Quantity of Memorization

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
At my most recent Taekwondo school, there was a lot that you would have to remember. There was so much rote content in each belt, that you would brain dump some of the information every new belt color. It got even worse when he started adding in the Taegeuks.

In discussing this in another thread, I brought up that I was the only person at my dojang capable of retaining the entire curriculum (aside from the Master and his wife). I didn't brain dump, so I was able to keep up with training. During my time as an instructor, we had around a dozen other students get their third dan. Half of them immediately quit to move on to other things (like college or other sports). The other half stayed for a while. All but one of those that stayed had a strong call to a leadership role. But, none of those were able to retain the colored belt curriculum. Most were struggling just to keep up with ours.

In fact, even the Master struggled with the 3rd Dan curriculum. He taught the colored belt stuff and even the 1st Dan stuff every day for over a decade, so it was firmly ingrained in his memory. He'd have a mistake here or there, but 99% of the time he was rock solid with the beginner levels. By the time I got my 3rd Dan, he had trouble showing me the rote material in a consistent manner, which made it difficult in turn for me to learn.

I've always been quick to pick up on curriculum. I also took very detailed notes after every class (even as a white belt) to make it easier to remember. I'm not sure how much of my success in learning the curriculum was due to my natural talent for it, my dedication to my notes, or simply the fact that I continued to practice what everyone else brain-dumped, and then reinforced when I started teaching. But it's got me wondering what is reasonable to expect a person to be able to memorize when it comes to Taekwondo. This question comes in a few forms:

  1. How much rote material should you expect someone to be able to retain, after which most people will not be able to keep up?
  2. How important is rote material to Taekwondo? Should someone "peak" in their career because they've reached their limit on how many forms and combinations they can commit to memory, or should their technique and ability to teach technique and application be a bigger factor in promotion?
  3. How much of rote memorization is up to natural talent, and how much is able to be practiced? In other words, if someone can't memorize something, is the answer that they need to keep working at it, or that they've reached their limit?
  4. How much of rote memorization can be taught? In other words, is it a flaw in my Master's teaching that people did not retain the colored belt curriculum and struggled to keep up at 3rd Dan, or is that just the nature of the beast?
For reference, our curriculum had a total of 30+ rote combinations, 20+ forms, and 90+ self-defense combinations in the colored belts. At most you would need 5 forms and 25 self-defense at any one test, but an instructor would need to know them all. To get your 4th Dan, you were pushing 60+ combinations, 15+ forms, and 60+ self-defense combinations. To be an instructor, you would need to know both sets of combos, forms, and self-defense. (Even more if you also take Hapkido).
 
Last edited:

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,639
Reaction score
4,581
Location
New York
Are you asking only about TKD, or are you open to responses/thoughts from a kempo perspective (with ~10 forms, ~30 combinations, ~30 grappling combinations, and ~30 'kempos'), over 11 colored belts if you include white, so less info but similar-just not TKD info.
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
Are you asking only about TKD, or are you open to responses/thoughts from a kempo perspective (with ~10 forms, ~30 combinations, ~30 grappling combinations, and ~30 'kempos'), over 11 colored belts if you include white, so less info but similar-just not TKD info.
Hmmm...maybe this should have been a general MA post instead of TKD. I am open to other interpretations, since the main question is on what the human brain should realistically expected to handle. What is a "kempo" (as opposed to the art of kempo).

Is there more after black belt?
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,639
Reaction score
4,581
Location
New York
Hmmm...maybe this should have been a general MA post instead of TKD. I am open to other interpretations, since the main question is on what the human brain should realistically expected to handle. What is a "kempo" (as opposed to the art of kempo).

Is there more after black belt?
I'll answer the full question(s) after work, but will answer the kempo question now. Kempo's are specific combinations, about the same length of an SD combination, that are taught in SKK. After 2 decades I never got a clear reason for why they were separated, besides organizational purposes, and 'kempos' potentially being introduced later in the system.
 

Jared Traveler

Black Belt
Joined
Jul 17, 2022
Messages
538
Reaction score
220
Skribs this is a great question and a great topic. I have been doing Muay Thai for around a couple years in Thailand and have had to memorize exactly zero combinations. They training I am receiving in striking is designed to prepare me to throw any combination at any time. No memorization needed.

Definitely a radically different approach. I think most of the memorization is for testing, not efficiency at fighting.
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
Skribs this is a great question and a great topic. I have been doing Muay Thai for around a couple years in Thailand and have had to memorize exactly zero combinations. They training I am receiving in striking is designed to prepare me to throw any combination at any time. No memorization needed.

Definitely a radically different approach. I think most of the memorization is for testing, not efficiency at fighting.
I think there is a benefit at the beginner level (first year or so) to parroting technique, and having rote numbers is a decent way of doing that. It gives you a consistent baseline of which to practice your techniques while you build up competency in them. Having a consistent way of doing things as a beginner makes it easier to figure out what is "good" and what is "bad". If you're given a number of ways to do something, it can be hard to latch onto something as right or wrong.

At the advanced level, I think you hinder your students by going through rote material. You lose the ability to be more dynamic in your combinations, as well as to go into more detail and more variations on techniques. At the advanced level, I feel it definitely should be more as you describe.

