Taekwondo Forms in 1958

It could be argued that the first book ever written on Taekwondo was a book published by Hwang Ki in 1958. The book is called ‘Tangsudo Textbook’ – now while it could be counter-argued that this makes it a book on Tangsudo and not Taekwondo (particularly since Hwang Ki’s Mudeok-kwan remained separate from the other kwans of the Kwan Era, and since Hwang Ki’s style of martial arts still exists today, and still uses the name Tangsudo) Mudeok-kwan was one of the nine original kwans, and this book is about the style of martial arts that were being practised in Korea at this time. The first book to be published with the name ‘Taekwondo’ on it was published by Choi Hong-hi a year later.

Hwang Ki’s book is freely available to view online. A copy of the book is owned by the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and they have scanned the book and made it available online here: http://evols.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/handle/10524/1073

On page 19 of the book is some fascinating information. Hwang lists the forms that are practised in Tangsudo:

List of forms from Hwang Ki's 'Tangsudo Textbook' (1958)

There are a number of things that are fascinating about this information. Firstly: the spellings of the names of these forms. Hwang lists a series of five forms that are called the 삥앙 pping-ang forms. These are clearly the Pinan forms from Karate (here Hwang uses the Okinawan name for them, rather than the Japanese, which is Heian). Unlike nowadays, when it’s relatively easy to use various dictionaries to find the correct Korean pronunciation of Japanese words, Hwang has simply best approximated the Japanese pronunciation of the name of each form using hangeul.

So in order to find out which forms Hwang is talking about here, the first thing we have to do is match each one to the correct name of the form.

Section 1:
  1. 기초형 1부 gicho hyeong 1 bu – This is actually the correct name of the form – 기초 gicho – a series of three basic forms still practised in some schools today.
  2. 기초형 2부 gicho hyeong 2 bu
  3. 기초형 3부 gicho hyeong 3 bu
  4. 삥앙 초단 pping-ang chodan – Clearly Pinan – a series of five basic forms – called Heian in Japanese Karate. The correct name for them in Korean is 평안 Pyeong-an.
  5. 삥앙 2단 pping-ang 2 dan
  6. 삥앙 3단 pping-ang 3 dan
  7. 삥앙 4단 pping-ang 4 dan
  8. 삥앙 5단 pping-ang 5 dan
  9. 나이한찌ー 초단 naihanjji chodan – Clearly Naihanchi – a series of three forms, of which this is the first. The series is also called Tekki in Japanese, and 철기 Cheolgi in Korean.
  10. 빳싸이 ppatssai – Clearly Passai – called Bassai in Japanese Karate. The correct Korean translation is 발새 Balsae.

There’s nothing all that odd about the forms in section 1. This is a fairly standard list of forms that colour belt students today practise as they progress towards black belt. What’s mainly of interest in section 1 is how Hwang has approximated the pronunciations of the names of the forms.

