stated in the group but I would like to share my point of view on the subject. It should be mentioned that the foreign forms in the question were "karate forms" or "Kata" ("Hyung" is actually the same word for form but pronounced in Korean).

Those who have read this blog for some time (or skimmed through enough posts) know that one of the forms I treasure the most is actually a "foreign" form known as Chulgi/Kima/Naebojin in Korean but it is better known with its Okinawan/ Japanese names of Naihanchi/ Naifanchi / Tekki. So given that piece of information you allready know that I am positive toward importing forms but I will also point out that I am not for doing it simply for getting more forms. In my opinion there need to be a good reason for importing a form before doing so. Kukkiwon and the Korean Taekwondo Association recognizes Taegeuk 1-8 as well as 9 black belt forms as its framework for Taekwondo study. That is 17 forms right there and it is a good number of forms teaching a good mix of techniques when you look at the overall mixture of techniques in all those 17 forms. In adition to this prior to the invention and development of the Taegeuk set the KTA developed the Palgwe set which also included 8 forms. Some schools teach both Palgwe and Taegeuk 1-8 as well as the 9 black belt forms making a total of 25 forms. If you allready are doing 25 forms then in my opinion you have more than enough forms (if not too many) so importing forms should really not be a priority, unless you think that the forms are missing something.

So what are the reasons for importing forms? For me here are a few:
  1. Understanding where we came from
  2. Clearer Applications/ more resources to find applications
  3. Body dynamics included in foreign forms not included in the "native" forms
  4. Greater historical link far back in time
  5. More variety in techniques/ movement = better movement education

1: The KTA forms were buildt upon a solid foundation that were made by the collective knowledge of the old Kwan`s. The reason they were made was that the different Kwan (schools) practised different forms or in the cases the forms were the same adhered to different standards. As part of a joint merger of all the schools into one martial art each school sendt their finest top students to
represent each school in a forms comitte. The first forms that were made in the early 60s were Palgwe 1-8 and black belt forms 1-9. In the early 70s Moo Duk Kwan and Ji Do Kwan joined the organisation so the forms comitte came together once more with the addition of representatives from the Ji Do Kwan and Moo Duk Kwan and made the Taegeuk 1-8 and a new form that replaced the old Koryo. The collective roots of these schools included Judo, Shotokan, Shudokan, and Shito Ryu Karate, different forms of Chinese Martial Arts as well as native influences of Taek Kyon and other native fighting techniques. The forms originally practised at these schools were directly imported from their root arts so learning one or a few of these forms gives a very clear picture and understanding of the Taekwondo of the Kwan era (1940s-1970s). In a way the foreign Karate forms are not that foreign at all. My own teacher first learned the Pyongahn 1-5 (Heian/Pinan Kata) and other forms before they started using the newly developed Korean forms.

2: Do not get me wrong here, there are applications in the Korean derived forms as well and lord knows I am researching them (and sharing some of my findings through this blog). I can never make up my mind however if the applications are clearer in the Karate Kata or if it is just a case of better resources. There are so incredibly many good places if you are a Karate student and interested in applications to your forms where you often get videos, articles books etc on all aspects of Kata and what you can get from them. When you try to find the same information of the Korean derived forms you end up with Stuart Anslow`s "Chang Hon Hae Sul volume 1 & 2" if you practise the "ITF forms" or Simon O`Neill`s book and DVDs called "Taegeuk Cipher" for Kukkiwon forms and Mathew Sylvesters book "Practical Taekwondo back to the roots" where you get a taste of both worlds. That is 3 authors who has made good books on the subject and that is it. Compare that to the wealth of authors and bloggers in the Karate world and you will be surprised why not everyone and their mother who is practising Karate does not include practical applications in their Dojo`s.

Sometimes one technique can bugg me in the Kukkiwon forms and I just do not get it. Then I see it used in Karate Kata applications and see how it fits in with the techniques in the Kukkiwon setting. Seeing it through the Kata resources makes understanding the Kukkiwon forms easier for me in some cases therefore I find it good to have at least a familiarity of the Kata so I know where to look. For instance in the blog post on Chetdari Jireugi (double simultanious punch seen in Sipjin Poomsae) I knew I should look at how it is used in Naihanchi Kata because I knew the technique was in that form as well as in Sipjin Poomsae.

3: With body dynamics I am talking about forms stressing things that is not included in the Kukkiwon forms or as in many cases is there but is overlooked, downplayed or not openly taught. This could be other methods of power generation than the hip twist, different ways to teach "rooting" (as in
Naihanchi) or body structure (as in Sanchin). The Sanchin stance is included in the Kukkiwon textbook but it is not included in any Poomsae and therefore it is never taught. I have never ever ever seen it in any Dojang that I have visited but it is in the Kukkiwon textbook nonetheless. That goes for many other techniques not included in Poomsae but in the Kukkiwon Textbook too. some things are taught but downplayed as the techniques included in Poomsae is what is emphasised.

