top of page

A Purpose in the Pattern

When introducing Taekwon-do to the world, Grandmaster General Choi Hong Hi detailed that the art comprised five key areas of practice (Taekwon-Do Goosung) . The theory was that these were essentially mutually beneficial and in no means exclusive. The core focus being on the physical development of the student to achieving a capability in the art for effective personal defence.

“Taekwon-Do is composed of fundamental movements, patterns, dallyon, sparring and self defense techniques that are so closely related that it is impossible to segregate one phase of instruction from another.”

Choi Hong Hi Taekwon-do (The Korean Art of Self Defence) 5th Ed ITF 1999 p.725

He further proposed these five elements formed a ‘Cycle of Taekwon-Do’ (Soonhwan Do) in which all were demonstrated as being interdependent and reciprocal in respect of the benefits provided and obtained.

One of these key areas/elements of practice that promotes much discussion, controversy and confusion, is patterns (Tul). (For the purpose of this article we will use the term published by GM Choi Hong Hi in Taekwon-Do 5th Ed. 1999. We recognise that there are however a variety of titles in use to describe this type of training format  e.g. forms, hyung, tul, poomse, kata.)

Existent in some form in most of not all martial arts, patterns are pre-choreographed sequences of movements. Grandmaster Choi defined patterns as:

“...various fundamental movements, most of which represent either attack or defense techniques, set into a fixed or logical sequence.”

Choi Hong Hi Taekwon-do (The Korean Art of Self Defence) 5th Ed ITF 1999 p.524

He further suggests that:

“The student systematically deals with several imaginary opponents under various assumptions, using every available attacking and blocking tool from different directions.

Thus pattern practice enables the student to go through many fundamental movements in series, to develop sparring techniques, improve flexibility of movements, master body shifting, build muscles and breath control, develop fluid and smooth motions, and gain rythmical movements.”

Choi Hong Hi Taekwon-do (The Korean Art of Self Defence) 5th Ed ITF 1999 p.524

In this way a background is provided as to the potential benefits a student may derive from practice of patterns.

Grandmaster Choi further contextualises the practice of patterns by suggesting:

“In short, a pattern can be compared with a unit tactic or a word, if fundamental movement is an individual soldier’s training or alphabet. Accordingly, pattern, the ledger of every movement, is a series of sparring, power, feats and characteristic beauty.”

Choi Hong Hi Taekwon-do (The Korean Art of Self Defence) 5th Ed ITF 1999 p.524

Here he suggests some key points for further discussion. Patterns are a ‘ledger of every movement’ and then by this a record of fundamental movements. Also patterns are aesthetic in nature, performed as much for the ‘characteristic beauty’ of the movements as for the physical benefits derived from such practice. At no point in his presentation of this element of practice does Grandmaster Choi suggest that the practice of patterns is directly the practice of self/personal defence techniques and tactics.

The patterns that we practice and study at Renegade Martial Arts are those suggested in Grandmaster Choi’s initial Taekwon-do publication ‘Taekwon-Do The Art of Self Defence’ published 1965. Here General Choi presented 20 patterns as The Ch’ang Hon school (these being those we practice) and 9 patterns under the banner of The Sho-Rin and Sho-Rei schools. The former are those developed by General Choi, the later being fundamentally Japanese or Okinawan in origin. It is important that we take time to recognise that all these patterns were originally included within the pantheon of ‘Taekwon-Do’ patterns. Indeed time, intentional misinterpretation and unintentional evolution has created the current system of practice where-by one school may well practice a wholly different set of patterns to another and yet still refer to their art as being ‘Taekwon-Do’. It is not the intention here to suggest that one ‘school’ of patterns is more or less appropriate than another. Neither is the scope of this article to investigate the common roots of the arts and get lost in the confusion that often surrounds the variety of histories available. However it is indeed the case that the creation of the Taekwon-Do patterns owes a great deal to those martial arts which came before, and not least those originating from Japan, China and Okinawa. Further in this regard it can be accepted that the principles concerning the practice of patterns within these arts are as relevant to Taekwon-do as they are to that specific art itself. For example, if we look at Taekwon-do’s closest martial art cousin, Shotokan Karate, it’s not just possible to identify similarities in respect of the individual component techniques of the patterns, it’s actually possible to point fingers directly at similar (if not identical) ‘fixed or logical sequences’. 

Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Shotokan Karate, stated the following concerning kata practice:

‘Once kata has been learned, it must be practised repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a kata in karate is useless.’

‘To practice kata is not to memorize an order. Find the katas that work for you, understand them, digest them and stick with them for life.’

‘A student well versed in even one technique will naturally see corresponding points in other techniques. An upper level punch, a lower punch, a front punch and a reverse punch are all essentially the same. Looking over thirty-odd kata, he should be able to see that they are essentially variations on just a handful.’

The essence of these quotes would appear to suggest that the practice of kata is directed towards a more directly functional result than merely the aesthetic, sparring and fitness benefits alluded to by General Choi.

Further Kenwa Mabuni, founder of the Shito-Ryu school of Karate suggests: