The Taeguek Cipher - Book Review

StuartA

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The Taegeuk Cipher
by Simon John O'Neill

Front-Cover.gif

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I brought this book for a number of reasons, firstly because obviously pattern applications is a particular interest of mine and my Academy, secondly to support the cause of making patterns have more function in TKD than they presently do (though that is changing) be it Ch'ang Hon/ITF or Kukki/WTF and finally because I know and have seen Simon and knew what he has release so far via the internet, to be not only good, but have far reaching consequences into the system of Taekwondo he practices.

Okay, onto the book. Well, I knew it would be good and even though I only received it today I am very impressed. The book isnt just a collection of techniques and applications for the Taegeuk patterns (even though they form the core of the book) and even if it was, it would be worth the money for any WTF student and many other martial artists who dont have the same focus in regards to their forms/kata/patterns. However, the book includes much more, such as an in-depth history of Taekwondo and its development, so much so I would think many Karateka would learn a lot from it simply for the amount of info on the pre-TKD years and the background of famous Karate masters from all the various styles who form the lineage that eventually led to Taekwondos 'official' birth. Much information on who helped develop the Taeguek patterns and how their history and influence infused the patterns with variosu self-defence aspects such as grappling techniques, throws etc.
It also includes sections on the primary exchanges involved in a self-defence altercation and how the patterns relate, how to develop specific attributes to enhance what you learn/practice within the patterns, sections on patterns performance, sparring drills/exercises relating to pattern application (some of which I already use and a couple that I will certainly start to use) and even a section on how to formulate a practical patterns related syllabus.

Going onto the bulk of the book, the patterns are divided into chapters (obviously) however, the chapters are grouped to correlate to the stages involved in a self defence senerio, that of first attack, grappling range and finally advanced techniques, sothing which I think will help the student immensily. Of the chapters on each pattern, the basic steps/techniques of the pattern are shown by some smaller photographs at the top of each page, with the applications shown underneath in larger photographs. Each chapter covers each step of all the Taeguek patterns and involves mostly small combinations of techniques and how they combine to show the complete self defence applications.

The only (minor) bad points are some of the pictures are darker and/or smaller than I would of liked and require closer scruntany, though with that said, the majority are easy to see at first glance of the page 9wel, they were for me).

Though I've only had this book less than a day, being a Ch'ang Hon student obviously these patterns arnt the ones I practice, but I found myself actively searching out (and finding) techniques & combinations that are similar to what I perform in my own patterns to give me a different perspective on combinations that I know already, of which they there are many. With this in mind I would obviously, without doubt recommending this book to all KKW/WTF students and instructors (perhaps even some of those running the KKW :)), all ITF/Ch'ang Hon based students, many students of Karate and anyone else who likes reading about martial art histories or lack pragmatic applications within their own forms or katas, as you will undoubily find common ground.

In fact, I would go so far as to say Simon should be acknowledge as starting what is likely to be a revolution in the KKW/WTF world, something I hope he is remembered for; in recognition of his fore sight, efforts and achievement in releasing this book.

This book is 244 pages, a decent size of 18.9x24.6cm, perfect bound paperback with colour cover, black & white interior and has over 500 photos and lots of text. It will eventually be sold via Amazon, but at the moment it can be found/ordered on http://www.combat-tkd.com as well as http://www.lulu.com/content/2390574
 

KickFest

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Nice overview. I can't wait for mine to arrive now!

StuartA said:
In fact, I would go so far as to say Simon should be acknowledge as starting what is likely to be a revolution in the KKW/WTF world
Fingers crossed! There seems to be a growing (if seemingly small) interest in re-incoporating TKD's martial roots which is very promising. Time will tell...
 

exile

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Going onto the bulk of the book, the patterns are divided into chapters (obviously) however, the chapters are grouped to correlate to the stages involved in a self defence senerio, that of first attack, grappling range and finally advanced techniques, sothing which I think will help the student immensily.


