16 October 2013

Power Postures

I focus a lot on posture during my martial arts training and teaching. Taekwon-Do, like Aikido, is very much an upright martial art that puts premium emphasis on good posture. This has primarily to do with Taekwon-Do's focus on balance and power.

I remember very clearly one of my first lessons I had with Master Kim Jong Su. Because I know that I often slack in my posture, especially when I'm tired, I tried hard to keep a good upright posture, yet Master Kim was not satisfied with me just standing nice and straight. "Push out your chest," he said, "look strong, look good". For him it was not merely about standing straight for the sake of good balance, but also looking proud and strong. Keeping in mind that Taekwon-Do's roots are in the Korean military, standing proud and strong makes a lot of sense; imagine soldiers standing on the parade grounds.

Super heroes standing in "Power Postures"

Watching the video below reminded me again of this lesson with Master Kim. In the video Amy Cuddy discusses the physiological effects that "power postures" have on a person. They had people stand in certain postures for two minutes and tested their hormone levels before and after. They found that people who stood in "power postures", for instance standing proudly with your chest out and hands on the hips like Superman or Wonder Woman or standing with your arms raised up in victory - had increased testosterone (the hormone associated with strength, confidence and competitiveness) and decreased cortisone (the hormone associated with stress). In other words, by standing in a "power posture" you literally change your own physiology, becoming more confident, yet calm in a stressful situation. This will not only improve your daily life and interactions with other people (even doing better at job interviews), but may also be advantageous to a combat situation.



ITF Taekwon-Do is constructed almost exclusively of upright postures, most of which can be described as "power postures". My suggestion, as conveyed by Master Kim to me, is that when you train Taekwon-Do, don't merely focus on having good upright posture, but deliberately focus on having "power postures". Expand you chest, let your back smile broadly, and look the world straight in the eye. In every stance, pose and posture, be a super hero. After all, when you recite the Taekwon-Do Oath, you are in fact reflecting the motto of a super hero when you say: "I shall be a champion of freedom and justice. I shall help build a more peaceful world." Now stand like you mean it.


18 September 2013

Cultural Kinaesthetics

I have not been very active on this blog as of late. Much of it has to do with a lack of time and additional energy to devote to it. A reason for this is that as of this year I started working on post-graduate studies. The good news is that my research focus is in the martial arts.

I recently read an article on Hip Hop dance styles and it suggested that my own theories regarding the development of ITF Taekwon-Do and its unique kinaesthetics may indeed be sound.

Lis Engel's article “Body Poetics of Hip Hop Dance Styles in Copenhagen” (2001) is based on earlier theories on body movement, established by Marcel Mauss in his article from 1934 on “The Techniques of the Body”, and adapted to English in 1973 as “Body Techniques.” In this article, Mauss asserts that “The different ways of moving, the body techniques, vary not just between individuals but even more between societies, educations, proprieties and fashions and that different ways of moving mirror cultural ways of thinking.’’ In other words, people of different cultures and subcultures move in unique ways—ways that reflect their thinking. In her groundwork, Lis Engel's also refers to the Danish philosopher Ole Fogh Kirkeby's who argues that a person's movement (“body-techniques”) “whether everyday body movements, sports, or different dance techniques and styles” (Engel 351), is a manifestation of a person's “body-mind-event attunement” (Engel 352). Put differently, people express themselves, or reveal themselves, through their body movements, whether these are normal, everyday movements or other specialized forms of movement like sport or dance. Engel explains that “Each personality, each group, each culture develops a particular rhythm, a special style of movement and ways of relating to the other. It is learned” (352).

The value of this article for me as a scholar of Taekwon-Do is that it provides an example of how to approach the “poetics” or meaning of movement in an academic way. In a similar way as Lis Engel studies the cultural significance of the movements of Hip Hop dances, it is possible to consider the significance of certain martial arts. Based on the theories of Marcel Mauss and Ole Fogh Kirkeby it would be possible to discover culturally significant information from the “body-techniques” (i.e. kinaesthetics) in the different movements in the martial arts. Theoretically, a Chinese martial art such as Tai Chi Chuan, a Korean martial arts such as Taekkyeon and a Japanese martial art such as Karate should all reveal something of the cultures in which they developed. Furthermore, the way individuals may express themselves uniquely within these martial arts may reveal something of their individual personalities as well. This could make for interesting research on the effect of a martial art on an individual's sense of self and sense of the world.

References:

Engel, Lis (2001), “Body Poetics of Hip Hop Dance Styles in Copenhagen”, Dance Chronicle, 24:3,
351-372.
Kirkeby, Ole Fogh (1997), “Event and Body-Mind: An Outline of a Post-Postmodern Approach to Phenomenology”, Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 4 (3), 1–33.
Mauss, Marcel (1973), “Body Techniques”, Economy and Society, 70–88.

Some of the posts I wrote that are related to the above include:

15 July 2013

Taekwon-Do Grappling: Letter & Reply

Someone recently send me the following email. I decided to post it here, with me reply beneath.

Letter:

Hi,
I have a question regarding taekwondo, I will really appreciate your answer on this one :)
My question is whether there is a full and complete grappling curriculum for taekwondo.
By grappling I mean clinch, ground techniques, locks, pins, takedowns etc. Would that be comparable as judo or jujitsu?
Is there any book or encyclopedia that completely and fully demonstrates these techniques?
Thank you in advance.
Looking forward to hearing from you
My best regards

Reply:

Good day,

Thank you for your question.

I can only speak for ITF (Chang-Hon) style Taekwon-Do, and not for WTF Taekwondo. But WTF Taekwondo, as far as I know, do not have a grappling arsenal.

Regarding ITF, grappling style techniques are covered in two parts in ITF Taekwon-Do: First, the general stand-up grappling techniques such as the clinch, wrist locks and so on. These are generally covered under self-defence (hoshinsul) sections of the ITF Encyclopaedia. And second, ground grappling techniques which are known in ITF as ground-techniques (nuwo gisul), with a particular emphasis on specific striking and kicking techniques from the ground and can be found in Volumes 3 and 4 of the ITF Encyclopaedia.

As I understand it, General Choi did not want to standardize self-defence in Taekwon-Do because he believed that self-defence is contextual and so instructors ought to provide the type of self-defence teaching that his or her students are most likely going to need and which are most fitted for their personalities and body types. As such, the ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia does not provide any set self-defence (including grappling) syllabus. However, based on principles from the ITF Encyclopaedia, National Governing Bodies and instructors compose their own syllabi. This means that in some countries ground techniques and grappling may not be covered, while it is part and parcel of the technical requirements of other countries; similarly the self-defence curriculum may be quite diverse from one school to another -- with some that do teach grappling, and some that don't.

Regarding ITF Taekwon-Do's grapping arsenal, first their is the sweeping and toppling techniques derived from Taekkyeon. Judo had an early influence on ITF Taekwon-Do as some of the original masters had a Judo background; hence many basic break falling, throws and so on are very similar to that of Judo. (The basic principles for throwing and falling techniques with some examples can be found in Vol. 5 of the ITF Encyclopaedia.) Later, Hapkido techniques were incorporated into Taekwon-Do's self-defense arsenal, so joint-locks, pins and so on are quite similar to that of Hapkido. However, the ITF Encyclopaedia does not refer to joint-locking, only joint-breaking, keeping in mind that originally Taekwon-Do was a military combat system, not a civilian self-defense system.

Later still, the sine wave motion was introduced which follows wave and circle principles found particularly in the Chinese internal martial arts like Tai Chi and Xingyi, so some instructors -- like myself -- emulate the Chinese "chin na" type techniques to reflect ITF Taekwon-Do's current evolution. "Chin na" [逮捕] is known as "chepo sulgi" [체포술기] in Korean and translates as "arresting techniques"; i.e. these are the types of techniques used by law enforcement to control a criminal and arrest them.

Regarding a book, Tony Kemerly and Steve Snyder's "Taekwondo Grappling Techniques: Hone Your Competitive Edge for Mixed Martial Arts" is probably the only book I know of that specifically focus on ITF Taekwon-Do grappling techniques. The book follows the ITF patterns and derive specific grappling style skills from each of the patterns. The book therefore provides a systematic way of learning such techniques and could therefore work very well as a grappling syllabus, but since it follows the patterns the techniques all commence from a standing position and therefore does not really cover ground fighting, but it includes various joint locks, throws and some pins. I hope this helps.

Regards,
S

12 June 2013

What the Meditative Value in the ITF Patterns Is Not

I hope to continue my series on the value of the ITF patterns, and in my next installment in this series, I want to discuss the meditative value of the patterns. Most people that uncritically accept Oriental mysticism as part and parcel of the Oriental martial art package may not realize that such a discussion is anything but straightforward. As westerners (as I assume most of the readers of this blog are), we have no tradition of “meditation in motion,” as the patterns are sometimes described. Actually, the idea of meditation in its modern Oriental manifestation in the West is quite foreign—yes, the European, i.e. Christian tradition, has a history of meditation but what is meant by the word “meditation” is quite different.

I will address two issues in this post: first, the idea of meditation; and second, the role of the body in ascetic (spiritual) practise. I’m going to make some sweeping statements, purely because I do not have the time to go into a very detailed discussion and elaboration of the philosophical, historical and cultural aspects involved.

The Idea of Meditation in the West and East

What is typically considered meditation in the Oriental versus meditation in the West is rather different. Western meditation is much better understood as either prayer on the one hand or contemplation on the other. In both cases the mind is occupied with thought, with only occasional moments of silence in order to “hear” the impressions of the Holy Spirit. In the past when Christians said they meditated, they meant that they were praying or they were “meditating upon God’s Word,” meaning that they were reading a part of Scripture, and contemplating the spiritual significance of the text. Even when the meditation was not on sacred topics, like Newton meditating on the effects of gravity, the term “meditation” was used to signify being in deep thought.