Section 2:
  1. 나이하찌 2단 naihajji 2 dan – Clearly Naihanchi Nidan – no idea why Hwang changed the spelling here from that in section 1.
  2. 나이하찌 3단 naihajji 3 dan
  3. 찟듸 jjitdui – Clearly Jitte.
  4. 찐도ー jjindo – Clearly Chintō.
  5. 소림 장권 (小林長拳) sorim janggwon – This is fascinating – more on this further down.
  6. 꾸상군 (公相君) kkusanggun – Clearly Kūshankū. The correct name in Korean is 공상군 Gongsanggun.
  7. 로ー하이 rohai – Clearly Rōhai. The correct name in Korean is 로학 Rohak.
  8. 54 보 (步) 54 bo – Clearly Gojūshiho. The correct name in Korean is 오십사보 Oshipsabo.
  9. 지욘 jiyon – Clearly Jion. The correct name in Korean is 자은 Ja-eun.
  10. 완시유ー wanshiyu – Clearly Wanshū. The correct name in Korean is 완수 Wansu.
  11. 삼전 (三戰) samjeon – Clearly Sanchin (based on the hanja).
  12. 전장 (轉掌) jeonjang – This is the form Tenshō. It’s not obvious from the hangeul, but the meaning of the hanja is the same as that of the kanji for Tenshō.
  13. 씨ー산 (十三) sshisan – Clearly Seisan.
  14. 세ー시얀 seshiyan – This would appear to also be Seisan. There are multiple different pronunciations of the name of the Karate form – this is probably why the form is listed here twice.
  15. 씨빠이 (十八) sshippai – From the hanja this is clearly Seipai.
  16. 싼씨빠이 (三十八) ssansshippai – It’s not obvious which form this is. The hanja means ’38’, implying that there are 38 movements in the form, but there is no Karate kata with this name. It’s possible that there is an error on this line in the book, and that this should say 三十六, which is the name of a form – Sanseirū – meaning ’36’.
  17. 빼지유린 (百步連) ppaejiyurin – This is interesting – this would appear to be the form Pechurin (based on the hangeul). Not much has been written about this form in English, and this is the first time I’ve seen hanja / kanji written for it anywhere. The correct hangeul writing of 百步連 is 백보련 Baekboryeon, and it roughly means ‘100 continuous steps’.
  18. 소ー진 sojin – Clearly Sōchin.
  19. 사이후아ー saihua – Clearly Saifa (there is no corresponding letter for ‘f’ in Korean, so here it’s been approximated as a ‘h’).
  20. 구르룽후아ー gureurunghua – It’s not obvious from the romanisation, but from the pronunciation this is clearly Kururunfa.
  21. 로하이 初段 rohai chodan – Clearly Rōhai. Again, Hwang has already listed this form further up. Here Hwang seems to suggest that there are three Rōhai forms, and that this is the first.
  22. 로하이 2단 rohai idan
  23. 로하이 3단 rohai samdan
  24. 얼 씨쓰슈 (二十四手) eol sshisseushyu – This again is interesting. There’s no Karate form with this exact name, but there is one that’s similar: 二十四歩 Nijūshiho. 二十四手 means ‘twenty-four hands’, whereas 二十四歩 means ‘twenty-four steps’. A lot of Karate forms have a name that’s a number followed by ‘hands’ or ‘steps’ so the difference isn’t significant. What’s particularly interesting here, however, is that Hwang’s phonetic approximation using hangeul is not a phonetic approximation of the Japanese pronunciation – eol sshisseushyu and nijūshiho clearly sound nothing alike. But it is a phonetic approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of 二十四手, which is èrshíshǒu (in Mandarin). (If you’re not used to reading romanised hangeul or Hanyu Pinyin, then you’ll just have to trust me that the pronunciations of these words are very similar.) This shows that Hwang had a knowledge of how certain words were pronounced in Chinese.
  25. 운슈 (雲手) unshyu – Clearly Unshu.
  26. 담퇴 damtoe – There is no Karate kata with a name like this.
  27. 타이그권 (太極拳) taigeugwon – This one’s complicated – more on this below.

There’s a lot to remark here.

Firstly is Hwang’s use of the character ー. While this character looks like the Chinese character 一 yi, meaning ‘one’, it probably isn’t. It’s quite likely a character known as a chōonpu in Japanese. In Japanese, the basic phonological unit is a mora rather than a syllable. A single syllable in Japanese can be comprised of one or two morae – a syllable with two morae has a greater stress or length than a syllable with one mora. Hwang is trying to represent the Japanese pronunciation of words using hangeul, and it seems like he’s borrowed the chōonpu character from Japanese in order to represent the stressed syllables. (Read more about this character here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%8Donpu)

Now by far the most interesting form listed in section 2 is the one called Sorim Janggwon. This is interesting because there is no Karate kata with this name. (If there were, it’s name in Japanese would be Shōrin Chōken.) Any time the characters 小林 appear in Korean and Japanese martial arts, it’s usually a reference to the Shaolin Temple in China. Since this form has not come from Japanese Karate, the presence of this form in this list would appear to show some Chinese influence on Hwang’s style of martial arts.

This is crucial because Hwang reportedly studied martial arts under a Chinese instructor for a while, but the veracity of this is uncertain. The fact this form appears in this list may support the idea that Hwang had some training in Chinese martial arts.

The name 小林長拳 altogether means ‘Shaolin Long Fist’.

This Chinese influence may be further supported by the last two items in the list. The penultimate item is 담퇴 damtoe. There’s no Karate form with a name anything like this, so it’s nothing to do with Karate. But this sounds very strongly like Tántuǐ – from Chinese martial arts. It’s difficult to discern more about this from the information given, but you can read more about Tántuǐ here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C3%A1n_Tu%C7%90

The final item, 타이그권 (太極拳) taigeugwon, is interesting – it could be a reference to several things. There is a series of three forms in Karate called Taikyoku, which has the same kanji 太極. These forms are known to have been practised in Korea at this time, and they appear in Choi Hong-hi’s 1959 book, as well as many others. However, 太極拳 is also the name of the Chinese martial art Tàijíquán – more commonly known in English as Taichi. The fact that Hwang has given the full name of that martial art style here, rather than just the name for the Karate form, suggests that here he is referring to the Chinese martial arts style. Why he’s referring to this in a list of forms is not clear; however, it would further support the idea of Chinese influence on Hwang’s style of martial arts.

Are you still a black belt even if you stop training in Taekwondo?

This is an interesting question, and one to which the answer does not seem to be agreed upon by all Taekwondo practitioners. In this post I will give my opinion.

I generally believe that if you have achieved the level of black belt in Taekwondo, that you remain a black belt even if you stop training in Taekwondo. I also believe that you retain your degree of black belt – i.e., if you are a fourth degree black belt, and you stop actively training in Taekwondo, you remain a fourth degree black belt, even if you don’t train for several years. (However, I believe that if you are a colour belt, and you stop training for several years, you do not necessarily retain your grade.)