A very gracious and informative review, Stuart! :)

What I find interesting about the part of your comments I've bolded is that that strategy for presenting materialgoing from the attack initiation range 'inward'is Iain Abernethy's whole take on the narrative organization of the Pinan kata set in its original Okinawan order. His viewas you probably knew long before I did!is that the first three of the Pinans are kind of the basic textbooks for three combat ranges: the initiation range, the close-in range and the grappling rangeand the last two are kind of the 'advanced' followup techniques sets for those same three ranges, with alternative movements and ground-oriented adaptations of the vertical techs in the first three. I think IA has influenced this whole new generation of 'bunkai-jutsu' analysts, people like SJON and you who see practical applications of forms as the very core of the curriculum, reviving the much older format for MA teaching, before the era of mass instruction with Funakoshi and the other Okinawan expats in Japan. And this idea of kata forming distinct tiers, corresponding to different combat ranges, is one of the most interesting things to come out of his pioneering work on the Pinan set.

I'm waiting with decreasing patience for my copy to arrive, and I'm looking forward to some very interesting discussion of the book on MT. What I'd really love to see, of course, is some lively exchange on the way this method of analysis would extend to the older KKW colored belt pattern, the Palgwes, since that's what we do at my school, rather than the Taegeuks...

Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments here, Stuart.
 
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StuartA

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Exile,

Though I know of Iains thoughts on the kata being grouped, I came across it after doing my book (so didnt really think about it much for the book itself), whether Simon did or not I cannot say, but either way, it makes training them with this in mind very beneficial to the student I think and is a very good view of it all.

My book took abut 5 days to come, so hopefully others should ba there soon.. Ill be interested to see others views on it.

Regards,

Stuart
 

exile

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...it makes training them with this in mind very beneficial to the student I think and is a very good view of it all.

I agree: I think it helps students make sense of the formsthat they really do form an educational sequence, in many cases, rather than just being separate instructional sets with little connection to each other. Anything which lets you make well-motivated connections between things makes learning much easier.

My copy has already shipped, they tell me... it won't be long now! :)
 

IcemanSK

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I agree: I think it helps students make sense of the formsthat they really do form an educational sequence, in many cases, rather than just being separate instructional sets with little connection to each other. Anything which lets you make well-motivated connections between things makes learning much easier.

My copy has already shipped, they tell me... it won't be long now! :)

Steady exile, steady. Remember your heart:ultracool

Mine shipped today. I can't wait either.%-}
 

exile

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Steady exile, steady. Remember your heart:ultracool

I think of it as... stationary aerobics! :lol:

Mine shipped today. I can't wait either.%-}

If a few of us TKDists vanish from the site for a day or two, people should know that it's just that we're swallowing The Taegeuk Cipher whole, and will be coming up for air, and extended discussion, the instant we're finishe reading it. I'm looking forward to some gooooooooood conversations about this book! :)
 

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My copy is due Monday. I'm seriously thinking about calling out of work for a day just to read and experiment at the dojang.

Peace,
Erik
 

terryl965

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Well after reading it over I must say it was well written, the biggest problem I had with it was all the pictures, to small for my old eyes. I beleive he has alot of vital point wihen each poomsae but I also believe he should have gone deeper into the complete application. I would have loved to see it expanded more that is all. I would differently recommend these book to anyone that was serious about poomsae and the application of them.

PS I will be putting alot of this to test during classes this week.
 

Laurentkd

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How did I totally miss this? Everyone has already ordered a book I haven't even heard of!!! Off to lulu press to check it out...
 

Laurentkd

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Well I have ordered it so now I am officially back in the loop (until you all get your copies while I am still waiting anyway).
 

IcemanSK

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I just received my copy. I haven't been able to read much of it, but it does look interesting.

My first impression is that it's as if O'Neil is taking a Taekwondo form & giving it to an MAist of a different Art to examine. I don't mean this to offend anyone, but it reminds me a bit of the way George Dillman makes every form or kata all about the "hidden" pressure points in each.

I'm going to keep an open mind however. I'm sure there is value in this text. It's a shift of thought process for me.
 

exile

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I just received my copy. I haven't been able to read much of it, but it does look interesting.

My first impression is that it's as if O'Neil is taking a Taekwondo form & giving it to an MAist of a different Art to examine. I don't mean this to offend anyone, but it reminds me a bit of the way George Dillman makes every form or kata all about the "hidden" pressure points in each.

