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.

New Kukki-won forms: a break from tradition?

What is a form? In a literal sense, it is a sequence of movements designed to be instructive or useful in some aspect of Taekwondo training. Forms have many uses. They teach correct stances and stepping, posture and balance, timing. Most importantly they teach you the basic form of each movement: how to punch in an offensive stance, how to maintain a defensive stance.

But there are some exercises in Taekwondo which also have all of these attributes, but which are not considered forms. Set sparring would be an example of this. (There is a broader point here as to whether a set sparring exercise could be considered a form, but that’s a topic for another post.) However, there are some differences between set sparring and forms that would allow us to define what a form is more narrowly. Set sparring is generally practised with an opponent; forms are an individual activity. A form could be defined as an instructive sequence of movements that is performed by one person. But then, in Changheon-yu Taekwondo, there is the exercise called 사주 지르기 Saju Jireugi, which also fits this definition but which is universally not considered a form (sometimes to the confusion of white belt students).

All of these considerations lead to a new question: what is the defining quality of a form? What is it that makes a form a form?

Returning to the example of Saju Jireugi in Changheon-yu Taekwondo, the explanation that’s often given for why this exercise is not a ‘form’ is that it doesn’t have an interpretation. The other such exercises in Changheon-yu Taekwondo – 천지 Cheonji, 단군 Dan-gun, 도산 Dosan, and so on – all have lengthy explanations of what the name means, given by Choi in his encyclopaedia. Saju Jireugi does not have a lengthy interpretation, just a short literal translation of ‘punching in four directions’ or more commonly ‘four-directional punch’. I find this distinction arbitrary – Saju Jireugi does have an interpretation, just a short one instead of a long one. A translation is a kind of interpretation.

Saju Jireugi is ultimately very similar to the exercises above it. In fact the only real differences seem to be that it’s easier than all of the other exercises in Changheon-yu (though it’s only slightly easier than Cheonji), and that the name of the exercise has no 한자 hanja writing (지르기 jireugi only has a 한글 han-geul writing). And in fact I think this second difference is quite significant.

All of the other twenty-five forms in Changheon-yu (including both 고당 Kodang and 주체 Juche) are consistent in how they’re named. They’re all named after a person, a group of people, a place, or a philosophical concept. They all have a writing in both han-geul and hanja. And they are all exactly two syllables long. This last part perhaps reveals Choi’s intentions. There are many examples of when Choi takes a longer name or word, and shortens it for the name of a form: 연개소문 Yeon Gaesomun was shortened to 연개 Yeon-gae, 을지문덕 Eulji Mundeok was shortened to 을지 Eulji, and there are several other examples.

I think the fact that Choi chose to give the other exercises, the forms, in Changheon-yu, names that fitted these criteria, and that he did not give Saju Jireugi such a name, is what means that Saju Jireugi is not a form.

Now at this point, I would expect the reader to point out that the conventions that apply to Changheon-yu don’t necessarily apply to other styles of Taekwondo. That’s true. However, when looking at the forms that are practised in other styles of Taekwondo, it is apparent that these conventions on form names are broadly true of Taekwondo in general.

These conventions are followed for many of the forms that have been inherited from Karate. (Now, this is arguably not a valid example. Forms loaned from Karate are arguably not ‘Taekwondo’ forms, since they were not designed or named by someone who practises Taekwondo. Also, since they were not named by Taekwondo practitioners, they are arguably not relevant when discussing the naming conventions of forms in Taekwondo. However, the style of the names of Karatekata almost certainly inspired the way in which Taekwondohyeong are named, and their similarity supports this idea.) 平安 Heian, 披塞 Bassai, 燕飛 Enpi, 明鏡 Meikyō, 観空 Kankū, 鉄騎 Tekki, 十手 Jitte, 半月 Hangetsu, 慈恩 Jion, and more all follow this pattern. (Hangetsu is three syllables but it’s only two 漢字 kanji characters.) In this list I have included many kata that were renamed by 船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of 松濤館 空手 Shōtō-kan Karate, whom many of the early practitioners of Taekwondo are believed to have been taught by. Many of these kata appear in early editions of Choi’s encyclopaedia, as well as Hwang Ki’s textbooks, indicating that these kata, as well as Funakoshi, had an influence on the idea of what a form is, and how a form should be named, in Taekwondo.

And in Kukki-won Taekwondo, these naming conventions have been followed up until this point: 팔괘 八卦 Palgwae, 태극 太極 Taegeuk, 고려 高麗 Koryeo, 금강 金剛 Keumgang, 태백 太白 Taebaek, 평원 平原 Pyeong-won, 십진 十進 Shipjin, 지태 地跆 Jitae, 천권 天拳 Cheon-gwon, 한수 漢水 Hansu, and 일여 一如 Iryeo all follow this pattern.

In fact the only examples I can think of where this convention isn’t followed are in some of the forms that have been inherited from Karate, as well as the very obscure and very undocumented forms practised in early Changmu-kwan and Kangdeok-won. Several of the ten new Kukki-won forms depart from these conventions: most of them do not have hanja writings – they are based on native Korean words – and several have names with more than two syllables. The decision by Kukki-won to give new forms names that don’t follow these conventions is a notable break from tradition.