Is Taekwondo progression all just memorization?

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I've attended 3 different Taekwondo schools, and I've seen the same thing at pretty much all of them. I realize this is a small sample size, but I've seen the same from some other folks I've talked to online. It seems that Taekwondo is (in general) highly focused on how much a student can memorize in terms of what their progression is. And while different schools have a different level of quality control for what is tested, it's almost always been "Do you know your form and your XYZ #1-#3? Then you're ready for testing."

In my experience, there are 4 types of items you will perform during testing:
  • Called techniques or combos - "Show me reverse punch!"
  • Memorized curriculum - Forms, one-steps, memorized combos
  • Dynamic displays - Sparring, other spontaneous performances
  • Creative content - anything the tester has prepared in advance (i.e. new form, creative one-steps)
At my original school (as a kid), memorized curriculum was the vast majority of testing. There were some called techniques (just basic versions of the kicks), then a ton of forms and mini-forms that we called "Exercises" (i.e. Exercise #1). You needed to perform the entire curriculum. All Exercises, Kibons, Palgwes, and Taegeuks (around 20+ forms and 30+ exercises to get black belt). Then there was sparring and board breaking, for a small amount of dynamic content and then another called technique.

I've spoken many times before about my main school, but for the sake of this thread I'll bring it up again. The school I was at for 9 years and got to 3rd degree black belt. This was mostly memorized curriculum, and there was a lot of it. Memorized punch, kick, and jump kick combos. A few forms per belt. Lots of one-steps. Called techniques were more common in the beginner level (advanced level meant more memorization). There were a few dynamic displays, and specific belts had a small amount of creative content (adult blue belts created 2x one-steps, you needed to create a form for 3rd degree black belt).

It was also expected by the Master that you focus a majority of class time on testing requirements, because he thinks that's what people expect when they come to class. So for example if I notice a lot of people are struggling with back kicks, and so instead of doing Kicking #1-8, I do a back kick workshop, I get told I should've done Kicking #1-8, because that's what helps them get ready for testing.

The school I attended most recently (around 3 months, then left because it was such a mcdojo I felt I was losing ability by being there) had less memorization than either of my previous schools, but it was chaotic and so tightly controlled in how it was taught, but the quality control wasn't there. You learn your form (enough to get through it with instructor help), you get your form stripe and don't practice your form again in class, because now you learn one-steps. The students at this school had such bad understanding of the forms and techniques that I had teach green belts how a basic block works to stop a punch (simple things like "push the punch away from your face, don't pull the punch into your face", against a punch that was just hanging out there). Testing was a couple of called techniques, form, memorized one-steps, and then called board breaking. I don't even remember if they sparred during testing, but I know there was no other dynamic and no creative content.

Then there's the discussions I had in the recently closed thread, which I want to be very careful with what I discuss from there. There are two schools that the one responder mentioned, the one he learned at, and the one he teaches. From the one he learned at, you get the sense that the memorized curriculum was the measure of the student, based on the statement that there was no new content past a certain level (I think it was 3rd dan), so everything else is just a formality. Similarly, when he was suggesting learning from him, the start was "You should know these forms and my whole curriculum is on Youtube for free."

Overall, it seems very common to me that Taekwondo is heavily curriculum-driven. When I do open my school, I'd like to follow a similar template as the Taekwondo I've learned (forms, kick-heavy sparring, self-defense, weapons), but I'm wondering if an approach that has less of an explicit curriculum is too far removed from what every other Taekwondo school is that I shouldn't call it Taekwondo at that point.

Are there schools where testing is more than just "Memorize XYZ and learn these details on them"?
 
Memorization is a huge part. Let's look at a perspective on Patterns. "Patterns are various fundamental movements, most of which represent either attack or defense techniques set to a .... logical sequence.... In short a pattern (fundamental technique or series of same - my note) can be compared to ... tactics or word." General Choi
So, if you compare it to something else- you need to learn the Alphabet, Then learn all the different ways it can assembled construct words, and then learn how words can be assembled to convey various meanings. it all starts with memorizing the elements and then learning how to use the elements in their most basic fashion and then move on to more advanced elements. ,
 
An outsider perspective...

