Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Poomsae are "FIXED", you however, are not fixed.

I wrote in the last blogpost about how the teaching of poomsae applications for a new audience was going, and remembered a brief exchange between me and one of the students. The reason I am writing about this is that this is also an issue I have encountered online, and during teaching this kind of material before.

Ask a person if a Poomsae is "excact" and if it is a "fixed" entity, and most people will answer along the lines of "Duuuh, of course it is". Poomsae is predescribed series of movement that is to be done after one exact template, and should be done the same way each and every time (or done better, which means for most people to do it closer to the template each time).

Why then do people practising an application from Poomsae think that the application should be done another way? What if the attacker has the other foot forward? What if he is bigger/ shorter/ stronger/ weaker than you? What if he attacks with the other arm? What if he punches low instead of high? A good application will actually work in any scenario, or at least in most, but it might require that the students who are applying the movement to do change the rhytm or make the movement a little bigger or smaller depending on the situation on hand. The Poomsae is "fixed", and so the example (primary application of the movement) is also fixed.

When I teach people applications I usually start with applications that are as close to the form as possible. The reason being that they are often new to this kind of thinking and therefore making the application as close as possible to the Poomsae, I am also ensuring that they see the link between application and solo performance clearly. Do I teach how to vary the application? Yes, but only after the primary example has been understood and internalized. There is no point in learning how to do it multiple ways if you cant even do it one way.

The Poomsae is also using these examples not only to teach us how to fight effectively but also they try to teach us combative strategy. In my taegeuk il jang series for instance with the middle inward block, I teach it as using the chamber to parry a haymaker while also attacking and then proactively trap the other arm of the opponent before attacking again with a hammer fist. This is followed by changing the hand that grips the opponents arm and pulling him to the opposite hip while punching him. One student thought this was unneccesary and that we should just stay put and keep hitting. I agree that this is OK if you are dominating the opponent, but the Poomsae as I see it is teaching us a valuable skillset: To work your way from the inside (front aginst front) to the outside of the opponent (your front against his outside). In the beginning you are dealing with a circular attack which makes the safest place to be to go on the inside of the opponent. You are now standing broadside to broadside, i.e. you are both pointing all of your weapons toward the opponent. You minimize the risk by going on the offensive from the get go + you proactively trap his arm. The Poomsae then teaches you a basic method to move to the outside where you want to be as from this position you have all your weapons pointed at the opponent while the opponent has to reorient himself to you if he want the same. The application seems very basic and perhaps a little unnecesarry but looking at it this way you see that it is actually quite logical and brilliant if I can be so bold as to say that. Later in the taegeuk series you will get many different methods that shows how to move from the inside to the outside and even the other way around all according to what is effective in the different scenarios.

So yes, if everything go as planned and everything is great than stay on the inside if you want, and apply only what you need to apply from the Poomsae example, but dont discount the Poomsae example simply because you think it is unnecesary. There is a lot more to Poomsae applications than pure fighting. The Poomsae is a combination of tactics that together demonstrates a strategy. Dont focus too much on the tactics and be blinded for the strategy, because the real gem of poomsae is the strategy. You can not demonstrate strategy without tactics, but you can demonstrate tactics without strategy. "Tactics without strategy is the noice before defeat" is something Sun Tzu says in the art of war. We should keep that in mind when we are thinking about Poomsae applications.


  1. while i agree with your general premise, i think there is another way of explaining it to your group. the forms generally show the "principle" in its most ideal way. the idea being the practitioner has to get that function and understanding first. only then can he/she apply variations that inevitably come up in real application.
    for example, it is impossible to punch at all different angles without first learning to punch straight ahead correctly. one would get lost in the variations and never learn the basic principles. the form is not designed to show you everything.

    1. Im glad you are agreeing With the general premise :-) What I am trying to say is that the common "keep hitting until he is no longer a threat" is not often shown in the form. It shows how to open up and often only one finishing strike. Sometimes it shows how to get to the finishing position and then sort of jumps into what you do if you screw up. The latter is perhaps what the exact example I am referring to in taegeuk il jang :-)