11 September 2010

The Wave / Circle Principle

In my previous post I emphasized the importance of differentiating between the sine wave motion and the wave principle. While I spent some time explaining what the sine wave motion is, I did not go into that much detail regarding the wave principle.

The wave principle is a much more abstract concept and therefore harder to define. To begin with, not all martial arts refer to it as the “wave” principle; it is often referred to as the circle principle or the Law of Change; that is, the Taegeuk (Tai-Chi in Chinese), i.e. the concept of Yin-Yang.

To understand the relationship between a wave and a circle, it is important to know that a wave is basically the rotation of a point on a circle plotted over a path in time. The video below (similar to the image above) illustrates how a circle and a sine wave are related.

(See this video for a more detailed mathematical explanation of the relationship between a sine wave and the unit circle.)

Were you to change the perspective of this sine wave and view it in 3D you may see a helix (spiral) or a circle or even the Taegeuk. The animation below effectively demonstrates this.

So when one speaks of the wave principle, one is also meaning the circle principle or meaning the Taegeuk, which of course includes notions of hard and soft, offensive and defensive, firm/push and yield, and so on. It would be appropriate either way to speak of the wave principle or circle principle or Taekgeuk principle. They are all essentially the same thing, each just emphasizing a different aspect. When we discuss the circle principle we are probably stressing the rotation aspect. When we discuss the wave principle we are probably stressing the movement over a specific distance. When we discuss the Taegeuk we are probably stressing the interplay and oscillation of opposites: up and down, hard and soft, pushing and yielding. For the sake of simplicity I mostly just refer to it as the wave principle because it is so conspicuous in ITF Taekwon-Do’s sine wave movement; although it is present in many more ways throughout ITF Taekwon-Do and easily recognizable to anybody who understands how this principle can be expressed.

The wave principle encapsulates everything that is true of a circle. There are no sharp edges or rigid corners. Since there are no corners, a change in direction occurs smoothly via curves. When doing the sine wave motion, the practitioner is admonished to keep the wave smooth and natural; jerky motions are to be avoided.

The idea of a wave brings to mind rolling valleys and hills, ocean waves rising and dropping. The wave principle, as embodied in the Taegeuk, forms part of the Do ("Tao," in Chinese) meaning the natural Way of the universe. A martial artist wants herself to move as part of the Way, but try to get her opponent to move against the Way. She can achieve this through different means. She could uproot him, an approach often used in Tai Chi Chuan which involves breaking his balance. In Judo, the Judoka may actually lift her opponent of the ground to uproot him and so break his connection with the earth, placing him contrary to the Way. In Taekwon-Do one might employ a rising technique or unbalance the opponent with Taekwon-Do’s many (and highly underused) sweeping, checking and pushing techniques, in order to break his connection with the earth or the Way. Or she could do the opposite and instead of uprooting him, press him “into” the earth. According to one Taekwon-Do commentary, when hitting your opponent you should become part of the earth so that “your power amounts to that of the earth’s crash against him” (Philosophical Principle of Taekwon-Do, Chapter 34). You can do this by dropping your technique into the earth, moving and working with gravitational force -- many of Taekwon-Do’s techniques works on this principle; after the Judoka has uprooted her opponent she then crashes him, i.e. throws him, against the earth. However, to move “down” one has to have been “up” first.

It is my opinion that if they were to recognize the sine wave motion for what it is, a manifestation of the wave principle as found in many other martial arts like Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido or Systema, a greater degree of understanding and maybe even an appreciation of the sine wave motion would follow.

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