First: Who is Iain Abernethy? Iain is a world renowned expert in practical applications of forms in the Karate comunity. He has studdied modern combatives as well as Wado Ryu Karate and as far as I know he holds the rank of 5th Dan with Wado Ryu and 5th Dan in the BCA (British Combat Association). He is very knowledgeable in all aspects of self defense and he uses Kata (or forms) as his basis in his teachings. I like his approach and he was a great inspiration for me early on when I first started looking into the Poomsae for combative meaning and looking through my notes from this podcast I think that most of the "Keys" as he calls them has been covered on this blog throughout the different posts on how to find practical applications to the Poomsae movements.
Keys to understanding Kata (Poomsae)1: Poomsae (Kata) applications ends it quickly and efficiently. All Poomsae applications should do one of three things:
- Create Advantage
- Maintain Advantage
- Exploit Advantage
2: All part of a movement is significant.
Again this key is not followed very often in "official" applications. Why is the hand at your hip in most techniques? Why do you do all the double blocks? Why do you chamber the techniques? Once you start looking at the techniques as movements and you try to apply the whole movement chamber and all you have come a far way. There is no "chamber" in a good application to Poomsae movement. Can a chambered block still be a Makki technique? Sure. And if you look at key one and two so far you can make the case that the "real" block is in the chamber and the actual block can be a follow up. If the fist Key is followed in a good way eliminates the "what if" questions, the second key eliminates the why are we doing it this way question.
3: All movements in Kata are for combat.
This is one that I will not apply dogmatically to Taekwondo. There are several reasons for this. Allthough I strive for combative meaning to each and every movement there are movements in Poomsae that makes little sense in what I would define as practical for self defense. The double side kick of Koryo, the jumping kick in Chonkwon and the jumping side kick in illyeo are just a few that I dont think will apply to self defense. Perhaps my definition of "combat" = "self defense" is to strict here. Perhaps combat should be a little looser in its definition? After all jumping kicks and other "unrealistic" techniques can be and are pulled of in MMA, K1 etc regulary. There is also the question of wether the makers of Poomsae included some movements for Ki-development such as the folded fist position in the middle of Chil Jang or if that too should be interpreted as a combative technique? There were several people behind the KTA forms. Whereas some might have had one vision for Taekwondo and only included combative techniques others might have included other aspects because they viewed forms differently. In China there are some movements that can be Applied in a combative setting but which are included in the forms for training purposes. Air grabbing of Chin Na in Eagle Claw for instance.
4: Angles you perform techniques in Kata are important.
I like this key and strive for it in my own applications. It is totally inline with Choki Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni`s writings, but again who knows how the originators of Taekwondo Poomsae taught? As such I think that turns and angles can have different meanings as to who inteprets the forms meaning, and who originally designed the form. Turns and angles in Taekwondo Poomsae can therefore be among other things:
- Turns simply for turning so you do not use up all your training space
- Turns to signify how you should position yourself in relation to your opponent
- Turns to help getting body weight transferrance into locks, trips or throws
Now this one I fully support. You never just assume a stance just because in an application. The stance should be as much a part of the application as the technique itself. It should help transfer body weight into the techniques, keep stability, attack the opponent or help getting the opponent off balance. Personally I think that it is closely related to "key 2"
6: Real fights are sloppy and chaotic. Poomsae (Kata) is not.
This is often overlooked but again I wholeheartedly agree on this point. The movements in Poomsae are done without and opponent and without any variables. The movements have a full followthrough too in many cases which makes the actual application look somewhat different to the crisp and stylized movement in Poomsae. Is your attacker Shorter, longer, bigger or smaller than yourself? The Poomsae shows and attacker that is the same height and buildt as you. Also the Poomsae will show one excact technique very specifically.
For instance: Against a high section straight punch. Take Taegeuk Il Jang the high section block followed by front kick and middle section punch. I use the chamber of the block to parry the punch, I pass to the blocking arm which lifts it up and clears the defenses to my counterattack which is a what? Front Kick, Knee strike, to the groin, thigh, front leg or back leg of the opponent? That depends on how the opponent attacked you, the distance you ended up with etc. A small change in the opponents real life attack means that the way you apply the movement might have to change, while in Poomsae the sequence is shown very specific and never fails.
