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History of patterns


Similar to art of taekwondo itself, taekwondo patterns are steeped in history but are a fairly modern development that is in a constant state of change. To understand taekwondo fully, one must understand the evolution of modern patterns and how they have contributed to the worldwide growth of the art.

The passing down of information through physical movement is probably as old as mankind itself. Ancient cultures used sequences of physical movements to pass their culture to the next generation. Part of this culture would be the fighting techniques found to be most successful. Since combat is a physical activity, the most effective way to learn combat skills is to imitate the movements of the elders. The elders would demonstrate the movements, and younger men would try to emulate these movements. These movements would then be further refined and passed to subsequent generations. This process led to the creation of the first martial arts patterns.

Since taekwondo's development was deeply influenced by shotokan karate, it is best to start the history of taekwondo patterns with a look at the history of shotokan patterns.

Shotokan pattern history

Karate was founded on the island of Okinawa, one of a chain of islands collectively known as the Ryukyu Islands. Okinawa lies about five hundred and fifty miles east of Mainland China, about halfway between China and Japan.

During the eleventh century, several Japanese warriors fleeing from the Taira–Minamoto wars made their way to Okinawa. Many of the Minamoto samurais took Okinawan wives and remained on the island for the rest of their lives. The bojutsu of the Minamoto samurai had a considerable influence on the fighting methods employed by the Okinawan nobles.

One part of Minamoto bujutsu that had an influence on the development of karate was the idea that all motion is essentially the same. Whether striking, grappling, or wielding a weapon, the Minamoto samurai taught that all combative methods relied upon similar physical movements. Students were taught a physical movement and then shown how that movement could be adapted to other situations. This philosophy is still seen in modern karate when an individual pattern technique is applied to different circumstances and attacks. This use of one technique in multiple applications allowed each pattern to convey great amounts of information. The use of multiple applications also helps ensure a quick response in combat since the user did not have to learn many different movements for many different situations.

In 1377, the king of Okinawa expressed his allegiance to the emperor of China, which resulted in a huge influx of Chinese culture and customs, including Chinese combative systems. In 1392, thirty-six Chinese families emigrated to Kume village in Okinawa as part of a cultural exchange. Amongst these thirty-six families were several kempo experts who had a huge influence upon the growth and development of the native Okinawan combat systems. The Chinese transported many of the patterns practiced in modern karate to Okinawa, and their methods were the inspiration behind many others. Many of the patterns were named after the Chinese martial artists who created or inspired them, such as kushanku, wanshu, chinto, etc.

In 1429, King Sho Hashi wished to improve the standing of Okinawa and, as a result, the Okinawan people began active relations with other countries. This resulted in trade with Indonesia, South-East Asia, Korea, Japan, and of course, China where the towns of Shuri and Naha became famous as trading centers for luxury goods. Later these towns would also gain notoriety for the systems of fighting that bore their names. This influx of trade also led to the exchange of combative ideas that further influenced the native fighting systems and their patterns.

In 1477, the Okinawan king, Sho Shin, imposed a ban on the private ownership of weapons by civilians and ordered that all nobles live close to Shuri castle. This attempt to control people had a huge effect on the nature of the native fighting skills. In most of the fighting systems throughout the world, weapons were always the first choice to use. No warrior would choose to fight with their bare hands when they could use a weapon. The banning of weapons resulted in Okinawans having no choice except to use their unarmed combat skills. This acted as a catalyst in the advancement of the empty-handed fighting skills of Okinawa.

The moving of the nobles close to Shuri castle also affected the development of karate. It was common practice for kings to keep nobles close at hand to make the meetings easier to arrange and it ensured that the families of the nobles were within hostage-taking distance. This ensured loyalty to the king. Since the king acknowledged and rewarded strong fighting skills, many nobles practiced martial arts, and they had the resources and opportunity to do so. For this reason, the upper classes were mostly responsible for the development of karate.

In 1609, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate, which kept power through the skillful playing of one faction against another. The Tokugawa clan had previously subjugated the Satsuma clan but they still considered them a threat, so they invaded Okinawa to get them out of the country. The invasion was successful and once again the Okinawans were prohibited from owning weapons. Once again, the Okinawans had no option but to rely upon their empty-handed fighting skills, along with the combative use of domestic tools. Japan imposed laws to eradicate all traces of Okinawan fighting systems, which resulted in karate being practiced in secret. This had a profound effect upon karate since now only a few practiced it and it became further shrouded in secrecy. The effects of this are still felt today as many of the original meanings of karate movements have been lost. An additional effect of secrecy was that karate became extremely violent, as its only purpose became to disable any assailant quickly.