Historically the Western world did not have the type of meditation—of clearing the mind of thoughts—as is so popular today. While the theistic Western idea of meditation was historically to commune with a personal God, the Oriental tradition, including the Buddhist tradition, was pantheistic, with no personal God to communicate with. Communicating with a personal God through prayer and meditation would not have made sense to the Oriental cultures. Since within the ancient Oriental paradigm there did not exist a personal supreme God, but rather a pantheistic impersonal Force (with concepts such as the impersonal Tao or impersonal Chi), prayer doesn’t make sense. The Far Eastern cultures may have prayed to their (personal) ancestors, but they didn’t pray to any personal God, and they didn’t pray or even really meditate upon (prayerfully contemplate) the Tao or Ki. They may have contemplated these topics, but not in a sanctimonious way as the Christian may contemplate the words of Jesus, or Protestants may contemplate the Crucified and Risen Christ or Catholics the Eucharist. For Christians, these are acts of worship. When the Chinese Taoists contemplated the Tao, they did not worship the Tao. They may have worshipped their ancestors and built alters and made offerings to their ancestors (keeping in mind that even this differs in purpose from the Western Christian concept of worship), but not to the impersonal Tao, even though it was their major world-view. The same applies to their approach to the Ki.

The Oriental approach to such concepts as the Tao or Ki was very much a practical approach, similar to the way Western societies approached the natural sciences. The Oriental practise of certain movements and meditation to cultivate Ki had a practical purpose—it was believed that the cultivation of Ki could extend one’s life. In fact, Taoist monks believed that through the practise of Qiqong and studying the Tao they could attain immortality—not immortality in the world to come, as Christians believe, but immortality in this present world—or at least extend their life spans in this current world.

In ancient China there existed two traditions of what we may call “meditation in motion” and which functioned as the precursors to modern day martial art forms or patterns. The Wudang tradition had Taoist monks training in certain motions to cultivate Ki. Originally, Ki exercises (Qigong) had nothing to do with martial arts. The other tradition was that of the Shaolin monks who also practised a type of forms for meditative purposes. Anyone familiar with the legends of the Oriental martial arts would have heard of the Indian Buddhist monk Boddhidharma teaching his Chinese Buddhist monks certain poses to increase the physical strength and so increase their ability to meditate. Coming from India, the poses he taught them were most certainly yoga poses, and not—as is commonly interpreted—martial art techniques. The Indian yogis use yoga poses as part of their meditation practise. The purpose of such meditation, in the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, is to reach Nirvana, by disconnecting with the present world, in order to transcend into a higher plain of consciousness.

The Role of the Body in Oriental Spiritual Practise

The Hindu and Buddhist tradition viewed the body dualistically. The body is merely a shell hosting the soul which transmigrates from one body upon death to a new body in an endless cycle of reincarnation until Nirvana is reached. The body was often viewed as a prison or hindrance—although a necessary one to work through one’s karma. In the Hindu tradition ascetic practitioners (yogi) would sometimes torture themselves by going through gruelling self-mastery, which may include self-mutilation, many hours of meditation in extreme physical positions (obscure yoga postures), fasting, and so on. The Buddhist tradition was less extreme, but still required thousands of hours of meditation. And as the Shaolin legend goes, in order to endure such excruciation meditation, strenuous exercise was necessary to strengthen their bodies. The true goal, however, was never the body—but the spirit, never this temporary life, but ultimate Nirvana.

The Wudang tradition was different in that it didn’t view the body dualistically. For the Taoist there was only one life, the present one. Their goal was therefore not to purge the soul of bad karma, but merely to extend the current life by cultivating life-giving Ki and by harmonizing with the Tao which would lead to a comfortable life. The purpose was more a practical one than a genuine ascetically spiritual one.

The problem with trying to interpret the ITF patterns as a tool for meditation is firstly that there is no clear line with either the Taoist Wudang tradition, as is the case with Tai-Chi Chuan, or with the Bud-dhist Shaolin tradition, as is the case with Shaolin kungfu. Neither does Taekwon-Do have the same goals as the Taoist Wudang monks or the Buddhist Shaolin monks. Taekwon-Do is purposely non-religious—a point specifically mentioned in the ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia. Furthermore, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, General Choi Hong-Hi was very clear how he understood meditation in Taekwon-Do to be. He clearly stated that mediation in Taekwon-Do is “not a disconnection with the world, like a corpse, as in Buddhism,” (Volume 1). Moreover, General Choi purposefully broke away with the esoteric interpretations of the traditional martial arts and packaged Taekwon-Do as a modern, “scientific” art based on the natural sciences, in particular, Newtonian physics, anatomy, and physiology.

To conclude, whatever we want to say about the meditative value and possibly even ascetic value of the patterns in ITF Taekwon-Do, we must be very clear that it is not of a religious nature. It is definitely not in the same category as Shaolin kungfu. There may be some overlap with the Wudang tradition though—in that both the Taoists and Taekwon-Do has a health focus; the difference being however that for the Taoists this meant purposefully cultivating Ki, while in Taekwon-Do Ki is not emphasized and any such cultivation—assuming Ki exists—is a by-product rather than a goal in itself.

The meditative value of the ITF patterns, therefore, has to be searched for elsewhere than in the ascetic pursuits of the Chinese styles where the martial art forms supposedly originated.

Just to emphasize again, I’m making many sweeping statements about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and related martial arts in my writings above.

30 May 2013

Congratulations

Jodi, Instructor Philip, and Juan.

This past weekend Bsbnim Philip de Vos of our Potchefstroom Dojang took two students to the annual ATC Invitational Tournament in Pretoria. Jodi Siecker (10th Gup) won a silver medal in the Senior Female Novice Patterns Division. Juan Dyason also won a silver for his pattern performance in the Senior Male Novice Patterns Division, as well as a bronze medal in the Senior Male Novice Sparring +85kg Division. A big congratulations to these two representatives of the Potchefstroom Dojang for their wins at there first competition, as well as to their instructor for his excellent coaching. The Soo Shim Kwan would also like to thank the organizers of the ATC for another excellent tournament.

29 April 2013

An Exposition on the Value of the Patterns in the ITF Taekwon-Do Pedagogy

This post brings together different essays I wrote on this blog regarding what I consider to be the value of the patterns as they are performed in ITF Taekwon-Do, keeping in mind the pedagogical paradigm of ITF Taekwon-Do.

While the forms in some martial arts may have purely practical value, the ITF patterns also serve as a vehicle to disseminate Korean philosophy, history, culture and aesthetics.

It would be wrong, therefore, to try and interpret the patterns as primarily templates for fighting. Although the patterns do have some practical application value, the ITF patterns are not fighting templates, and the way we move in the ITF patterns is not to be confused with how one would or should move during a real combative encounter. Nor is the main purpose of the patterns dallyeon, i.e. physical conditioning. Undoubtedly one will become exhausted from training the patterns, but the way the patterns are performed in ITF Taekwon-Do actually removes much of the physical difficulty (or "load") in the form of very deep stances, long periods of tension, or chains of quick connecting movements. One critique is that since such units of quick connecting movements are mostly removed from ITF patterns, it is difficult to know which sequences of techniques ought to go together. However, this is a flawed argument.

I believe, the primary value of the way the patterns are performed in ITF Taekwon-Do is to nurture certain kinaesthetic awareness and ability.

In my first post on the topic of the kinaesthetic value of the patterns I discuss relaxation, body awareness, and spacial awareness. In other words:

. . .the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns is concerned with teaching the practitioner to move from a state of relaxation. Furthermore, the patterns focus on body awareness (getting acquainted with one's static and dynamic balance), and spacial awareness, while also ingraining certain stances, basics, and increasing coordination.

My second post on the topic of the kinaesthetic value of patterns focuses on the emphasis on the acceleration of body mass in the patterns:

. . . a primary value of the patterns is to supply an environment in which to drill the acceleration of body mass in techniques, while using sequential motion to create a whip-like effect, and using gravity's force as an aid where appropriate. Moving with a sense of relaxation is a key ingredient in this regard. Although there is generally no sense of urgency in between techniques (with some exceptions), there is a definite sense of urgency in accelerating each individual technique quite rapidly. 

While accelerating the body mass is a primary goal, it is never at the expense of balance and posture. Traditional techniques as practised in the patterns are far more conservative than the over-zealous, albeit more powerful, but nevertheless riskier techniques found in combat sports.

Further kinaesthetic values of the patterns I discuss are rhythm-and-tempo, timing, and breathing:

The ITF patterns is the primary place where Taekwon-Do's rhythm and tempo is drilled. The rhythm guides the practitioner in acquiring when to relax and when to tense while executing techniques. The rhythm and tempo also teach strategic principles based on the Taegeuk (opposite forces of hard and soft) as well the Korean Sam-Taegeuk (three-phase forces). The patterns also became the foundation for training in timing, which is more fully practised in other parts of the ITF Taekwon-Do pedagogy. Finally, the patterns are a place that emphasises proper breathing, which is one of the most important principles in the ITF Taekwon-Do curriculum.

Finally, the patterns also have an ascetic or meditative function that involves a form of mind-training, which I will discuss in a future post. So far I have written a post on what the meditative function of the patterns is not.

In summary, the ITF patterns act as a vehicle for disseminating Korean philosophy, history, culture and aesthetics, for training certain kinaesthetic principles, and they may also have an ascetic or meditative function.

