Moo Duk Kwan translates to the "School of Martial Virtue." It was founded in 1945 by Hwang Kee. The Moo Duk Kwan lineage remains very much alive, although splintered into several different factions such as Tang Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do, and Taekwondo. Because of this splintering, the curriculums taught at schools claiming Moo Duk Kwan lineage vary greatly.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Things to Consider when Practicing Poomsae

In an earlier article, I stated my viewpoints on whether Taekwondo poomsae contained deeper applications than what initially meets the eye. Basically, my opinion was that those who created the poomsae currently used in Kukki Taekwondo did not have deeper applications in mind when they designed the poomsae. Because the Taekwondo poomsae were heavily influenced by Okinawan kata however, some of the movements in poomsae are almost identical to those found in the older Okinawan forms. Although I believe the true idea behind what the founder of those kata intended to pass along are unable to be learned through poomsae because of the way in which the movements were strung together are different in the poomsae, some of the movements remain the same, and therefore, we can still learn from them.

One thing that causes Taekwondo practitioners to dislike, or quickly lose interest in poomsae is due to the way they are taught in the majority of dojangs around the world. Poomsae are generally poorly taught, in my opinion, by the majority of Taekwondo instructors, and are typically taught simply for another grading requirement. There is typically little in-depth instruction, and questions that students may have usually produce poor, unrealistic answers that do not satisfy them and cause them to lose interest in doing forms because they do not understand WHY they are doing them or WHAT they are learning from them. The way the student thinks is that poomsae is just some random movements you need to memorize in order to get your next belt, and so poomsae becomes something that you just have to do to so you can move up in rank, and no further thought is put into forms practice.

In order to understand poomsae, it would behoove the Taekwondo practitioner to look at the roots of his forms, and look to Karate. In the early days of Karate, it was meant purely for self defense. Karate had no sport aspect, and there was no squaring off with an opponent in an actual "fight." Karate was meant for use against random acts of violence. Typical, unexpected, street attacks. If you have ever noticed, our 3-step and 1-step sparring drills, as believed to be created by Gigo Funakoshi, and kata/poomsae, never begin in a fighting stance, nor do we see a fighting stance throughout. This supports the idea that kata were created to be used in self defense, and not a typical street fight.

The idea of creating a sporting aspect in Karate came later on in the art, and ultimately followed into the creation of Taekwondo. Because of this, the idea of Karate and Taekwondo being purely for self defense was lost. As a result, people stopped viewing their arts from a purely defensive aspect, and this surely is a big reason why poomsae and kata are so misunderstood today. When the movements in poomsae are explained today, they are usually incorrect, and this is mostly due to the mindset behind the kinds of attacks we think we are defending against. If you are practicing poomsae techniques and coming up with applications to defend yourself against roundhouse kicks, and straight punches, etc. you are showing that you do not understand poomsae.

When kata were created, they were meant to be used against typical street attacks. No common street thug is going to attack with a perfect reverse punch or roundhouse kick. The most common attacks are going to be grabs, pushes, haymaker punches, and typically attacks from very close ranges. These are the attacks that kata, and therefore poomsae, are trying to teach you to defend against. The people who created the traditional Okinawan kata did so with these attacks in mind. In my opinion, I do not believe the same is true for the creators of Taekwondo poomsae. Even so, many techniques and/or sequences found in Taekwondo poomsae come from Karate kata, and therefore, the applications for defense against these street attacks still may exist.

The typical explanations for the techniques in poomsae are sometimes absurd. The ones that usually bother me the most are the explanations usually given for double blocks. When looking at some youtube videos of Grandmaster Lee, Kyu Hyung, who is revered for his knowledge of poomsae, and seeing him explain that a double block is used to block two separate attacks from different directions, I cant help but shake my head. Does nobody else have a problem with this explanation? Does nobody realize how unrealistic and impractical this explanation is? It is because of things such as this that I do not think Taekwondo poomsae were created with applications in mind. These poomsae are too young for us to already have a misunderstanding of the original intentions behind them. Also, the Kukkiwon has always been very specific of their techniques and requirements, and documents them quite well. If there were any deeper applications purposely placed in the poomsae, they surely would have been documented.

But like I said, even though many movements in the poomsae are misunderstood, and were not placed in the form with their true intentions included, they still can be valuable learning tools if we look back to our Karate roots and try to understand the movements within their kata. If we can do that, then we can begin to learn the true purposes of the techniques in our poomsae, and try to make some sense of them.