31 August 2010

A Sine Wave Compliment

On Sunday I hosted a martial art seminar. I invited a friend of mine, who is a 5th Dan in Hapkido, to present an “Introduction to Hapkido Workshop.”

Before the event started, the few of us that waited for the rest of the participants to arrive did what any group of martial artist do when together – we talked about the differences between our different martial styles. The discussion ventured to the differences between ITF Taekwon-Do and WTF Taekwondo and then more particularly between the patterns of these two styles. Eventually to illustrate how ITF performs its basic motions I demonstrated the pattern Dan-Gun. I chose it because it is a simple pattern and because it has the basic Roman I form, used in so many other martial arts, including some of the WTF patterns and many Karate patterns.

After my demonstration of the pattern, one of the attendees gave me an odd but well appreciated compliment. He is an experienced martial artist and knowledgeable of WTF Taekwon-Do (used to be the team captain of his university’s WTF club) and Karate; he is currently training in Kyukushin. He told me that in all the previous times he has in person seen ITF patterns before, my demonstration was the first time that he saw the sine wave motion performed as an integrated, natural element of the basic movements. Usually the sine wave principle seems to be just something extra and incongruous that is forced on top of the motions. However, my demonstration made it look natural and sensible.

I appreciate the compliment because I’ve been spending lots of time thinking about the (sine) wave principle in Taekwon-Do over the last number of months (and years) and am glad if my time and effort is translating into tangible results. I know I’m still far from perfect and that there is much room for improvement in both patterns and basic movements. Still, years of practice is recognizable even by people of other disciplines. When I demonstrated Choon Moo in Thailand, a lady with experience in dancing came to me afterwards and also complimented me. She said that although she has no martial art experience, she could still appreciate the aesthetics in the movements and anatomical lines.

The Kyukushin practitioner’s compliment is also somewhat odd because it implies that all his previous personal experiences with ITF Taekwon-Do (I didn’t ask how many) had made the sine wave seem nonsensical and even out of place. Yet I understand what he is getting at. Very few ITF practitioners understand the wave principle or understand it too superficially and their employment of it is indeed quite incongruous. The wave principle has been diluted to the stereotypic sine wave (down-up-down) motion.

The sine wave motion has become an icon for ITF Taekwon-Do – a representative way of movement that makes ITF quite recognizable. However, like any icon, there are two points of import. The first is that an icon is a simplification of something. The down-up-down motion is an overly reduced mnemonic for much more complex principles. The second is that one should not confuse the icon for the real thing. I fear, unfortunately, that many practitioners are so obsessed with the icon that they miss the actual principles it represents.

The sine wave motion should not be an arbitrary incongruity that is merely forced on top of our basic motions. It ought to be an integral and natural part of our motions. Part of a greater principle that direct the way one moves, naturally like a wave in the ocean. It not only includes concepts of relaxation and employing potential and kinetic energies, it is also a strategy – a way of thinking about combat. It is, very much, a part of the "Do", i.e. a philosophy on movement and being.

No comments: