10 July 2022

Quick Notes on Basics and Fundamental Movements

A while ago I was scanning through this blog searching for a post on "Basics", which I was certain I wrote years ago. In my memory the title of the post was something along the lines of "Prototypical Movements". However, to my frustration, I couldn't find the post I was looking for. The closest I got to it was a paragraph written in another post on the value of the patterns. Then I thought, maybe I had written the essay, but possibly forgot to post it, so I searched for it in my old Taekwon-Do folders, but that search came up empty as well, except for a short passage in a draft document in which I discuss Taekwon-Do's pedagogy. It is a pity that I can't find the text I thought I had written; it might be that it was completely conceptual and I just never got round to writing it. The gist of the idea is that there exists a category of movements that are more foundational than the Fundamental Movements, and time spend on trying to distill and understand these "basics" are of immense value. I decided to post the excerpt from the aforementioned draft below:

Notes on Basics and Fundamental Movements


Fundamental movements are the vocabulary of Taekwon-Do. Each fundamental movement is a specific identifiable technique using a specific stance and specific (attacking or blocking) tool aimed at a specific target on the opponent and which can usually be found described or alluded to in the ITF Encyclopedia. These individual techniques should first be taught by a qualified instructor. Thereafter, the practitioner can easily practise these movements by themselves. There is no question as to their importance and even grand masters will often go back and practice specific fundamental movements. 

There are supposedly over three thousand individual fundamental movements in Taekwon-Do. A common error people make is to try to accumulate techniques…trying to learn each of these hundreds of movements. This is not a good approach. A much better approach is to practice the basics and grasp the underlying principles. 

I differentiate here between fundamental movements and basics (basic motions), which are the gross motor movements that fundamental movements share. If fundamental movements are the vocabulary, the words, of Taekwon-Do, then basic motions are the phonics, i.e., the sounds used to make those words. Put differently, basics are the building blocks of fundamental movements, and many fundamental movements use nearly the same basic motions. There are far fewer basic motions, and one is exposed to all the important basics very early on, probably within the first few colour belt patterns. To excel in Taekwon-Do, it is better to identify and perfect the basics (gross motor movements), rather than try to amass all the individual fundamental movements.

I will give a few examples. First, each stance should be considered a basic and transitioning between stances are basics as well. Next, the shared gross motor movements used in techniques are what constitute most of the basics. For instance, the pulling-hand that is brought to the hip with nearly every punch or thrust is such a basic. The difference between a walking stance high or middle front fore fist punch, a long fist punch, an open fist punch, a flat-fingertip thrust, a twin-fingertip thrust, and an arc-hand thrust is almost entirely based on changing the unformed hand into a different attacking tool moments before impact: the overall gross motor movement is almost exactly the same for all these punches and thrusts. Similarly, the outer-forearm outward blocks (irrespective if they are high, middle, or low), the knife-hand blocks, and even knife-hand side strikes share another basic motion—the arm is brought across the body with the palm facing somewhat up, and then moved towards the outer edge of the body while the arm rotates so that the palm faces the other way. Rather than learning these fundamental movements as individual techniques, it is better to ingrain the gross motor movement of the arm and body and only learning to adjust the end positions appropriately. You will also notice that many fundamental movements are simply a basic movement (gross motor movement) stopped somewhere else along a trajectory. For instance, a middle vertical punch is simply a regular middle punch that stopped short of its target; a knife-hand block is a knife-hand strike before full extension; a knee kick, such as a front or turning knee kick, is a regular kick without the final snap of the lower leg. 

In short, there are few gross motor movements to master, and each fundamental movement requires only slight tweaks to differentiate between them. I don’t mean to suggest that you do not need to practice fundamental movements; however, focusing on mastering the basics—the gross motor movements—will bare much more and faster results as the principles in one basic motion are directly applicable to all the different fundamental movements that share that basic motion.  

Fundamental movements are often trained on the spot or as line drills while stepping, sliding, dodging, or jumping forwards or backwards. This is appropriate, although I would also add side-steps, and diagonal movements as part of such drills. Furthermore, once a fundamental movement is understood and done with relative mastery, it is much more useful to practice combinations of fundamental movements, rather than one fundamental movement at a time. It is good to practise combinations of fundamental movements that seem to fit logically together and have a sensible flow. The Korean term for such sequences is pum 품, which are the sequences of movements that make up the patterns. It is very important to practice the pum from a pattern before practicing the pattern in its entirety. 

(Occasionally instructors may also combine sequences that are unnecessarily difficult, i.e., that do not have a natural flow to them. This challenges both body and mind and few things encourage learning than struggling to figure out a complex problem.)

While line drills and pum-practice for lower ranks are trained according to movement principles associated with “traditional” movement, higher ranking practitioners can transcend such formalized training and move in a “freer” manner, with stances and rhythms that are less fixed—by practicing the combinations as if they are doing free sparring. In other words, the drills are more akin to “shadowboxing”. This does not mean that the formal stances and rhythms are thrown out the window. Instead, traditional stances and rhythms are moved in and out of dynamically, rather performed in a fixated “traditional” manner.

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