Memorized lists of techniques are easy to structure class and tests around. Lots of TKD schools rely on thinly disguised daycare as the main income in the form of before and after school programs. This means that the average student is young; usually pre-high school. Again -- a group that lends itself to working with lists and standard structure. And so are their parents -- who write the checks.

Additionally, a lot of TKD schools rely on "leadership clubs" or whatever label that makes a paying student responsible for teaching "in order to advance." Again -- this is facilitated with a very standard, simple curriculum of memorized technique lists for the "student teacher." On a related point, I know of several TKD programs that routinely bring Korean young adults over as instructors. These instructors don't always speak much English (I don't know if this is to facilitate going to college here, or what else they do around teaching.) -- so it's easy if they can have a list of memorized words and techniques to work from until their English approves.

Another thought... many that go through the highly commercial TKD programs aren't really looking for deep fighting skills. They're just after an activity that is structured, teaches "disclipline" to their kids, or a route to an Olympic sport, and so on. Nothing prevents a student from taking the memorized steps to the next level -- exploring how they can go together and be used and applied. But, in a comparison, how many people in music move from playing some songs to jazz improv? If it's not what they're after, they don't want to. Especially if the lessons include the inevitable black eye and embarassment of getting hit or failing...
 
It seems that Taekwondo is (in general) highly focused on how much a student can memorize in terms of what their progression
I think yes, it mostly is memorization and regurgitation. Which a lot of things in life are. Similar to taking a history class, you memorize a bunch of facts and dates but really don't grasp history until you go to a historical site and walk in the foot-steps of those people. Taekwondo gives you the curriculum to learn but it is up to you to do something with that curriculum. There are world champ first dan Taekwondoists with metals and trophies from their fighting prowess, and there are first dans that can do the material but would struggle to defend themselves if need be. I believe you can present the material as clear as possible and help them understand the mechanics, and some will choose to go above and beyond the curriculum to truly be better martial artists. Playing football with a bunch of buddies on a Sunday is a lot different than playing professionally. However, both scenarios follow the same rule set and techniques.
 
but I'm wondering if an approach that has less of an explicit curriculum is too far removed from what every other Taekwondo school is that I shouldn't call it Taekwondo at that point.
You could call it kickboxing. Not muay thai, but just normal kickboxing. Any striker would be able to integrate to your system and it would focus on actually getting in the ring and striking. You could cut out patterns and one-steps altogether or just sprinkle a few in for that old school feel.
 
You could cut out patterns and one-steps altogether or just sprinkle a few in for that old school feel.
Nope. I like having some patterns, and I like the teaching opportunities that one-steps provide. I just don't want the one-steps to be rote memorized, but to be a teaching tool towards application.
 
I've attended 3 different Taekwondo schools, and I've seen the same thing at pretty much all of them. I realize this is a small sample size, but I've seen the same from some other folks I've talked to online. It seems that Taekwondo is (in general) highly focused on how much a student can memorize in terms of what their progression is. And while different schools have a different level of quality control for what is tested, it's almost always been "Do you know your form and your XYZ #1-#3? Then you're ready for testing."

In my experience, there are 4 types of items you will perform during testing:
  • Called techniques or combos - "Show me reverse punch!"
  • Memorized curriculum - Forms, one-steps, memorized combos
  • Dynamic displays - Sparring, other spontaneous performances
  • Creative content - anything the tester has prepared in advance (i.e. new form, creative one-steps)
At my original school (as a kid), memorized curriculum was the vast majority of testing. There were some called techniques (just basic versions of the kicks), then a ton of forms and mini-forms that we called "Exercises" (i.e. Exercise #1). You needed to perform the entire curriculum. All Exercises, Kibons, Palgwes, and Taegeuks (around 20+ forms and 30+ exercises to get black belt). Then there was sparring and board breaking, for a small amount of dynamic content and then another called technique.

