What is the purpose of a Taekwondo form?

Discussion in 'Tae-Kwon-Do' started by skribs, Nov 26, 2018.

  1. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    Lately, I've been trying to find the meaning of a lot of the various techniques in the Taekwondo forms. I think some of those threads are still here. But I thought I'd take a step back and try to look at the forms themselves. Whether it's Taegeuks, Palgwes, the KKW black belt forms, or (from what I can tell) the ITF or ATA Taekwondo forms, they all seem to have a very similar style.

    You can correct me if I'm wrong about ATA or ITF, as I haven't trained those, but from what I can tell, all of these feature precise stances and movements, with little room for improvisation. Mimicry is key, as you must mimic the form to have the proper stance and technique. The forms are slow-paced, with a pause between each movement to show your balance and control with the move. But, for the most part, each move is an explosion of speed and power.

    Now, I can't speak for the ITF or ATA patterns here, but I know with the Palgwe or Taegeuk forms, they increase in complexity as you go higher in belt. In a lot of cases, what you end up learning are motions that don't really make sense in the context they're described, or don't have an apparent practical motion. I've gone over my thoughts on the double-knife-hand block and asked questions about augmented blocks in other threads. The crane stance diamond low-block in Keumgang is another.

    It's been brought up in threads in the general section that forms can have various purposes. In some cases, it can be to teach the techniques and concepts, but in other cases it can be for conditioning or for aesthetics. Another thing that gets mentioned in a lot of these threads is the mind-body connection (particularly with regard to some of the flashier Kung Fu form styles). Some people have expressed that the forms should teach general movements that can be applied in different ways when you move onto the next step of sparring or partner drills.

    So with all this in mind, I ask...what is the purpose of a Taekwondo form? Is it...
    • To teach individual techniques to use when fighting
    • To condition the body for flexibility and balance
    • To teach general concepts of fighting
    • To work on the mind/body connection
    • To be aesthetically pleasing
    • Something else?

     
  2. andyjeffries

    andyjeffries Master of Arts

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    The primary reason for me is just an interesting way of practicing all of the techniques in their basic form. You then have to learn how to apply those techniques to real self-defence (Master Jeong In-Choul has done a lot of research on this and teaches it in his seminars).

    It's not for me about mimicry, but accuracy. We need to be able to pass on the standard, international way of doing the movements to future generations. Then if they make their own changes in application of the individual movements, that's up to them, but they'll know the standard way to pass on too.

    Otherwise Taekwondo would evolve into everyone doing their own thing and really then Taekwondo is a huge collection of everyone doing some strange variation on a theme instead of a unified martial art. If you look back at the history of Taekwondo, unification was a huge part of it.

    For me sparring (one step and WT-competition) allows for freedom of expression, poomsae is about standardisation.

    From my point of view (and it was part of the subject of my Kukkiwon 6th Dan thesis) the Kukkiwon poomsae progress in a more linear, building approach than either Karate katas or ITF hyung.
     
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  3. Rat

    Rat Purple Belt

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    Damned if i know. :p


    The only thing i could say is, its a fitness tool. that's at least supported factually by you building muscle and being able to exercise by doing patterns. Maybe to help coordination as well, but i am counting that under fitness as it doesnt really go into "for combat application". Thats at least the generic baseline for most martial art patterns.

    I would put some TKD forms down to the "aesthetically pleasing" category as well. So those two are the only ones you can really say without a doubt apply to it.

    However in sparring i did a step back block, but that was basically free sparring so slow it might as well have been step sparring. And it hurt my hand as it was a knife hand to his foot while he kicked.


    Also i can say from at least doing GTUK and TAGB TKD (former more than latter, latter was only 3 lessons) i prefer the GTUK training/circulem at least at the school i went to. From what i was exposed to anyway. the TAGB place had you put your hand back to your belt for their self defence drills which just seemed a pain and all that when i can strike one blow from belt then continue from guard etc. Anyway, rambling aside. thats all i got.
     
