Poomsae (Patterns or Forms)
Poomsae are a series of movements for offense and defence techniques which can be practiced and trained, even without presence of an instructor, in accordance with the fixed patterns.
Taekwondo beginners at Wabi-Sabi practice the Taegeuk poomsae. By learning the poomsae the student learns the basics – the foundations of taekwondo.
Because you can practice poomsae without an instructor or partner, it is a significant part of the grading process; as it shows the individual’s commitment and perseverance to their training.
Things to considerations when training in poomsae:
- Students should seek to understand of the significance / meaning of each poomsae that they learn.
- Students should memorise of the poomsae line, movements and direction. Repetition is king here. Practice until the body, not just the mind know the poomsae. All poomsae should be practiced frequently.
- No matter how many poomsae you know, you could be asked to perform any of them at any time. Even grandmasters practice Il Jang (the first pattern).
- During practice you must keep these in mind:
- The eyes
- Movement and center of balance
- Low or high speed
- Strong or weak force
- Respiration (breathing)
- Use of qi (chi)
- Direction of Poomsae Lines:
- Na : the starting point of each poomsae
- Ga : the forward direction
- Da : the left side from the starting point.
- Ra : the right side from the starting point.
- Ma : the backward direction towards starting point.
Tips on Learning a New Poomsae
The first step of learning a new poomsae is to learn the shape (or poomsae line) of it. Learn what each movement is and the basic application of each move.
Next, think about your balance. Ensure your stances are correct and your center of balance is strong, including when you move to another stance. Move from your center of power (under the knot of your belt). Spend time ensuring your footwork is correct; without it, your hands don’t matter.
Where you look matters. When you are practicing and performing poomsae, you are imagining a series of attackers. You would not turn and block or strike without knowing someone was there. Therefore, look before you move. Unless you are applying the poomsae with a partner (in which case your movements should be appropriate to your partner) practicing its application, you will be practicing poomsae alone, and should imagine the attacker being the same height and size as yourself. You should ensure your blocks and strikes are on target. This is often best practiced with a mirror, or take a video of yourself. In real life you’d use all of your senses, including hearing and smell. You should be imagining this, but an observer will find this difficult to pick-up, unlike sight which we can judge more easily. Bear this in mind when practicing.
Once you have the basic movements, start to think about each move and how strong or weak, fast or slow, it should be. Make an effort to increase strength and speed as appropriate.
Breath is hugely important in poomsae. You should breathe in at appropriate times so the out breath takes you through the movement or combination you are performing. Breathing out relaxes your muscles for smooth movement, gets rid of waste products (carbon dioxide) and stops you from being winded when engaging with your opponent. Breathing in, you gather oxygen and qi (energy); breathing out, you disseminate energy appropriately.
You should also look to the application of the poomsae in a practical sense, and your understanding of application will change as you progress through your practice. Poomsae is the foundation for movements that are used in self-defense and sparring, including one step, three step and free sparring.
Poomsae are practiced in different ways: synchronised in a group, in class by command, or ‘in your own time’. When given the instruction to perform ‘in your own time’, it means make the poomsae ‘your own’. You should look for your own style when performing the poomsae. You should take into consideration your own body structure, speed, strength, ability to use qi (chi), their practical application of each movement and combination.
Types of Poomsae
Kup grade students practice Taegeuk patterns (click here for information on each poomsae) – Il Jang (Pattern 1) to Pal Jang (Patern 8). Taegeuk poomsae follow the 8 divination signs (bars) in the Oriental science of divination and it is generally expressed by a Chinese character, meaning a king. 4 of these can be seen on the South Korean flag (originally the flag displayed all eight but was simplified some time ago).
Poomsaes from Koryo up to Ilyo are classified as Dan-grade patterns , i.e., black-belt poomsae and follow the following lines:
- Koryo poomsae : the shape of a Korean character, meaning a learned man
- Keumgang poomsae : a Chinese character, meaning a mountain (Mt. Diamond)
- Taebaek poomsae : a Chinese character, meaning an artisan
- Pyongwon poomsae : a Chinese character, meaning one
- Sipjin poomsae : a Chinese character, meaning ten
- Jitae poomsae : the shape of a Korean vowel, sounding “oh”
- Chonkwon poomsae : the shape of a Korean vowel, sounding “wu”
- Hansu poomsae : a Chinese character, meaning water
- Illyo poomsae : the shape of a swastika sign (the swastika symbol was appropriated by the Nazi party however was, and continues to be a symbol of divinity and spirituality, and should be thought of as such when practicing this poomsae)