In my previous post on The Value of ITF Patterns (Part 1), I focussed on their intangible contributions: firstly, the patterns act as a vehicle for the dissemination of Oriental Philosophy, Korean History, and Korean Culture. Secondly, unlike Karate's kata where their development was primarily functional, the ITF patterns were from the very beginning intended to have an aesthetic quality. They are therefore a type of kinetic artwork, poetry in motion, a martial dance. (Another intangible value of the patterns that I alluded to—but did not elaborate on, as it is speculation—was that the patterns could possibly have an ascetic function; in other words, they could potentially be used meditatively to assist in spiritual growth.)
I hope to discuss the more tangible value of the patterns soon. Particularly, I want to focus on the “kinaesthetic” training value of patterns. However, before I do that, it is important to address a misconception that one of the main purposes of the patterns is physical conditioning.
Is a Chief Purpose for Doing Patterns the Physical Exercise? -- Not in ITF
The idea that a chief function of pattern practise is aerobic exercise, strength training, and so on, is mistaken—at least as far as the purpose of patterns in ITF Taekwon-Do is concerned. This misconception regarding the ITF patterns are held by non-ITF practitioners not familiar with the ITF pedagogy, but strangely also by some ITF practitioners as well; maybe because vigorous training of the patterns does indeed cause exhaustion and can be good aerobic exercise.
Recently Dan Djurdjevic, one of the martial art bloggers I particularly respect, discussed “Forms: their core purpose”. For him, as I am sure is the case for many martial artists, a principle value of the forms / patterns is physical exercise. He mentions for instance how in the forms the stances are deliberately low and “normal stepping,” which is impractical in actual fighting, are deliberately employed to create “load”, i.e. it is made difficult on purpose. In other words, a big part of form training is for their value as aerobic exercise and strength training—to condition the body.
Body conditioning is not a primary reason for pattern training in ITF Taekwon-Do. In his description of the patterns General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle composer of the patterns, mentions certain tangible things that one can gain from their training:
“Thus pattern practice enables the student to go through many fundamental movements in series, to develop sparring techniques, improve flexibility of movements, master body shifting, build muscles and breath control, develop fluid and smooth motions, and gain rhythmical movements” (ITF Encyclopaedia, Vol. 8, p. 13).
To “build muscles” may be considered body conditioning, but it is clear from the quotation that it is one of many points and is actually grammatically linked with “breath control”. From this, the type of muscle building that occurs in the practise of patterns in ITF does not seem to be focussed on fitness and strength training—an important value espoused by my friend Dan.
When the ITF patterns have body conditioning in mind, their moments are often very conspicuous (and dreaded by practitioners). Obvious examples are the slow motion kicks some patterns such as Moon Moo. Since these kicks are deliberately done in slow motion, they clearly have no practical value—you will never kick somebody in slow motion in real life. The value of these particular movements are obviously for strengthening the leg muscles and developing balance, but these obvious conditioning actions are sporadic.
(There is also, of course, an aesthetic value to the slow motion techniques.)
The Patterns Are Not Dallyeon
The different components of physical training of ITF Taekwon-Do is illustrated in the ITF Encyclopaedia as a composition cycle, made up of five elements: fundamental movements, patterns, sparring, dallyeon, and self-defence.
|"Cycle of Taekwon-Do"|
Source: ITF Encyclopaedia, Vol. 1, p. 238.
Dallyeon is the only element in the cycle that is not translated from Korean into English. So what is dallyeon?
|One type of "dallyeon" -- Image Source|
With regards to physical training, dallyeon refers to all types of training that will “temper” the person, including general fitness, stamina and strength training, the hardening of the attacking and blocking tools, flexibility training, reflex training, line drills, partner drills, combination drills (kicking-and-punching combos), sparring and so on. Dallyeon should also be understood to include training of the mind and character.
|South Korean soldiers engaging in dallyeon. Training in the snow requires |
both physical and mental endurance.
|A comparison of an ITF|
Walking Stance (above) and
a Shotokan Karate Forward
Stance (below). Notice that the
ITF stance is not as deep as the
Dan is astute and correct in his observation that ITF patterns have lost their “load”. If this was the case for another martial art where patterns have a conditioning function it would indeed be a serious loss, as Dan rightly points out. However, this is not a major purpose for the patterns in ITF Taekwon-Do. In ITF Taekwon-Do conditioning is found chiefly in dallyeon.