I'm going to keep an open mind however. I'm sure there is value in this text. It's a shift of thought process for me.

The historical discussion is crucial here, Ice. What SJON shows in those first chapters is that the historical roots of TKD, based on the documented expertise of the Kwan founders and their first generation students, included training in a variety of MAs including not just Japanese Karate, but Judo (Yudo) and Jiujitsu. The latter two were in fact probably the most ubiquitously trained MAs in pre-liberation Korea, because from the time of the occupation on, instruction in them was widely available in Korea due to the presence of Japanese military combat experts in Korea and the favorable attitude of the occupying authorities towards their own MAs. Those patterns and forms that he's talking about were put together either from Japanese patterns, incorporating grappling and controlling elements which were explicit in Funakoshi's karate and the Shito-ryu of the Shudokan school that was part of the mix&#8212;Funakoshi's prewar book show abundant use of these techs, including suplexes (!!?) and throws. So to my way of thinking, the components of the forms that he's parsing out which involve pins, throws, controlling moves and so on are exactly what we would expect, given both (i) the karate sources of these hyung components and (ii) the documented background of the Kwan era pioneers in arts in which grappling, locks, pins
and throws were simply taken for granted as technical elements.

As a striking art, of course, impact techniques are the bread and butter of TKD, as you'd expect, given the karate base SJON describes. But the use of the aforesaid grappling and controlling techs to set up those strikes is also exactly what you'd expect, given the historical record SJON goes into in detail. In fact, I think his book puts the vast majority of TKD books&#8212;where sloppy history mixing fact with legendary fiction provides a kind of 'decoration' with no real relevance to the technical content&#8212;to shame (Stuart's book being one of the striking exceptions): the meticulous tracing of lineages in O'Neill's book contributes crucial information about the information content we should bear in mind in looking at the hyungs, because it establishes, for each of the founders and style contributors to early TKD, the range of MA knowledge that they possessed. And that was the era in which the TKD forms, or their ancestors, were created. So my reading of the book is that it provides a sound historical argument for why the line of technical analysis provided is not just plausible, but the favored interpretation, when issues of combat utility are taken into account.
 
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StuartA

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The historical discussion is crucial here, Ice. What SJON shows in those first chapters is that the historical roots of TKD, based on the documented expertise of the Kwan founders and their first generation students, included training in a variety of MAs including not just Japanese Karate, but Judo (Yudo) and Jiujitsu. The latter two were in fact probably the most ubiquitously trained MAs in pre-liberation Korea, because from the time of the occupation on, instruction in them was widely available in Korea due to the presence of Japanese military combat experts in Korea and the favorable attitude of the occupying authorities towards their own MAs. Those patterns and forms that he's talking about where put together either from Japanese patterns, incorporating grappling and controlling elements which were explicit in Funakoshi's karate and the Shito-ryu of the Shudokan school that was part of the mixFunakoshi's prewar book show abundant use of these techs, including suplexes (!!?) and throws. So to my way of thinking, the components of the forms that he's parsing out which involve pins, throws, controlling moves and so on are exactly what we would expect, given both (i) the karate sources of these hyung components and (ii) the docuemented background of the Kwan era pioneers in arts in which grappling, locks, pins
and throws were simply taken for granted as technical elements.

As a striking art, of course, impact techniques are the bread and butter of TKD, as you'd expect, given the karate base SJON describes. But the use of the aforesaid grappling and controlling techs to set up those strikes is also exactly what you'd expect, given the historical record SJON goes into in detail. In fact, I think his book puts the vast majority of TKD bookswhere sloppy history mixing fact with legendary fiction provides a kind of 'decoration' with no real relevance to the technical contentto shame (Stuart's book being one of the striking exceptions): the meticulous tracing of lineages in O'Neill's book contributes crucial information about the information content we should bear in mind in looking at the hyungs, because it establishes, for each of the founders and style contributors to early TKD, the range of MA knowledge that they possessed. And that was the era in which the TKD forms, or their ancestors, were created. So my reading of the book is that it provides a sound historical argument for why the line of technical analysis provided is not just plausible, but the favored interpretation, when issues of combat utility are taken into account.