  4. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    For the most part, though, people DO do their own thing. The school I'm at teaches the Palgwes instead of the Taegeuks. And the Palgwes we learn are not the same Palgwes you'll find anywhere else. Our #1 form has minor differences (i.e. whether it's an inside or outside block, whether it's back stance or front stance). And when I look it up on YouTube, it seems every school has minor differences, too. By the time you get to Palgwe 7 or 8, ours are so much different from the others I find, there's maybe one move in the whole form that's similar. (I do think our advanced forms are more difficult than the others, they're just different).
     
  5. Bruce7

    Bruce7 Orange Belt

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    I was like you when I first started Taekwondo, thinking how will this help in a real fight.
    I started training in Taekwondo in 1973 and stop training in Martial Arts in 1985.
    It was not until I train in other schools that I learn the value of my forms. My balance was better than the instructors and the precision of my punches and kicks were better than others in those schools.
    Forms will only help you if they are done perfectly. Question, when you walk in a form do your feet move in circular movements? Does your height stay the same as you move? Does your instructor watch you alone as you do your form and make you do the form perfect? Does he refuse to give a belt test unless the forms are done perfect?

    After I stopped training I would do forms , when I needed to clear my mine and give myself a since of peace.
    Please take forms seriously, What they do for you is not easily seen. The more perfect your forms the better Martial Artist you will become.
     
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  6. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    My issue is that as you get to the more advanced forms, you start seeing techniques where the application isn't apparent, and in Taekwondo we don't usually do Bunkai.
     
  7. wab25

    wab25 Purple Belt

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    If you are studying Japanese kata based systems, or systems heavily influenced by Japanese kata based systems like TKD, then it would be good to understand Shu-Ha-Ri. This is the method of transmission used for many Japanese arts, including the martial arts. Learning the kata is the first step, Shu. Diverting from the kata is the next step, Ha. Throwing away the kata is the third step, Ri. I have posted this link before, but it is a really good discussion on this method and how it works. Why are kata / forms studied in these martial arts? Because it is the first step in the Shu-Ha-Ri process.

    Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin kai

    Let me try a different way... Lets say you wanted to learn guitar as your very first musical instrument. You could go to a class that used this book to study from:
    https://www.amazon.com/Acoustic-Gui...r=8-1-spons&keywords=how+to+play+guitar&psc=1

    Or, you could take a class that studies from this book:
    https://www.amazon.com/Hal-Leonard-...1543339707&sr=8-3&keywords=how+to+play+guitar

    The first class will teach you to play these songs: Tom Dooley, Hes got the Whole World and Goin Down that Road. The second class will teach you these songs: Ode to Joy, Rockin Robin and Aura Lee. You will practice these songs, in these arrangements quite a bit in your class, until you can play them perfectly. Why do I have to play these? I want to play Stairway to Heaven or Unforgiven... or I want to play Jazz and improvise, or make my own arrangements... Why do I have to learn Tom Dooley or Aura Lee?

    Learning these songs teaches you the basics. How to read the music, where the notes are on the guitar, how to play the notes on the guitar, proper fingering, proper timing... essentially all the basics to playing music. In all honesty, it doesn't matter whether you learn Aura Lee or Tom Dooley... you are learning the same basics, they only sound a bit different.

    Yes, you can just go online and download the tablature for Stairway to Heaven, and practice picking it out. You will learn Stairway to Heaven much faster. But you will learn very little about music. And you will pick up a ton of bad habits that are very hard to break. (ask me how I know...) Getting from the self taught, tablature version of Stairway to Heaven, to improvising with a Jazz band or making your own arrangements is very hard to do. In fact, learning another song can be very hard as well. But, your Stairway to Heaven will still sound good. However, by learning the basics first and building... you may start slower, but you will soon start understanding and progressing much faster and much further.

    In essence, the Shu-Ha-Ri method used by kata based systems is much like how we in the west, transmit musical ability. You learn to play these patterns, these notes, in these arrangements, exactly. In doing this, you learn all these other basics that are way more important than the song you are playing. Then you can start to tweak the songs you play, you can start to pick the arrangements you play and eventually you can do your own thing and play how and what you want.