The Way We Move in the Patterns Are Not the Way We Move in a Fight
In his posts “Forms: their core purpose” and “Sine wave vs. the core purpose of forms” Dan's main focus is on the value of the forms to provide a “dynamic context”, something I very much agree with and hope to write on in a future post regarding the value of patterns. One critique Dan has of the sine wave motion and it's manifestation in the patterns is that while the patterns make for a “dynamic context”, the slowed down characteristic of the sine wave motion causes unnecessary “dead time”. My response to this is twofold:
First, the sine wave motion is not ever present in ITF Taekwon-Do. Although it is a very conspicuous part of the patterns and some fundamental movements, it is not employed to the same degree in other parts of the art. And since the patterns are not to be understood as “a template for fighting” in ITF Taekwon-Do, the presence of the strong sine wave motion in the patterns is not a serious issue, because the stepping needed for fighting (in the meele range) are actually practised elsewhere in the system, like in some line drills and the higher forms of step sparring (dynamic context drills), semi-free and free sparring, and self-defence training.
Secondly, Dan explains the “dead time” as that time in natural stepping between when you start to initiate movement (i.e. push with the rear leg) until the time it takes your body to actually transfer momentum forward. He contrasts this with drop stepping: “The drop step is the very opposite of the natural step in that your front foot initiates movement not your back. / When you lift your front foot you should notice something very different from natural stepping: you start to fall forwards immediately. There is absolutely no delay between your foot lifting off the ground and your forward force being exerted.” The interesting thing about the sine wave motion when correctly applied to natural stepping is that it actually creates forward momentum from the get-go just like the drop step. I explain this peculiar motion without movement in another post..
In summary, the patterns are not truly dallyeon-of-the-body; in other words, their function is not really aerobic or strength training. Having said this, the mere act of “going through the motions” does have an exercise value. You can get quite exhausted from pattern practise. Still, in its essence, the chief purpose is not dallyeon. Also, the patterns are not viewed as “templates for fighting” in ITF Taekwon-Do. Therefore, possible “dead time” caused by the slowness of the sine wave motion in patterns is not a major concern for the ITF practitioner, because we do not consider the patterns the platform where we learn how to step for real fighting (in the melee range).
In a future post I will discuss what I consider to be the kinaesthetic principles that the ITF patterns aim to teach us. Until then, make sure to read Dan Djurdjevic's “Forms: their core purpose”.
1. Just because a chief function of patterns is not dallyeon (conditioning) doesn't mean that conditioning doesn't occur. All movement will translate into some level of conditioning. In Wushu (modern Chinese kung-fu) the main purpose is aesthetic performance, however the physical exersion required of the Wushu forms makes it impossible to downplay the value these forms have on body conditioning. In Wushu one cannot seperate the aesthetic goal with the strenuous physical exertion. My argument is, however, that conditioning is not a main purpose in ITF Taekwon-Do. Or put differently, although physical exercise is inevitable during pattern practise, that is not its main goal, to such a degree that one can separate the goal of the ITF Taekwon-Do patterns from physical dallyeon.
2. Note that the main idea of Dan Djurdjevic's post is not that forms are primarily used for conditioning, that seems to be a secondary dual function. For him the main purpose of the forms are to provide a dynamic context for practising fundamental movements.
3. I don't think that dallyeon-of-the-body truly occurs in the patterns, but there is a strong case to be made for some type of dallyeon-of-the-mind that could occur through pattern training, seeing as patterns are often considered a form of mobile meditation.