Told ya the history section was good didnt I :angel:

That said, even without it, even if he just found some decent alternative applications without the historical context to back it up... it would still make a worthwhile addition to those that practice these forms (and others with similar patterns) simply because they add to the art... and anyone who would dismiss that isnt doing the art a diservice, but themselves, as martial artists who should grow! And those people should really take the blinkers off or stagnate as the rest bypass them altogethor!

Stuart
 

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The historical discussion is crucial here, Ice. What SJON shows in those first chapters is that the historical roots of TKD, based on the documented expertise of the Kwan founders and their first generation students, included training in a variety of MAs including not just Japanese Karate, but Judo (Yudo) and Jiujitsu. The latter two were in fact probably the most ubiquitously trained MAs in pre-liberation Korea, because from the time of the occupation on, instruction in them was widely available in Korea due to the presence of Japanese military combat experts in Korea and the favorable attitude of the occupying authorities towards their own MAs. Those patterns and forms that he's talking about where put together either from Japanese patterns, incorporating grappling and controlling elements which were explicit in Funakoshi's karate and the Shito-ryu of the Shudokan school that was part of the mixFunakoshi's prewar book show abundant use of these techs, including suplexes (!!?) and throws. So to my way of thinking, the components of the forms that he's parsing out which involve pins, throws, controlling moves and so on are exactly what we would expect, given both (i) the karate sources of these hyung components and (ii) the docuemented background of the Kwan era pioneers in arts in which grappling, locks, pins
and throws were simply taken for granted as technical elements.

As a striking art, of course, impact techniques are the bread and butter of TKD, as you'd expect, given the karate base SJON describes. But the use of the aforesaid grappling and controlling techs to set up those strikes is also exactly what you'd expect, given the historical record SJON goes into in detail. In fact, I think his book puts the vast majority of TKD bookswhere sloppy history mixing fact with legendary fiction provides a kind of 'decoration' with no real relevance to the technical contentto shame (Stuart's book being one of the striking exceptions): the meticulous tracing of lineages in O'Neill's book contributes crucial information about the information content we should bear in mind in looking at the hyungs, because it establishes, for each of the founders and style contributors to early TKD, the range of MA knowledge that they possessed. And that was the era in which the TKD forms, or their ancestors, were created. So my reading of the book is that it provides a sound historical argument for why the line of technical analysis provided is not just plausible, but the favored interpretation, when issues of combat utility are taken into account.

Yes the historical background was worth the price alone and the other views on the application just makes it like it was a free book.
 

exile

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Told ya the history section was good didnt I :angel:

That said, even without it, even if he just found some decent alternative applications without the historical context to back it up... it would still make a worthwhile addition to those that practice these forms (and others with similar patterns) simply because they add to the art... and anyone who would dismiss that isnt doing the art a diservice, but themselves, as martial artists who should grow! And those people should really take the blinkers off or stagnate as the rest bypass them altogethor!

Stuart

Yes the historical background was worth the price alone and the other views on the application just makes it like it was a free book.

Dead right on both counts, gentlemen!
 

IcemanSK

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I'm certainly not discounting the work of SJON & his going back to the Funakoshi roots. I struggle with the fact I don't see the breakdown of the forms like this in the successive generations of Koreans (Choi, Hong Hi; Son, Duk Sung; Park, Hae Man; S. Henry Cho to name a few) in their discussions of forms. A block is basically a strike defending against a strike in the 1st generations of Kwan folks.

Why is it that the "block in the form stands in for something else" idea skipped these early generation folks, & yet is apparent to TKD folks 50-60+ years later? Even Kim, Pyung Soo in his books on the Pal Gwe hyungs explains blocks in the forms as blocking strikes. The "pull aways" & releases are explained as such.
 

exile

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I'm certainly not discounting the work of SJON & his going back to the Funakoshi roots. I struggle with the fact I don't see the breakdown of the forms like this in the successive generations of Koreans (Choi, Hong Hi; Son, Duk Sung; Park, Hae Man; S. Henry Cho to name a few) in their discussions of forms. A block is basically a strike defending against a strike in the 1st generations of Kwan folks.