I conclude with a quotation from the book Legacies of the Sword (1997:107) by Karl F. Friday and Seki Humitaki:

A student’s training begins with pattern practice, but it is not supposed to end there. Kata are not, for example, intended to be used as a kind of database mechanically applied. Rather, pattern practice is employed as a tool for teaching and learning the principles underlying the techniques that make up the kata. Once these principles have been absorbed, the tool is to be set aside.

Die Kragteorie van Taekwon-Do


This is a translation of ITF Taekwon-Do's Theory of Power into Afrikaans by Retha Fritz from the ITF Encyclopaedia on behalf of the SA-ITF’s Research and Education Directorate.


This translation resorts under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. This means that you may freely use and copy it, but not for commercial use, and that you should always include attribution for translation to "Retha Fritz, SA-ITF Research & Education Directorate", with a link to the SA-ITF homepage: www.taekwondo.co.za

Die Kragteorie van Taekwon-Do


Alhoewel oefening ’n uitstekende vlak van fisieke fiksheid tot gevolg sal hê, sal dit nie noodwendig lei tot die verwerwing van uitsonderlike stamina of bomenslike krag nie. Let wel, die beoefening van Taekwon-Do sal die verkryging van ’n hoë vlak van reaksiekrag, konsentrasie, ewewig, asembeheer en spoed tot gevolg hê; die resultaat van al hierdie faktore is ’n hoë graad van fisieke krag.

Boondong Ryeok : Reaksiekrag

Volgens Newton se wet het elke krag ’n gelyke en teenoorgestelde krag. Wanneer ’n kar teen ’n muur bots met die krag van 900 kilogram sal die muur daardie krag met ’n gelyke krag van 900 kilogram teenstaan; of deur die punt van ’n wipplank af te druk met ’n ton gewig, sal dit ’n opwaartse krag van dieselfde gewig aan die ander punt tot gevolg hê. Net so, as jou opponent jou teen ’n hoë spoed bestorm, sal die ligste hou teen sy kop gelyk wees aan die krag van sy eie aanval, plus dié van jou hou. Die twee kragte gekombineerd; syne wat groot is en joune wat klein is, is nogal indrukwekkend. Nog ’n reaksiekrag is jou eie. ’n Hou met die regtervuis word versterk deur die linkervuis terug te trek heup toe.

Jip Joong : Konsentrasie

Deur die impakkrag op die kleinste teikenarea te fokus, sal dit die krag konsentreer en sodoende die effek daarvan vergroot. By voorbeeld, die krag van water wat uit ’n tuinslang kom is groter as die opening kleiner is. Aan die ander kant, die gewig van ’n man, verspreid oor sneeuskoene maak ’n weinige indruk op die sneeu. Die houe in Taekwon-Do is dikwels gekonsentreerd op die kant van die ope palm of die kneukels.

Dit is baie belangrik dat jy nie al jou krag aan die begin loslaat nie, maar geleidelik en veral op die oomblik van kontak met jou opponent se liggaam; die krag moet tot so ’n mate gekonsentreerd wees dat ’n uitklophou verseker is. Met ander woorde, hoe korter die konsentrasietyd, hoe groter sal die krag van die hou wees. Uiterste konsentrasie word vereis om elke spier van die liggaam gelyk te mobiliseer na die kleinste area.

Om op te som: konsentrasie word op twee maniere bereik. Een is om elke spier van die liggaam te konsentreer, veral die groter spiere om die heup en maag (wat teoreties stadiger is as die kleiner spiere van die ander liggaamsdele) na die gepaste aanvalsdeel op die gepaste tyd; die tweede manier is om hierdie gemobiliseerde spiere te fokus na die aanvalspunt op die opponent. Dit is die rede waarom die heup en maag effens kragtig geroteer word voor die hande en voete in enige tegniek, ongeag dit aanval of verdediging is.

Kyoon Hyeong : Ewewig

In enige sport is balans van uiterste belang. In Taekwon-Do vereis dit spesiale aandag. Deur die liggaam altyd in ewewig te hou, dit wil sê goed gebalanseerd, is ’n hou meer effektief en dodelik. Aan die ander kant is dit maklik om ’n ongebalanseerde persoon te laat kantel. Die stans behoort altyd stabiel tog beweegbaar te wees, vir beide aanvallende en verdedigende bewegings. Daar word by ewewig ’n onderskeid getref tussen statiese en dinamiese stabiliteit. Hulle is egter so onderling verbind dat die maksimum krag net bereik kan word wanneer statiese stabiliteit onderhou word deur dinamiese stabiliteit.

Om goeie ewewig te behou, is dit noodsaaklik dat die swaartepunt van ’n stans op ’n reguit lyn halfpad tussen die bene val, of in die middel van die voet indien dit nodig is om die meerderheid van liggaamsgewig op een voet te konsentreer. Die swaartepunt kan aangepas word ten op sigte van die liggaamsgewig. Soepelheid en knieveerkrag is ook belangrik in die behoud van balans vir beide ’n vinnige aanval en ’n oombliklike herstel. ’n Addisionele punt: die hak van die agterste voet behoort nooit van die grond af te wees op die oomblik van impak nie. Dit is nie net nodig vir goeie balans nie, maar ook om die maksimum krag tydens die impakmoment te produseer.

Hoheup Jojul : Asembeheer

Beheerde asemhaling het nie net ’n invloed op die persoon se stamina en spoed nie, maar kan ook die liggaam kondisioneer om ’n hou te absorbeer en om die krag van ’n hou, wat op ’n opponent gerig is, te vermeerder. Wanneer ’n drukpunt getref word, kan bewussynsverlies verhoed en pyn gedemp word, deur uitaseming te stop op die kritieke oomblik. Hierdie vaardigheid moet ingeoefen word. ’n Skerp uitaseming op die impakmoment en die stop van aseming gedurende die uitvoer van ’n beweging maak die maagspiere styf, sodoende word die maksimum inspanning gekonsentreer op die uitvoer van die beweging; terwyl ’n stadige inaseming help vir die voorbereiding van die volgende beweging. ’n Belangrike reël om te onthou: Moet nooit inasem terwyl ’n blok of hou teen ’n opponent gefokus word nie. Dit sal nie net die beweging strem nie, maar ook ’n verlies aan krag tot gevolg hê.

Studente behoort ook te oefen om hulle asemhaling te verberg met die doel om enige opsigtelike tekens van uitputting weg te steek. ’n Ervare vegter sal beslis ’n aanval verskerp, wanneer hy besef dat sy opponent op die punt van uitputting is. Een asem word vir een beweging benodig, met die uitsondering van ’n aaneenlopende beweging.

Zilyang : Massa

Wiskundig beskou: maksimum kinetiese energie of krag word deur die maksimum liggaamsgewig en spoed verkry. Daarom is dit baie belangrik dat die liggaamsgewig tydens die uitvoer van ’n hou, vermeerder word. Dit geskied sonder twyfel deur die heupdraaibeweging. Die groot maagspiere roteer om meer liggaamsmomentum te verkry. Die heup roteer daarom in dieselfde rigting as die van die aanvals- of blokdeel. ’n Ander manier om liggaamsgewig te vermeerder is die aanwending van die knie se veerkrag. Dit word bereik deur die heup effens te lig aan die begin van die beweging en dan die heup op die oomblik van impak te laat sak om sodoende die liggaamsgewig in die beweging te laat val. Om op te som is dit nodig om uit te wys dat die beginsels van krag soos dit hier uiteengesit is, nog net so waar vandag, in ons huidige era van moderne wetenskap en kernkrag is, as wat dit eeue gelede was. Ek is seker dat wanneer jy deur hierdie kuns gaan, beide in teorie en praktyk, sal jy vind dat die wetenskaplike basis van die bewegings en die ware krag wat uit ’n klein menslike liggaam kom, nie anders kan as om jou te beïndruk nie.

Sokdo : Spoed

Spoed is die heel belangrikste faktor van krag. Wetenskaplik beskou is krag gelyk aan massa x versnelling (F = m.a) of (P = ½M.V²).

Volgens die teorie van kinetiese energie vermeerder elke voorwerp sy [toegepaste] gewig sowel as sy spoed in ’n afwaartse beweging. Hierdie einste beginsel word toegepas in hierdie spesifieke selfverdedigingkuns. Om díe rede is die posisie van die hand, op die oomblik van impak, gewoonlik laer as die skouer en die voet laer as die heup terwyl die liggaam in die lug is.

Reaksiekrag, asembeheer, ewewig, konsentrasie en ontspanning van die spiere kan nie ignoreer word nie. Dit is hierdie faktore wat bydrae tot die spoed en al hierdie faktore, asook soepelheid en ritmiese bewegings, moet goed gekoördineer word om die maksimum krag in Taekwon-Do te produseer.

Vertaal deur Retha Fritz namens die Navorsing-en-opvoedingsdirektoraat van die SA-ITF.



This translation resorts under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. This means that you may freely use and copy it, but not for commercial use, and that you should always include attribution for translation to "Retha Fritz, SA-ITF Research & Education Directorate" with a link to the SA-ITF homepage: www.taekwondo.co.za

25 February 2013

The Value of Patterns (Part 2): Kinaesthetics (Part 3: Rhythm & Breathing)


In my discussion on the kinaesthetic value of the patterns I discussed in Part 1 the heavy emphasis on relaxation and moving from a state of relaxation. I also focussed on the value of the patterns to acquire better body awareness with regards to static and dynamic balance, stances, personal space, and improving coordination. In Part 2 I focussed on the patterns providing an environment in which to drill the acceleration of body mass in techniques, while using sequential motion to create a whip-like effect, and using gravity's force as an aid where appropriate. In this (possibly) final instalment on what I consider to be the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns I will look at rhythm and tempo, timing, and breathing.