Many of the patterns practiced at this time were Chinese in origin but the Okinawans also developed their own patterns to record their fighting systems. The only purpose behind a pattern at this point was to record highly effective and brutal methods of combat and to provide a training method to perfect those methods.

The supposed first karate kata, originally called kusanku but now called kanu-dai, was developed in the early 1800s in Okinawa. Credit for inventing the kata goes to either Tode Sakugawa or Sokon Matsumura. Two other kata were developed in the 1800s: channan (nothing is known about it today except its name) and another kata about which nothing is known, not even its name. All other katas were created in the 1900s.

Some masters claim there are techniques hidden within kata so they would be kept secret from the Japanese overlords. Although the purpose of some techniques in kata may not be obvious, this does mean they were meant to be hidden or secret.

In 1868, the "Decree Banning the Wearing of Swords" abolished the samurai class and all its privileges and made it legal for common people to practice karate. Since the first kata was created around 1800, and karate training became illegal in 1868, if kata training ever had to be done in secret, it would have had to be between 1800 and 1868.

In 1868, Japan moved from feudalism to democracy. During this time, the Japanese abandoned many of the aspects of their culture having to do with feudalism. The class structure, the wearing of swords by samurai, the styling of the hair in to the “top-knot” etc. were all abolished. However, the Japanese authorities also wanted to foster many of the values associated with the past.

It was felt that the practice of martial arts would promote health, develop strong sprit, encourage morality, help the Japanese keep a sense of national identity in the wake of political change and foreign influence, and would be an aid to Japan’s growing army. The ministry of education supported the development of “sporting” martial arts so such arts as judo and kendo were strongly promoted in Japan’s education system.

In 1891, during their medical exam for recruitment into the army, the exceptional physical condition of two young karate exponents, Yabu Kentsu and Hanashiro Chomo, was noted. As a result, the military inquired as to whether karate would be an aid to the Japanese war machine, as judo and kendo had been. This idea was abandoned due to the disorganization of the karate fraternity, the length of time it took to become competent in karate, and due to fears that the Japanese troops may use their fighting skills in brawls. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, a group of karate practitioners campaigned to get karate placed onto the Okinawan school system’s curriculum in the belief that young men with healthy bodies and moral character would be far more productive in Japanese society.

In 1901 the great “Anko” Yasutsune Itsou (1830-1915) campaigned successfully to get karate onto the physical education program of the Shuri Jinjo elementary school. Itsou believed the current system of karate to be too dangerous to be taught to children and set about disguising the more dangerous techniques. As a result of these modifications, the children were taught the katas as mostly blocking and punching. Itsou also changed many of the more dangerous strikes into punches with the clenched fist. This enabled the children to gain such benefits as improved health and discipline from their karate practice without giving them knowledge of the highly effective and dangerous fighting techniques of the original patterns.

In 1905, Itsou was appointed as karate teacher to the prefectural Dai Ichi Collage and the prefectural teachers’ training college. In 1908, Itsou wrote a letter to the prefectural education department that outlined his views on karate and asked that karate be introduced into the curriculum of all Okinawan schools. Itsou was granted his wish and karate became part of the education of all Okinawan children.

Itsou’s modifications resulted in huge changes in the way the karate was taught. The emphasis was now placed firmly upon the development of physical fitness through the group practice of patterns. The children would receive no instruction in the combative applications associated with the patterns and deliberately misleading labels were adopted for the various techniques. Today, Itsou’s terminology that is most commonly used throughout the world in karate so it is vital to understand why this terminology developed.

When studying the combative applications of patterns, remember that many of the names given to various movements have no link with the movement’s fighting application. Terms such as “high block” or “outside block” stem from the watered-down karate taught to Okinawan school children, and not the highly potent fighting art taught to adults. Itsou’s changes also resulted in the teaching of patterns without their applications. Traditional, patterns were taught first and, when the student had gained the master’s trust, the applications would then be taught. Nowadays, the norm is to teach pattern movements without ever teaching the applications.

