Are there too many forms in Taekwondo?

Taekwondo has A LOT of forms (patterns, 형 hyeong, 틀 teul, 품새 pumsae). Most Taekwondo practitioners only really know of the forms in their own style, and have a limited awareness of the forms practised by other styles. To give you an idea of how many forms there are in wider Taekwondo, in the book Taekwondo Forms, which lists forms from four styles of Taekwondo (Changheon-yu, Jukam-yu, Kukki-won, and Songdo-kwan), there are 71 forms. A cursory glance at the forms page on the Taekwondo Wikia website reveals 30, 40, maybe 50 more (depending on which styles of Taekwondo you consider to be legitimate, which is itself a topic that could cover several blog posts or even an entire book). With the announcement from Kukki-won last year of the development of ten new Taekwondo forms, to be used for competitions, it all leads to the question: are there too many forms in Taekwondo?

It’s worth noting that Taekwondo has had some very prolific forms designers in it. Choi Hong-hi, the founder of the Changheon-yu style, is an excellent example. With the assistance of a few of his fellow practitioners, Choi created 25 full forms for his style of Taekwondo. When you consider someone like 糸洲 安恒 Itosu Ankō, a highly prominent Karateka who is credited with designing the 平安 Pinan series of forms in Karate (known as 평안 Pyeong-an in Taekwondo and Tangsudo), created 5 forms, 25 is an impressive number. Hwang Ki was also quite prolific, creating the 칠성 Chilseong and 육로 Yungno series’ of forms, as well as 화순 Hwasun – 14 forms in total. Bak Jung-tae, the founder of Jukam-yu, designed 6 forms, but among these are some of the longest and most complex forms in Taekwondo.

With the addition of ten new forms into Kukki-won Taekwondo, that puts the total number of forms in that style up to 35 (if you exclude the apparently unfinished forms of 한류 Hallyu and 비각 Bigak, and the older version of the form 고려 Koryeo, but if you include both the 팔괘 Palgwae and 태극 Taegeuk forms). That means that there are now more forms in Kukki-won Taekwondo than any other style of Taekwondo (legitimate or illegitimate). It beats Changheon-yu’s 25 (including both 고당 Kodang and 주체 Juche). Has the number of forms in all of Taekwondo surpassed the number in all of Karate? It would be difficult to count either set, as there are many forms that it would be questionable to include.

The problem is that there’s really no limit to how many of these forms can be designed. It’s difficult for new forms to be introduced into Changheon-yu, because there’s no central authority to decide what is and isn’t correct in Changheon-yu (or rather, the central authority is Choi’s books, which aren’t going to change now). But Kukki-won could design a new set of forms every ten years. Each set could never entirely replace the previous set, as the design of each set would be recorded for posterity, and still practised by some (which is what’s happened with the Palgwae forms, which were supposed to be replaced by the Taegeuk forms).

So as much as there is the problem of inflating grades (tenth, eleventh, twelfth degree of black belt), there is the potential for an inflating number of forms. With possibly well over 100 forms in all of Taekwondo, and now at least 35 in Kukki-won Taekwondo, this inflation has arguably already happened, and may well continue to happen. It’s not necessarily a problem yet, but it may become a problem at some point in the future.