Monthly Archives: December 2012

Decoding the patterns

As applied Taekwondo gains popularity we see many different takes on the application of different movements. Some go the pressure point route, others place a heavy emphasis on grappling and have started to included groundwork while others have stuck largely to the punching blocking system but have altered the frame work of it. There is good and bad in all these approaches but I think before looking at applying Taekwondo we should spend some time looking closely at the patterns and where they came from and more importantly the changes that have been made.

Across the internet there are a lot of discussions about who actually developed the patterns and what were the original groups etc. whereas this is interesting from a political or historical point of view it doesn’t really have much bearing on the applications, what works, works no matter who thought it up. So for the purpose of this article I am going to go with the mainstream idea that General Choi Hong Hi was responsible for the creation of the ITF patterns.

So the official line is that General Choi reached 2nd Dan in Shotokan Karate and then from that experience developed Taekwondo. It is likely that the General learnt the version of karate that was popularised in Japan after its introduction from Okinawa. Certainly the applications that are put forward in the encyclopaedia of Taekwondo are very similar to the ‘punch block’ applications that are seen in many karate schools worldwide.

From there he changed the order of the techniques performed in the kata. If you look at any karate kata you will see movements from a number of Taekwondo patterns being performed. Likely he did this because he was taught the applications as individual movements not sequences. Again the examples in the encyclopaedia would seem to support this as there are very few instances where movements are grouped together in a sequence to form an application.

 So this means that some movements that were meant to be part of a sequence have been separated. Some still exist in the order that they were first introduced such as the opening to Won Hyo, but largely the movements were spread among a number of patterns. This means that when we are looking at application we have to consider if we can logically and easily fit the movements into part of a sequence. If not a particular movement should be kept isolated as to try to include it would be verging on the point of fight choreography, i.e. I’ll do this, you do that etc. We then have to look at the isolated movements and their applications, maybe to be included in line work or open application practice at a later stage in training.

One of the other things that the General did was change the style of the movements. He made 2 main changes, he introduced the sine wave which I discuss in another article on this blog. He also made a lot of the techniques start from a crossed arm position low forearm block, knifehand strike etc. I personally think that the cross arm position is very good for application. If taught correctly it can open up the applications for many students, in fact since we often find ourselves in the same position can integrate many of the movements in a very easy system. However, there also comes a small issue when it is done across all motions like a blanket rule no matter what the application. Again at this point we need to investigate and use our own judgement as to when you use the motion which would mainly come from the point above, whether the movements can be used in sequence or not.

For example in the pattern Dan Gun we have a low block rising block combination. This can be applied as a sequence. Take a high left-handed attack and bring it down with you left low ‘block’, secure the attacking hand with your right and then use your left rising ‘block’ as a hammer fist/forearm strike to the opponent’s jaw.

 In this case the grouping is quite direct in application but the crossed hand part for the second motion can be lessened or even left out as you have already got hold of the opponent hand.

There are of course many other examples of when to use the cross hand motion and when it can be omitted and of course there are many other ways that the General changed the kata to form the patterns of Taekwondo. He limited the number of stances, he changed the tempo of the patterns, he added and took away some techniques. The list goes on but I believe the 2 mentioned above are the most important changes when beginning to decode the patterns

This for me is the most fascinating part of my practice these days. Delving in to the rich resource of information included in the patterns can be a very rewarding endeavour and one that can radically change the way that you see the art that you practice.


Sine Wave

One of the things that seems to very important in pattern practice is the inclusion of sine wave. A good sine wave in your patterns can make all the difference in competitions. Instructors everywhere make comments on how important it is and a lot of time is spent developing that nice up and down motion in movements. But is it really that important? Where did it come from? And why was it included in the patterns?
Certainly the sine wave was not always present in TKD a quick look at youtube and the difference can easily be seen. For example:

Now without making any comments about the standard or skill of the different gentlemen, there are obviously a lot of differences between the two performances, perhaps the main ones being speed and the sine wave. So from this we can see that sine wave is a fairly recent addition to the TKD system.