Well, one important point which emerges in the work of people like Abernethy, or of Lawrence Kane & Kris Wilder (in their pathbreaking book, The Way of Kata) is that the decoding of forms was considered to be a privileged body of knowledge entrusted only to the most senior students and never committed to writing. At most, it would be alluded to, with no details given. This is what Kane & Wilder have to say about this particular skill, the summum bonum of classical Okinawan karate:
The work to uncover hidden techniques in kata is called kaisai. Since it offers guidelines for unlocking the secrets of each kata, kaisai no genri (the theory of kaisai) was once a great mystery revealed only to trusted disciples of the ancient masters in order to protect the secrets of their systems. As Toguchi Sensei's quote from his book Okinawan Goju Ryu II indicates, this information has only recently become available to a wider audience.​
(p. 109). The quote that Kane and Wilder allude to is the epigraph of their Chapter 4, and reads as follows:

Chojun Miyagi taught me this theory [kaisai no genri] just before his death and recommended that I not make it public. However, as karate became popular around the world, I felt it would not benefit true karate if I were to hide it as a secret in my Shorei-kan school. I regret the public has lost confidence in traditional Okinawan karate and may not understand the true value of karate kata.

Much of the content of The Way of Kata is a explicit statement with careful illustration, of the kaisai no genri of Goju Ryu. What emerges, with devastating clarity, from this passage from Seikichi Toguchi's magnum opus is that the revelation of the decoding rules for kata that he was offering was motivated by the fact that karateka themselves were losing faith in the combat efficacy of traditional karate because they did not see the self-defense information encoded in the kata. Sound familiar?

Why is it that the "block in the form stands in for something else" idea skipped these early generation folks, & yet is apparent to TKD folks 50-60+ years later? Even Kim, Pyung Soo in his books on the Pal Gwe hyungs explains blocks in the forms as blocking strikes. The "pull aways" & releases are explained as such.

Remember that the 'dual syllabus' went back to Itosu himself, and when Funakoshi went to Japan, he maintained contact with his Okinawan masters, among whom there was an understanding that the arrogant, racist Japanese overlords were not to be given the deepest combat secrets of karate, but rather to be taught only the children's syllabus. This was stated very matter-of-factly in Gennosuke Higaki's excellent book, Hidden Karate: the True Bunkai for the Heian Katas and Naihanchi:
The following is what I was told by Sensei [Shozan] Kubota. When Master Gichin Funakoshi introduced Okinwan karate to the mainland, there was a 'secret pact' made among the practitioners of Okinawan karate. Karate was primarily spread at universities, and the explanation [for the kata movements] which Sensei Kubota learned was about the same as today. It was, however, completely different from what he was taught at night classes by Master Funakoshi at his house. When asked, 'Why did he teach something different than in the daytime, his answer was that 'Master Funakoshi was actually not supposed to teach it.' In other words, because of a 'secret pact', he was not to teach the 'yamatonchu' (slang for Japanese mainlanders)... there is a well known saying in karate that goes, 'Even if you teach the kata, don't teach the actual techniques'...

According to Sensei Kubota, in order to unravel the kata, it is necessary to know the oral instruction, which will restore the bunkai to its original form.
(pp.65&#8211;66).

What people like Abernethy, Kane & Wilder, Stuart Anslow and SJON have done is comb through all the available information on actual bunkai applications available, trying to recreate the kaisai no genri principles (some of which were actually revealed in Toguchi's book), and then do their own research using 'reverse engineering' reasoning, undergirded by what of the original 'deep' bunkai can be reliably recovered. Against this background, the systematic concealment of the combat principles and tactics encoded in the kata makes perfect sense. And when you consider that the earliest Korean students of karate, the Kwan founders, were studying either with Funakoshi or Kanken, or their senior students, the absence of the transmission history for the 'true bunkai' becomes completely reasonable&#8212;in fact, it would be very strange if it weren't like that. To the extent that the Kwan founders and senior students were aware of the hidden applications revealed by the complete kaisai no genri, they would virtually certainly have followed the practice of their own Okinawan masters&#8212;whom the evidence strongly suggests they revered&#8212;and not reveal those applications, much less the decoding rules of the kaisai. And to the extent that they weren't aware of those applications, they would obviously have to be silent about them.
 
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