Taekwondo is a not an ancient martial art that has been passed from master to student through the ages. It is a relatively recent martial art that, while based on ancient arts, has evolved into a modern martial art that may be practiced by everyone.
Taekwondo patterns (hyungs, tuls, poomses, forms) reflect the evolution of Taekwondo from its beginnings to the present. In ancient Korean times (for more information see Ancient Beginnings), military conflicts and competition between rival Korean kingdoms led to the development of indigenous fighting styles, which culminated in the success of the Hwarangdo in unifying the three kingdoms in 676 A.D. It seems that even ancient Korean martial arts had an aesthetic component, as evidenced by the idealized fighting stances and gestures on stone temple figures and cave paintings. The development of such idealized and refined movements, or "patterns," helped distinguish these martial arts from other military training or athletic activities. Due to the relative peace that came after the unification, martial arts training grew into displeasure as the martial culture was replaced by a bureaucratic culture.
As military training became more technologically and mechanically oriented, the need for hand-to-hands martial arts training decreased. During the long Chosen dynasty, martial traditions virtually disappeared as officials began using diplomacy rather than fighting in dealing with other countries. The martial arts became recreational, evolving into games, such as Taekkyon, or into sporting competitions, such as Subak, where gambling was commonplace. For all practical purposes, the ancient fighting arts disappeared during this time
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) and the Korean War (1950–1953), Koreans developed a new appreciation for military training and a nationalistic interest in Korea's own ancient military and cultural heritage. An attempt was made to create a traditional martial that could be traced from ancient times, but, since the ancient arts were long forgotten, any new martial art had to be based on the Chinese, Okinawan, and Japanese martial arts in which the Koreans learning during the occupation.
In creating a "Korean" martial art, martial artists had to rely on their own backgrounds, which came from training under Japanese karate instructors during civilian service in Japan, from military service under the auspices of the Japanese army, or from Manchuria where Koreans were exposed to both Japanese karate and Chinese martial arts. Since most of the founders of these early Korean martial arts schools held black belt rankings in karate , most of the techniques developed for the new national martial art were merely variations of standard karate techniques. Early Taekwondo (1954–1971) was basically a variation of Shotokan karate , incorporating Shotokan "Heian" patterns into its "Pinan" patterns. Although other patterns were developed during this time, they retained an intrinsic karate character in technical style, use of stances, and overall purpose.
From the beginning, Taekwondo practitioners have attempted to justify patterns based upon the idea that they represent an authentic training tool for sparring. Patterns supposedly teach the fundamentals of attack and defense. Jhoon Rhee, the “father” of American Taekwondo, considers patterns a link between Taekwondo training and actual fighting.
In 1971, Choi Hong Hi’s departure from mainstream Korean Taekwondo was a turning point in its development. Choi's influence, as someone trained in Shotokan karate , was to preserve both a Shotokan style and philosophy in Taekwondo. However, a younger generation of Koreans who had not trained under Japanese instructors was coming into power. Beginning with the formation of the World Taekwondo Federation in 1973, Taekwondo began to adopt a more fluid and dynamic fighting style that relied more on speed, timing, and strategic body movement. It began to stress competition as an integral part of its training. Competition rules were extensively modified to encourage a higher level athletic skill development and to remove techniques that had no particular athletic development potential.
Patterns began to change to incorporate more realistic fighting techniques. Movements followed a "trigram" pattern of movement rather than the traditional "H" pattern. However, the patterns remain based, in both in structure and theory, upon karate forms. While Taekwondo has evolved into a rather unique martial art, the essence of Taekwondo is poorly reflected in any of the commonly recognized Taekwondo patterns, whether they be Pinans, Chon-ji, Palgue, or Taegeuk. These patterns are basically nothing more than an arbitrary series of movements that use relatively few variations of combinations of a very few kicking and punching techniques. They do not represent any correlation with the overall skill level of the belt level to which they are assigned. Taekwondo patterns still fail distinguish Taekwondo from karate style patterns. They also fail to provide a mechanism for the preservation of either historical movements or a repository for non-competition skills, such as self-defense. The only skill that patterns seem to develop is perseverance in overcoming the boredom of performing uninspiring patterns.