As a simple analogy, let's say you have 8 combinations that include:
  1. Front kick
  2. Roundhouse kick
  3. Side kick
  4. Axe kick
  5. Hook Kick
  6. Back kick
  7. Spinning Hook Kick
  8. Tornado Kick
As an intermediate student, this would be a great way for you to drill those kicks until you've got them really well figured out. To advanced students, I would much rather take the tornado kick and show how to apply it, instead of continuing to drill.

I have complained in the other thread about how my Master never flipped that switch from Intermediate to Advanced by going into more depth and variation on the technique. I have the opposite complaint about my BJJ training, in which there doesn't seem to be a Beginner mode.

I won't pretend to know enough yet to create my own curriculum (like I am doing with TKD). I have heard thoughts from some instructors who do what I wish my professor did, is have a core set of positions and techniques they teach white belts. For example, no-stripe white belts might learn a pass and a sweep from each position, with the goal being to get to the opponent's back and do a rear-naked choke. They open up more techniques as you get more stripes, until blue belt, when they flip that switch and do the typical BJJ "technique of the day" format.

As cliche as it is, I want to do the "best of all, worst of none" approach, and be more consistent at lower belts, and more dynamic at upper belts. In further contrast from my previous TKD experience, I want to do this by making the instructors learn the scope of the beginner classes, more than by making the beginners memorize it.
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
Are you asking only about TKD, or are you open to responses/thoughts from
Maybe in a couple weeks I'll post a new one in the general forum. Quantity of Memorization 2: The Remembering.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,639
Reaction score
4,581
Location
New York
Apologies in advanced for the length, but I don't think it's rambling, just a thorough answering (from my perspective) of skribs' questions with context.



As a background: Typically for each rank, there were 3 things we had to learn: DMs, which we called combinations, Grappling Defenses, and Kempos. Most ranks had 3 of each, so 9 total, but that wasnt a hard rule. The forms weren't as hard set (Depending on the belt, wed learn 0, 1, or 2, with more being learned closer to black). And because my school was a bit unconventional, we learned fu jow pai forms as well, at no set ranks (but before black). Combinations were numbered pretty randomly, kempos and grappling defenses were Blue belt kempo #3, Purple belt grab #2, and the kempos also had weird names like Rising Dragon. If you see me say Techniques below, thats referring to generic combination/kempo/grab defense/weapon defense, so all probably what youd consider 2-step combinations or longer based on my understanding of TKD.

As an example of what wed learn-At yellow belt (first after white) so these were the less complex stuff. Wed learn (adult curriculum)
  • Combinations 3 and 7,
  • 3 kempos
  • A back shove defense
  • 2 back-grab defenses
  • 8-point blocking with counters (without counters taught at white belt)
  • 1 pinan
  • Various strikes/stances/other misc.

Combination 3 was: Start in a palm tree stance. A straight punch comes in. left hand open mid-block. Then step in with your left foot, and throw a right-handed thrust punch towards their abdomen (also taught as a front-two knuckle punch to the groin depending on when it was taught). Chamber your right hand, and use your left to push down on their right shoulder as you throw a right back-two-knuckle towards their temple. There was a second part to it that involves a throw which is taught at a later belt. That was the average complexity of the techniques at that level.

With kids, the curriculum was very slightly different. Theyd have all the same material, except for the kempos, and once they reached black, they got junior black instead. From there, theyd need to get 5 stripes (Called jr bb 1st degree, jr bb 2nd degree, etc) to get to the actual black belt, during which theyre learning the kempos and improving their other materials. As an FYI, jr bb to bb generally took about 2 years; from what I understand of most tkd schools jr bb would be closer to your regular bb, and bb closer to your 2nd degree in terms of experience level. Also, classes were around 20-25 students for kids most of the time (fewer for adults) and there were no retention issues as a result of the below for kids.

Okay, with the background out of the way, and with your first question semi-answered, Ill address your other questions. Im going to save your second question for last, and do a combined answer of your 職 questions first.

So regarding rote memorization, my experience is that pretty much all of it can be taught, and retained. There is no reason for people to forget the earlier ranks information, and by the time they reached black belt the test was around 5 hours for jr bbs, and 8-10 for bb, with a large portion of that being proving you still have all the techniques memorized. And not only memorized, but they all had to be above a certain level black belt technique so they had to be greatly improved upon compared to when they were first learned. So long as people trained consistently and prepared for the test, they didnt have to worry about not knowing the techniques (besides stage fright which did happen), and you could ask them to perform any of them a year later and there wouldnt be an issue.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Also note, I described the difference between adults and kids above in the curriculum, Im going to focus mostly on the kids below since I think thats more relevant to you.
  1. The way advancement was done did not allow for memory dumps. At each belt, there are ~ 6 techniques (not including forms/blocks/etc.), and 3 stripes. This meant that on average, students would learn 2 techniques per stripe.
    1. They had to prove they could do the technique up to the proficiency of that belt before they got the stripe, and wouldnt learn the next techniques until after.
    2. This meant that as you got higher you had to spend more time per stripe learning/practicing (and also conveniently helped lower rank retention).
  2. While earning stripes, you would also be expected to continuously go over earlier techs in class. A common drill done at the beginning of class was 5, 5, and 5. You would do a technique, then 5 pushups, the next technique, 5 crunches, next 5 jumping jacks (exercises would change), until you get through all of your techniques. All students would continue until the most advanced student was finished.
    1. If another student didnt finish before him, theyd have some sort of punishment (an exercise, or hold a horse stance), so the advanced students tended not to rush through, letting them focus on what they were doing.
    2. This helped keep everything in muscle memory. And let the instructors know when people were forgetting something so it could be addressed before any further advancement.
  3. All colored tests were done together. The way that it was done was, if there were yellow belts, purple belts, green belts, and brown belts testing together, they would all do conditioning at the beginning, then sparring, then material review. Theyd all do the yellow belts material review until they were finished with that, at which point, the yellow belt can sit down and watch the remainder of the test. After that, theyd continue to the purple belts, then the same for green, until only the brown belts were up there. Only then would they do their material, on display for everyone to see, further encouraging them to do it all well.
    1. Sometimes it would be conditioning, material review, then sparring. That way the lower ranks get a break after conditioning, and higher ranks are fatigued going into sparring. But thats a side tangent.