    Yes, there are some people who can skip all that, and teach themselves. The rest of us would do better to follow the method. The problem we have is too many people trying to argue whether Aura Lee is better than Ode to Joy or vice versa. Then we have others trying to figure out exactly why Tom Dooley was chosen. Instead, maybe we should focus on what are the basics being taught by these songs... we might start understanding enough to get to the Ha or Ri stage. The rest of these arguments mean we are still squarely in the Shu stage, just copying.
     
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  8. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    What is the purpose of the kata at advanced belts, if the kata is designed to teach the basic concepts?
    What is the purpose of the more abstract motions that don't seem to have a definitive application? It's hard to deviate if there isn't anything to deviate from.

    I don't think this meets the criteria for that Japanese style of teaching, because I've not gone to a Taekwondo school that expands beyond the Shu step of the kata that you outlined above.
     
  9. wab25

    wab25 Purple Belt

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    The first thing to understand is that "basic" does not mean "easy" or even "beginning." Think of "basic" as foundation or the basis of something. This is the core. It is basic, or the core of the thing, because everything else is built on top of it. Everything else is done, assuming you have the core or basis for the thing already.

    This is a first lesson for guitar: FINGERSTYLE GUITAR LESSON 1 | GuitarNick.com It uses 2 strings, both played by the thumb, and very easy fingering. This is to teach beginners enough of a basis to learn and practice the beginning songs. This is where they learn to read the music, use their thumb, find the notes and hopefully some about timing.

    This is a first lesson for finger style blues: THE 1st FINGERSTYLE BLUES Guitar Lesson: GuitarNick.com Again this is a basic lesson. However, if you have not done that first one (and quite a few more and a lot of practice to boot) This one will be very difficult. It uses most of the strings, plays them with most of the fingers, the fret work isn't so bad, but its the first step in separating the thumb of your picking hand from the fingers... they play in different rhythms, at the same time. It takes some time to get from the first lesson to the next one I posted. However, neither are songs. Neither are a thing you would want to play for someone, besides your teacher or practice. However, both teach you a basis for a different type of song. By practicing these basics and mastering these patterns first, it makes your transition into the songs you want to play much easier and actually opens the door so that you can play much more music.

    Again, they are both basics. However, there is an order to learn them and some are harder than others. Here is a basic lesson on Ghost notes: Ghost Notes guitar lesson 1: GuitarNick.com Nope, not a song at all. This one is just a collection of related techniques. However, without learning these, you will not be able to properly play this: Metallica, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS: Guitar Tab - GuitarNick.com which uses the techniques learned in the Ghost notes basic. (note you can play that song, without learning the Ghost note techniques, and even tweak it to sound good... it just won't be the same, and you won't be able to use Ghost notes in any song, until you take the time to learn them)

    The first step, is learning the katas / forms abstract motions and all. Later, sometimes much later, you will find the reason for those abstract motions. Trust the master and trust the system. TKD has worked for lots of people, who eventually got it. I doubt anyone got it all at once though... it came a piece at a time. But adherence to the kata, and using careful divergence from the kata, at the right time will get you there faster.

    Most Karate schools don't follow this style of teaching. They got the kata, and thought that was the end. A bunch of GIs went over to Japan and learned for a few years and came back, never fully understanding the Shu-Ha-Ri system they were being trained in. They weren't there long enough to even really learn the katas. They brought it back, and combined it with our western thinking... and many times missed the forest for the trees.

    To get an idea of how much things got changed around... look at the Shotokan Blocks. This is from Karate-Do Kyohan, written by Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate. http://www.jka-slovenija.si/varovana/Prirocniki/Karate - do kyohan-1.pdf
    Notice how the primary use of Uchi-te (upward block, down block, mid block, knife hand block...) in Shotokan Karate, according to its founder, is to strike a vital point. The alternate or secondary use is to knock a punch or kick away. Yet, when you go train Shotokan Karate here in the states, we are taught that the primary use of these techniques is to knock the opponents punch or kick away, and the vital point strikes are treated as an obscure, alternate use. This is directly opposite of what Funakoshi taught. To go further, when he discussed blocks in this text, the striking block is the very last one discussed. He first discusses pulling blocks, grabbing blocks, trapping blocks, pushing blocks... If you read his descriptions about the actual kata he says (step 12 in Bassai)
    He is saying that in all the kata, when the blocking hand returns to chamber, it should be pulling the opponent in. This is different to knocking the punch away from our face.