I've spoken many times before about my main school, but for the sake of this thread I'll bring it up again. The school I was at for 9 years and got to 3rd degree black belt. This was mostly memorized curriculum, and there was a lot of it. Memorized punch, kick, and jump kick combos. A few forms per belt. Lots of one-steps. Called techniques were more common in the beginner level (advanced level meant more memorization). There were a few dynamic displays, and specific belts had a small amount of creative content (adult blue belts created 2x one-steps, you needed to create a form for 3rd degree black belt).

It was also expected by the Master that you focus a majority of class time on testing requirements, because he thinks that's what people expect when they come to class. So for example if I notice a lot of people are struggling with back kicks, and so instead of doing Kicking #1-8, I do a back kick workshop, I get told I should've done Kicking #1-8, because that's what helps them get ready for testing.

The school I attended most recently (around 3 months, then left because it was such a mcdojo I felt I was losing ability by being there) had less memorization than either of my previous schools, but it was chaotic and so tightly controlled in how it was taught, but the quality control wasn't there. You learn your form (enough to get through it with instructor help), you get your form stripe and don't practice your form again in class, because now you learn one-steps. The students at this school had such bad understanding of the forms and techniques that I had teach green belts how a basic block works to stop a punch (simple things like "push the punch away from your face, don't pull the punch into your face", against a punch that was just hanging out there). Testing was a couple of called techniques, form, memorized one-steps, and then called board breaking. I don't even remember if they sparred during testing, but I know there was no other dynamic and no creative content.

Then there's the discussions I had in the recently closed thread, which I want to be very careful with what I discuss from there. There are two schools that the one responder mentioned, the one he learned at, and the one he teaches. From the one he learned at, you get the sense that the memorized curriculum was the measure of the student, based on the statement that there was no new content past a certain level (I think it was 3rd dan), so everything else is just a formality. Similarly, when he was suggesting learning from him, the start was "You should know these forms and my whole curriculum is on Youtube for free."

Overall, it seems very common to me that Taekwondo is heavily curriculum-driven. When I do open my school, I'd like to follow a similar template as the Taekwondo I've learned (forms, kick-heavy sparring, self-defense, weapons), but I'm wondering if an approach that has less of an explicit curriculum is too far removed from what every other Taekwondo school is that I shouldn't call it Taekwondo at that point.

Are there schools where testing is more than just "Memorize XYZ and learn these details on them"?
Sport schools would be less focused on that?
 
I've attended 3 different Taekwondo schools, and I've seen the same thing at pretty much all of them. I realize this is a small sample size, but I've seen the same from some other folks I've talked to online. It seems that Taekwondo is (in general) highly focused on how much a student can memorize in terms of what their progression is. And while different schools have a different level of quality control for what is tested, it's almost always been "Do you know your form and your XYZ #1-#3? Then you're ready for testing."
That's a rather limited way of looking at it. How would you do it?

Tests have well defined criteria that students are expected to know, but there is also free sparring, board breaking, and having the student demonstrate some of their own techniques at higher belt levels.

It's not just memorization, and that's why I specifically don't teach the final 6 ITF patterns. To try and remember another ~250 movements that nobody will ever learn was a waste and was missing the point of TKD.


Then there's the discussions I had in the recently closed thread, which I want to be very careful with what I discuss from there. There are two schools that the one responder mentioned, the one he learned at, and the one he teaches. From the one he learned at, you get the sense that the memorized curriculum was the measure of the student, based on the statement that there was no new content past a certain level (I think it was 3rd dan), so everything else is just a formality. Similarly, when he was suggesting learning from him, the start was "You should know these forms and my whole curriculum is on Youtube for free."
Since you're obviously talking about me, I'll respond.