So, essentially, no matter what rank you were, you couldnt cram for the test, and you couldnt forget material while you move on to the next shiny thing. Occasionally people would fail the test; but 80%+ of the time it was due to the quality of the technique, not remembering.

The one exception to that is technique names. If an instructor asked a brown belt to do Orange Belt grappling Defense 2, and they do 3, or an (adult) brown belt to do Blue belt with stripe kempo 1 (or whatever naming system the school uses), and they performed blue belt kempo 1, that wouldnt negatively impact their test. In that sense, it was understood that not everyone is as good at remembering names/numbers, and that was fine. Wed rather people spend their time training than trying to improve their math.

Regarding the talent thing, not including the above thing about names/numbers, I found it to be pretty irrelevant. There was talent towards picking it up initially, and if someone took a hiatus, some people will remember the material better than others when they come back-if your school let people brain-dump stuff as they increased in rank, my guess is thats where youd see a difference in talent. But it was clear who did/didnt remember their material well, and it never seemed to be correlated to talent, but rather who trained hard in class, and who (per their parents for kids) trained at home.

Its similar to a musical instrument. You can be very talented in guitar and pick up songs very quickly, but if you stop playing those songs after you pick it up and move on, and someone else continues playing it, theyll be the ones who know how to play it in half a year.

So as a short version of the answer to your questions:
  1. How much of rote memorization is up to natural talent, and how much is able to be practiced? In other words, if someone can't memorize something, is the answer that they need to keep working at it, or that they've reached their limit?
Its pretty much all practice. Muscle memory is a form of memory that they have to work at, and as long as its done incrementally with a continuing focus on all the levels, theres no reason someone shouldnt be able to do it. Barring something extreme like a developmental disorder or brain damage.
  1. How much of rote memorization can be taught? In other words, is it a flaw in my Master's teaching that people did not retain the colored belt curriculum and struggled to keep up at 3rd Dan, or is that just the nature of the beast?
Depends on what you mean by a flaw in my Masters teaching. If you mean a flaw in his ability to teach the material, no. If you mean a flaw in his overall method/style of teaching, most likely thats exactly where the issue lies.

Okay, so onto your question 2. How important is rote material to Taekwondo? Should someone "peak" in their career because they've reached their limit on how many forms and combinations they can commit to memory, or should their technique and ability to teach technique and application be a bigger factor in promotion?
There are two different questions in there. I cant answer the first one, as I dont train TKD, but I can say that rote material is very important in Kempo. But only if youre looking back at them, training them, and furthering your understanding. Its part of why I liked the junior black belt stage at my school, as throughout it you spend a lot of time going back and improving your strikes/movement through them, learn the bunkai of them better, and also practice applying them in sparring. It also works out because at that stage students are more motivated to become a black belt, so theyre more willing to put in the time and effort to do all that, while having a better understanding of martial arts in general. If you leave out the stage of going through all the material, understanding and utilizing it, youre leaving out more than half of the art.

Now, in terms of fighting its not needed, as there are arts that dont teach that, but its a way of organizing what you learn, and adding another level of understanding that doesnt always come from boxing or kickboxing (it can, it just doesnt always since its not built into the systems).

Regarding them peaking in their career, since you mention promotion, I assume you mean peaking in rank, not in memory. To my knowledge no one was no longer able to remember more material after black belt, some were slower than others but that was never the issue for the reasons I listed above (the same training methodology continued past black belt). But I think thats the wrong way to measure your career, and personally, I purposefully stunted my rank growth at 1st-degree black belt for over 5 years, because I felt that there was enough material before then to last me a lifetime. This didnt mean that I couldnt memorize more, I just felt that there was more benefit in continuing to work on what I knew, than there would be in spending that time learning new combinations/forms all involving the same strikes/blocks/stances/grabs/etc. in different ways.

For the system in question, if that is material thats part of their system, yes it should be a factor in promotion because thats how the system works. However, if I were the founder of the system, or if I ever founded a similar system, I would not have any new material after black belt. Instead, once they reached that level, the focus would be on application and martial improvement, and thats how theyd get to 3rd or 4th degree, then around that degree, it would change to teaching. So by the time you hit 1st degree, you know everything in the system, by the time you hit 3rd (or 4th), youre recognized as having mastered the system, and all ranks above that are based around your ability to teach and help the art grow.

