Why do I say ‘form’ instead of ‘pattern’?

I practise Changheon-yu Taekwondo – the style of Taekwondo promulgated by Choi Hong-hi. In Changheon-yu, we call forms – predetermined series’ of movements that are used as educational exercises, among other uses – ‘patterns’. We use this word because it’s the word that Choi favoured. I, however, prefer to use the word ‘form’, and here’s why.

In the early years of Taekwondo, everyone called these exercises 형 hyeong, which is the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese word 型 形 kata, and this is evidenced by early Korean texts. 형 hyeong is generally translated into English as ‘form’. Now, however, alternate words are used. Choi changed to using 틀 teul to describe them. 틀 teul literally means ‘mould’, and the implication here is that the exercise ‘moulds’ or ‘shapes’ your techniques. Choi chose ‘pattern’ as the translation of 틀 teul, with the same aim. In Kukki-won Taekwondo, 품새 pumsae is the modern Korean term for these exercises.

Part of the motivation behind these changes was to de-Japanese Taekwondo. Taekwondo is descended from Karate, and for a long time, the Korean pronunciations of Japanese terms were used to describe techniques in Taekwondo. However, since the Japanese had occupied the Korean peninsula for several decades, and had attempted to eradicate Korean culture, many of those in Taekwondo wanted to remove the influence of Japan on the art, and this meant changing the terminology. That’s why nowadays we use the term 손칼 sonkal to describe a knife-hand, rather than the term 수도 sudo – the Korean pronunciation of 手刀 shutō, which refers to a knife-hand in Japanese martial arts. The word for ‘form’, 형 hyeong, was also replaced.

I use the word ‘form’ rather than ‘pattern’, when writing in English, because I think that ‘pattern’ implies the wrong meaning – ‘pattern’ suggests a series of movements that repeat themselves, and while this is true for some forms, it isn’t true for a lot of them. ‘Form’ is a generic word that doesn’t imply anything about the content of the exercise. Also, using ‘form’ brings the terminological conventions of Taekwondo into line with those of other martial arts. I use 형 hyeong in Korean for the same reason.