But why was it added? It would seem that the most commonly accepted theory was that General Choi added the sine wave to his patterns to further distinguish what he did from Karate. This theory would seem to hold true with the strong roots that certainly the early patterns had in Shotokan. It would only make sense that General Choi would want to make some changes to his art to make it stand out. In fact he continued to make slight changes to the sine wave and other aspects of the art almost until the end of his life. But sine wave isn’t really a new creation in fact the up and down motion of the body is used in many martial arts for power generation. In Chinese internal martial arts, Aikido, and many grappling arts you can see body dropping motions that are similar to the sine wave in TKD. It is possible the General Choi came across these movements in his early training and then transposed it on to the karate movements he had learned.

It is maybe because of this reason for adding the sine wave that its effectiveness is still a matter of debate among many groups. Some stick to a very direct motion claiming that it was the original TKD and therefore the most powerful, while others claim that TKD is progressive and we should try to take on the changes that the General made during his life.
My personal take on this is that the sine wave is a solid and efficient way of creating power that has been over stylized in pattern practice and not applied in a realistic fashion. It therefore has remained as something largely misunderstood and in some cases dismissed as art or ascetics.

The problem of not applying sine wave is that it has become a blanket principle that is given to every movement of pattern regardless of effectiveness. An example of a movement where the sine wave would actually be a hindrance to power generation is the upward elbow strike found in the pattern ‘Jhoong Gun’. The elbow strike moves quite a short distance. If you drop your body at the same time in the opposite direction then you are actually taking power away from the strike or worse pulling the attacking tool away from the target area altogether.

Another time when sine wave may not be so applicable is continuous motions. When we perform a number of motions in one stance, using the sine wave can actually slow us down as we have to essentially ‘reset’ our body position after each movement. The purpose for this practice is something that I discuss in the ‘pattern practice’ article on this blog.
There are of course many advantages to the sine wave as well. By using the sine wave we can learn how to base and how to generate power on some movements. But as with many practices connected to patterns and the more traditional aspects of TKD sine wave has been side lined and labelled as ‘art’ by many schools and therefore won’t be developed.
I think this lack of development of sine wave and some other principles is a great shame and could actually be holding TKD back. If we took a step forward to looking at sine wave from a practical point of view and practiced using it in applications then we couldn’t help but gain a deeper understanding of the purpose of this movement then be in a better position to judge it effectiveness.

Pattern Practice

Most schools practice the patterns in the same way. That is putting focus and power into each individual movement. This is an excellent practice in many ways, it builds control of the body, builds technical proficiency, and power. However, the way that we practice patterns also hides a lot of the applications, movements that should flow together or movements that are throws, locks or redirects/parries are obscured by the ‘tick- tock’ way that we move during our practice.  

Of course all of the applications can be practiced with a partner once we have found the meaning for the movements, but then that causes a disconnect between pattern practice and application. i.e. the way we move in each are unrelated. I think it is this disconnect why a lot of people see patterns as just an exercise for creating power rather than a practice of fighting techniques, and even look to other styles for self-defence techniques.

Pattern practice doesn’t have to be like that. If you move away from the competition or grading requirements and practice them as at real training tool and more importantly personalise your pattern practice

Firstly, we should all have a good knowledge of the pattern, the usual way of practicing gives us great muscle memory, power and balance, once you have got to the point that you can practice those patterns almost automatically, by that I mean without thinking about the next movement, you can start making the practice more challenging by increasing the tempo. At this point it is important that you take all the knowledge gained from learning the patterns and apply it at a higher speed. This involves finishing each movement; keeping the same concentration of power, and keeping you balance as well as still being technical in stances and target areas. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse just to blast through the patterns without thinking.

Through this practice you will hopefully notice that some parts of the patterns flow together easier than others. Also moving fast will give you a better idea of how the movements look like when used. We then should try to move them forward one more step to expressive practice.