Hope that answers your questions from my perspective. Sorry if it rambled (typed in google docs and Im on page 5), but I have a lot of thoughts on this subject.
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
There are a couple of reasons for this. Also note, I described the difference between adults and kids above in the curriculum, Im going to focus mostly on the kids below since I think thats more relevant to you.
Actually the main point of my making this thread was regarding future instructors, so adults are actually a primary concern. I want to say the youngest to get 3rd Dan was around 15-16 years old, and most of those who stayed after getting 3rd Dan and had leadership roles were already adults.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,639
Reaction score
4,581
Location
New York
Actually the main point of my making this thread was regarding future instructors, so adults are actually a primary concern. I want to say the youngest to get 3rd Dan was around 15-16 years old, and most of those who stayed after getting 3rd Dan and had leadership roles were already adults.
15-16 would be considered kids imo in this aspect as they'd be finishing up their jr bb around then. That said, most of what i wrote is essentially the same for adults vs. Kids. The only difference would be add slightly more twchniques at each rank, and the brown belts would be refining techniques.

I actually double checked my old manual-for adults at 2nd degree brown while they learn new techs the main focus is increasing the degree of competence in the rest, and the only thing listed in the combination section for 3rd degree is to be able to perform all combos with the sides reversed (so right mid block rather than left).

I distinctly remember learning techs at 3rd brown, so that must have changed at some point, but that's what I've got in writing.
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
Apologies in advanced for the length
Never apologize for the length! The more you put into it, the more I can get out of it! I'm not going to quote the whole thing, but there are a lot of pieces I wanted to touch on. And I'm not apologizing for the length of my reply!

The quantity per color belt at your school is about half of what we had per test at my school. There were 12 tests to get black belt, and each test had an average of just under 2 forms and 12 assorted techniques. I do believe this is part of the problem, and why I want to get so far away from that when I do eventually open my own school.

One of the questions I do ask myself is if it's worth having a rote curriculum at some point. For example, if I start expecting students to memorize in the upper colored belts, but then stop at black belt. I don't want to do this at the beginner level, because they're just trying to figure out how everything works. I can see it being a great intermediate tool (and it did serve that purpose at my school). I have a few other issues I'll bring up later, but one big issue is that if I have 100 techniques to memorize, most people might get overwhelmed. But then everything I edit out, I feel like I'm holding back information. This is one of the big reasons why I'm not entirely happy with rote material.

I have a slightly different opinion about black belt than you do. Instead of simply having nothing new, I would allow black belts to choose whether they want to focus on continued improvements of the basics, or if they want to expand on any one area as elective content. For example, Taekwondo has tricking kicks (like kicks with "540" in the name), which is something I would want to teach students who opt in, but wouldn't be part of the codified curriculum for those who are more interested in more grounded techniques (literally in this case).

While earning stripes, you would also be expected to continuously go over earlier techs in class. A common drill done at the beginning of class was 5, 5, and 5. You would do a technique, then 5 pushups, the next technique, 5 crunches, next 5 jumping jacks (exercises would change), until you get through all of your techniques. All students would continue until the most advanced student was finished.
This is giving me flashbacks of the partner I had for several months before I was finally able to clear past him. He was a 9th or 10th keub when I started (12th keub) and I caught up to him at 8th. Then, we made a deal. When we got to practice self-defense, I go first. This is because I could run through them in 30 seconds, and then we'd spend the rest of our allotted time failing to get him through once.

As an example, our blue belt punch defense #1 defends 2 punches. It starts by taking your right leg back, and then doing an inside block and then outside block with your left hand. Here would be his attempts:
  • Left leg back
  • Right leg forward
  • Left leg forward
  • Right leg forward
  • Left leg back
  • Left leg back
  • Left leg back
  • Right leg back, outside block
  • Right leg back, inside block with wrong hand
  • Right leg back, outside block with wrong hand
You get the idea. I was always polite and respectful to him. But man was I happy when I moved into the next belt and wasn't stuck with him. Most of my practice at that level was at home on my own, or on days when he wasn't there.

This does segway into the wrong number portion. For the basic combinations (i.e. just punches and kicks on your own), he would often go out of order. Your ability to remember the numbers and follow directions was a big piece of that. His view is that memorization is very important to Taekwondo. My opinion is that you can get most of the benefits by having forms.

Part of the problem is what you mentioned - just training the numbers. I even caught myself doing this. My Dad, when he was training for his third degree, was so frustrated about this. It would take 2-3 hours to go over the rote material once. Even practicing 2-3 hours every day, it's hard to keep track of it all when you only go through it once each. And every test you take after black belt, there is no brain dump. There's just more piled on.

Students returning from hiatus was another problem (as is those transferring in from another school). I remember a few students who came back from a long break, had great technique and muscle memory, but felt like failures because they couldn't remember the numbers. Most quit shortly after. This is another reason I want to eliminate as much rote material as possible; so students don't feel defeated by the numbers if they haven't done them in a while. I get that students leave. But if students come back and immediately quit because the school isn't designed to welcome them back, that seems like a failure to me.

Depends on what you mean by a flaw in my Masters teaching. If you mean a flaw in his ability to teach the material, no. If you mean a flaw in his overall method/style of teaching, most likely thats exactly where the issue lies.

It's a combination of things. All of them come back to one question: If I were to use his curriculum and take a different style of teaching with it, could I get better results in my own instructors than he had in his? In fact, I would say this is the root question behind the thread.

Typically he would teach a form by going through the whole form. Often times we'd go through it once. This would be 20 minutes into an hour class. This means that not only do you have 40 minutes to forget it, but you've also only had one repetition of the entire form. By the time you get to the end of the form, most people have forgotten the first few steps. I liked to learn the first 4 moves of a form and perfect them, and then move on. That's what I did, too. I took notes of as much as I could remember of the start of a form, and built up from there. But a lot of people had trouble with this.