    I bring this up to show how much got changed. How much got lost. Its not so important that what we now consider the primary use of a technique is something that the founder of the art considered an alternate, secondary use. Its more important that we lost the method of transmission. Well, we didn't actually lose it... we just need to learn about it. I don't know that TKD tried to follow this method intentionally or not. But, since they have the same techniques and very similar forms and so much other influence... it wouldn't hurt to approach it the same way.

    One key point here is that moving beyond the Shu (copying) step into Ha (diverging) step, is mostly on the student to do. Its for the student to explore, and seek input from the master. From Ha to Ri (throwing away) step, is entirely on the student. Note in the article I posted, this step does not mean that you stop doing the kata.
     
  10. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    That's all well and good. But since we typically don't do all of that, that cannot be the purpose. That is the purpose of the Karate kata, in those schools that follow that method of teaching.

    What is the purpose of the forms in Taekwondo?
     
  11. DaveB

    DaveB Master Black Belt

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    I have to concur.

    TKD patterns are just vehicles to practice techniques that have the added bonus of being mysterious enough for teachers to ascribe meaning and symbolism to them.
    Application was not a component of the martial arts training on which Taekwondo was based. It was specifically removed for various political reasons. Hence it is not present in Taekwondo patterns.

    The exception would be the modified Shotokan forms which I think you call the Palgwe. The trouble is that its highly likely that they were modified without applications in mind.

    So from a combative perspective there is no point, outside of the coordination and balance mentioned by others.

    If you want to codify Taekwondo fighting you need to do it yourself, or, swap to Ashihara Karate or Enshin Karate kata.
     
  12. DaveB

    DaveB Master Black Belt

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    That presupposes that Taekwondo has a definitive and complete function for patterns as opposed to a vague idea of the benefits of forms as the basis for their inclusion.
     
  13. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    I'm not necessarily looking for the combative application. But why do we do them, and what do we get out of them?
     
  14. wab25

    wab25 Purple Belt

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    Now I am confused. What part don't you do? Do you learn the forms? Do you practice the forms? Do you ever practice an application of one of the movements in the form?

    I am not sure I understand why you keep asking this, thread after thread. People have given you many perfectly valid reasons for studying the forms, and you reject them all out of hand. Some of these people have been studying TKD longer than you and I both have been studying martial arts, a few have forgotten more than I will ever learn... but you don't accept any of the answers and ask the question again in a new way. What are you looking for?

    Maybe if you tell us what you think they are for, we can affirm it for you and you can move on?

    Apparently, not much I guess.
     
  15. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    We learn the forms. We don't learn any application from the form. Once you get past the basic forms, there isn't much connection between our forms and our practical training. As far as the forms themselves go, we learn the movements and techniques, but that's it. As @andyjeffries said, we're going for accuracy in the form. There isn't room to deviate, and there aren't applications drawn from it. We never really get to a point where we question the form, experiment with the concepts in the form, or draw application from them. We do the form...and then we move on to the next drill.

    And from what I can tell, this is pretty consistent. Because when I ask the question, people get confused. When I look up the applications of the techniques, it's very hard to find discussion on it. It seems I get a lot of best guesses and "we tried a bunch of things and this was closest to the result".

    The possibilities from this point are:

    1. There is a practical application I am missing.
    2. There is a training application I am missing.
    3. The motions are chosen based on aesthetics more than any particular application
    4. Some other reason I've missed
    5. Some combination of the above
    Now, don't get me wrong, several techniques have a very clear Motion -> Application. Some are less clear, but once explained I can see how it works. But there are lots of techniques as you get into the advanced forms which don't really seem to have a purpose, outside of potentially a scripted fight. Augmented blocks, mountain blocks, double strikes, a lot of these things aren't something I can see being used outside of a movie. So what is the purpose for these in a form?