It would be appropriate to say that there was no new "memorized content" as you call it beyond 3rd Dan black belt at the school I trained at originally. They cut off the patterns at Sam-Il. Students were expected to create their own self-defence techniques and demonstrate them with a partner. Breaks were both demonstrated and chosen by the instructor. etc. The higher ranks were largely "ceremonial", acquired through age and time and whatever new unmemorized information the student picked up along the way.

There is so much more that you learn besides just the specified curriculum. Think of the curriculum as the BASE and then you pick up things on top of that as well, just as I've never stopped learning new things since leaving that school. Thanks to the internet and YouTube, every instructor is now available. Heck, I've learned several new things in the past few days that answered a LOT of questions I've always had. Many new dots are now being connected and many new things are making sense.
 
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It's not just memorization, and that's why I specifically don't teach the final 6 ITF patterns. To try and remember another ~250 movements that nobody will ever learn was a waste and was missing the point of TKD.
Except there are literally thousands of us who DID learn those forms, and did NOT miss anything.
 
Except there are literally thousands of us who DID learn those forms, and did NOT miss anything.
The 1965 Legacy Guide has only 20 of the 24 Chang'Hon School patterns in it, and the ordering is different. The rest weren't even created yet at that time.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not having those final patterns. In fact, I looked at them, found out which techniques were actually new in each pattern (not many), and integrated those new movements into my own patterns, to finish off the 24 pattern set at my school (18 ITF patterns + 6 Ki-bon patterns that are simply short school-specific patterns which are much easier to memorize).

I think it would be more appropriate to say that you memorized another 250 pattern movements but learned about 5 new techniques.
 
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curriculum is too far removed from what every other Taekwondo school is that I shouldn't call it Taekwondo at that point.
If you make up all your own patterns and all your own one-steps, it wouldn't be taekwondo. It would be your expression of taekwondo but your students might get confused when every other taekwondo practitioner does some sort of recognized patterns. Unless you use established forms then add a few of your own.
 
If you make up all your own patterns and all your own one-steps, it wouldn't be taekwondo.
Forms do not define a martial art.
It would be your expression of taekwondo but your students might get confused when every other taekwondo practitioner does some sort of recognized patterns. Unless you use established forms then add a few of your own.
No more than they'd be after studying (some of) the Chang Hon forms and then seeing someone do the Taegeuk, Palgwae, etc.
 
The 1965 Legacy Guide has only 20 of the 24 Chang'Hon School patterns in it, and the ordering is different. The rest weren't even created yet at that time.

I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not having those final patterns. In fact, I looked at them, found out which techniques were actually new in each pattern (not many), and integrated those new movements into my own patterns, to finish off the 24 pattern set at my school (18 ITF patterns + 6 Ki-bon patterns that are simply short school-specific patterns which are much easier to memorize).

I think it would be more appropriate to say that you memorized another 250 pattern movements but learned about 5 new techniques.
Of course. It would be more than a little silly to think that high Dan practitioners are still learning a bunch of new techniques. It's also more than a little silly to say those of us who learned patterns you don't know are somehow "missing the point of TKD".
 
Forms do not define a martial art
So, what is visually different between Kukkiwon, I.T.F., ATA? The forms. If you want to make up your own forms and call it taekwondo, I guess you would be equal to General Choi, the Kukkiwon, Jhoon Rhee, etc? I tend to think if you want to call your art taekwondo, then it should have some traditional aspects. Otherwise, it sounds like the traditional forms are bunk, so why waste time with them when you could make up your own?

If I am going to have a giant clown run around and sell hamburgers, I wouldn't call it McDonald's. I would make up a new name.
 
So, what is visually different between Kukkiwon, I.T.F., ATA? The forms.
I think the problem is that you don't understand what forms are. What do you think they are?
If you want to make up your own forms and call it taekwondo, I guess you would be equal to General Choi, the Kukkiwon, Jhoon Rhee, etc?
Well, except none of those people made up forms. They were designed by committee to make teaching the art to a group easier.
I tend to think if you want to call your art taekwondo, then it should have some traditional aspects.
The traditional aspect of TKD are the emphasis on kicking, the way specific techniques are performed, and the philosophies. Considering TKD is less than 100 years old, that's plenty traditional.
Otherwise, it sounds like the traditional forms are bunk, so why waste time with them when you could make up your own?
Feel free.
 