The same goes for self-defense. Most belts had 5 self-defense of each category. He would demonstrate all 5, and then have you practice. Most people had forgotten #1 by the time you got to #5. His opinion is that people should see the whole picture, and then "learn by doing". I do see the value in getting the whole picture, but I think that if the majority of training were "Here is #1 and #2, when you have them I'll teach you #3" it would work better.

I should mention I did see him do this once, and it did lead to a complaint. There were 7 punch defenses for orange belts. One student who had very sporadic attendance couldn't even remember #1 and #2, and wanted to test. My Master ran through all 7 punch defense to check him. After class, he was complaining to me "He never showed me anything past #2, how does he expect me to know #7?!"

I was a lower belt at the time, but all I could think was, "If you don't know #2, why should he even show you #3?"

There are a few other pieces to it as well. A big one is that when black belts would take a colored belt class to re-learn their material, he would instead have the black belt work on black belt material. They had asked him ahead of time specifically to work on the lower stuff. But then they show up to class and it's "Everyone do Kicking #1; black belts do #9."

In general, he did not communicate expectations to staff. He wanted assistant instructors to pay attention so they could re-learn the material and learn how to teach, but most of them were instead focused on their job. He also had the attitude that if they didn't know the lower belt's curriculum, then they were just incapable of teaching it. One thing I would probably try to do differently is provide expectations that my instructors know the material, and (if I am allowing brain dumps) to also provide content and advice on how to effectively re-learn it.

And do I need the brain dumps? If I had the same verbose curriculum my Master had, and I simply expected people to retain everything, could they? It could be as simple as that. I do know it would take much longer for most people to get black belt, but that's probably okay, too.

Regarding them peaking in their career, since you mention promotion, I assume you mean peaking in rank, not in memory. To my knowledge no one was no longer able to remember more material after black belt, some were slower than others but that was never the issue for the reasons I listed above (the same training methodology continued past black belt). But I think thats the wrong way to measure your career, and personally, I purposefully stunted my rank growth at 1st-degree black belt for over 5 years, because I felt that there was enough material before then to last me a lifetime. This didnt mean that I couldnt memorize more, I just felt that there was more benefit in continuing to work on what I knew, than there would be in spending that time learning new combinations/forms all involving the same strikes/blocks/stances/grabs/etc. in different ways.
Eh, little of column A, little of column B. As they peak in memory, should that peak their career? In my school, there were a lot of people that wanted to be instructors, but were so overwhelmed with their own requirements that they couldn't re-learn the colored belt curriculum to be effective instructors.

It's the principle that in order to take care of others, you need to first take care of yourself. If a plane depressurizes, you put your own mask on first, then you put the mask on your child. I already mentioned above that my Dad was struggling with the 3rd degree requirements. Anyone after 3rd degree (except for me) was in even hotter water.

We had "gups" between the degrees, equal to the next degree. You needed 4 gups before being eligible for 4th degree. Out of all of those who stayed after getting 3rd degree, only me and one other guy were able to get any gups. Everyone else was stuck. There was just so much material they couldn't add anymore. It's like their brain was full. These were folks who were there every week, but just couldn't seem to add on. That one other guy leaned heavily on me and my ability to remember things. He told me on a few occasions that if we didn't practice together, he would be in the same boat as the others.

This is also one reason I feel that my opinions on rote material are valid. It's not that I'm just complaining because I couldn't keep up. I could. But I saw the struggles everyone else was going through.

If I do start my own school, then my goal isn't to have good students. My goal is to raise good instructors. Good students are a step on that journey, but not the end goal. I don't want to be in the same boat as my former Master that I would essentially be unable to raise instructors and successors. At one point, my Master told me that none of the other black belts could teach the way I teach, and strongly hinted that he would need to change some things if he was going to open a second school.

I wouldn't want that. I would want my high-level students to push onward and become the instructors for the next generation. I would want them to be able to teach what I have taught them.
 

MadMartigan

Blue Belt
Joined
Apr 28, 2021
Messages
217
Reaction score
250
I don't have the time right now to really get into this topic like I'd prefer, so here are my quick initial thoughts (from a tkd perspective).

Rote memorization is the enemy of dynamic skill. I am actually 100% against performing memorized self defense choreography on tests. The reason for this is those are just rehearsed and end up more like a dance than a fight. (Nothing wrong with dancing.. it just has nothing to do with protecting yourself). I'm also not a big fan of grading based on performance of training drills (step sparring, partner combos, or the like).

Skills that will show up for you under stress are based on principles. For that reason, technical performance of fundamentals and dynamics application (i.e. sparring) are what count for me.

Don't take this to mean I'm against memorizing curriculum and combinations (otherwise I'd just be winging it every time I teach). I use a structured curriculum that imcludes belt specific fundamentals and patterns, etc.

If you look at BJJ, their grading method is very interesting. It only matters if you can apply the techniques dynamically. If you never learn some super complicated babadook-upsidedown-wheel barrow guard pass-while blindfolded, it doesn't matter. If you can tap guys with fundamentals, you're in.