Rhythm & Tempo

“The pattern should be performed in a rhythmic motion and without stiffness,” states the ITF Encyclopaedia.

I have already noted how that tempo in the ITF patterns are relatively slow compared to, for instance, Karate kata. This had not always been the case. Originally, Taekwon-Do was strongly influenced by Karate and in fact many Karate kata were practised in the gyms in Korea in the 50's and 60's. Even when General Choi started the initiative of developing new forms (now known at the Chang Hon Patterns), rather than just using Karate's kata, it was not all wholly new. Many sequences and remnants from different Karate kata are recognizable in the Chang Hon pattern set. There is no need to throw out what works. But for a long time Taekwon-Do practitioners still performed the patterns in a Karatesque manner, while the rest of the system evolved to a more Korean Kinaesthetic that is more relaxed and light-footed.

However, with the introduction of the sine wave motion this changed. The sine wave motion resembles the three beat rhythm (one-two-THREE; one-two-THREE) that is common in traditional Korea music. Applying this rhythm the patterns become much more in-line with Korean kinaesthetics as we also see in Taekkyeon, Korea's folk martial art, and Korean traditional dance.

Understanding this rhythm, many martial art applications present themselves. The first two beats are usually in a state of relaxation, sometimes used for yielding or entering; while the last beat is the active hard moment, often used offensively. So the study of the rhythm becomes a study of the Taegeuk (Yin-Yang or “Eum-Yang” as it is known in Korean).

Although the rhythm is often interpreted as two phases of "soft" and "hard" or “relax” and “tense”, it can also be interpreted from a sam-taegeuk model of three phases to correspond with the phases of the sine wave motion. In the typical sine wave motion the three phases are usually, relax-rise-fall, but many other three-phase possibilities exist, for instance: yield-reposition-attack, enter-uproot-throw, defend-position-counterattack, unbalance-setup-control, guard—attack high—attack low, block-attack-attack, etc.

Typically from technique to technique the patterns require a specific relaxed, relatively slow tempo using one full sine wave motion for every technique, known as normal motion. This tempo is sporadically interrupted resulting in other types of tempo: slow motion, fast motion, connecting motion, and continuous motion. Each of these teaches different ways of employing the “wave”. Sometimes the wave is “ridden” so that some techniques are done while going up, immediately followed by a technique going down in the relax-rise-fall sequence, other times more than one technique may be done while “falling”, or the technique may be a flow of blocking directly into counter-attacking, and so on. The wave can also be inverted and need not always be done in all three parts.

There is a quotation from the book Advanced Aikido by Phong Thong Dang and Lynn Seiser that I really like: “The wave motion is a rolling movement. It is continuous. In many advanced aikido movements, one can observe the rolling motion of the wave. The motion of the vertical wave movement is up-down, down-up, down-up-down, or up-down-up. One can also use the wave movement horisontally in an in-out, out-in, in-out-in, or out-in-out pattern” (p. 55). This quote from an Aikido source would have fitted equally well in the ITF Encyclopaedia. (Read more about the shared principles between Aikido and ITF Taekwon-Do here.)

Timing

It is in the patterns where the practitioner is first introduced to such rhythms, and concepts of Taegeuk and Sam-Taegeuk, which will ultimately become the corner-stone of understanding how timing works.

Timing refers to the interaction with an opponent. Because one is only figuratively interacting with an opponent while practising the patterns, this is not the ideal exercise for learning timing. Real exercise in timing is done in partner drills, sparring and self-defence training. Nonetheless, timing is reliant on understanding rhythm, your own rhythm and your opponents rhythm, and in this sense the patterns becomes the foundation from where timing will later be build on.

Timing also refers to one's ability to coordinate different parts of the total movement of your technique for optimal effect; for instance, coordinating the different parts of your body during a technique in such a way that you maximize your momentum and then transfer that force into your opponent. This relates to sequential acceleration and controlled falling which I discussed in Part 2.

In particular, acquiring the ability to properly time your strike to occur at the moment your step lands, is a main focuses of practicing the patterns in ITF Taekwon-Do and is something that instructors pay special attention to. If the punch is delivered before the step is completed, then one's body structure is likely to be weak, which may result in poor delivery of force. Conversely, if your stepping foot lands first, then your forward momentum will disperse into the ground, and so the body's forward momentum is wasted. Instead, the technique must be so timed that the body's momentum is transferred into the target through the hand at the moment the foot lands, and in so doing capitalizing on the forward momentum, while ensuring proper body structure.


Breathing

The importance of correct breathing cannot be stressed enough. In ITF Taekwon-Do Breath Control is one of our six main technical principles. Not only is it a part of the Theory of Power, it is also referred to in the Training Secrets. The interesting thing about proper breathing is that it doesn't necessarily come naturally. While babies and most animals naturally do abdominal breathing, adults have usually lost this correct habit, possibly because of years of working in jobs that are not ergonomically friendly (like sitting behind desks and slouching over keyboards), restrictive clothing, bad posture, unnecessary stress, non-active lifestyles, and so on.

I recently discussed ITF Taekwon-Do's breathing in another post. My summary of the post was that “ITF Taekwon-Do encourages abdominal breathing. For combat purposes the abdominal breathing is adjusted to a short sharp breath that helps to focus both body and mind, helps prevent premature fatigue, helps to tense the core muscles at the moment of impact, helps to relax the body during the rest of time, and possibly even help to stifle pain or to endure strikes to pressure points.”

The rhythmic quality of the patterns, which corresponds with the traditional Korean three beat rhythm with emphasis on the third beat, is possibly the most prominent way where the ITF's short sharp breath is most specifically exercised. The patterns are concerned with coordinated movement and the practitioner learns to coordinate the motion with the breath. Usually every technique corresponds with one breath; in the full sine wave motion (relax-rise-fall), the first two-thirds where the body is relaxing and rising is generally used for inhalation, while the short sharp exhalation is done during the last third of the motion while the body is “falling”.  It is proper breathing that helps to make the patterns “sharp” as the breath is used to tense the core muscles and solidifies the body at the moment of impact. Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha explains, “as we move we should feel light, relaxed and flowing like water. When we finish a movement the body should become strong and hard like iron. The breath is how we can achieve this . . .”

Conclusion

The ITF patterns is the primary place where Taekwon-Do's rhythm and tempo is drilled. The rhythm guides the practitioner in acquiring when to relax and when to tense when executing techniques. The rhythm and tempo also teach strategic principles based on the Taegeuk (opposite forces of hard and soft) as well the Korean Sam-Taegeuk (three-phase forces). The patterns also became the foundation for training in timing, which is more fully practised in other parts of the ITF Taekwon-Do pedagogy. Finally, the patterns are a place that emphasises proper breathing, which is one of the most important principles in the ITF Taekwon-Do curriculum.

10 February 2013

The Value of Patterns (Part 2): Kinaesthetics (Part 2: Accelerated Body Mass—Not Speed)

In the first instalment on what I consider to be the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns I mentioned firstly it's heavy emphasis on relaxation and moving from a state of relaxation. Furthermore, I mentioned how the relatively slow tempo of the patterns helps with improving body awareness—understanding how one's balance changes both statically and dynamically, how your centre-of-gravity changes, how your centre of mass changes, how your weight shifts from one foot to another, and so on. Related to this is an acquaintance with Taekwon-Do's formal stances, Taekwon-Do's basic movements, and the added benefit of improved coordination.

In this second instalment on the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns, I will focus on the acceleration of body mass.

Quick Movements versus Forceful Movements


People are often surprised at how slow, unhurried the ITF patterns seem to be. This is true as far as the tempo of the patterns is concerned. With few exceptions there is no urgency to rush from one technique to another technique. The techniques are seldom bundled in clusters of frantic defences and attacks. The patterns are not the primary place for acquiring fighting skills; they are rather “drills” for teaching certain concepts of movement; i.e. kinaesthetics. One such a kinaesthetic concept that patterns are primarily concerned with is to differentiate between mere quick movements versus forceful movements. Therefore, the focus of the ITF patterns is not on moving the limbs very quickly, like for instance in American Kenpo or Whin Chun where the opponent is overwhelmed with a barrage of very rapid strikes.

The video below shows American Kenpo Grandmaster Ted Parker demonstrating their Short Form 3. Once the form gets going, notice the hurried urgency with which it is performed.



Such a urgency is most likely to reflect the hurriedness of a real combat situation. The purpose of the ITF patterns is not shadow-boxing, requiring a flurry of attacks and defences.

Instead, the purpose of the patterns is to teach the practitioner to “accelerate as much body mass as possible in the direction of the technique, with emphasis on strong exhalation, and without compromising your balance and posture.” The Fundamental Movements, as practised in the patterns, are primarily concerned with Newton's Second Law of Motion; i.e. Force = Mass x Acceleration. For nearly every movement in the patterns there must be a lot of mass accelerated. Practising flailing the limbs quickly is not the purpose of the patterns. Rather, the whole body mass should be activated for each technique.

Sequential Acceleration 


In the patterns, the aim is not really to learn how to move quickly; instead, the aim is to learn how to truly accelerate as much of the body's mass behind the technique as possible, but also in a whip-like manner known as sequential motion or kinetic chaining. This entails that different parts of the body initiates the movement at different times.