There are many people who disagree with this point of view, arguing that if you are a black belt, and you stop training for several years, you will then no longer be able to do what a black belt Taekwondo practitioner can do – and should be able to do. A black belt should be an indicator of a certain level of ability, and if, through not training for several years, you lose the level of martial skill required of a black belt, then you should no longer be a black belt in Taekwondo.

However, if we were to revoke the status of those people who no longer have the level of skill required of a certain degree of black belt, this would cause some problems. For example, perhaps someone trains in Taekwondo for fifty years, starting at age 20 and finishing at age 70; they reach the level of grandmaster, but at 70, for health reasons, they have to retire from Taekwondo. Should such a person no longer be considered a ninth degree black belt and a grandmaster because they no longer retain that level of skill? It is generally the precedent in Taekwondo that such a person would be a ninth degree grandmaster for the rest of their life (and may even be promoted to tenth degree (in some organisations) posthumously). It would seem evident from this example that in Taekwondo a person’s degree is not revoked when they stop training.

But let’s consider a different example: consider someone who starts training in Taekwondo at age 20, and at 25 becomes a black belt. Upon becoming a black belt, they then quit Taekwondo altogether. By the time such a person is 50 or 70, are they still a black belt in Taekwondo? To say that they are might seem preposterous – by the time they are 30 they will have already not been doing Taekwondo for as many years as they were training in it. By the time they are 50, they are very unlikely to have retained much of the skill that they developed.

However, even in this second example, I would say that such a person still retains their status as a black belt in Taekwondo. A belt in Taekwondo is primarily a symbol of what you have achieved, and secondarily an indicator of your current skill level. And someone who has achieved black belt in Taekwondo, but who hasn’t trained in it for a long time, and who no longer has the level of skill required of a black belt, will be aware that they are no longer at that level of skill. Such a person probably should not go around saying ‘I’m a black belt in Taekwondo’, as this implies currency. However, they are, in my view, technically still a black belt. And this is, I think, the convention followed by the vast majority of Taekwondo organisations around the world.

Can you learn Taekwondo without an instructor?

Can you learn Taekwondo without having an actual instructor standing in front of you telling you what to do? The short answer: in my opinion, no. It is not possible to learn Taekwondo – assuming no previous training in a martial art – from just printed and online materials. If you’re completely new to martial arts, and you want to learn Taekwondo, you need to find an instructor.

I think the main reason for this is that people who haven’t done a martial art before – and who haven’t done anything that requires very precise movements of the arms, legs, and whole body – generally have very limited body control. Body control is just the ability to move you arms and legs into very specific positions, and to know whether or not, without looking, an arm or leg is in a given position. It sounds deceptively simple, but a lot of people, particularly by the time they are 20 or 30 years old, have gotten used to a certain, quite limited way of moving, and when they start Taekwondo, they have to unlearn this. Without having a physical instructor in front of you, watching the techniques you do, and correcting them, it’s very difficult to learn body control.

Thus if someone who had never done martial arts before tried to learn Taekwondo from one of Choi’s books, or from some Kukki-won videos online, they may be able to roughly mimic the movements, but there would be a lot of inaccuracies. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be aware that there was anything incorrect about the techniques they were doing.

In addition to that, someone who had never done martial arts before would generally not be able to know whether any one learning resource they find is good. For example, there are loads of forms videos available online; some of them show a person performing a form well, others show a person performing a form incorrectly. Unless you’ve had a lot of training from an experienced instructor, you’re unlikely to be able to tell one from another.

However, there are a lot of caveats to this statement. If someone did have previous martial arts experience, for example – whether it’s Karate or Muay Thai or even something like Judo or Kendo, which focus on very different kinds of combat – then I think they would stand a much better chance of learning Taekwondo without an instructor, and just using books and videos. This is because even though Judoka and Kendoka learn to move in a different way to Taekwondo-in, they still learn body control. They learn to identify the positions of the hands and feet in movements, and can translate that into their own actions. Such a person trying to learn Taekwondo in this way would still face a number of difficulties without an instructor, but not as many.

And similarly, if you’re someone who already has a grounding in Taekwondo, you can certainly learn more Taekwondo without needing an instructor. If you’ve been training in Taekwondo for, say, three years, and you read about the next form you’re learning in a book, or you watch a video of it, then you’re definitely going to be able to learn a lot.

So in conclusion, if you’re completely new to martial arts, and you want to learn Taekwondo, find an instructor. If you have some experience in martial arts, you will definitely benefit from having an instructor, but you could also learn some parts of Taekwondo without one.

Beyond just learning the movements, there are a number of other reasons to train with an instructor. An instructor or the organisation they are part of can promote you through the colour belt grades, and then eventually to black belt. Training with a larger organisation will likely also give you access to Taekwondo competitions and seminars.