Now BJJ has a lot to memorize. Look at a basic guard pass with a gi. You grip here, then move here, then position your weight there, then grip here, then shift again... The difference between this and the self defense combo that TKD and others tend to use is that, in BJJ, you progress that combo into fighting against resistance. This solidifies the memorization, and becomes about the principles of the movements rather than a set of step by step instructions.

Our 3 main grading requirements are fundamentals, patterns, and live sparring. The first 2 develop the movement principles (power generation, movement, balance, etc), while sparring teaches how to apply them. We do lots of skill development drills to learn timing, distancing and other things, but sparring demonstrates the outcome of those drills.

Ok, so I guess I ended up spending more time on this than I thought I would haha.
 

tkdroamer

Purple Belt
Joined
Sep 24, 2022
Messages
341
Reaction score
161
How much rote material should you expect someone to be able to retain, after which most people will not be able to keep up?

How important is rote material to Taekwondo? Should someone "peak" in their career because they've reached their limit on how many forms and combinations they can commit to memory, or should their technique and ability to teach technique and application be a bigger factor in promotion?
I feel it is important to understand 'rote memorization' is simply doing the same thing over and over. If this is done mindlessly, and especially taught mindlessly, that is a big problem.
What skill is Not learned the same way? I agree, there is a lot of it in TKD. But this is also true in the other two styles I am belted in. It is also just as true in the college sports I played. For example, l would say wrestling required even more repetitive practice even though the gross number of techniques were less.

Should someone 'peak'? Absolutely. There will always be hills and valleys in a long training career, assuming a person is active and productive. Taking a break could be considered a valley. Take the competition element for example. There will always come a time when a person (an adult) has to say, 'that's enough'. It could be from going as far as the competition could take them, injury, or the normal time constraints of a full like.
But I think the 'peak' you refer to is peaking in learning a part or piece of curriculum. In this context I would say, No. Otherwise, it would be a very boring and frustrating journey, given the amount of repetition involved. This really gets into the maturation process of an advanced student. There is always something to learn in even a single technique. From the physical attributes of the movements to the application of the gross motion, there is always a nugget to find.

Every person is different, and I have always a hard time lumping them together, even at a testing. But we do the same incremental type testing that most other schools and styles do. Where I hope we are a little different is in the evaluation process, most of which is done during regular classes anyway. Every person must prove they can perform the curriculum and techniques correctly and under pressure when required. Going into a testing, everyone knows they may or may not be called upon to do the same during testing. I have found that a certain amount of unknown is a very good testing tool. If a person blanks out due to nerves during testing it is not an automatic fail. If they can collect themselves and show proof of knowledge and technique (without help), they will usually pass. This is incrementally harder to do as the rank gets higher (so, we are back to repetition, repetition, repetition). Things really flesh out in the application process of testing. In other words, if the person forgets a one-step movement in repetition but does the technique well in pressure testing, all is good.
Should a person know everything required and do it well to pass their test? Yes. Should a person necessarily remember a specific movement in a specific form they learned 1-2-3 year(s) ago when unexpectedly called upon? No. This can be completely forgetting a movement but does not include how to do the specific movement well. Should they be able to recall the movement and form in short order? Yes.
I do not expect a person working 40-60 hours/week with a family and a full life to recall a full form on a moment's notice. I do expect them to assimilate it in short order and to perform the individual movements correctly.
This really speaks to the foundational teaching method used in almost martial arts and most other technical skills. There will be things that are never forgotten because they have been committed to long-term memory, engrained. They are, or should be, the building block for everything else we learn. As things get more complex and compounded, it gets harder and, for various reasons, complex or high content is not always committed. If a person is a fulltime martial artist, it would be different since that is all they do.
Should a person every peak on improvement, refinement, and application of movement? Never. This is a very different thing from being able to do 50 different forms back-to-back.

"should their technique and ability to teach technique and application be a bigger factor in promotion?"
These are very different things. Technique can almost always be improved upon, from many different facets.
Almost every black belt can take a new student and teach them the first few basic movements. But, some people will never be good at teaching, no matter what the subject is. We try to recognize this and factor it out. Conversely, if teaching is more of a gift for a person than say spectacular kicks in their forms, that is considered as well.
How much of rote memorization is up to natural talent, and how much is able to be practiced? In other words, if someone can't memorize something, is the answer that they need to keep working at it, or that they've reached their limit?
I am having a hard understanding this one. Every person who progressed in TKD (that I have seen) uses or learned via rote memorization. I do not see how 'natural talent' has anything to do with it. Will person A's skill be different or 'better' than person B's? Most likely.
Kids are 'masters' as being able to remove something from resident memory and then recall it in a split second when needed or pressed. Busy adults can struggle with this. The reasons for this I understand and give to consideration to. The 'why' of it I assume is basic limitations of the human brain. Every person is different in this ability.
Older people have a fascinating ability to recall things they learned 30-years ago but may struggle with recalling something they learned yesterday.
We all need to keep working at it. I have done 10's of thousands of down blocks, but I still believe I can do them better. The person who thinks 'I have them down perfectly' needs to reassess.
How much of rote memorization can be taught? In other words, is it a flaw in my Master's teaching that people did not retain the colored belt curriculum and struggled to keep up at 3rd Dan, or is that just the nature of the beast?
I certainly will not speak to the right or wrong of you teacher's i
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
Rote memorization is the enemy of dynamic skill. I am actually 100% against performing memorized self defense choreography on tests. The reason for this is those are just rehearsed and end up more like a dance than a fight. (Nothing wrong with dancing.. it just has nothing to do with protecting yourself). I'm also not a big fan of grading based on performance of training drills (step sparring, partner combos, or the like).

