The Chang-Hon set of Taekwon-Do patterns practised by the ITFs are somewhat unique in having meaning attached to the shape the performer traces with their feet.
The WTF and other Taekwondo organisations, as well as other martial arts, have meanings associated with their patterns / tul / poomse / hyung / kata / forms. However, I believe the ITF tul were some of the first to have meaningful pattern diagrams. ‘Kata’ though can translate as ‘shape which cuts the ground’, which might give some indication of earlier reasons for the shape of the diagrams.
Some of the pattern diagrams are explicitly linked in the meaning. Yul-Gok and Toi-Gye are named for rival scholars in the great Confucianism vs Neo-Confucianism divide in 16th century Korea. The pattern meanings both tell us that “the diagram represents scholar”. The diagram for Yul-Gok is interesting however, in that there is a pair of extra lines at the junction of the base line and vertical line, to represent the performer’s diagonal movements.
Kwang-Gae tul’s diagram “represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory”. In Chinese the figure means ‘earth’, which we can understand as a reference to Kwang Gae Toh Wang’s power over land. This pattern meaning seems to contradict the idea that the Korean peoples never conducted invasive war, only defensive. Compare with “The history of Korea contains not a single example of its military forces being employed for the invasion of its neighbours or for any other purpose except national defence” (Taekwon-Do, vol 1, p42). Or perhaps ‘expansion’ was a poorly chosen word.
Po-Eun tul’s meaning states “the diagram represents [Po-Eun’s] unerring loyalty to the king and country towards the end of the Koryo dynasty”. Similar to the use of Latin in Europe, Chinese writing was and is widely used in East Asia, including Korea, and this pattern diagram is another of those characters. This character has a multitude of definitions, but the one that applies here is ‘one’ – one master; loyalty.
The next first dan pattern has quite a similar diagram, this time representing “[Gae-Baek’s] severe and strict military discipline”. The single vertical stroke of this character is difficult to find a meaning for, but I believe it is associated with strong, bright, hot things, about which more below. The diagram is easily understood from the point of view of how it is drawn – a single, powerful, uncompromising stroke.
The first of the three second dan patterns is another pattern which has a single stroke as its diagram. Eui-Am, real name Son Byong-Hi, displayed indomitable spirit “while dedicating himself to the prosperity of his nation”. This meaning is resonant with Gae-Baek’s.
The ultimate pattern of the Chang-Hon set, in more than one sense, is Tong-Il. This means ‘unification’. I had the pleasure of seeing the giant ceremonial bell of the same name in Kyeongju, South Korea. General Choi Hong Hi fervently believed in reunification of his divided homeland, and this pattern in both meaning and diagram represents that desire: “The diagram symbolizes the homogenous race”.
The pattern diagram for Chon-Ji consists of a single vertical stroke crossed by a single horizontal stroke. These two strokes represent the simultaneous clash and balance of opposites: light and dark, male and female, strong and weak. Yin-yang (um-yang in Korean, in-yo in Japanese) is the meaning of this pattern and its diagram, whose name “means literally the Heaven the Earth”. The idea is further demonstrated by the low blocks in the first half and the middle blocks in the second half.
Several other patterns have the same diagram:
- Sam-Il, commemorating thirty three patriotic revolutionaries
- Choi-Yong, the name of a revered general killed by his subordinates
- Yon-Gae, who forced the Tang Chinese army out of Korea
- Moon-Moo, a Silla dynasty king who fought the Japanese
- So-San, a warrior monk who also fought Japanese pirates
These heroes all defended their country and were righteous men. There seems to be a strong correlation between their characteristics and the use of the Chon-Ji type pattern diagram. This character can also mean ten or perfect in Chinese.
There is a second heroic pattern diagram. It is shaped like a capital I, and can mean labourer or worker in Chinese:
- Dan-Gun, legendary founder of Korea
- Won-Hyo, who introduced Buddhism to the Silla dynasty
- Joong-Gun, who assassinated a Japanese colonial overlord at the cost of his own life
- The Hwa-Rang warrior-monk-artist-scholar youths of the Silla dynasty
- Choong-Moo, pseudonym of perhaps the greatest admiral in history
- Yoo-Sin, the general who unified the three kingdoms of ancient Korea
These people (and one demigod) were fundamental in shaping the essence of modern Korea. Dan-gun founded the nation, Won-Hyo gave it a new religion, the Hwa-Rang fought to expand the Silla kingdom, which Yoo-Sin succeeded in melding with the other kingdoms into one nation. Choong-Moo fought the Japanese on the water and Joong-Gun fought them on Korean soil.
Juche tul has a pattern diagram shaped like the Chinese character for mountain. This is linked to the self reliance philosophy of North Korea. “It is said this idea was rooted in Baekdu Mountain which symbolises the spirit of the Korean people.” This character is what gives W shape block its Korean name, san makgi – san is the Korean pronunciation of the mountain character.
Pattern Se-Jong is named after King Sejong. The diagram is the Chinese for king. It looks like a capital I with a third horizontal stroke, halfway between the top and bottom ones. The upper stroke represents heaven. The middle stroke represents humanity and the lower stroke is the earth. A king is a man – the vertical stroke – who can unite all three realms in harmony.
Two pattern diagrams I have been unable to find Chinese character explanations for. Perhaps readers can write in if they know about these shapes. Do-San tul’s and Ul-Ji tul’s diagrams are reflections of one another. Ul-Ji looks like a capital L with an extra horizontal stroke to the left, from the top of the vertical stroke. Do-San has its horizontal strokes at the bottom left and top right of the vertical stroke, the opposite of Ul-Ji. One way of looking at these two characters is as one half of a swastika, an ancient religious symbol used in Hinduism, Buddhism and other faiths. Seen this way Do-San is half of a left handed swastika and Ul-Ji half of the right handed version. A scholar of Chinese calligraphy and Buddhism would have the best qualifications to confirm this theory. The pattern meaning for Ul-Ji tul explains however that the diagram represents Ul Ji Mun Dok’s surname, Ul, in Hangul.
Choong-Jang tul, the second of the second dan patterns has a diagram shaped like an upward pointing tack/pin. The single horizontal stroke has a single vertical stroke upward from its centre. There is a Chinese character meaning top, superior or highest, which comes close 丄, but it is not clear how that might relate to the pattern meaning.
I hope that this article has been of some interest to the reader, and shed a little light on one of the lesser known areas of our Art. Please write in if you have knowledge about this subject that might develop or correct the ideas I’ve presented here.