17 April 2011

Saju Jjireugi and Saju Makgi: A Techno-Philosophical Exploration

The two fundamental movement sequences "Four Direction Punch" or Saju Jjireugi (aka Saju Jirugi) 사주찌르기 and "Four Direction Block" or Saju Makgi 사주막기 are very important training exercises to help the beginning student get a feeling for static and dynamic balance, to get a sense of how to shift one's body weight, and to get an awareness of one's positioning within your surroundings. The more sensitive and higher level student can also learn from the saju-sequences the importance of intermedial positions and the concepts of hard-and-soft.

Jjireugi 찌르기 and makgi 막기 mean punch and block respectively. The word "saju” 사주 is made up of two syllabic root words. This first part “sa-” 사 means four, from the Hanja character 四. The second, “-ju” 주, could have a number of meanings. Ju could mean “week” 週, so some have suggested that it requires about four weeks, sa-ju, for a person to learn one of these sequences. While I like to tell beginning students this, I doubt this is the actual meaning.

A more plausible meaning for ju is the main part, the principle element, or chief point – literally “master,” 主. Thus, saju could mean the four main points. What are the main points? Purely based on the form of the saju-sequences, it seems obvious that the four main points are the four chief directions of the compass, or considering yourself as the central point, the four main points are your front, your back, and your sides—left and right. This is, of course, in line with the usual English translations of Saju Jjireugi and Saju Makgi as "Four Direction Punch" and "Four Direction Block." A further meaning for ju is root, 株. Thus saju could mean four roots. Therefore, these sequences help you to establish your roots in the basic way of moving in the four principle directions.

When combined, the syllables “sa” and “ju” also have other meanings; the one I find especially relevant is as a synonym for “sa-wui” 사위, meaning one's “environment” or “surroundings.” This is based on the Hanja characters 四 (four) and 圍 (encircle). One can therefore interpret 四圍 as an awareness of the four areas (front, back, left side and right side) that make up your surroundings.

The palgwe forms part of the Taoist Cosmology,
but is also used as a practical paradigm in some
martial arts such as Taijiquan and Baguazhang

Another meaning of saju is the “Four Pillars” (the year, month, day and hour of your birth), used in Oriental numerology. This meaning alludes to the palgwe 팔괘 (ba-gua in Chinese), the eight diagrams that forms part of Taoist cosmology. There are two Chinese martial arts that are strongly based on the palgwe, namely Taijiquan (Tai-Chi) and Baguazhang. A study of Taekwon-Do would also indicate an awareness of the palgwe. (In a previous post I speculate that ITF Taekwon-Do's 24 pattern set starts with an allusion to Taoist and Korean philosophy.)

The taegeukdo 태극도,
known in Chinese as the taijitu 太極圖,
surrounded by the palgwe 팔괘 --
in Chinese the ba-gua 八卦.
The palgwe refers to eight “pillars” or “points” instead of just four and this has led me to search for the missing four pillars in the saju-sequences. They are indeed there, albeit not as active movements, but as passive moments of observation. While doing the movements in the saju-sequences you actually move through these extra four points. Most people are unaware of these in-between moments, these intermediate positions, and merely rush through them in order to get to the conclusion of each movement, be it punch or block positioned at the chief wind directions: North, West, South, East. This is quite unfortunate because if you miss these intermediate positions at North West, North East, South West and South East, you miss a big part of Taekwon-Do. These intermediate positions are moments of composure, observation, relaxed awareness. In the typical sine wave movement, the intermediate positions are usually that first “relax” part of the typical relax-rise-drop (down-up-down) movement. The intermediate positions are where you cross your arms before blocking, they are the moment of resting your weight on the rear leg before propelling forward. They are the moment of “Void,” before every action. If your punches and blocks are the active Yang, then these intermediate positions are the passive Yin. (“Yin-Yang,” referring to the cosmic dual forces 陰陽, is pronounced “Eum-Yang” 음양 in Korean.)

The palgwe surrounding a Korean
version of the taegeukdo that symbolise
  the dual forces of eum and yang.
In the same way that Taijiquan and Baguazhang base their basic movements on the palgwe, we can also benefit from a practical application of palgwe principles. The circular nature of the saju-sequences that requires one to move through the wind direction, added with the meaning of saju, referring to the main directions while building an awareness of your surroundings, suggests that such an interpretation of these sequences could be possible. From my personal experience I can confirm that since I have started to interpret the saju-sequences in this manner a number of years back, it enriched my understanding of Taekwon-Do's basic movements quite profoundly.

So how would you start to bring this palgwe awareness into your training? Do the saju-sequences slowly and then take special notice of the wind directions. First become fully aware of the four chief wind directions—North, West, South, East—and what your body and mind is doing at those points. For example, at the moment you do that first punch in Saju Jjireugi, notice the forward force, notice the tension in your body at the supposed moment of impact, notice the intend in your mind towards the opponent. Then start to focus on the intermediate positions and the in-between wind directions—North-West, South-West, South-East, North-East—as you move through them. Become especially aware of how your body is positioned in these intermediate positions, where your centre of gravity is, how your body weight is shifted on your feet, your arm positions, your breathing, your eyes, your mental attitude. Finally, do the saju-sequences again, but now with full awareness of all eight directions and your attitude, both physically and psychologically, as you move through these eight points. There should be an oscillation of relaxation and tension as you move through the points—an eum-yang consciousness: the yang (hard/tense) punches and blocks are alternated by the eum (soft/relaxed) intermediate positions. Practising Saju Jjireugi and Saju Makgi in this way will also influence how you understand such concepts as the sine wave movement and the Wave / Circle Principle.

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