    I have engaged in good discussions with plenty of people in these threads. Perhaps the problem isn't with my questions?

    The problem I have is that, like I said above, I'm asking a question, and the answers I'm getting don't quite fit the question. It's not about getting the answer I want, it's about getting the question I asked answered.

    This is, in fact, a different question. The previous questions have been regarding the practical uses of those techniques in a fight. This is the purpose for training those techniques.

    And, if I knew the answer, I wouldn't be asking the question here, now would I?
     
  16. wab25

    wab25 Purple Belt

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    Many people have shown many, many practical applications of the techniques within your form, if you go back and look at the past threads. There have been many videos showing many of the practical applications. But you dismissed all of them outright, because your master did not show you that.
    So, apparently, there are no applications, since your master never showed you any. Or is he waiting for you to start finding them yourself... maybe move into the Ha stage?
    Just as the less clear ones become clear, once you understand... the ones you don't get will eventually become less clear, and then clear... as you progress.

    You have been shown many training applications in these threads. Balance, transition, power generation, flexibility, strength, combinations, flow, structure, accuracy, proper body movement.... And you dismiss all of those explanations, because your master didn't say it. Or could he be giving you the opportunity to discover some of these things yourself?

    Nope. At least in Shotokan, no. A few TKD people here seem to think that all the application was removed and watered down when they took it from Shotokan. I am not a TKD guy, so I don't know a lot about what was done with it. But, I had always thought that they kept the applications and that the slight differences to Shotokan were the influence of the older Korean arts. But what do I know...

    The problem is definitely not with your questions. The answers have been pretty good too. But, the answers have all been discarded out of hand because you don't do that at your school.

    If you won't accept or entertain the answers you get, from people with many more years in martial arts and in TKD... why even ask the question? You asked before "what is this part of the knife hand block?" You then dismissed any answer that was not "It is a knife hand block, of a punch." But you knew that already. If you didn't want any other answer, why ask? There were many, many answers given, only to be dismissed, because you either don't do it that way in your school or your school has no time to do it, or because it was not a knife hand block.

    If you really don't see any practical applications or training applications or any other applications or reasons for training the way you are, why are you doing it? Go take kickboxing. Why do you have this goal of being a master of something that you see no practical, training or other application for?

    My suggestion is to go back to those threads, re-read those answers. Work on them, try them out, experiment with them. Take the ideas your were given in this thread, apply them, look at your training differently. Martial arts is your own personal journey, that you have to take. Your master can't hand it to you... if he did, you wouldn't have 90% of it. Maybe your master doesn't say and do these things because he is allowing his students to explore and find them... that way the students get the most out of their training. (yes, that would be exactly like that Shu-Ha-Ri thing again... which you don't do)

    Look, I know that you don't really appreciate my input. So, I will leave this thread alone now. I am sure I missed some reason why it doesn't work that way for you... But, my intention was always to just help out and share what few pieces I am working on myself. Ignoring my posts, there has been a lot of great knowledge shared in these threads, by people with a ton of experience and training. I have learned a bunch from reading their responses. The answers are there, they just might not be what you expected. Anyway, I hope you find what you are looking for.
     
  17. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    My guess would be they’re enjoyable to do.

    I mean, you guys do enjoy them, ya?
     
  18. paitingman

    paitingman Blue Belt

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    When I asked my grandmaster told me that the application and bunkai from the way of fighting that was trained around the time of the unification was pretty much mostly forgotten or just not passed on by a lot of schools once tkd became the national sport and the sport of sparring became the direction. (contextually speaking about academies and sports clubs in the KTA/WTF circles in South Korea during the 70s and 80s).
     
  19. dvcochran

    dvcochran Master Black Belt

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    Great post.
     
  20. dvcochran

    dvcochran Master Black Belt

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    Dude, your questions have been answered many times by many different voices. You are just not hearing them for some reason. In answer to your numbered possibilities; number 2, definitely number 2. It would appear your point of view of TKD is very narrow. Maybe try working out at/with other people/schools/styles to get some perspective. That doesn't mean you are being disloyal as long as you do it the right way.
     

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