Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Why the ITF patterns are not just remixes of Shotokan karate kata

I recently came across a free preview from The Taegeuk Cipher by Simon O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill is, to my knowledge, the only person who has done systematic analysis of applications for the Kukkiwon Taekwondo forms. Because I practice ITF, I don't own his book, but it has been on my radar. I do own Stuart Anslow's Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Hae Sul, both volumes. While I love Mr. Anslow's books and don't wish to downplay the importance of his research, I always felt that his method was limited because he stuck to karate analysis, based on the belief that the ITF forms were derived entirely from Shotokan karate. He also works under the assumption that General Choi didn't know the applications to his own forms, because he learned karate from Gichin Funakoshi (or at least a student of Funakoshi's) who wasn't very knowledgeable in karate bunkai.

Mr. Anslow himself contradicts these two ideas, however. He notes that many sets and even movements seem unique to taekwondo, with no Shotokan karate equivalent. He frequently talks about how taekwondo was a deadly military art, and that General Choi's drill instructors derived practical self-defense drills from the forms. He provides military applications to some of the movements, like defending against a bayonet attack for example. For forms made with no applications in mind, they certainly turned out pretty useful to Choi's instructors.

It seems that Mr. O'Neill has set some of my frustration to words. He writes
Although the Chang Hon forms owe a great deal to the Karate katas, particularly the Pinan/Heian series, they contain many elements which differentiate them substantially... there are a large number of original sequences which seem to develop and go beyond the methods displayed by the Okinawan katas. The sheer volume of material provided by Choi's hyungs suggest a more exhaustive and detailed analysis of self-defense practices than those showed by the highly condensed Okinawan forms. (pg 24)
The argument that the ITF forms are just remixes of karate kata is usually based on the observance that the early ITF have overlapping material with the Pinans. But when you get into the higher ITF forms, that argument starts to fall apart. While sets from other kata (Passai, Tekki, Jitte, etc.) are certainly used, the majority of sets seem to be original, and many sets taken from karate kata have changed significantly.

Regarding Funakoshi, O'Neill also writes:
Funakoshi's pre-war books Ryushu Kenpo Toudi (1922), Rentan Goshin Toudijutsu (1925) and Karate-Do Kyohan (1935) include numerous, quite explicit references to the type of techniques in question, including lists of vital points, discussions of the effects of manipulation of these points, photographs of techniques combining seizing and striking vital points, and photographs of throwing and joint manipulation techniques. Funakoshi states in Karate-Do Kyohan that throwing and joint manipulation were as much a part of the art as striking, and his successor Egami Shigeru wrote that throwing was commonplace in the Karate that he learned. Reference is also made to the katas as a source of these techniques and of information regarding their correct application. (pg 25)
Once again, O'Neill makes my point for me. While Funakoshi didn't know applications for all the Shotokan kata, the existence of such applications was still public knowledge. The idea that General Choi never learned that karate kata contained grappling is very unlikely.

One other thing O'Neill doesn't mention is that patterns existed in Korea before Karate. Korea had it own history of martial arts inspired by Chinese arts; Taekkyeon uses several slow Tai Chi movements in its patterns, for example. Most of these arts were suppressed by the occupying Japanese, but their presence is still felt in some of the techniques -- particularly the kicking -- that made their way into taekwondo. While the idea that kata can contain anything other than strikes seems surprising to Westerners, it may have been a given to experienced Korean martial artists.

O'Neill also documents two other karate styles that influenced taekwondo: Shudokan and Shito-Ryu. Once again, this is something I suspected -- Hayashi Ha Shito-Ryu karate chambers their rising block on the inside, like we do -- but its nice to see someone else provide detailed evidence.  And our low block chamber -- as I pointed out previously -- is present in some styles of karate; one of these two styles might be it. Even though General Choi trained Shotokan, ITF style was a collaboration between Choi, Nam Tae Hi, Kim Bok Man, Woo Jae Lim, and several others. Someone either trained in or came across these two styles.

Karate master Roy Suenaka demonstrating the wrist-to-wrist chamber and its application as a block and trap. Source.

But a major non-karate influence that O'Neill notes is the Judo/Yudo influence.
Grappling arts such as Yudo (Judo) and Yusul (Ju-Jutsu) were present in Japanese-occupied Korea, even after the 1909 ban on martial arts practice, and provided the stylistic foundation of several notable masters. Chun Sang Sup, founder of the Yun Moo Kwan, had studied Yudo in his youth. The majority of the original students of the Yun Moo Kwan (later the Ji Do Kwan) were black belts in Yudo, as the school had been established some years previously in order to teach the art, and Chun merely introduced Kong Soo Do classes into an existing dojang. At least two of the directors (Cho Young Joo and Kim In Hwa) of the Korea Kong Soo Do Association were Yudo stylists. These arts can be considered a source of grappling in early taekwondo, since it is unlikely that such high-ranking practicioners would have abandoned entirely their natural tendency to clinch, throw and finish in favor of exclusively hard striking techniques. (pg 30)
Again, this isn't surprising. The throwing sections of both General Choi's Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (ITF) and the Kukkiwon Textbook (WTF) are clearly inspired by Judo throws. But it's nice to have historical confirmation. Orjan Nilsen has provided a great set of images of old taekwondo grappling techniques here.

But what about the throws in the forms? Are they grandfathered in from Karate or are they a direct result of early taekwondo's grappling knowledge?

Let's look at a throw present in both Shotokan karate and the ITF forms: the double leg takedown (morote gari in Judo). According to Gichin Funakoshi, this appears in the kata Passai/Bassai Dai.

No, you didn't miss it. According to Funakoshi, this is where the throw is. The double rising blocks are used to push up the arms of an attacking opponent, then the double upset punch attacks the ribs. Then Funakoshi follows up with the double leg takedown, but that scooping movement is not in the form. I'd be happy to be proven wrong about this, but I can't find a performance of Passai that includes the actual takedown. Either Funakoshi adds it in, or it was removed from the kata when transferred from Okinawa to Japan.

In contrast, look at moves 27-28 in Nam Tae Hi's form Choong-Moo:

As far as I know, this set is not in any Shotokan kata, and it's absurd to suggest this has a good punch-block-kick application. But compare it to this old-timey instruction video for morote gari.

Look similar? The x-knifehand checking block goes between the opponent's arms. You then spread to lift their arms, circle your palms behind their knees as you step in, and scoop upwards.

Nam Tae Hi's primary art was not Shotokan karate, but Chung Do Kwon, which likely incorporated grappling from Judo due to the reasons stated by Mr. O'Neill.  When you take all the other Judo throws in Choong-Moo into account, and the fact that the following two moves can be used as a contingency throw in case the opponent defends, it's clear to me that the reason morote gari is here is not because it was inherited from karate, but because Nam Tae Hi had some Judo knowledge. Something to think about.

So, to recap

- While many sets in the ITF forms are taken from Shotokan kata, the majority are not, and the sets that have been taken are often changed.
- Taekwondo is not purely based on Shotokan karate, but is influenced by at least two other styles, Shudokan and Shito-Ryu.
- Judo, being one of the few martial arts legally allowed in Japanese-occupied Korea, was where early taekwondoin got their grappling knowledge from. Throws from Judo made their way into the forms.


The Taeguek Cipher by Simon O'Neill

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