Skills that will show up for you under stress are based on principles. For that reason, technical performance of fundamentals and dynamics application (i.e. sparring) are what count for me.
I think there are three approaches that people tend to take:
  1. Rote memorization is the path to perfect technique
  2. Rote memorization is the foundation for dynamic skill
  3. Rote memorization is the enemy of dynamic skill
My TKD Master was more in camp 1. I'm more in camp 2 or 3. Sounds like you're solidly in camp 3. I feel like camp 2 and camp 3 are the only ones focused on becoming more dynamic, just taking a different path to get there.

I am in camp 1 for forms, but I don't think you get much more benefit by everything else being rote.
Don't take this to mean I'm against memorizing curriculum and combinations (otherwise I'd just be winging it every time I teach). I use a structured curriculum that imcludes belt specific fundamentals and patterns, etc.
My plan is to have a structured curriculum (that the students don't need to rote memorize) for the beginner levels, and less structure after that. I think some BJJ schools do this (although mine doesn't).
If you look at BJJ, their grading method is very interesting. It only matters if you can apply the techniques dynamically. If you never learn some super complicated babadook-upsidedown-wheel barrow guard pass-while blindfolded, it doesn't matter. If you can tap guys with fundamentals, you're in.
In the other thread, it was mentioned that the formal testing in TKD is more of a personal demonstration than an actual test. The actual test is often before-hand. Essentially, it's like if in BJJ you were selected for promotion, but then had to go through a formal testing process in which you could invite friends and family so you can showcase what you've learned. You're already basically promoted, but you have to go through the formality.

Based on this approach, application of the technique is not necessarily important for the formal test. Ability to apply technique is something we can check in class, during the informal testing period (which is the actual test).
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
I am having a hard understanding this one. Every person who progressed in TKD (that I have seen) uses or learned via rote memorization. I do not see how 'natural talent' has anything to do with it. Will person A's skill be different or 'better' than person B's? Most likely.
Just because everyone learned by rote memorization doesn't mean everyone has the same ability. Just like everyone who competes in the 100m dash sprints, but Usain Bolt is better than everyone else. Or how everyone who has done boxing has thrown a punch, yet Mike Tyson is better than most everyone else.

There are a few different metrics you could use:
  • How much memory you can store in one class
  • How much memory is retained between classes
  • Total memory you can store
  • How fast you can recall the information
  • How accurately you recall the information
Each of these is a different factor in how well a student will perform with a similar amount of training. Now add in factors that they have control over:
  • How meticulous they are in taking notes
  • The quantity and quality of practice time at home
  • How often they attend class
  • How much they try to retain per class (either they don't bother to retain anything, or they try and retain too much and forget it all)
Then there's factors they don't have control over:
  • The way in which the instructor teaches the techniques
  • How often the instructor goes over the techniques
I'm just picking random numbers out of a hat here. If the average person can memorize 10 forms and 50 combinations, and a curriculum includes 8 forms and 30 combinations, then it's something that everyone should be capable of. If another curriculum includes 15 forms and 75 combinations, then most people will struggle. If I were to make a curriculum that has 50 forms and 300 combinations, even I'd struggle to keep it all in my memory.

As an instructor, if I do have a curriculum with 15 forms and 75 combinations, then are there ways I can help my students?
  1. Can I guide students into strategies they have control over (such as how to practice, how to approach memorization, how to take notes)?
  2. Can I adjust the way I teach the content itself to make it easier to memorize?
  3. If I do the above two, then will those metrics (how much they can learn per class, how much total memory they can retain, etc). be improved?
 

JowGaWolf

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Aug 3, 2015
Messages
12,265
Reaction score
4,687
At my most recent Taekwondo school, there was a lot that you would have to remember. There was so much rote content in each belt, that you would brain dump some of the information every new belt color. It got even worse when he started adding in the Taegeuks.

In discussing this in another thread, I brought up that I was the only person at my dojang capable of retaining the entire curriculum (aside from the Master and his wife). I didn't brain dump, so I was able to keep up with training. During my time as an instructor, we had around a dozen other students get their third dan. Half of them immediately quit to move on to other things (like college or other sports). The other half stayed for a while. All but one of those that stayed had a strong call to a leadership role. But, none of those were able to retain the colored belt curriculum. Most were struggling just to keep up with ours.

In fact, even the Master struggled with the 3rd Dan curriculum. He taught the colored belt stuff and even the 1st Dan stuff every day for over a decade, so it was firmly ingrained in his memory. He'd have a mistake here or there, but 99% of the time he was rock solid with the beginner levels. By the time I got my 3rd Dan, he had trouble showing me the rote material in a consistent manner, which made it difficult in turn for me to learn.

