09 September 2010

Sine Wave Motion and the Wave Principle

There are a number of critiques against ITF Taekwon-Do’s “sine wave”. Some of these critiques are based on a misunderstanding of the (sine) wave principle. A common misunderstanding arises from people seeing the sine wave motion as an end in itself and not realizing that it is in fact merely an expression of a greater principle. When talking about “sine wave” it is important to differential between the sine wave motion and the wave principle it is based on.

If you are unfamiliar with what we usually mean by "sine wave" in ITF Taekwon-Do, basically it is the way we move in a kind of bobbing fashion using the knees ("knee-spring"), as if moving over a waved path. The simplest expression of this is known as the "sine wave motion" and contains an initial downward phase, an upward phase and a final downward phase. It is thus often explained as "down-up-down." In truth, the purpose of the first downward phase is not necessarily to go down; it is merely a deliberate act of relaxation in which the limbs and mind is consciously relaxed. From here the practitioner will then lift his or her body to gain potential energy and finally drop the body into the technique and in so doing converting the potential energy into kinetic energy. Basically the aim is to have more of one's body weight behind your technique as this increases the momentum of the technique.

Notice how the ITF Taekwon-Do practitioner performs the sine wave motion in the pattern Won-Hyo below.

For a more detailed explanation of the sine wave motion, read the related article at Taekwon-Do.Net.

The basic sine wave motion ought not to be confused with another related concept, namely the (sine) wave principle. I will henceforth refer to it merely as the “wave principle.” The sine wave motion is an icon, i.e. a simplification, of the wave principle. The sine wave motion is almost always seen in its basic relax-up-down form; however, the wave principle transcends this rigid confinement of three phases. The wave principle could sometimes be seen as a reversal, for instance up-down-up; or it could be expressed horizontally, for example as left-right-left; or even cyclically. It need not have three parts, but could only involve up-down, or may oscillate numerous times. It is recognizable when boxers bob and weave, or when you naturally extend or retract a limb to maintain balance. If you understand the wave principle you will notice it in throws and joint locks. It forms part of how we accelerate our techniques through kinetic chaining, sometimes referred to as sequential motion. A “wave” occurs every time you breathe in and out. You may depict it as the Taegeuk (the yin-yang symbol) or as the Sam-Taegeuk, Korea’s three lobed yin-yang symbol. The wave principle is not unique to ITF Taekwon-Do. It is found in many martial arts, particularly soft style martial arts. I’ve encountered it in books on Aikido and Hapkido and have seen it applied in Chinese soft styles like Tai Chi Chuan and Russia’s Systema. The wave principle is characterized by conscious relaxation and motions that move along curves, rather than rigid linear movements.

The iconic relax-up-down sine wave motion was General Choi Hong-Hi’s ingenious application of the soft style wave principle into the linear hard style Karate-based movements from which Taekwon-Do was sourced. Through the sine wave motion the soft style wave principle is infused into the previously hard style movements. It would be incorrect to say that ITF Taekwon-Do is a hard style martial art. Similarly it would be unfitting to call it a true soft style martial art. It has become an interesting hard style-soft style mix that uses hard style techniques, but performed with soft style principles.

Differentiating between the sine wave motion and the wave principle on which it is based is crucial when one tries to speak (and critique) the sine wave motion in ITF Taekwon-Do’s basic movements.

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