From my few times at doing courses under Kukkiwon’s World Taekwondo Academy and from my instructor Grandmaster Pan, I’ve learnt that a lot of Taekwondo practitioners around the world treat poomsae as just a series of kicks, punches, blocks etc — without thinking about the core concepts of Kukkiwon Taekwondo movement and how they are applied in poomsae.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while and teach these core concepts in my dojang, but thought it might be time to put electronic pen to electronic paper and put them out there for others to reference. So here follows my list of Taekwondo core concepts that should be demonstrated in Kukkiwon poomsae:
Core Principle 1 — Um-yang
The centre of the Korean flag is two coloured swirls (red and blue), both equal in area and fitting in to a circle. It’s kind of like the generally known “yin-yang” symbol, but solid coloured and red/blue not black/white. The meaning of this symbol is of opposites and harmony. Hard/soft, fast/slow, light/dark, male/female, etc. They are equal but opposite, but co-existing peacefully.
A lot of people don’t know how you demonstrate this in poomsae. It’s really quite simple, the preparation phase for a movement should be gentle, the action phase should be fast. So taking Taegeuk 1’s first movement — the left hand raises up to the shoulder gentle, the right hand raises slightly and points in the direction of travel gently — then both arms rapidly move in to the Naeryo Makki (downward/low block) position! So you had the gentle/soft and the fast phases in harmony to produce the first movement. The same is true for pretty much every hand technique in every poomsae!
Core Principle 2 — Acceleration
When I was in Korea in 2013 I had a private lesson in Grandmaster Kang Ik-pil’s dojang. He tried to explain that I was generating power incorrectly. I completely understood what he was saying, but after 20+ years of Taekwondo I’d got used to my old way and couldn’t change within the lesson. I then went on the Kukkiwon Master Instructor Course and it clicked!
Since then I’ve been teaching at my dojang and had my instructor Grandmaster Sim Pan visit. He had an excellent way of explaining the principle…
When you perform a technique it should feel like the noise a firework makes as it flies up into the sky — wooooOOOOSH! Taekwondo movements should start off with a relaxed body and you progressively tense muscles to build maximum acceleration, rather than using all your muscle tension from the first microsecond to try to force power into the movement. All of that tension/strength slows down the movement. The physics calculation for force is mass multiplied by acceleration. It’s not mass multiplied by muscle tension; you need to get maximum acceleration and the key to that is progressively building it.
Core Principle 3 — Timing
This one is fairly easy — given we just discussed “force is mass multiplied by acceleration” and we took care of the acceleration over tension part, if we could increase the mass aspect too then we can optimise force generation.
Now, I’m not advocating going and eating “all of the pies” or spending X years in a gym pushing some heavy plates (although for your health and conditioning, it’s not a bad idea). What I mean is that in Taekwondo terms your hand technique (first one if it’s a combination) must finish on the split second your foot finishes moving! A lot of practitioners step into their stance and their technique finishes a split second afterwards. By this point your body mass has stopped moving and is no longer contributing to force generation.
So you must aim to have your hand and foot finish together at precisely the same moment. One instructor on that 2013 course said to make a short explosive noise in your mind (“bang”, “pow”, etc) at the moment your foot finishes stepping into the stance and if you have to stretch the noise out, or finish the technique after the noise finishes, your timing was off.
Core Principle 4 — Power generation
The final core principle is knowing where Taekwondo power comes from. A lot of people think of the leg muscles for kicking, or the chest/triceps for punching, etc. While it’s true, those muscles are involved, the majority of the power in Taekwondo comes from the waist/hips!
It’s common when teaching beginners how to do Naeryo Makki (downward/low block) that they automatically lift their shoulders up during the preparation, so they have further distance for the fist to travel downwards. However, that’s the wrong way of doing it!
They should use a rapid twist of their waist (in the direction of travel) a split second before arm moves, keeping the shoulders relaxed to generate maximium power. Think of a stiff spring, if you hold it vertically in two hands, the top and bottom firmly in position and then rotate your bottom hand and let go of the top, it quickly unravels and the top spins quickly. It’s the same here, you rotate your body and the force travels up and through the blocking/striking arm.
As an example again, the first movement of Taegeuk 1… Ignoring the hands this time (we already covered those under “acceleration”, keep your body facing forward, raise your left foot and move it slightly to the left and back from your starting position but don’t turn the left foot to face to the left. KEEP your hips and body facing forward! While doing this, prepare your hands softly. Then in one smooth motion, rapidly turn your waist, both feet and let the power go up in to starting to propel your left arm into blocking. Then add the acceleration to complete the movement.
Again, this is pervasive throughout all of Taekwondo poomsae and indeed kicking. Even when you do an Ap Chagi (front kick). In Karate the hips are kept square, however, in Taekwondo we start from an almost side-on sparring stance and when we kick our kicking hip is forward. So instead of just moving the hip as your body turns, use your hip to generate the power for your kick.
If you practice these core principles in your poomsae your performance will go from robotic to elite level very quickly. You’ll stand out from the majority of Taekwondoin that don’t know these details and if you ever visit Kukkiwon, you’ll see it’s exactly how the Kukkiwon instructors do/teach it.
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