7: Is the application scenario likely to happen in a real fight for self defense?
In some official applications there are made assumptions and great leaps of faith in my own opinion to make an application fit the reality. The scissors block of Taebaek or Chil Jang for instance. Here many think that the attack has to be from two attackers standing shoulder to shoulder or from one attacker who kicks low and strikes mid section at the exact same time. In Chil Jang`s case he does it again imidiatly with the other leg and foot so it fits the form. To me the scissors block is about controlling and taking the center line against one opponent or as a entry into a hammer lock again against one opponent. I do not assume he will do this or that. Longer strings in official applications too abound but the longer the string the more unlikely for it ever to happen.
8 Strike to vital points or weak spots
This one is pretty self evident. A strike to the shoulder will do little except maybe num the arm a little. That same strike to the temple however might kill a man. Aim for vital points and try to be as specific in application as possible. Dont rely on them entirely though, accuracy in a live fight is hard, but it will never ever happen unless we train for it:-)
9: No unprodictable responses from opponent, predictable responses should be taken into consideration.
Related to Key 7 but again if your application rely on an opponent to do something (here he blocks and then counters and then blocks and then counters again and I finish him) that is not probable. But if you kick your opponent int he groin he will likely bend over, if you push against his elbow joint he will move to save his elbow etc. That is the difference between predictable vs unpredictable response.
10: Each movement in Kata can have many different meanings.
This one is perhaps even truer in Taekwondo than in Karate. The movements in Chinese Kung Fu forms for instance is very specific, while a low block in Taekwondo is the same in each and every form and in each and every sequence it occurs. That does not mean that all the applications you will find for the low block will fit each sequence in Poomsae but that you will have to pick one that fits within the sequence of Poomsae. I hope that makes sense but an analogy I like to use for the scrabble players out there is that in CMA forms you often get regular letters. The A is allways an A for instance. In JMA forms (Shurite Karate) they often get the white or blank piece. Here you assign the blank piece a letter so it fits into a word of your choosing. In Taekwondo we get even more white pieces. Is this by design or not I do not know, but because they are so closely related to the building blocks of its root martial arts it is still possible (even easy) to find great combative meaning in them. Find many applications to each movement in Poomsae and then pick the appropriate ones so it fits within a sequence in the Poomsae. In Scrabble again if you have 6 white pieces and the sequence starts with a T and ends with an R you will have to make the word "Transfer" (or any other word that fits within the poomsae) to truly make a Poomsae application.
11: Try to understand the underlying principles. Why does it work?
Each application of every sequence in Poomsae will show you a very specific situation. If you however understand the underlying principles and apply them to fighting you will have a much better chance of "using your Poomsae" than the one who only ever understands that specific situation. If you are Learning a Foreign Language for instance you will perhaps memorize a dialogue to understand and learn aspects of that Language but in real life you will probably not have that excact dialogue so you must move past this stage of learning. The age old saying of giving a man a fish feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and he will have food for the rest of his life also applies here.
12: All applications must work in reality.
Here we need to consider if the application will actually work. Does it consider how you will act under adrenaline rush, fatigue and extreme stress that comes during a fight or does it rely on fine motor skills, complex movement and that you have warmed up beforehand?
I do not think that each and every Key can be related to each and every movement in Taekwondo Poomsae. Taekwondo is still very very close to its martial roots, but it is no longer a carbon copy of Karate. Taekwondo has added many leg techniques for instance and depending on the Poomsae or Tul you are researching you will come accross them and they will not relate to self defense the way I see it. This is my personal opinion of course. Also applying each and every Key to each and every Poomsae is in my view a little flawed. Both because a whole group of People made our own Poomsae and even if one person made each Poomsae without the help or input of the others I do not think that each and every member of that group saw forms quite the same way. Even Karate Kata which these Keys originally refer to were gathered from different people made in different places at different time periods. Therefore I look to these keys for inspiration but I do not dogmatically apply them everywhere and I think that holds true for Karate Kata as much as it holds true for Taekwondo Poomsae.
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