4: The project has stagnated a little but I am working on a huge project on the Kwan era and its forms. Therefore I have started to practise the Pyungahn and Chulgi series a little. I am far from proficient yet but I can perform them aduquatly. I have always loved History and I used to love the "2000 years myth" of Taekwondo. The feeling you get when you practise the same forms and techniques that the Hwarang warriors practised in ancient Silla kingdom was alluring and awe inspiring. After learning the truth about Taekwondo history I lost this feeling of historical connectedness while training. That might be good and it might be bad but I did loose the feeling. I still loved Martial Arts and Taekwondo though:-) But when I started doing the Pyungahn series I got the feeling again. I have no illusions that the forms I practise are not identical to Itosu`s forms but I hope he would have recognized them if he was alive today and saw me train. The same feeling (even stronger) comes when I do Chugli or Naihanchi which is one of the oldest forms all the way back to Tode Sakugawa. This feeling is hard to explain but it makes the forms training very enjoyable for me. This same "feeling historical connectedness" has also made me look at the possibility of including Hwarang Hyung into my studdies. This was the very first form developed for the Oh Do Kwan and quite possibly the very first Korean derived form developed at all! It was developed by Choi Hong Hi, Nam Tae Hi and Han Cha Kyo.

5: If you use forms primarely as movement education which many today do because they do not like the kick block punch applications and for some reason do not include practical applications instead, it stands to reason that the more variety and challenges you present yourself (the more forms) the more you will learn (movement wise). I am not saying this is not a valid way to go or take it is just not the way I see Taekwondo but I try to respect those who go this way as well:-) I am however not sure if the Karate Kata forms would be best suited for this kind of study though. I would rather include the Chang Hon forms if only movement education was my aim. This is simply because that forms set is huge (24 forms for various ITF organisations but the set also includes Ko Dang Tul and U Nam Tul the latter being a more obscure form that recently surfaced from the 1950s) and because those forms are extremely demending of its practisioners (much more so than the KTA forms in my opinion) making use of a large variety of kicking techniques, jumping and spinning. Hwarang Hyung would also benifit Kukkiwon Taekwondo Practisioners because of its inclusion of Dollyo Chagi which is only included in Taegeuk Yuk (6) Jang in the KTA forms.

As for keeping the forms "as is" or change them into your way of moving? The Kukkiwon system of Taekwondo is fairly "complete" technical wise as it includes just about all the techniques that are within Karate Kata and many are indeed scattered within the different Poomsae. So a well trained Kukkiwon Taekwondoin should not have any trouble learning Shuri te derived Karate (Shotokan or Shito Ryu for example) Kata and implement them in their own training. As long as the message of the form does not become lost there is no reason why you should not be able to learn the same
lessons of Pyungahn 1-5 when using Kukki Taekwondo bio mechanics vs Shotokan, Shito Ryu or any other Karate style`s bio mechanics (structure forms like Sanchin is another beast). Indeed this is the way it has been done by all the "styles" of Karate! Shotokan Karateka does their forms in a "shotokan" way, Shito Ryu stylists do it them in the "Shito Ryu" way, Wado Ryu students do it the "Wado Way". There is no reason why Kukkiwon Taekwondo students should not be able to do it the Taekwondo way:-) There are some small things to consider though; single outward knife hand block was done with a chamber on the inside of the pulling hand in the original forms not the Kukkiwon "Makki" standard. Therefore these "makki" has to either become "makki" and change the application or you as the exponent have to do it with a "chigi" Chamber (on the inside of the pulling hand instead of the outside) to keep the application "as is".

Before starting my grand "project" I imported the Chulgi Chudan Hyung as this form is the cornerstone and basis of all Shurite (the style that most Kwan have roots back to). It is fairly short and simple to learn but application wise it is extremely deep. Also in terms of body mechanics and "rooting" it has a lot to teach as well that the KTA forms simply do not do the same way. It is one of the oldest Karate forms in existance being 100s of years old so it has a lot of history behind it. Also it is performed remarkebly similar accross a wide variaty of Karate styles so it has not developed so far that the Karate students in the 1900s would not recognize the form. So importing this form for me was to understand where we came from as Taekwondoin since this form was seen as the basis of Shurite. It taught body mechanics and "rooting" in a unique way that is not done in the KTA forms. It
is extremely deep application wise (do not take my word for it, Choki Motobu a Karate master renowned for his fighting prowess said that everything you needed to know about fighting is within this form) etc. Many good reasons to import this form and I would go so far as to say that if you are only going to import one form into your training and studdies you could do a lot worse than chosing Chulgi Chudan Hyung. It will not make you any prizes in competitions as it is not an exciting form to watch but it is indeed the form that just keeps on giving and giving:-)


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