Itsou is often criticized for weakening karate due to the changes he instigated but, at the time of the changes, karate was dying and, without his changes, it may have died. Itsou would have had no idea that his “children’s Karate” was due to become one of the world’s most popular martial arts.

Later in life, Itsou later saw the problems caused by the changes. He wrote, “You must decide whether your kata is for cultivating health or for its practical use.” He encouraged his adult students to, “Always practice kata with its practical use in your mind.”

In the mid-1930s, Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Itsou’s and the founder of shotokan karate, led a movement to gain national recognition for karate from Japan’s leading martial arts association, the butoku-kai. After many meetings and demonstrations, karate was finally granted national recognition, but there were a number of conditions attached.

The butoku-kai insisted that karate develop a unified teaching curriculum, distance itself from its Chinese origins, adopt a standard training uniform (a lightweight judogi was decided upon), assign a system of ranking (the kyu through dan grade system of judo was adopted), develop a system of competition, and to further reduce some of the more violent methods employed. Funakoshi and his group were successful in these tasks and karate gained national recognition and hence continued to spread.

These changes were vital if karate was to continue to grow, but again they had a negative effect on the combative aspect of karate patterns. The more potent techniques and methods contained within the patterns were further obscured due to the concerns of the brutality used. The birth of competition and of the grading system eventually resulted in many practitioners being more concerned with the artistic look of the pattern to win trophies and pass exams. Competitive sparring also resulted in karate beginning to focus on the defeat of the opponent in competition, as opposed to the defeat of a violent and untrained attacker in actual combat. Had these changes had not been made, it is unlikely that karate would ever have left Okinawa.

Since patterns hold all the principles and methods of the original fighting art, to practice the original art all karate instructors need to do is alter the way they approach performing the patterns.

TKD pattern development

As mentioned in the taekwondo history topic, Korean fighting arts probably originated from observing Chinese martial techniques during the Chinese invasion of Korea about 108 BC. From this early origin, came centuries of development of indigenous fighting styles spurred on by periods of civil conflicts, wars with neighboring counties, and numerous foreign occupations.

When the three Korean kingdoms unified in 676 AD, the relative peace that followed stifled martial training and the martial culture was gradually replaced by yangban, or bureaucratic, culture. As weapons of war evolved with increased range, the need for hand-to-hand fighting decreased and was frowned upon as diplomacy gained prominence. By the time of the Chosun dynasty, martial arts as an organized method of training had practically disappeared. Martial arts had been relegated to games and sporting events.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, when weapons and anything Korean was discouraged or banned, Koreans began to appreciate their martial arts heritage but there was little left of the ancient arts upon which they could learn. Because Korean martial artists had been trained, either voluntary or forcibly, in the Japanese martial arts, the resurrection of Korean martial arts were greatly influenced by the Japanese martial arts, mainly shotokan karate. The supposedly Korean martial arts techniques being taught in kwans were actually just variations of standard karate techniques. Koreans who were second- or third-degree black belts in Japanese karate before the resurrection, suddenly became high ranked "masters" of Korean karate.

Pattern usage in modern martial art training was introduced by Jigoro Kano when he founded Kodokan judo, which was based on jiujutsu. The Kodokan kata acted to preserve jujutsu techniques and provide a historical of jiujutsu. Randori-no-kata is dedicated to preserving and defining the basic technical competition syllabus of Kodokan judo. It demonstrates techniques that distinguish judo from other martial arts. Randori-no-kata is divided into two sub-parts: the nage-no-kata, which demonstrates throwing and sacrifice techniques, and the katame-no-kata, which demonstrates mat work, armbars, and choking techniques. Both katas are organized into a highly formalized, stylized ritual that provides an aesthetically pleasing presentation while demonstrating the techniques. The formalities remind practitioners and spectators of the art’s oriental foundations.