I think the problem is that you don't understand what forms are.
They are complex movement patterns with layers of hidden meanings. They are unnecessary to learn how to defend yourself. The beauty in forms is you are passing on history. It is like throwing out all music from the 60's and 70's because we have newer better music. So without hyung, what makes your Moo Duk Kwan any different from a kickboxer association? Your creed? Your degrees awarded, which you admitted before are pretty much useless.
 
There's nothing hidden. It's all right there in plain sight. Assuming you understand the movements and the principles, at any rate
I remember being taught low block, high block, etc. Then there was all this hub bub about they are really grappling and arm breaks and all that b.s. When I wrestled in high school and college they taught you moves and you strung them together to form a strategy. I guess if somone wants to learn taekwondo then the teacher from day 1 should teach multiple bunkai. Does your kwan or you teach a high block as an arm break or just say it's a high block and you're a moron if you can"t figure out the other uses for that pattern?
 
I've attended 3 different Taekwondo schools, and I've seen the same thing at pretty much all of them. I realize this is a small sample size, but I've seen the same from some other folks I've talked to online. It seems that Taekwondo is (in general) highly focused on how much a student can memorize in terms of what their progression is. And while different schools have a different level of quality control for what is tested, it's almost always been "Do you know your form and your XYZ #1-#3? Then you're ready for testing."

In my experience, there are 4 types of items you will perform during testing:
  • Called techniques or combos - "Show me reverse punch!"
  • Memorized curriculum - Forms, one-steps, memorized combos
  • Dynamic displays - Sparring, other spontaneous performances
  • Creative content - anything the tester has prepared in advance (i.e. new form, creative one-steps)
At my original school (as a kid), memorized curriculum was the vast majority of testing. There were some called techniques (just basic versions of the kicks), then a ton of forms and mini-forms that we called "Exercises" (i.e. Exercise #1). You needed to perform the entire curriculum. All Exercises, Kibons, Palgwes, and Taegeuks (around 20+ forms and 30+ exercises to get black belt). Then there was sparring and board breaking, for a small amount of dynamic content and then another called technique.

I've spoken many times before about my main school, but for the sake of this thread I'll bring it up again. The school I was at for 9 years and got to 3rd degree black belt. This was mostly memorized curriculum, and there was a lot of it. Memorized punch, kick, and jump kick combos. A few forms per belt. Lots of one-steps. Called techniques were more common in the beginner level (advanced level meant more memorization). There were a few dynamic displays, and specific belts had a small amount of creative content (adult blue belts created 2x one-steps, you needed to create a form for 3rd degree black belt).

It was also expected by the Master that you focus a majority of class time on testing requirements, because he thinks that's what people expect when they come to class. So for example if I notice a lot of people are struggling with back kicks, and so instead of doing Kicking #1-8, I do a back kick workshop, I get told I should've done Kicking #1-8, because that's what helps them get ready for testing.

The school I attended most recently (around 3 months, then left because it was such a mcdojo I felt I was losing ability by being there) had less memorization than either of my previous schools, but it was chaotic and so tightly controlled in how it was taught, but the quality control wasn't there. You learn your form (enough to get through it with instructor help), you get your form stripe and don't practice your form again in class, because now you learn one-steps. The students at this school had such bad understanding of the forms and techniques that I had teach green belts how a basic block works to stop a punch (simple things like "push the punch away from your face, don't pull the punch into your face", against a punch that was just hanging out there). Testing was a couple of called techniques, form, memorized one-steps, and then called board breaking. I don't even remember if they sparred during testing, but I know there was no other dynamic and no creative content.

