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.