I've always been quick to pick up on curriculum. I also took very detailed notes after every class (even as a white belt) to make it easier to remember. I'm not sure how much of my success in learning the curriculum was due to my natural talent for it, my dedication to my notes, or simply the fact that I continued to practice what everyone else brain-dumped, and then reinforced when I started teaching. But it's got me wondering what is reasonable to expect a person to be able to memorize when it comes to Taekwondo. This question comes in a few forms:

  1. How much rote material should you expect someone to be able to retain, after which most people will not be able to keep up?
  2. How important is rote material to Taekwondo? Should someone "peak" in their career because they've reached their limit on how many forms and combinations they can commit to memory, or should their technique and ability to teach technique and application be a bigger factor in promotion?
  3. How much of rote memorization is up to natural talent, and how much is able to be practiced? In other words, if someone can't memorize something, is the answer that they need to keep working at it, or that they've reached their limit?
  4. How much of rote memorization can be taught? In other words, is it a flaw in my Master's teaching that people did not retain the colored belt curriculum and struggled to keep up at 3rd Dan, or is that just the nature of the beast?
For reference, our curriculum had a total of 30+ rote combinations, 20+ forms, and 90+ self-defense combinations in the colored belts. At most you would need 5 forms and 25 self-defense at any one test, but an instructor would need to know them all. To get your 4th Dan, you were pushing 60+ combinations, 15+ forms, and 60+ self-defense combinations. To be an instructor, you would need to know both sets of combos, forms, and self-defense. (Even more if you also take Hapkido).
In Jow ga kung fu our forms often only work one side and only the most important technique repeats. This makes it easy to remember multiple combinations without much trouble. For me TKD techniques in their forms are very robotic. in Kung fu everything flows. When it doesn't flow then I know that I have something wrong.

We sometimes accidentally bleed techniques from one form into another. In terms of learning a form it's bad. In terms of the body and mind recognizing what can be done when in a specific position its a good thing. My guess things are harder if the techniques are too similar
 
OP
skribs

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,373
Reaction score
1,878
In Jow ga kung fu our forms often only work one side and only the most important technique repeats. This makes it easy to remember multiple combinations without much trouble. For me TKD techniques in their forms are very robotic. in Kung fu everything flows. When it doesn't flow then I know that I have something wrong.

We sometimes accidentally bleed techniques from one form into another. In terms of learning a form it's bad. In terms of the body and mind recognizing what can be done when in a specific position its a good thing. My guess things are harder if the techniques are too similar
How does it get easier if nothing repeats? I would think it would make it harder.

It's much easier to remember a paragraph and repeat it twice than it is to remember two paragraphs.
 

tkdroamer

Purple Belt
Joined
Sep 24, 2022
Messages
341
Reaction score
161
In Jow ga kung fu our forms often only work one side and only the most important technique repeats. This makes it easy to remember multiple combinations without much trouble. For me TKD techniques in their forms are very robotic. in Kung fu everything flows. When it doesn't flow then I know that I have something wrong.

We sometimes accidentally bleed techniques from one form into another. In terms of learning a form it's bad. In terms of the body and mind recognizing what can be done when in a specific position its a good thing. My guess things are harder if the techniques are too similar
This is one of the things I appreciate about my GM's kung fu background. We are MDK TKD and learn a healthy number of forms. We do the KKW forms as well (with slight stance differences in certain areas), but we talk about flow in our traditional forms quite a bit.
I fully get the 'robotic' motion you mention.
 

JowGaWolf

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Aug 3, 2015
Messages
12,265
Reaction score
4,687
How does it get easier if nothing repeats? I would think it would make it harder.
I wish I had a good answer for this. The most I can tell you at this moment is that it just works. I just haven't had a reason to think about why it works until now. The Jow Ga beginner form has more than 100 movements that students must remember. This is shortest of the forms. The other forms are easily 200 + movements with very little repeats.

From first thoughts I would say that it has something to do with repeat movements that is making it difficult instead of doing the technique once you are having to keep count of how many times you do something.

I'll use this sentence below as an example. Think of each word a technique. Your goal is to remember the sentence.
Example #1 When the form flows
I think today is going to be a nice day for a walk.

Example #2 When the form repeats
I I I I think think think think today today today today is is is is going going going going to to to to be be be a a a a nice nice nice nice day day day day for for for for a a a a walk walk walk walk.

After typing it out I'm 90% sure it's the repeats that cause the problem. The first sentence flows. It's easy to read and you can easily remember 13 words (forms) tied together. The second example is not so easy to read. When you read that second example you may slow down as your brain counts how many times a word repeats. I intentionally put an error in the pattern.

When your form or kata flows then it's easy to recognize the mistake. I can take a work out of any of Example 1 and it will feel funny. I can do the same in Example 2 but I don't get that same feeling. Instead I'm counting do I do everything 4 times or is there some things that are done 3 times?

I think if you took your techniques and arrange the techniques into usable combinations, then you can start remembering many more techniques. A good way to find out is to cut out the repetition of your form and do everything once. My guess is that it would be easier and you may find combinations that can actually be used. That's just my guess.

For example, this is just a random video that I found. I mean no disrespect to the teacher in it. I'm not saying what he's doing it wrong or right. I'm just talking about the repetitions. In the video the student does a low block with a thrust punch. So for me I would prefer to just do a Low Block and a Trust Punch. The actual fighting combination that I see me being able to pull off in this form are:

Low Block
Low Block + Thrust Punch
Low Block + Thrust Punch + Thrust Punch.

If I were to make this a beginner lesson.
Beginner Movement 1 would be: Low Block + Thrust Punch
Beginner Movement intermediate would be: Low Block + Thrust Punch + Thrust Punch.

People say that you can't fight with TKD forms. My thought is that you probably can if you just cut out the repeats and do the techniques once. There may be a flow of techniques that you didn't realize was there.
 
Last edited:
Top