I find Taekwondo history very fascinating. I think most of my blog posts has a history element in it to a lesser or larger degree. Our forms history is likewise also very fascinating with the evolution going from the “borrowed” forms under the term “Hyung” (pronounced Kata in Japanese) from Chinese, Japanese/Okinawan sources, to the Korean masters own creations like the Kuk-Mu forms and Chang Hon forms, the latter still being used in the different ITF`s and Dojang from a Chang Hon Ryu lineage (Ryu is often used in Japanese martial arts but it can also be used in KMA as they do have “Ryu” in Korean as well. Translated directly it means “Flow” but usually translated into lineage, school or style). A little later what was to become Korea Taekwondo Association started developing their own forms. First they produced Palgwe and Judanja/Kodanja Poomse and later in 1972 they came up with Taegeuk and a new Koryo Poomsae wich replaced the earlier Palgwe and original Koryo Poomse.

The different forms have survived to a larger and lesser degree. Many Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do schools still preserve the original Hyung (The Chinese ones are a lot more rare but the Japanese and Okinawan derived forms are still out there to a relatively large degree), some schools of Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do lineage (from Son Duk Sung) still teach Kuk-Mu forms, the ITF and other Dojang from a Chang Hon Ryu lineage still teach the Chang Hon forms. The Palgwe were replaced in 1972. But they have survived by being practised as “additional forms” by many schools (though in Norway you will be hard pressed to find someone who can teach them to you) and the Taegeuk forms are being practised by millions of people every day all over the world as these are the forms of the almighty Kukkiwon Taekwondo (often called WTF Taekwondo).

Now as you probably have read the headline you will already now what the post is going to be about: Why does everybody hate the Taegeuk forms while other forms are being praised? I googled and read a lot of material before writing this post and what people seem to hate the most about Taegeuk Poomsae is this:

  • They are too “simple/basic”
  • The short walking stance are used A LOT
  • No realistic applications
  • They are ugly, boring etc
    (Most of the opinions are found on numerous discussion boards all over the internet)

The first one is obviously in the way the patterns “look” and only the performance of the pattern is taken into consideration, but I do not think that Taegeuk Il (1) Jang is more simple than the Heian Shodan (1) though? There are more variation in techniques and stances in Taegeuk Il (1) Jang than Heian Shodan (1). The only thing that might be more “simple” is the short walking stance that seems to be more easy to teach to beginners. But there are also long walking stances in Taegeuk Il (1) Jang so here the beginner students has to cope with two very different stances while in Heian Shodan (1) they get away with only knowing 1 stance (two if you count ready stance or “Yoi” but this also applies to Taekwondo students ready stance or “Chombi seogi”).

Edit: Disregard the comments on how the Taegeuk 1 has more stances than Heian 1. This is not true and I am to blame. The Heian has two different stances (back stance and long front stance, while Taegeuk has two stances (long front stance and short front stance). The other points raised in the post are still true though although they are of course just my own opinions.

Here is Heian Shodan (1) Kata so you can see how it goes:

[youtube id=”WtYmA-AXMVo”]

Here is Taegeuk Il (1) Jang so you can compare the two:

[youtube id=”GWgkCpgeH8k”]

Ok lets compare them:

Heian has the following techniques:

  1. Low block
  2. Middle punch
  3. Hammer fist strike
  4. High block
  5. Knife hand block

It has only one (or two counting the ready stance) stance.

Taegeuk Il Jang has the following techniques:

  1. Low block
  2. Inward middle block
  3. High block
  4. Punch
  5. Front kick

It has both short and long front stance (and the ready stance).

Taegeuk 1 and Heian 1 has the same number of different techniques but Taegeuk 1 has one more stance to cope with. Why then is Taegeuk seen as more simple than the Heian or other form sets? In addition Taegeuk 1 has the most difficult technique demanding the most of the students; the front kick… Also it has the most “advanced” performance line (called embusen in Japanese) with Heian having an “H” pattern and Taegeuk having an “H-I” pattern (ok I suck at explaining but it can be seen in the upper left corner of the clip showing Taegeuk 1). Taegeuk 1 “wins” over Heian in terms of most variation, most demanding technique and most advanced performance line… There are people who does not “love” the “Heian form set” but they are far fewer than the ones disliking the Taegeuk form set. Here I have taken the most “basic/simple” (judged on performance) Taegeuk form and compared it to the most simple (again in performance) Heian form. Yes the Taegeuk forms might appear simple enough but that does not change the fact that the beginner student following the Taegeuk forms has to cope with more variation than the beginner student following the Heian forms. There is a cross over point though, the Heian forms does become more difficult and varied in performance on a more rapid scale than the Taegeuk forms does though so if I were to compare Taegeuk 3 with Heian 3 the picture would change. But this brings me to the next point: Is simple/Basic really a bad thing?