During this practice the only thing we are thinking about is the application of the forms. The practitioner can ‘play’ with the tempo of the movements. Practicing the pattern in short bursts of speed according to the application that, that individual prefers. For example in the pattern Won Hyo, the practitioner may do the first three movements as a quick blast, then the next three,  the bending ready stance and side kick could be done individually followed by the knife hand guarding blocks all being one ‘group’

Through this practice the student is gaining an understanding of which movements flow in to each other and which are isolated or beginning of a new group. It doesn’t matter if your interpretation is the same as other students’ but for many forms there is a more logical way of dividing them up.

Following this it is up to the student to go and take that information and practice applying it for this a practice partner is needed, however, by the time we get to the partner stage we should be more used to moving faster and in a more natural way with in the form of the patterns so the application of the pattern should be getting clearer.

There are of course many other ways that patterns could be practiced. If we break away from the competition/ grading idea of trying to do them in a set way without considering what the movements are for. Also this helps us get away from dealing with the movements like each of them are meant to be applied in an isolated fashion. Patterns can also be done slow with maximum concentration and intensity or in a very loose way to practice developing power from your body rather than your arms.


These are just a few ideas. Have fun playing with you patterns

How to Cross Train

Cross training is becoming more and more popular. Ask many people now what style they study and they will give you their root style and then a number of styles that they dabble in. I myself have trained in a number of different arts sometimes to work on a skill that I was lacking and sometimes because my situation required me to look to a certain style in order to continue training.

Cross training is sometimes seen as a newer idea that became popular after the advent of the UFC and other similar cage fighting events. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Take a look at the old masters’ martial resumes and you will see that many if not all have a number of styles in their past all of which contributed to the particular master’s system. This is especially clear in the Chinese styles, every master or teacher that I have ever met that studies a Chinese style has trained in some other styles. It is far from being a new concept in fact it is probably mainly due to the sporting aspects of modern day martial arts that have made people specialise and become exclusive, i.e. learning judo throws won’t help you win a taekwondo match.

To become a complete and well-rounded martial artist cross training is essential as no style, even those claiming to have taken the strongest techniques from traditional martial arts, has all the answers. Cross training is not as simple as joining every club in your area and training every night of the week however. To get the most out of your time and training it must be approaching with some thought and planning.

In my opinion there is a way to approach cross training that makes it an effective practice.

Before you begin cross training I think you should have a root art that you have spent some time in and gain a reasonable level in. the reason for this is many arts will give conflicting advice about small technical differences. Without a foundation you may be without the ability to assess different ways of doing things and choose which works best for you. In that way know a number of different ways of doing a side kick could be detrimental to your training.

Ask yourself why you are cross training. Are you looking to develop some skills that are either absent or not focused on in your current style? In which case do some research as to what styles would offer what you are looking for and what is available in your area. if you are just looking for something different or you feel that your current style isn’t working for you then it might be time to fully assess what you are getting out of your current training.

When you start cross training it is important that you go with an open mind. Every style has its own way of doing things and there might be some cross over in to what you currently do. It is best not to start over pedantic style arguments over small differences. Equally you shouldn’t completely change over to your new system just because it is new and novel. Every style has developed a standard way of doing things. It is up to you as the cross trainer to assess the difference and make up your own mind as to what works better for you.

You also need to find a way to organise and practice the techniques you are learning. Some way that makes sense to you, and helps you put the techniques together. If you study TKD and judo for example you would want to spend time blending the techniques of both. If you have nothing that connects the different pieces of what you train, then you run the risk of having a selection of techniques learnt from different arts with to bring them together in a workable way. i.e. you would either be doing TKD or Judo but never both together. A selection of techniques with no connection leads to a broken up art and makes things easy to forget.

The way that I organise the information that I receive from my teachers is the TKD patterns. Within the patterns I can fit techniques from as varied arts as aikido and krav maga. I can then lead from the techniques contianed in the patterns into training drills. This means that I remember more and have a way of recording the different principles and drills that I have been exposed to. Through this you can add skills and techniques to your base art in a good systematic way and help get the most out of your cross training.