In the video below Grandmaster Choi Jung-Hwa looks at an exampled of a 90° turn into a forearm block as found in the pattern Chon-Ji, and speaks about the importance of employing  the waist to activate more of the body's mass, rather than just the arm for blocking. If one turns the waist too early it doesn't contribute to the momentum of the block. Different parts of the body is activated at different times in order to create the most momentum.



To quote Bruce Lee¹ on the subject of sequential motion:

The timing is such that each segment adds its speed to that of the others. The shortened lever principle is used to accentuate many of the particular speeds of this uncoil or whip. The rotation of each segment around its particular joint-fulcrum is made at high speed for that particular part; but each segment rate is accelerated tremendously because it rotates around a fulcrum already highly accelerated.

In the ITF patterns the techniques are often started with deliberate relaxation—corresponding with the first part of the sine wave motion. From here, however, the technique is accelerated in such a way that as much of the body mass as possible is engaged, adding to the force of the technique. For instance, when punching it is not merely the weight of the arm that is accelerated for the punch, but the mass of the whole body is engaged behind the punch, while sequential motion is applied to accelerate the punch in a whip-like fashion.

Bruce Lee, again, explains how this would work with analogies from sport:

In throwing a ball, all the accumulated speeds of the body are present at the elbow when the forearm snaps over its fast-moving elbow-fulcrum. . . An important aspect of this multiple action of acceleration is the introduction of each segment movement as late as possible in order to take full advantage of the peak acceleration of its fulcrum. The arm is kept so far behind that the chest muscles pulling against it are tensed and stretched. The final wrist snap is postponed until the last instant before release or, in striking, before contact. In football, the punter puts the last snap into his knee and foot as, or a shade after, he makes contact with the ball. It is this last moment acceleration that is meant by ‘block through the man’ in football or ‘punch through the man’ in boxing. The principle is to preserve the maximum acceleration up to the last instant of contact. Regardless of distance, the final phase of a movement should be the fastest. Maintaining this increasing acceleration as long as there is contact is sound. . .

Controlled Falling


One of the simplest ways to get the whole body's mass accelerated is by employing the constant pull of gravity. Much of the patterns, therefore, is concerned with teaching the practitioner “controlled falling”. In many of the techniques, the practitioner is actually “falling” into them, dropping his or her body weight from a higher position to a lower position and thereby converting potential energy into kinetic energy. Also, when stepping or sliding the body momentum is in a manner of speaking thrown into the technique, so that one is falling towards the target. In ITF Taekwon-Do we use this “falling” as a way to activate our body's mass, and then further accelerate the technique, using the aforementioned sequential motion method, which usually piggybacks on the “fall”; or put differently, while “falling” one accelerates different parts of the body sequentially in a whip-like fashion, thereby adding gravity's force with your own force.

It is important here to understand why I'm referring to it as “controlled falling” and not merely “falling”. One of the cardinal concepts in ITF Taekwon-Do is “to bring the action of [ones hands and feet] into one singe coordinated action . . .” at the same focused moment. Many martial arts believe it proper to first root, then punch when stepping. For instance, one would find in most systems of Karate that they will step, first plant the foot, and then punch. This is to ensure good structure and stability before punching. While this is a valid strategy, it does lose out on some of the power that can be gained from the forward momentum of the step. The problem with first placing your foot and then punching, is that once your foot lands—roots—the momentum dissipates into the ground.

Therefore, ITF Taekwon-Do, and some other martial arts like Xingyi, coordinate their movement so that their stepping foot lands at the same moment as the striking hand. In this way, the technique properly employs the whole momentum of the moving body and transfers this force through the technique (hand) into the target. Of course this is a basic concept in ITF Taekwon-Do and is practised constantly as part of our fundamental movements, but it is particularly in the patterns where we are constantly confronted with this principle in various types of techniques and contexts.

Using Gravity for Initiating Motion


Something I particularly find interesting about this principle when combined with ITF's focus on relaxation is how one learns to initiate movement of the body by using gravity's force, rather than one's own muscular force.

Doing so allows you to stay in a state of relaxation much longer than if you were to initiate your movement through muscular force. (The emphasis on relaxation was addressed in the previous post.)

For instance, a typical forward stepping punch in Karate requires that the Karateka thrusts forward with his rear foot. On the other hand, in ITF Taekwon-Do the way to initiate motion in the patterns is not by immediately thrusting with the rear leg, but rather by first relaxing the forward leg which causes the body to “fall” forward, so that the body's mass is brought forward onto the front leg in a natural, literally effortless way. This “falling” momentum is then capitalised on by the sequential acceleration of the different parts of the body later in the step. It is true that from start to finish the Karateka's forward stepping punch would be faster; however, the ITF practitioner's emphasis on accelerating more body mass is greater. Of course, it is important to remember that the aim of the patterns is not to teach fast, hurried defending and attacking, as might be the case in Karate. For more realistic defending and counter-attacking training other parts of the ITF pedagogy is used. The ITF patterns is building kinaesthetic awareness, and in this instance the goal is to acquire the ability to accelerate body mass sequentially and use gravity where appropriate to help with this, while emphasising relaxation.

Unhurried Tempo, but Hurried Acceleration 


It would be wrong to think, however, that the practitioner is not learning to move quickly. Actually, because there is a focus on acceleration, not merely on hurriedness, the practitioner learns how to accelerate quite dramatically.

Take a look at this video that shows a pattern in slow motion—the slow motion starts at 3:22. Notice, although each movement starts very slow, how fast they accelerate towards the end of each movement.




Even in a video that is artificially slowed down, one can see that the techniques are not slow throughout—in fact, at the moments just before impact, the techniques are extremely fast (even while shown in slow motion!).

So what is it that encourages this sudden acceleration? There is a principle in ITF Taekwon-Do that states that movements of the hands, feet and breath should finish at the same time—“To bring the action of [everything] into one singe coordinated action . . .”

In other words, for example in the case of a stepping back-fist strike, by the time the stepping foot is planted, the attack (the back-fist strike) should have landed also. In ITF Taekwon-Do one would generally not first step, root your foot, and then strike, as the moment your stepping food lands (and roots your body weight) the body's momentum is dispersed into the ground. So the back-fist strike should occur at the moment or slightly just before the stepping foot roots, causing the accelerated mass of your whole body to “fall” into the strike.

However, in the whole sequence of body parts being accelerated sequentially the striking arm actually starts quite late in moving towards it's target. The motion starts in the legs, then the hips, then the shoulders, then the elbow and lastly the forearm and wrist is flicked. This means that the arm should move very quickly to catch up with the motion of the rest of the body. While the patterns have no urgency in tempo, they definitely have an urgency in finishing the technique before the stepping foot has rooted (or before the “controlled fall” is finished). The focus is therefore not merely on moving quickly from technique to technique; rather, the focus is on accelerating every individual technique sequentially and as quickly as possible so that “the final phase of [the] movement [is] the fastest,” with a significant amount of body mass engaged behind it.

Conclusion


In conclusion, a primary value of the patterns is to supply an environment in which to drill the acceleration of body mass in techniques, while using sequential motion to create a whip-like effect, and using gravity's force as an aid where appropriate. Moving with a sense of relaxation is a key ingredient in this regard. Although there is generally no sense of urgency in between techniques (with some exceptions), there is a definite sense of urgency in accelerating each individual technique quite rapidly.

In the next instalment(s) on what I consider the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns I will look at rhythm and timing, and breathing.



1. Bruce Lee, “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”

Happy Lunar New Year

Today is Lunar New Year, celebrated by most of the Orient. The Lunar New Year falls on a different date every year depending on the lunar cycle, on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar.

In Korea Seolnal (Lunar New Year's Day) is one of the two big holidays of the year with both the day before and after also being public holidays because of the travelling involved. Families go to the home of the oldest male member of the family. Traditionally all the male members of the family will pay homage to their ancestors. Respect is also shown to the eldest members of the family starting with the grandparents, with deep bows. During these formalities it is customary for Koreans to dress formally in traditional clothes known as Hanbok.

The traditional meal for Seolnal is ddeokkuk, rice-dumpling soup, although Korean holidays are known for lots of eating of different types of traditional food. Families often also play games together. Traditionally kite-flying was a particular seolnal activity and some Koreans still do so.

One can give Korean New Year's greetings by saying: "새해 복 많이 받으세요!", pronounced as: seh-heh bock mahn-hee bah-duh-se-yoh. It means: "May you have many blessings in the New Year!"

09 February 2013

The Value of Patterns (Part 2): Kinaesthetics (Part 1: Relaxation, Body Awareness, and Spacial Awareness)


Me practicing Fundamental Movements
In previous posts I shared my opinion about the value of the ITF patterns. First I said that the patterns are not foremost fighting templates, nor are they primarily dallyeon (i.e. strength & fitness training). Then what is the primary reason for training in the patterns?

The main purpose, I believe, is Kinaesthetics. The patterns teach us a way of moving and understanding movement that is difficult to isolate and acquire through other drills.

The following comment by Master Manuel Adrogué's provides a good abstract to much of what this discussion will be about: “In ITF patterns there are no physical conditioning exercises, no applicable combat strategies, there is no hurry to conform to fast combat rhythm, just perfectly balanced, powerful techniques using all [the] time they may need.  Additionally, the emphasis on relaxation in ITF Taekwon-Do, to the point of completely shunning muscular force, educates students in correct habits of motion.”¹

I will discuss what I consider the kinaesthetic values of the ITF patterns over three posts. In this one I will look at conditioning relaxation; creating an awareness of one's equilibrium and body movement; including ingraining balanced and appropriate stances and basics; as well as creating spacial awareness. In the second post I will look at the value of learning how to accelerate one's body mass sequentially. In the final post post I will discuss training rhythm and breathing.

