Saturday, 1 November 2014

Variations of Poomsae; Have we lost something?

Previous in my blog I have made the case that the Kukkiwon has changed its standard over the years. These days I believe that the Kukkiwon standard has been largely if not completly the same all this time but the emphasis on standarisation became much larger after 2006. Many masters around the world tweaked the KTA forms based on their own experiences and experimentations along with whatever Kwan lineage they belonged to or hailed from. Some practise and study under insecure imature instructors who demand an almost religous cult like obidience and "loyalty" from their students, insisting that they study with them and them alone and it is not tolerated if they study under different instructors or God forbid different arts.

My teacher is the opposite. He has always encouraged us to seek out additional knowledge and in the summer festivals (he does not like the term summer "camp") he always made sure to provide instructors of different martial arts. This way we could enjoy Taekwondo instructors from Korea, Taek Kyon masters, Hapkido masters, Son Mudo masters etc. This oppertunity to learn from other instructors also came with learning or practising Poomsae under different instructors of different viewpoints.

Before 2006 you would learn variations in Poomsae that were unique to the instructor. It could be as trivial as where to Chamber or wether the open handed Block in Chil Jang was very close to your chest or more out from your body to larger variations such as changing the attacking tool. These days we learn one and only one standard (the Kukkiwon standard). Learning it ONE way is great for it is easier to judge in competitions, it is easier to compete in synchro poomsae or "team poomsae" and also you can move from one part of the country to the next changing Dojang without having to change the way you learned your Poomsae. But this adherance to one standard came with a cost in my personal opinion. No longer do you see (or at least not as often as before) the personal variations that the different masters had on their Poomsae. In Norway you could easily identify those who came from each different masters lineage from how they did their forms. The variations were looked upon as variations not as right or wrong.

At one particular summer camp I was training in Taegeuk Chil Jang under a Korean Master (I will call him "Master Kim in this post but that was not his real name) and Master Kim was and still is one of the most well rounded masters I have trained with. He was also known as a street brawler in his younger years and had a deep knowledge of the practical application of Taekwondo. In Taegeuk Chil Jang we do a knee strike and then a technique called a double uppercut or something is done to the opponents stomach. Master Kim taught me to change the striking tool from a regular fist (the two knuckles) to "Bam Joomeok" or the midle joint of the long finger instead. Trying this in sparring or self defense training showed that using the technique the way it is normally taught was or is effective and can take the breath out of people, but doing it the Master Kim way actually ends fights alltogether! I am the only one from that training session that still practise Taekwondo today so as far as I know in Norway I am the only one that was ever taught this variation from a Taekwondo master. My own teacher has always followed the regular uppercut punches and I have followed my Teachers version while still maintaining the variation I learned for personal use. Variations like that steeped in practical experience are no more. The only thing that matters these days are copying the Kukkiwon standard and as I wrote before having one standard is great but I also think that we should be able to experiment and even permit some variation in performance at advanced levels like black belt level.

Do not get me wrong, variation for variations sake is wrong, but having a variation in technique based on long and practical experience is not such a bad thing in my own opinion. There are or were those who would change things simply to put their own stamp on their students for egotistical reasons, this is not what I am talking about in this post but rather variations based on real life experience and experimentations to further our art.

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  1. I believe I understand where you are coming from, Ørjan, but where is it you want to end up? What is your suggestion for this apparent problem? Are you proposing that we learn both the KKW standard and our Master's lineage flavor? Do you feel we should ignore the KKW standard and focus only on what our Master has proven in his experience or learned from his Master? Do you propose we spar using our Poomsae in a realistic fashion to gain more insight?

    As a seasoned Taekwondoin, I believe that I know the KKW standard well enough to then build upon the Poomsae in more practical manners. I am not certain if people do this in general or if they need guidance to achieve this. Picking up a book on TKD and using it to extend the basic hand and foot applications and encouraging them to understand that our standard is just a basic blueprint to allow someone to add their flavor might go a long way to helping someone develop their own "style" along with the Kukkiwon standard and might mitigate this issue you see.

    I'm curious to see what potential solutions or ideas for a solution you might have to this issue you bring up.

    1. My mind is a messy Place :-P I have brought up the issue but I am afraid I have yet to find a solution:-( I do propose we spar using Our Poomsae in a realistic fashion to gain more Insight though ;-)