As Taekwondo has grown in popularity, the effectiveness of pattern training in increasing technical prowess or in fulfilling some philosophical or teaching purpose has been questioned. Since pattern movements and techniques seem to be geared to the abilities of the lower ranked students, they are boring to perform and many students do not want to do them. As other cultures practice Taekwondo and impose their values upon it, Taekwondo has changed to accommodate them, such as developing into more of a sport. These changes have and will affect the traditional practice of patterns.
Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was the first to incorporate patterns into modern martial art training in 1882. His Judo patterns integrated technical expertise with an understanding of Judo’s historical significance. One pattern, Randori-no-kata, defines and preserves the competition aspects of Judo that distinguish it from other martial arts. It has two parts: Nage-no-kata, which uses throwing and sacrifice techniques in increasing degrees of difficulty; and Katame-no-Kata, which uses mat work, arm-bar, and choking techniques. Each pattern is organized into a highly formalized, stylized ritual that demonstrates techniques and stresses Judo’s oriental foundations, while still being aesthetically pleasing and entertaining. Judo patterns have continued to evolve as its popularity has spread.
Judo has patterns that demonstrate all aspects of the martial art, such as Ju-no-kata, which demonstrates fundamental movements; Kime-no-kata, which demonstrates kicking and punching techniques that are not permitted in competition Judo; Koshiki-no-kata that preserves ancient Jujitsu technical skills that are not found in the competition Judo, and a highly unusual, philosophical pattern, Itsutsu-no-kata, which seeks to identify natural movements that describe the fundamental theory of Judo without using combative movements. So, even as Judo as evolved, the official Kata of Kodokan Judo provides a core of technical skills and philosophical expression that contain the fundamentals of competition Judo and a framework for the study Judo as a martial art. No other martial art has such a well-defined expression of itself through its patterns.
Judo illustrates how well-designed patterns can express both technical skills and the historical and cultural identity of the art and set standards for the art. However, Taekwondo authorities continue to think that “Through practicing Taekwondo poomse, we can apply the techniques of hand and foot and the changes of stance learned from the basic techniques adaptable to actual fighting” [World Taekwondo Federation Taekwondo Handbook (Seoul: 1992) p. 35].This belief that patterns are merely tools to aid in sparring training is probably not defensible. A better approach would be to use patterns to convey technical skills and the historical and cultural aspects of Taekwondo as is accomplished by Judo patterns.
Taekwondo has developed into a unique competition martial art style, substituting rapid, precise defensive footwork and kicking movements for the more rigid blocking and punching techniques of the past. Developing an official Taekwondo self-defense pattern of core techniques would furnish Taekwondo students with self-defense training within a Taekwondo context. Other patterns could preserve important technical skills, signify the historical aspects of Taekwondo development, or stress the Korean aspect for Taekwondo that is being diluted as Taekwondo enjoys increasing universal appeal. Patterns should not reiterate technical skills found in free sparring, where such skills are best practiced, but should furnish methods of practicing the dynamic movements of the martial art.
Having patterns that are unique to Taekwondo could provide a ready-made method to demonstrate Taekwondo to the public rather than the current method of ad-hoc demonstrations of "flashy" kicking techniques, which leaves the impression that Taekwondo is almost exclusively a kicking martial art with little depth into the broader aspects of self-defense. An example of how this has been done is the way Chojun Myagi developed patterns that made his style, Gojo-ryu karate, more understandable to the public.
As Taekwondo continues to evolve, major changes should be made to its patterns to reflect the direction of Taekwondo development, while maintaining a link to its past.
Sol, Kim. (2002). Taekwondo Free-Sparring Philosophy and Development. [Online]. Available: www.bstkd.com