Two more forms were created to preserve and identify fundamental self-defense techniques. One of relatively recent origin, Kodokan goshin jutsu, accepted in 1958, demonstrates that the formulation of the kata themselves can be an ongoing historical process. A "gentleness" form, ju-no-kata, expresses techniques that demonstrate fundamental movements. Another form, kime-no-kata, demonstrates kicking and punching techniques that are not permitted in competition Judo. An "ancient forms" series, koshiki-no-kata, preserves ancient jiujutsu technical skills that are used competitive judo. A highly unusual, philosophical form, itsutsu-no-kata, seeks to identify natural movements that describe the fundamental theory of judo without using combative movements. As judo competition rules and strategies evolve, the official Kodokan katas preserve the technical skills and philosophies of judo. Early taekwondo pattern development did not have these lofty goals and neither do current taekwondo patterns.

Jigoro Kano believed that "both kata and randori [free-sparring] are forms of mental training, but of the two, randori is the most effective," so most of the judo kata do not reiterate techniques found in randori, where such skills are best practiced. Only the randori-no-kata, represents skills found in the practice of randori. The remaining six forms represent practice of skills and movements not used in judo competitions.

During the early days of taekwondo development, patterns and techniques were basically a Korean variation of karate. The patterns being developed closely resembled the "pinan" and "heian" kata that the Korean masters had learned from shotokan. One of the influential pioneers of taekwondo during this period was General Choi Hong Hi who claimed to be the originator of the first taekwondo patterns.

First taekwondo patterns

In the very first editions of his book Taekwon-Do, General Choi only mentioned twenty taekwondo patterns, along with some karate patterns. The original taekwondo patterns were: chon-ji, dan-gun, do-san, won-hyo, yul-kok, chung-gun, toi-gye, hwa-rang, chung-mu, gwang-gae, po-eun, ge-baek, yu-sin, choong-jang, ul-ji, sam-il, ko-dang, choi-yong, se-jong, and tong-il. In the 1970s, Choi removed the karate patterns and added four more taekwondo patterns, moon-moo, yon-gae, so-san, and eui-Am, for a total of twenty-four taekwondo patterns. During the early 1980s, Choi thought some important techniques were missing from the original patterns, so he replaced one of the original patterns, ko-dang, with a new pattern, juche. This kept the total number of patterns at twenty-four. The order of the patterns has changed over time, as well as the total number, but regardless of the number of patterns, tong-Il will be always the last one. This is because it stands for the hope that North and South Korea will one day be unified. Now, years after Choi’s death, his hope is starting to become reality.

Each pattern has a meaning. Except for chon-Ji and juche, all the patterns are named after important people in Korean history or historical events. For non-Koreans, these names are not too important in a historical sense, but they are still taught to taekwondo students to preserve and respect Korean tradition. The diagram of movement of each of the taekwondo patterns is based on the traditional ideology of ancient Korean people. Each diagram tries to match the ideological figure of what the pattern's name means. Some, or all, of these patterns are used by the various taekwondo organizations.

In 1971, General Choi became embroiled in political disputes with the South Korean government and left Korea and formed the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). His original patterns with their shotokan influence are still used by the ITF. ITF patterns are known as hyung or tul. Modern ITF patterns are known for their stepping motion (sine wave) while moving into techniques, which supposedly applies the force of the entire body at the movement of impact. This movement was not used in the performance of the original patterns. After General Choi's departure from Korea, a younger generation of Koreans who had not trained under Japanese instructors gained control of taekwondo development in Korea and formed the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), which uses patterns known as poomse.

In Korea, taekwondo began to adopt a fighting style which was more fluid and dynamic and relied more on speed, timing, and strategic body movement. Continuous movement was encouraged, and "point" scoring was eliminated. Taekwondo began to use competition effectively as an integral part of its training structure.

The taegeuk patterns were reformulated to incorporate more realistic natural stances. These patterns differed from karate forms or the ITF style of taekwondo forms. They used stances more typically used for fighting or self-defense and their pattern of movements tended to follow a "trigram" pattern of movement, rather than the "H" pattern of ITF forms. However, these reformulated forms remained based, in both structure and theory, on karate forms.

Pattern similarity

If you have experience in other martial arts, you may have noticed that many of their patterns are similar to taekwondo patterns. It makes one wonder "Which came first?"

Some reject the premise that taekwondo was influenced by shotokan karate. Watch this 1930s video of the pinan shodan kata, which came decades before taekwondo was founded. Compare it to the won-hyo hyung of traditional taekwondo. Notice any similarities? The pinan kata was introduced by Itosu, when karate started to be taught in the Okinawa schools. The name was changed into heian by Funakoshi when he came to Japan. Pinan shodan is the first of these kata, it was renamed (and renumbered) into heian nidan.

