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.


Anonymous said...

Greetings from Greece!I just found your blog,I 'm an ITF and a hankido practicioner and I 'm impressed by the amount of information and quality you've got.
I think I have a lot of reading to do!

SooShimKwan said...

Dear Kostas,

Welcome! Thank you for the compliments on the quality of the information. I hope the blog does not disappoint. Please comment on any of the blog posts whenever you find them particularly interesting.

Unfortunately I'm quite busy these days as I am working and studying again, so I am not currently writing as often as I used to.

Best wishes,