Relaxation


First, the ITF patterns, with their relatively slow tempo and emphasis on the sine wave motion, teaches the practitioner to relax. The full sine wave motion starts with deliberate relaxation. To perform a pattern correctly you must move from a state of relaxation, or as Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha puts it: "relaxed, light, and fluid"². Any unnecessary tension, except at the moment of impact, makes the movement lose its "relaxed, light, and fluid" quality. Unlike some Karate kata where muscular tension is encouraged for the purpose of strength conditioning, in the ITF patterns muscular friction is particularly avoided. The only time muscles are tensed are at the final moment of the technique just before impact with it's target.

A primary function, then, of the ITF patterns is to condition one to move in a "relaxed, light, and fluid" manner. Using the pre-arranged sparring drills, the practitioner is guided to transfer such relaxation into combative activities. In the basic pre-arranged sparring exercises, such as three step-sparring, the practitioner will apply the same relaxed tempo to this drill. The practitioner therefore learns to stay relaxed even when facing an opponent (training partner).

As the practitioner progresses in level and skill, the complexity, difficulty and tempo of the drills are increased, moving along a continuum of very predictable drills with a low amount of variables, towards much less predictable (chaotic) drills with an increased amounts of variables that more closely reflect a real combat situation. (Read more on how this is supposed to work in my post on The Value and Purpose of Prearranged Sparring.)

If properly practised, the sense of relaxed movement that are continuously instilled through pattern practise is transferred into the other aspect of the system. This means that skilled practitioners are able to move with a similar relaxedness, lightness and fluidity that were instilled from the patterns, but at much quicker tempos as are required in more realistic combative training.

To me, this point—moving from a state or relaxation—is probably the most important reason the ITF patterns are performed the way they are.

Equilibrium and Body Awareness


The second kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns is that their relatively slow tempo allows the ITF practitioner to become aware of both their static and dynamic balance. Because the ITF patterns are not considered combat-ready templates that mimic actual real combat, there is no need to rush them as if one were actually fighting. In fact, the tempo of the patterns are deliberately slowed down to allow the practitioner to become aware of the body mechanics and physics of each technique individually.

In other words, by doing the patterns so slowly, compared with the urgency with which the forms are performed in some other martial arts, the ITF practitioner has the time to really "feel" how their centre-of-gravity changes, how their weight shifts from one foot to another, how their mass moves through space, how the different parts of the body is sequentially activated to create a whip-like motion.

A Tai Chi Chuan practitioners usually perform their forms
in a consciously slow fashion.
Image Source
Both the previous point of conscious relaxation, and this point regarding a deliberate awareness of one's equilibrium and weight-shifting are goals the ITF patterns share with the Tai Chi Chuan forms. It would be ridiculous to suggest that a Tai Chi practitioner would engage in a fight applying the same slow motion tempo one sees them doing while performing a Tai Chi Chuan form. Obviously the Tai Chi practitioner would have to adapt his or her form to make it “combat applicable”—for one, the practitioner would definitely have to speed-up his or her movements. Why then does Tai Chi Chuan spend so much time practising their forms in slow-motion? The reason, I believe, is in part that the slow motions forces one to relax more, but also it really increases one's awareness of how your body moves through space, how your centre of gravity changes, how your weight shifts from one foot to the other. The moment you start rushing your movements it becomes exceptionally difficult to really become aware of the dynamics of such changes in one's balance and body structure. Rushed movements shift the focus from the “journey” to the “destination”. While there is much value in speed training (i.e. getting to the destination as quickly as possible), there is just as much value in understanding the variables along the path, and the latter is only truly achievable at a slower, contemplative tempo.

Ingrained Stances, Basics & Coordination 


Not only is the practitioner learning about balance and weight-shifting, but very importantly, the practitioner learns how different stances provide different types of structure and balance for different types of attacks and defences. The walking stance is strong from the front and back, but weak from the side; the sitting stance is strong from the side or when posting ("falling") against something but one can easily be pushed off balance from the front or back; the rear-foot stance (aka “cat-stance”) is good for withdrawing from an attack and counter-attacking with the leading foot, but it is not very stable as your balance is centred mostly over one foot only; and so on.

When moving through patterns, one shifts from one stance to the next stance, doing different steps and pivots; in so doing, the practitioner starts to acquaint him- or herself at a subconscious level with these stances within a dynamic context. Over time the practitioner finds that he or she almost automatically chooses the most appropriate stances for different tasks and situations. Such "automatic" responses are not accidental, but have been ingrained during years of pattern training.

(Read more about this in Dan Djurdjevic's post on “Kata, kinaesthesia, proprioception and motor learning”.)

Furthermore, certain types of movements which often uses gross motor skills become ingrained to form “basics”, which can be adjusted depending on what a situation calls for. Basics are different from Fundamental Techniques. It is rumoured that ITF Taekwon-Do has about 3200 Fundamental Techniques. Each one of these Fundamental Techniques is a specific identifiable technique using a specific stance and specific tool (e.g. attacking or blocking tool) aimed at a specific target on the opponent and which can usually be found described or is alluded to in the ITF Encyclopaedia.

A snap shot of an Intermediate Position
There are much fewer basics and one is exposed to all the important basics very early on, probably within the first few colour belt patterns. Basics are often embedded in the Fundamental Techniques and function as building blocks from which different Fundamental Techniques are constructed. An example of such basics is learning to move through the Intermediate Positions. Acquiring a sense of the intermediate positions is probably one of the most important kinaesthetic values of pattern practise. The problem with the intermediate positions is that they are dynamic, rather than static positions. In other words, unlike Fundamental Techniques that have an “end-position” in which we can pose statically, the intermediate positions are moments inside of movements and attempting to pose in them detract from their value. The only way to really get a sense for them is by practising them dynamically; i.e. while moving from one Fundamental Technique to another, and for this pattern practise is ideal.

Dan Djurdjevic compares what I call the basics, i.e. these “building blocks”, with stem cells that can change into whichever “cells” are required. Since he already explained this concept in detail, I will not repeat it here. Please read his post on “Kata Techniques as Stem Cell Movements”.

I need to also momentarily comment on coordination, which might be taken for granted, yet this is a point which is close to my heart. As a kid I had terrible coordination. Taekwon-Do, which I started as a teenager, has done much to improve my hand-eye (and foot-eye) coordination. Obviously all physical activity contributed to my improved coordination, but I believe that the patterns have a special value in this regard because of their systematic nature. I still vividly remember how difficult it was for me to master those very first forms, Saju-Jjireukgi and Saju-Makgi. It is surprising how many things occur during just one Fundamental Movement and for a beginner even something as elementary as the Saju-forms, that each consist of only two movements combined in a sequence, can prove to be quite daunting. The brain is wonderfully challenged and improved coordination is a great benefit. As a child I often missed catching something thrown at me; now, I sometimes catch things even without thinking. For instance, I'm often surprised how I would catch something that might fall from a table, without me even consciously trying to—it just happens reflexively. Whenever that happens I cannot help smiling, thinking of how far that clumsy teenager has come, and I'm certain the patterns played a part in that. The patterns are arranged according to certain levels of complexity and physical difficulty, causing a systematic development of ones coordination and other related skills.

Spacial Awareness


Another kinaesthetic value of the patterns is that it enhances one's spacial awareness.

Generally Asian cultures and cultures of the Far East in particular are group-orientated. An interesting feature of group-oriented cultures is that the personal space between people are often much smaller than is the case in individual-oriented cultures. This has some serious self-defence implications.

Let me make a quick detour through Thailand and then turn back to Korea again. A friend of mine, the actor and stuntman Damian Mavis who is also an ITF Taekwon-Do practitioner, resides in Thailand. On one visit with him we got to talk about personal space in Asia. He told me how easy he found it to sneak up on his Thai friends even from the side because of their sense of personal space which is so small. Similarly in Korea, standing or sitting on the subway with people's shoulders literally pressed against one another is not perceived as uncomfortable by Koreans. Likewise, when standing in a line, people often stand very close to each other. Personal space in the Far East is quite small and personal space to the rear and side is exceptionally small from Western standards. Furthermore, large, sudden movements are considered rude and improper in the conservative, group-oriented cultures of the Far East, influenced by Confucian standards of conduct.

I find it not surprising that the patterns which are based on the Japanese kata make such large movements, uses exaggerated long steps, and focus on turning at right angles and 180° pivots, forcing the practitioner to become aware of his or her sides and back just as much as his or her frontal space.

I hypothesize that the kata was, at least in part, developed to help the practitioner to break through his or her culturally induced small personal space, and actually to enlarge it. Obviously a larger and wider personal space will increase ones spacial awareness, which is a valuable skill for self-defence. If your personal space is larger, you become aware of people entering your personal space much earlier, which is very important for detecting threats earlier.

People are often narrowly focussed on what is in front of them; however, many attacks on one's person are surprise attacks launched from the side or behind. Widening one's spacial awareness to things on your sides and rear is a crucial skill for self-defence, and even more so for people from the Far East whose personal space is culturally smaller and narrower.

Although I have emphasised how the ITF patterns are used as a vehicle for bestowing Korean traditional culture, paradoxically, in this way the patterns (including the Japanese kata) seem to break with common Oriental culture by actually enlarging and widening their personal space.

Conclusion


The kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns is concerned with teaching the practitioner to move from a state of relaxation. Furthermore, the patterns focus on body awareness (getting acquainted with one's static and dynamic balance), and spacial awareness, while also ingraining certain stances, basics, and increasing coordination.


