06 June 2011

Thoughts on Fajin / Balgyeong in ITF Taekwon-Do

After my previous post on Hsing-I Quan I've been thinking a lot about “fajin” and how it relates to power generation in ITF Taekwon-Do. Fajin 發勁 is a Chinese word and describes a way of doing one's movements in Chinese internal martial arts. In Korean it is known as “balgyeong” 발경 and is almost exclusively used in relation to Taegeuk-Kwon 태극권, the Korean name for Tai-Chi Quan 太極拳. Fajin / balgyeong is sometimes paralleled to sneezing as the energy is metaphorically (or is it literally?) released from deep within the body, similar to a sneeze.

The video below shows a Tai-Chi practitioner demonstrating fajin in his motions.

Looking at motions that demonstrate fajin, I cannot help but see overlap with movements in ITF Taekwon-Do. I asked Master Kim Hoon about balgyeon but he said that while he is familiar with the concept, it has never been his area of study, so he could not expand on it much. Instead he sent me the following description:

발경(發勁-힘을 발휘함) 육합(六合:三盤(다리,허리,어깨),心,意,氣)을 하나로 뭉쳐 온 몸의 힘을 폭탄처럼 터뜨리는 것. (Source)

The description seems to indicate that there are six elements to balgyeong, grouped as a pair of triplets. The first three elements concern the mechanics of the movements, involving the legs, hips and shoulders (다리, 허리, 어깨). The second group is more esoteric and concerns the heart or mind, the intention or will, and gi (aka ki / qi) or life-energy (心, 意, 氣). Regarding the first group, the description basically talks about coordinating the legs, hips, and shoulders sequentially, to generate explosive power. I will have to think more about the second group and how it relates to ITF Taekwon-Do, but as for the first group, I think the relationship of legs, hips and shoulders are obvious to those familiar with kinetic chaining or sequential motion as employed in ITF Taekwon-Do.

One Tai-Chi website, MartialTaiChi.co.uk, describes a fa-jin strike as follows:

The following illustrations will attempt to show levels of relative muscular tension during a fajin strike.


The white portions of the body show only peng or background tension, such as that required to stand up. The power (jin) is generated by firing successive muscle groups, starting with the rear foot and pushing up from the braced rear heel through each muscle in turn, adding acceleration through each successive muscle or group of muscles. The red areas show the body parts where the momentum is currently being accelerated and the orange through to yellow sections show the body settling back to a lower level of tension such as that necessary to brace against the impact. The fighter should not rise up as her power pushes through her body, rather she should sink lower and compress to brace the strike. The whole process should happen in a fraction of a second. Notice how the whole body returns to its background peng levels once the power has been released so that the fighter may return to a state whereby she is equally ready to move any portion of her body.

A typical ITF Taekwon-Do fundamental punch works on similar kinetic chaining principles. Before the shoulders rotate, it is preceded by the turning of the hip, which in turn is part of a greater leg-motion initiated by the knee-spring. Although the process is never so clearly described in the ITF Encyclopaedia, the principles are embedded in the Theory of Power and Training Secrets, as well as other descriptive passages in the ITF Encyclopaedia. I've posted about kinetic chaining a number of times before. (See the “Kinetic Chaining” keyword tag.)

But fajin is not merely kinetic chaining. If it was, then we can describe what a baseball pitcher does as fajin or a pro boxer's cross punch as fajin. Maybe I am wrong, and fajin is merely kinetic chaining, but my gut tells me differently. For one thing, in the video above of the Tai-Chi practitioner demonstrating fajin, one can see why the sneezing metaphor is used. The same sneezing metaphor does not fit the description of the baseball pitcher and western boxer. See for example the Fight Science explanation of kinetic chaining as used by a boxer to achieve a knock-out punch. The kinetic chaining is obvious, but there is no “sneezing.”

Dan Djurdjevic describes fajin as “an explosive transfer of momentum - impulse.” For me, ITF Taekwon-Do is all about momentum, but do we approach our use of moment like the Chen style Tai-Chi or Hsing-I practitioner or do we approach our use of momentum like a boxer?

I have my thoughts and will probably divulge them a little later. In the meantime, what's the method you employ? And how do you think ITF Taekwon-Do go about generating momentum?

Further Reading:

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