Then there's the discussions I had in the recently closed thread, which I want to be very careful with what I discuss from there. There are two schools that the one responder mentioned, the one he learned at, and the one he teaches. From the one he learned at, you get the sense that the memorized curriculum was the measure of the student, based on the statement that there was no new content past a certain level (I think it was 3rd dan), so everything else is just a formality. Similarly, when he was suggesting learning from him, the start was "You should know these forms and my whole curriculum is on Youtube for free."

Overall, it seems very common to me that Taekwondo is heavily curriculum-driven. When I do open my school, I'd like to follow a similar template as the Taekwondo I've learned (forms, kick-heavy sparring, self-defense, weapons), but I'm wondering if an approach that has less of an explicit curriculum is too far removed from what every other Taekwondo school is that I shouldn't call it Taekwondo at that point.

Are there schools where testing is more than just "Memorize XYZ and learn these details on them"?
For certain, there is a healthy amount of memorization in ALL martial arts. Take BJJ for example. If you were not learning How/Where/When to do certain movements, using memorization, what would you be doing? How would you be learning?
I think it seems easier to criticize TKD because there is so much of it, and it is taught so many different ways, most all of them structured. Rote memorization is just one way.
So, let's take the style name away and just talk about forms/hyungs/poomsae. We could use drills, techniques, or sparring for sake of argument.
'Knowing' a form is far more than being able to get through the form without help, even if you do the form 'well'. You would think this is purely objective, but it just is not. This is far and away the most missed part of doing forms. Even if you are in a sparring, combat, or weapons school there are copious amounts of repetitive movements that could be called forms.
For example, and contrast, I cannot tell how many thousands of times I have practice speed drawing my weapon from different holster locations. It is 1000% memorization and reaction. And it is something that I will do slightly different from you based on height, strength, size, recognition speed, aggression, etc... The same can be said about forms (outside of competition). Two people, twins for example, can do the same form the same way and they can look completely different. Being able to recognize the 'why' in this takes time and experience, and I will say not everyone gets there.
Conversely, I have seen people who had a higher kick, even though it was not a better kick, score higher at tournaments. This is a fundamental flaw in either the scoring system or the experience/perception of the people doing the scoring.

At the end day, you can call it a potato or a potatoh, it is the same thing. Call it rote or repetitive, creative, awareness, or cognizance, what matters it what the student does with it. NOT what they are spoon fed as acceptable or even correct.

Forms are an essential part of any TKD program. What/how/why you teach them makes all the difference. Especially when you teach a 'standard' form set like the Taeguek/Yundaja, Pinons, or Palgwes. If application is not part of the process, it is just exercise.
 
Of course. It would be more than a little silly to think that high Dan practitioners are still learning a bunch of new techniques. It's also more than a little silly to say those of us who learned patterns you don't know are somehow "missing the point of TKD".

I'm not being critical of you for learning those patterns. You are being critical of me for not learning them. That's the issue.

In one message you say to another user that "forms don't define a martial art" and then you criticize me for not learning the last few ITF patterns. If you could at least be consistent that would be nice. You say two completely different things depending on who you're talking to.

As I've told you previously, at Chung Oh's School they stopped at pattern Sam-Il. So I went to the effort of learning patterns Juche, Yoo-Sin, and Choi-Yong on my own.

After learning Juche, I decided that I didn't like it enough to keep it. It was too similar to Ko-Dang and I would rather have pattern Ko-Dang (the original 2nd Dan pattern) any day. In my opinion, Juche is too different and too strange. It doesn't fit in with the rest of the patterns.

Now, Chung Oh created his own set of school-specific patterns called Ki-Bon patterns. He did that to emphasize techniques that were either missing in the ITF pattern set, or that didn't appear until too high a level such that most students would never learn them, or simply as better beginner patterns. I have done the same thing, so I teach 24 patterns but only the first 18 ITF ones. The other patterns address shortcomings in the ITF patterns.

Now personally, I'm in the process of re-working my Ki-bon #5 and #6 patterns because I'm not happy with them, but I know you won't give me credit for knowing them.

Yes, I do believe you have missed the point of Taekwondo based on your criticisms of me.
 

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