I mean they are not so simple/basic that they are easy to teach (or I am a bad instructor or my students are not good learners or a combination of all the above). And even so during a real attack the adrenaline dump makes fine motor skills jump head first out of the window so to speak, making what is usually said to be “advanced” techniques impossible to apply… This line of thought actually seem to validate that “The Taegeuk Approach” of being fairly “simple” to perform when compared to rival form sets (E.g. Heian, Chang Hon etc) is a good way to go… Techniques or sequences being simple to perform makes most application derived from them simple to perform wich again makes the applying of the form in a “real” situation “easy” when compared to more “advanced” (read: difficult to perform forms/patterns).. KISS; Keep It Simple Stupid is a general rule that many now apply to self defense. Looking at this really makes the “I hate taegeuk forms because they are so simple” view seem a little unappropriated. Now if we ONLY look at performance and the forms as a PERFORMANCE SPORT, then yes the Taegeuk are simpler and more basic viewed as a whole set when compared to the 5 Heian forms or the first 8 Chang Hon forms etc. But then again if you want a more challenging way of “martial performance dance sport thingy” why not go the XMA (Xtreme Martial Arts) route and just dump all traditional forms altogether?

XMA Forms Demonstration:

[youtube id=”dp_uIk-T2zg”]

“This is not a martial art” I hear you say.. I you were to extract useful self defense techniques from this form you would be left with those found in the Taegeuk series (some punches, and some “blocks”). But if you hate the Taegeuk forms merely because they are simple and basic (as in performance) and you love the (insert another form set here) because it is more challenging, demanding, or “advanced” (to perform) then this form in the above clip is actually even more “advanced” and should be adopted into (insert your own martial art here) training. This form far exceeded ALL “traditional” forms I have ever seen performed. The reason for this is simple: The “traditional” forms were not really made to be “challenging” or “demanding” or “advanced” they were made to ensure the transmission of useful techniques, principles and strategy from one generation to the next. Does the form in the above clip do this? No it does not. That form is made to be more challenging and demanding and advanced and it success in this.

Then you have the issue with the “short walking stance” that is supposedly used A LOT in the Taegeuk forms. Personally I think this is just a stupid statement to make as there are 8 forms in the Taegeuk series and the short stance virtually dissapears to never be seen again after the third one.. The statement or opinion of the short walking stance is used in all the taegeuk forms are made by people having an extremely little amount of practise in Taekwondo. Maybe they learned the first three forms (wich in Norway would put you at about 1,5 years of study but far less in other regions). They learned 3 of 8 forms and then decided that all 8 are like the first 3.. As to why people hate the stance I have read comments like:

  • Lacks stability
  • No power
  • Looks stupid
  • No balance
  • etc

I really do not get it.. The short walking stance is actually just a normal walking step frozen in time, and as all stances are not stances as something you stand statically in but rather just a frozen transitional phase the comments like it lacks stability, looks stupid, no balance etc really makes no sense. The only “stance” that everyone is training EVERYDAY is the short walking stance. Everytime you take a single step you practise it. Are you walking around with no stability and balance? Are you walking around falling down on the ground everyday? Do you even have to think when you walk on how to move without falling? Are you drunk? The “No Power” issue I can relate to. I think that people can generate more power easily by using the more popular “long front stance” but there is one thing that so many people just do not get. Training beginners in Short walking stance teaches you to create power from the stance you are more likely to be in when attacked on the street! Also teaching power generation in short walking stance makes generating power in long front stance even easier! It is actually ingenious BUT many people never finds an instructor who appreciate this and teaches this way so I do see why the short stance is not appreciated by many. A student of Matsubayoshi Ryu Karate explained proudly the uniqueness of his style of Karate as being a lot more street worthy than for example shotokan because they taught the beginners to develop power from a short stance as this was how they probably would be standing in when attacked on the street. I chuckled a little and was asked why I chuckled. I just stood up and performed Taegeuk Il (1) jang.. The Matsubayoshi Ryu student laughed too when he got it.

The last point that is frequently viewed on forums on the interest is the lack of practical applications from the Taegeuk forms. “They were just political tools nothing more”, “They are the fast food of martial forms”, “They were created by a committee”. Getting people to agree in wich pizza to order is hard enough, designing forms with meaningful applications would be impossible” etc These are just a few quotes that I found. I have had problems and still there are some sequences that I do not get. I do not give up though because at one point this was true for all the Taegeuk forms. Today I have more experience and I get most of them just fine. And if I am stuck there is one book that anyone practising Kukkiwon Taekwondo should buy now: The Taegeuk Cipher by Simon John O`Neill! Read it and love it. In that book there are realistic meaningful application for each and every move. Not only is there a meaningful application to each and every move, there is also a meaningful progression from the beginner to the advanced student, AND there is a meaningful progression from the beginning of a situation toward the later stages of a situation! He might be seeing things in them that were not put in there intentionally, and I might too but I do not care. Meaningfull applications in the Taegeuk are abound and the whole set covers pretty much all the most likely attacks and scenarios. The underlying principles that the techniques rest upon takes care of every scenario and attacks!.

So when you think about it, the Taegeuk series are not “too simple”, they are not boring (if you know the applications), they do not make a lot of use of the short walking stance (they are virtually only seen in the first three forms), they do contain meaningful/realistic applications and they are not “ugly”.