1.  Manuel Adrogué , “ITF Taekwon-Do and Sine-Wave as 'Sequential Motion'”
2. Rhee Ki Ha, “This is Taekwon-Do

06 February 2013

ITF Breathing

I had the time recently to write my promised post on the kinaesthetic value of pattern training (the ITF way), but I decided to postpone this in order to first talk a little about ITF Taekwon-Do's way of breathing, which is one of the important things we practise in the patterns.

Any professional athlete will tell you, breathing will make or break your performance. I am always surprised by beginners (in martial arts or other activities) who actually forget to breath—or rather, who hold their breaths while concentrating on the activity at hand. One's endurance is severely affected by inconsistent breathing, not to mention ones mental focus.

Taekwon-Do, like most Oriental martial arts, make use of abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing, emphasises deep inhalations during which the abdomen is expanded in order to fill the lungs fully; then tensing the abdomen to help push out the breath better during exhalation. This type of abdominal breathing is the preferred “natural” way of breathing encouraged for normal activities. It is often practised during meditation.

The Chinese character for Ki (i.e. life force)
also translates as "breath"
In Oriental Medicine and those martial arts concerned with Ki (기) development, abdominal breathing, known as “danjeon hoheub” (단전 호흡) in Korean, aims to increase and store Ki at the danjeon—Ki being the “life force”, often also translated as “breath”, “energy” or “spirit”, and the “danjeon” being the body's center, a point below the navel and a few inches inwards where one can supposedly store Ki.

But Breath Control, “hoheub jojeol” (호흡 조절), in ITF Taekwon-Do also involves another type of breathing, usually described as a “short sharp breath”. The ITF Encyclopaedia (Volume 2, p. 31) describes it as follows: “A sharp exhaling of breath at the moment of impact and stopping the breathing during the execution of a movement tense the abdomen to concentrate maximum effort on the delivery of the motion, while a slow inhaling helps the preparation of the next movement.”

The short sharp breath in Taekwon-Do functions in the same way as the kihap or “spirit shout”. Kihap (기합)  directly translated from the Hanja (氣合) means “energy-unite”, but generally, or rather literally, it is understood as a “shout of concentration” (of both mind and body); more esoterically it is understood as a shout during which you project your Ki through your breath. Many martial arts make use of the kihap, particularly as a form of intimidation. According to martial art legends some great masters have such great Ki-skill (기합술), that they could make people faint or turn and flee with only their kihap. Kihap is also sometimes translated from Korean as “a shout of rage” or even “punishment”. Whether one believe in Ki or not, the psychologically disturbing effect of such a “shout of rage” can very well be of value during a fight.

In ITF Taekwon-Do, however, the psychological effect on the opponent is regarded less than the personal physiological effect, and therefore instead of focussing on kihaps we rather emphasise the value of the short sharp breath. General Choi felt that when students do the kihap for certain movements in the patterns they neglected those movements that did not have a kihap. He felt that all movements are equally important and should receive the same amount of focus and determination, so rather than have a kihap on particular techniques, a short sharp breath on every technique (with some exceptions) is better.

The short sharp breath acts somewhat like a sneeze where the whole body is tensed and focussed in that moment, i.e. the moment of impact. Another analogy may be the natural grunt we make when we pick up something heavy. The exhalation or grunt helps to tense and concentrate the core muscles, which stabilises the body's structure and help to ensure a better, stronger technique.

The breathing rhythm of the short sharp breath is similar to that in boxing. As the person in the boxing tutorial below explains “If you want sharp explosive punches, you need sharp explosive breathing.”




An interesting thing about the short sharp breath is that when done properly, one hardly need any conscious in-breath. Because of the tensed abdomen an artificial vacuum is created in the lungs, so that the moment you relax air is automatically drawn into the lungs. The result is that you can have numerous consecutive short sharp exhalations, without once feeling a need to consciously breathe in, as long as you properly relax in between your techniques. This is very valuable for consecutive and fast motion techniques.

Just as in boxing, every punch (or in the case of ITF Taekwon-Do every technique; i.e. punch, kick, block, etc.) is accompanied with one strong, sharp exhalation. One instructor from Northern Korea advised that the exhale should be about two-thirds of the lungs' air, and that at the moment of impact the lips should be closed to help with tensing the muscles. This is the way breathing works for normal motion techniques. Other motions like slow-motion, fast motion, connecting motion and continuous motion work similarly, but with slight adjustments. In the full sine wave motion (relax-rise-fall) the first two-thirds while the body is relaxing and rising may be used for relaxed inhalation, while on the last third of the motion, while the body is "falling", the short sharp exhalation is used. (Notice the similarities with breathing in Tai Chi Chuan.)

The short sharp breath, therefore, not only teaches one to properly tense the body at the moment of impact, it also teaches one to stay relaxed in between such moments. People tend to unnecessary tense their bodies when it is not beneficial to do so. Correct breathing is therefore not only about knowing how and when to be tense, but also how to stay relaxed in between. Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha explains it in his book This is Taekwon-Do as follows: “as we move we should feel light, relaxed and flowing like water. When we finish a movement [i.e. at the moment of impact] the body should become strong and hard like iron. The breath is how we can achieve this . . .”

Breathing is not only used to help with tensing the core muscles for added power with techniques, the ITF Encyclopaedia also claims that “Through practice, breath stopped in the state of exhaling at the critical moment when a blow is landed against a pressure point on the body can prevent a loss of consciousness and stifle pain.” The idea of controlling pain through breathing is something espoused by some other martial arts as well, for instance Systema. It is well known that proper breathing has a calming effect and can be used to help to endure stress, anxiety, shock, and even helps while giving birth.

In summary, ITF Taekwon-Do encourages abdominal breathing. For combat purposes the abdominal breathing is adjusted to a short sharp breath that helps to focus both body and mind, helps prevent premature fatigue, helps to tense the core muscles at the moment of impact, helps to relax the body during the rest of time, and possibly even help to stifle pain or to endure strikes to pressure points.

28 January 2013

Traditional Korean Music and Korean Kinesthetics

One of my closest friends is genetically Korean but while he was still a toddler he was adopted by a Dutch family and so he grew up in the Netherlands. Although my friend looks Korean, when he walks or moves in a crowd of Koreans I can easily recognize him because his motions, his “rhythm,” is different from the other Koreans around him. Similarly, when I walk the streets in Korea it is surprisingly easy to spot non-Koreans, even from behind, merely by the way they carry themselves.

People from different cultures move differently. Allow me momentary stereotyping as I expand on this idea. An African American from the Bronx has a completely different stride than a Texan cowboy. I'm confident that if one were to look at the music from these two cultures (hip-hop in the case of the African-American from the Bronx, and country music in the case of the Texan cowboy) one would notice similarities between the way they move, and the qualities of the music that represent their respective sub-cultures.

In this post I will give a short overview of traditional Korean music and highlight points of overlap with some Korean martial arts, particularly the folk art Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do.

I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Royal Asiatic Society (Korean Branch), presented by Professor Sheen Dae-Cheol 신대철 of the Academy of Korean Studies, on the topic “Calm and Dynamic: Two Differing Aesthetic Aspects of Korean Traditional Music.”

Traditional Korean music can be divided into two groups: upperclass music known as Jeongak 전각 (music for royalty and noblemen) and Minsogak 민소각 (folk music). Jeongak can further be grouped into Court Ritual Music, such as Royal Shrine Music and Confucian Shrine Music; Court party music for royal birthdays, weddings, etc.; Royal Procession Music; and Literati Music, which is music listened to by the upperclass, but which is not court music. Although different types of traditional music exist, they all share certain recognizable characteristics.

Professor Sheen lists the following characteristics for traditional Korean music:

1. Monophony (instead of polyphony)
2. Pentatonic and tri-tonic scales
3. Breath tempo (Heterophony)
4. Triple rhythm
5. Downbeat start and upbeat cadence
6. Short consonants and extra long vowels in vocal music
7. Rhythmic pattern
8. Curved melodic line with typical vibrato known as nonghyeon or nongeum

Not everything in this list is directly relevant, but there are certain points that definitely stands out for me. First, points #4 and #5 I think are significant. Traditional Korean music follows a "triple rhythm", or a three beat rhythm. The three beat rhythm is also quite popular in Western music in the form of the Waltz: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. The Korean triple rhythm works the opposite way however, starting with a downbeat. Instead of ONE-two-three, the Korean three beat is more likely to be a one-two-THREE, one-two-THREE. The Korean triple rhythm is noticeable in different forms of traditional dance. It is also very easily recognized in the Korean folk martial art Taekkyeon where it is the foundation for the basic stepping known as pumbalbki 품밟기. Similarly ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners will also recognize this, as they are often coached by their instructors to do their patterns "one-and-TWO, one-and-TWO" or "one-two-THREE, one-two-THREE"; in other words, three beats, starting with a downbeat—or starting relaxed. The full sine wave motion manifested as down-up-DOWN or relax-rise-FALL adheres to this three beat rhythm.

Another point from Professor Sheen's list I wish to highlight is #8. In traditional Korean music, when a melody moves from one note to another that is some distance away, it would often not abruptly jump to the next note. Instead there would often be a smooth transition through all the notes in between until it reaches the desired note; i.e. it moves in a "curved melodic line". Furthermore, upon reaching a note, it is not merely kept at that pitch, but rather the voice or instrument would oscillate around that note as a very noticeable vibrato. (In court music the vibrato is narrow, but in folk music the amplitude is greater.) Such vibrato, or moving in a wave up and down the music scale, translates as up and down movements in traditional Korean dance, as a form of bounciness in the movements of Taekkyeon, as a type of bobbing in the sparring stance in WTF Taekwondo, and possibly as the sine wave motion in ITF Taekwon-Do.

