Three Things Must Ye Know about Patterns
by Mark Banicevich, IV dan
More correctly, this article should be called, “Three things must ye know about every movement in all of ye patterns”, but that is too long for a title.
When we learn Taekwon-Do patterns, we commonly begin by learning the sequence of movements, and then practicing them to perfection. The problem with this method is that we frequently fail to understand each and every movement. General Choi never taught patterns this way. Furthermore, one element of General Choi’s Training Secret of Taekwon-Do is:
“To understand the purpose and method of each movement clearly.”
That is what this article discusses. The three things must ye know about every movement in ye patterns are:
1. What is it called?
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 Taekwon-Do 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 five parts:
a. its stance and whether it is left or right
b. its tool and whether it is left or right
c. its height
d. its technique
e. its stepping.
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 Chon-Ji Tul, “forward stepping 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, performed with the right forefist. It is middle, and it is an obverse front punch.
Both of these techniques are jilla nagagi (forward stepping punch).
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”). Then we say, “nagagi”, “forward stepping”. However, this is different from “forward stepping right walking stance (left) open fist middle reverse side front punch”, which also fits that shorter description. (The word “left” in this example is unnecessary because a reverse punch in a right walking stance must be performed with the left fist, by definition.)
2. What is it for?
What distinguishes Taekwon-Do 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. Taekwon-Do is a martial art of self defence. Unless you know what every movement is for, you are not 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:
a. whether it is an attack or a defence
b. the target of the technique which you hit with the tool
c. its facing and its line
d. 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. There is a diagram relating attacking tools to vital spots in the condensed encyclopedia, just after vital spots.
If you know it is a defence, what are the appropriate targets for defence? The 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. Targets for blocks are included with block descriptions, and there is also a diagram relating blocking tools to targets the page after the previously mentioned diagram.
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.
Incorrect method for walking stance middle punch. The fist travels upward, and power is not transferred into the target.
Most movements are either half facing, full facing or side facing. The tool is centre 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 practise a new movement slowly, to get the feel of it, before you try it out. Sometimes it helps to practise 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. As Mr Lowe teaches during the Instructors’ Course, you need to practise new skills in closed way, progressing to an open way. That is, you practice them in controlled situations, progressing to uncontrolled situations:
a. spot technique
b. line work
c. target work
d. pre-arranged exercises
e. 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, because it is easier to keep out of the path of other students, and other students need not wait while the instructor corrects one.
These photographs illustrate spot technique for forefist punch.
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. This is reinforced by the Composition of Taekwon-Do (which Mr McPhail discusses in Technical Tips here).
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 practise the technique with a partner in pre-arranged exercises. These include all forms of step sparring (and result in great techniques for gradings), and exercises such as Mr Lowe’s “You!” game.
An application of left walking stance forearm low block
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 Taekwon-Do 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.
The key points from this article are summarized in the sidebar below. 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 Taekwon-Do to defend yourself or others.
1. What is it called?2. What is it for?3. How does it work?