General Choi, the disputed "founder" of taekwondo, who originated the changhon pattern set used by the ITF and many other taekwondo organizations, was originally a shotokan karate black belt. For a time, he actually was a student of Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Japanese karate and founder of shotokan. In a January 2000 issue of Taekwondo Times Magazine, Choi stated that he studied under Funakoshi while he was a student at Tokyo University. He also stated that upon receiving his 2nd Dan in shotokan, he taught shotokan karate for a time at the YMCA in Tokyo. Choi's original taekwondo espoused many of the core beliefs, techniques, patterns, and procedures of Funakoshi's Shotokan karate.

Taekwondo pyong-an patterns are exactly the same as the shotokan heian patterns. For example, the taekwondo bal-sek pattern is the same as shotokan bassai pattern, chul-gi is the same as tekki, and kong-san-koon is the same as kanku. Palgwe taekwondo patterns are also similar to heian patterns.

Watch these shotokan kata and look for similarities with traditional taekwondo patterns.

Although the ITF, with its shotokan influenced patterns, was popular around the world, the WTF gained control of taekwondo within Korea. In later years, when Korea won the bid to host the Olympics, the WTF was chosen to lead the effort to include taekwondo an Olympic demonstration sport. Korea, through the WTF, wanted to purge shotokan's influence from taekwondo so it would only reflect Korea's martial arts history. As a result of the effort, they developed a set of strictly Korean patterns they called taegeuk (which is the name of South Korea's national flag).

The essence of taekwondo is poorly reflected in any of the commonly recognized ITF or WTF taekwondo forms patterns, whether they are pinans, chon-ji, palgue, or taegeuk. Their techniques are mostly an arbitrary series of movements that do not have many variations of kicking or punching techniques that do not reflect the skill level of their assigned ranks. They are not particularly exciting to watch or perform, do not demonstrate any aspect of skill that is particular to taekwondo, are nearly devoid of technical challenge, lack roots specific to taekwondo, and are considered boring by most practitioners.

When Jigoro Kano formulated kodokan judo, he wanted to preserve martial skills, martial virtue, and martial history through the practice of forms while allowing for new ideas to develop through the practice of randori. When Gichin Funakoshi formulated karate, he thought that forms practice should define, rather than compliment, training. Modern taekwondo stresses competition and claims that its patterns represent and preserve fundamental taekwondo movements and strategies, but they do not, nor do they demonstrate useful sparring techniques.

There are several sets of patterns used by taekwondo schools around the world, such as the American Taekwondo Association's song-am patterns, the Jhoon Rhee Martial Ballet, the pyong-Ahn patterns, the taegeuk patterns, the palgwe patterns, and the chang-hon patterns. Whichever set you practice, you should know about its origins and its current purpose.

Future development of patterns

The original kwans taught patterns that were taken directly from Japanese and Okinawan karate styles, such as shotokan, shorin, and shorei. Because of conflicts with the Japanese and Chinese, Korean martial artists wanted to distance themselves from things related to Japan and China, including patterns. Although this attitude is understandable, the change has not been accepted by all Korean masters. When you remove the traditional karate patterns from taekwondo, you remove its roots, its art, and its soul.

The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) uses the changhon patterns (hyung) developed by General Choi in the 1950s. The patterns express much of the influence that karate had on taekwondo. The founding members of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA) agreed to favor none of the patterns of the participating schools, and instead to create an entirely new set of patterns to ensure agreement among the different schools. The KTA adopted the palgwe and taeguek patterns (poomse) on January 30, 1967, later the discarded the palgwe patterns. Although the taegeuk patterns were designed especially for taekwondo, the karate training of the developers still found its way into the patterns. About forty percent of the techniques in taebek pattern comes from two pinan (heian) katas: nidan and sandan.

Modern taekwondo has been changing patterns to reflect its competition techniques and emphasis on kicking. It can be expected that future pattern changes will continue to reflect the increasing emphasis on the competition kicking aspects of taekwondo. As taekwondo continues to stray from its roots as a "martial" (combat) "art" (way of life), it may gain popularity as a sport, but it will continue to lose favor as a martial art and become a pure sport, just as judo did in the late 1900s.


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