Different cultures move differently, which is often a reflection of the music and the innate rhythm of the culture. It is quite possible that such cultural rhythms may also influence the rhythms of the martial arts practiced in those cultures. The triple rhythm of the Korean folk martial art Taekkyeon resembles that of traditional Korean dances, which in turn is based on the triple rhythm of traditional Korean music. ITF Taekwon-Do has a root in Taekkyeon, and therefore is influenced by similar cultural movements. Although the sine wave motion has clear technical considerations, it is also in harmony with traditional Korean kinesthetics.

Following are some samples of traditional Korean music. The first is known as Sujecheon 수제천 and is a court piece wishing the king longevity dating back 1300 years. (The title translates roughly to 'a life as long as the heavens'.) During the Joseon period one beat lasted about three seconds, so it is difficult to discern the beats in this piece of music. One can however appreciated the curved melodic line and vibrato.




The following song is probably Korea's most famous folk song, Arirang 아리랑. The leading vocalist in the video is pansori maestro Jang Sa Ik. Try to listen for the Korean three-beat rhythm and also notice his body movements; in other words, notice how he interprets the rhythm kinetically.




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26 January 2013

Concussions

It has been about a year and a half since I last spoke about concussions, but I think it important to just remind us all of this serious risk that is part of contact sports, combative activities  and yes, even traditional martial arts.

I don't know the exact statistics, but practically all fighting related deaths as seen in Mixed Martial Arts, professional boxing, and the like, died because of head trauma, with autopsy reports usually noting the cause of death to be cerebral hemorrhage. Hemorrhaging and a bruising of the brain (concussion) is not too far apart and the former usually following from a repetition of the latter.


Look again at the list of symptoms I mentioned in my previous post on concussions, and please, never regard any knock to the head lightly. Whenever it occurs, look for concussion symptoms and take time off to rest. Often it is subsequent knocks that causes more serious damage.

22 January 2013

Philosophical Congruence of the Sine Wave Motion

I have taken great pains to put ITF Taekwon-Do's sine wave motion within it's proper context, showing that it is not the be-all-and-end-all of ITF Taekwon-Do—the sine wave motion is definitely not an ever present feature in the sense that we are expected to make every technique conform to an artificial down-up-down template. And while it is a conspicuous part of ITF Taekwon-Do, it the not the most important feature of ITF Taekwon-Do. The technical principles of ITF Taekwon-Do, the Theory of Power and Training Secrets, refer to the sine wave motion peripherally. The sine wave motion is not itself a separate principle listed in the Theory of Power or Training Secrets.

Rather, the sine wave motion is merely one manifestation of a greater principle found in many martial arts—the Wave / Circle Principle, which is extrapolated from the Taoist concept of yin and yang as depicted in the Taijitu 太極圖 (yin-yang symbol, known in Korean as the Taegeukdo 태극도). In this post I want to show how the sine wave motion is in fact consistent with the Taoist philosophy that underscores the Oriental martial arts, and is furthermore in line with the Korean expression thereof. The sine wave motion firstly manifests the Taoist idea of the Taegeukdo, commonly understood as the forces of Yin and Yang (In Korean: Eum 음and Yang 양); and secondly, it corresponds with the Korean concept of Sam-Taegeuk 삼태극.

What ever may be said about the actual practicality of the sine wave motion for combat purposes aside, I believe that the application and inclusion of the sine wave motion in this Korean martial art is philosophically congruent with Korean traditional philosophy.

"Approach it [Tao] and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end." -- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Tao / 도
There are many martial arts that are based on ideas from the Tao 道. Many modern martial arts (martial arts that developed in the early 1900s) have the concept of Tao (aka "Do" 도) embedded in their names, consider for instance Taekwondo, Hapkido, Aikido, Judo, Tang Soo Do, and so on. Even older martial arts, particularly the Wudang styles (Chinese internal martial arts) are known for their Taoist connection. Unlike the Shaolin styles that have clearer Buddhist links (Shoalin kung fu was historically practised by Shaolin Buddhist monks in Buddhist monastaries), Wudang monks trained in Taoist monasteries. It is not surprising that strong elements of Taoism are to be found in the three primary Wudang styles: Taichi Chuan, Baqua Zang, and Xing-yi Chuan. For instance Taichi Chuan bases much of its movements on the oscillating hard and soft flow, the turns and inverted turns, of the Taijitu, similarly Xing-Yi Chuan's techniques are based on an oscillation of hard (Yang) and soft (Yin), albeit in a more linear fashion, while Baqua Zang's circular stepping mimics the Taoist concept of the I-Ching 易經. For the Wudang styles Taoist ideals form the basis of both their philosophy and their techniques.

The more modern martial arts (those with the "Do"-suffix in their names), may not always clearly illustrate Taoism at a technical level, but they do embrace Taoist principles such as the interplay of Ying (Eum) and Yang at a philosophical level.

ITF Taekwon-Do has, however, evolved towards a more technical embodiment of Taoist ideas in a way that makes the contemporary manifestation of ITF Taekwon-Do much more akin to Wudang styles than to its earlier way of moving that resembled linear Shotokan Karate. The way Taoist movement manifests in ITF Taekwon-Do is in its oscillation between emphasized moments of extreme relaxation, followed by momentary tension. ITF Taekwon-Do seems to be riding a wave of tranquility and explosive movement, of soft and hard, of base and vertex, of continual change. I've written elsewhere similarities I observe between ITF Taekwon-Do and such Chinese styles as Taichi Chuan and Xing-Yi Chuan.

Taijitu / 太極圖
As one would expect, such a Taiji / Taegeuk concept of soft and hard, of yielding and pushing, is hardly unique to Taekwondo. Many martial arts accept this as a foundational premise and some styles such as Judo is completely based on this notion of the interplay between soft (yielding) and hard (pushing or pulling). However, while we do see these concepts of soft and hard at work in Korean styles like ITF Taekwon-Do as well, we also see something else in the Korean art.

In a manner of speaking, the originally Chinese Taijitu 太極圖, which was also adopted into Japan, present a dualistic (two-dimensional) cosmology of two equal, but opposite forces working in harmony. The same is not exactly true for ancient Korean philosophy where the Taijitu was conformed to the Korean cosmology. First the Taiji(tu) became the Taegeuk(do) 태극(도) in the Korean paradigm.

Taegeukdo / 태극도
Superficially the Taijitu and the Taegeukdo may seem the same, but in fact the Taegeukdo is deliberately coloured. One of the forces is presented in red, and the other in blue. These colours have symbolic meanings, referring to "heaven" and "earth" respectively. Furthermore, the Korean Taegeuk generally do not have two dots as present in the Chinese Taiji. In Chinese cosmology the dots show how that the two opposite forces are connected with each other, the one already impregnated with the essence of the other. In Korean cosmology, however, the thing that connects the two forces is a third, different element, not an aspect of the opposite force. Korean philosophy proposes an amended Taegeuk that doesn't merely consist of two forces, but actually of three interacting forces, known as the Sam-Taegeuk 三太極. ("Sam" means three.)

Sam-Taegeuk / 三太極

The Sam-Taegeuk is a uniquely Korean expression of the Taegeuk. Where the normal Taijitu / Taegeuk consists of only two opposite forces / phases that are in continual change, the Sam-Taegeuk embraces three harmonious forces. The third, yellow force symbolizes man ("humanity"). This idea is traditionally known as Sam-Jae 삼재, but is now more commonly referred to as Sam-Yoso 삼요소, which directly translated means “three elements” or “triple essence”. The Sam-Taegeuk symbolizes the harmonious interplay between the forces of heaven (한을 / 천국), earth (토 / 지구), and man (사람 / 인간). In physical terms we might interpret these as a rising force, a lowering force, and a connecting or normalizing force.

What we find in ITF Taekwon-Do is not a pure adherence to the Taiji in the Chinese tradition that functions on a binary paradigm of two opposing forces working in harmony. Instead, ITF Taekwon-Do functions within a traditional Korean philosophical paradigm of the Sam-Taegeuk or Sam-Yoso. In Korean culture we most noticeably recognize the idea of “three” in the typical three-beat rhythm used for much of Korean traditional music. The same rhythm can be recognized in Korean martial arts. ITF Taekwon-Do, like Taekkyeon—Korea's folk martial art—follows Korea's traditional three beat rhythm, explained by Grandmaster Kimm He-Young: “Japanese [martial arts] have a two beat movement, 'block, punch', 'block, punch'. But the Korean body rhythm has 3 beats . . . one two three, one two three.” (I quoted Grandmaster Kimm before in a previous post dealing with a similar topic.) The three phased sine wave motion matches the “Korean body rhythm” and is in congruence with the Korean concept of Sam-Taegeuk. Or to phrase it differently, there is a harmony between ITF Taekwon-Do's sine wave motion and traditional Korean cosmology. Deeper inquiry into the Sam-Taegeuk and how this influence the Korean psyche and Korean kinaesthetics may be an interesting and possibly insightful endeavor.

Note that with this essay I did not attempt to argue in favour of the sine wave motion on technical grounds. I have done that elsewhere on this blog. My aim was merely to show that it is consistent with traditional Korean cosmology symbolized by the Sam-Taegeuk and reflected in the three beat Korean “body rhythm” as is also evident in Taekkyeon, Korea's folk martial art. In other words, it is reasonable to say that ITF Taekown-Do, like Taekkyeon, moves in a certain way because they are Korean martial arts that reflect Korean kinesthetics based on Korean philosophy and cosmology.

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