Three Things Must Ye Know about Taekwondo Patterns

by Mark Banicevich, IV dan Papakura.

More correctly, this article should be called, “Three things must ye know about every movement in all of ye Taekwondo patterns”, but that is too long for a title.

When we learn Taekwondo patterns, we commonly begin by learning the sequence of movements, and then practicing them over and over until they become automatic. The problem with this method is that we frequently fail to understand each and every movement.

General Choi never taught patterns this way. Indeed, one key element of General Choi’s Training Secret of Taekwondo is: “To understand the purpose and method of each movement clearly.”

The three things must ye know about every movement in ye patterns are:

• 1. What is it called (English and Korean)?
• 2. What is it for?
• 3. How does it work?

To know what a movement is called, you must know its stance, tool, height, technique name and stepping – preferably in Taekwondo terminology in both English and Korean.

You must know whether the technique is an attack or a defence, and you must know the appropriate targets for the tool. You must know the body facing and line of each technique. You must also know where the technique finishes and how it gets there, including the intermediate position.

When you know what a technique is called and what it is for, knowing how it works is simply a matter of practice. You can achieve this through a progression of spot exercises, line work, pad work, pre-arranged exercises and free sparring.

1. What is it called?

The name of a technique comprises of six parts:

  1. Stance, and whether it is left or right
  2. Tool, and whether it is left or right
  3. Height
  4. Technique
  5. Stepping
  6. Type of motion

A completely unambiguous technique name includes all of these elements. This enables instructors to call out a technique and expect students to know exactly what it is. It also enables you to learn patterns from a book.

Let’s take movement two of pattern Chon-Ji – “step forward into right walking stance, right forefist middle obverse front punch”. This is a complete and unambiguous description of the movement. It is performed stepping forward, into a right walking stance, whilst performing a right forefist middle section obverse punch. As long as you know what this means, you can perform the technique.

In the interest of efficiency, common terms are assumed, so we usually call the above technique “right walking stance middle punch” (“orun gunnun so kaunde jirugi”). We may also add “nagagi” – “forward stepping”.

2. What is it for?

What distinguishes Taekwondo patterns from dancing is that every movement we perform has an express purpose in attack or defence (“with few exception”, as General Choi would say). If you don’t know this purpose, you might as well be dancing! Taekwondo is the Korean martial art of self defence. Unless you know what every movement is for, you are not really learning self defence.

This means, as General Choi said, you must “understand the purpose and method of each movement clearly.” To achieve this, you must know four things about every movement:

  1. whether it is an attack or a defence
  2. the target of the technique which you hit with the tool
  3. its facing and its line
  4. how the movement passes through the intermediate position to the finished position.

The first of these elements is fundamental to understanding what a movement is for. It is the starting point for the other three elements.

If you know it is an attack, what are the appropriate targets for attack? The forefist can be used to attack many targets, including the philtrum, sternum, solar plexus, jaw, point of chin, floating ribs and lower abdomen. See a diagram here.

If you know it is a defence, what are the appropriate targets for defence? For example, a forearm low block is used to block an attacker’s hand or foot directed at the defender’s lower abdomen. The target will usually be the tibia or the back forearm.

When you know all of these things, the method of the movement is often obvious – but your instructor can smooth out any minor errors for you. If you are punching the solar plexus with the forefist, it is clear that the forefist should travel in a straight line to the target. If you are blocking the tibia with a forearm low block, it is no surprise that you must cross on top at shoulder height, and block downward and outward to the target.

Most movements are either half facing, full facing or side facing. The tool is center line, chest line or shoulder line. It is important to know these things.

You must understand where each movement begins, the intermediate position through which it passes, the finished position, and the trajectory your body and each limb travels to get from start to finish.

It helps to practice a new movement slowly, to get the feel of it, before you try it out. Sometimes it helps to practice one limb at a time, then put them together. For example, the twin forearm block is easier to master if you try one hand, then the other, then both together.

3. How does it work?

With an understanding of what a technique is for and how it should work, it is time to do it. You need to practice new skills in a closed way, progressing to an open way. That is, you practice them in controlled situations, progressing to uncontrolled situations:

  • spot technique
  • line work
  • target work
  • pre-arranged exercises
  • free exercises

General Choi always told us we should first learn every technique as a spot technique. From the appropriate ready position, perform the technique to the right, return to ready position, perform the technique to the left, return to ready position, and continue (vice versa for defence). This is the best time for an instructor to correct technique.

Once you are performing the movement correctly, you practice the technique in line work. In this way, you repeat the movement to train your muscles to remember the correct method.

It is not until this point that General Choi advocated learning the pattern – after you have performed every new technique in the pattern to this level. However, to master the technique, and develop the best patterns, each movement must be developed as an open skill.

When you are comfortable using the technique alone, it is time to perform it against a target. The technique can be performed in focus exercises using a partner or focus pad, and in power exercises using an air shield or bag. These exercises utilise a stationary target.

The next step is to practice the technique with a partner in pre-arranged exercises. These include all forms of pre-arranged sparring (and result in great techniques for gradings).

Finally, you should try to utilise the technique in free sparring. Initially, try semi-free sparring to consciously use the technique in certain situations. Ultimately, the goal is to unconsciously use the technique in free sparring. I believe this is what General Choi wanted when he continually berated our tournament sparring as “cock fighting” – he wanted us to use a much greater variety of Taekwondo techniques.

Three things must ye know

General Choi used to challenge our understanding of techniques by asking three things:

“What is tool? What is target? Show me….”

If you know what a technique is called, you know the tool. If you know what it is for, you know the target. If you understood how to do it, you could show him.

Know these three things about every movement in your patterns, and you are a long way towards performing the best patterns you can perform. Moreover, you will have better step sparring, better free sparring, and a greater range of techniques if you ever need to use Taekwondo to defend yourself or others.