How to count to 10 in Sino-Korean numerals – Taekwondo Terminology Tutorials

In this third video in the series on counting in Korean, we look at how to count from 1 to 10 in Sino-Korean numerals.

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.

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.

Taekwondo Forms – the forms that weren’t included

I wrote the book Taekwondo Forms in early 2014. The purpose of the book was to consistently document as many forms as possible. The reason for trying to do that is that while some forms, such as the 창헌유 Changheon-yu forms (천지 Cheonji, 단군 Dan-gun, 도산 Dosan, et c.), are written about a lot, other forms, such as the forms inherited from 松濤館 Shōtō-kan and practised in the early years of Taekwondo, or forms like 선덕 Seondeok and 죽암 Jugam from 죽암유 태권도 Jukam-yu Taekwondo, are not. If you, as someone who researches the lesser-known aspects of Taekwondo, want some information about a form, you’ll find a lot more information on Cheonji than you will on 지상 Jisang. The purpose of Taekwondo Forms is to be a convenient starting point for someone researching forms.

However, the problem with writing about obscure forms is that some forms are just so obscure that they go unnoticed the first time around. When I was writing the first edition of Taekwondo Forms, there were various forms that were so obscure I didn’t find out about them, or I did know about them, but the information I had on them wasn’t reliable enough to put them into the book.

So here are some of the forms that I didn’t write about in the book. Some of these forms I have written about in books that I have since written, or am currently writing, and others I haven’t yet covered at all.

Special doboks for referees in Taekwondo

I have always liked the dobok. Its design allows for free movement while also looking strong and powerful. It is traditional, and a symbol of Korean culture, but not inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Two or three times a year I go to officiate at Taekwondo competitions, and have been doing so for about eight years. For the competitions, officials are instructed to wear black trousers, and a black v-neck t-shirt with the word ‘Official’ embroidered onto it – we’re given the t-shirt when we first go to officiate at a competition. Most people generally wear sports shoes.

I think that the monotonous and undistinctive clothing that the officials wear does not help to give the sense of authority and expertise that we need. The officials are ultimately the people running the competition, and that involves doing things like keeping the audience from intruding on the rounds, telling competitors where to go and more generally what to do, and even disqualifying competitors if they break the rules of the competition. The officials are also expected to know a lot about Taekwondo – both the art itself and the rules of the competition. The officials need to be seen as authorities and experts, and how we look can influence that.

As such, I have long thought that officials in Taekwondo need a special design of dobok to wear at competitions. Being a dobok, officials could wear their belts with it, which would remind everyone that these officials ARE black belts, and they are very skilled in Taekwondo themselves – they’re not just people who’ve been taught the rules and brought in to help. Having a different design – i.e., one that’s not white – rather than just wearing the existing black belt doboks, would make it easy to tell the officials and the competitors apart – which is vital during rounds – otherwise the competitors would mistake the referees for their opponents and start fighting them. Having an exclusive design would also add to the sense of authority that the officials have.

Having special clothing for referees would not be unique to Taekwondo – referees in Sumō have their own styles of clothing – indeed refereeing in Sumō is seen as an art as much as the wrestling itself is, and Sumō referees have their own traditions. And in Taekkyeon – one of the ancestors of Taekwondo – they have special referees’ doboks. In Taekkyeon they are bright yellow – perhaps not a good choice of colour for Taekwondo, but if Taekkyeon can have special referees’ doboks, then we in Taekwondo definitely can too.

So what should the design be? Well, the normal dobok is white, and black belts get some black edging to it. In the organisation that I train with, instructors have a black dobok, which has gold lettering embroidered onto it. It has always seemed slightly odd to me to give instructors a black dobok, since black is the colour of expertise or perfection in Taekwondo, but masters’ doboks are still white. Nevertheless, the referees’ dobok could also be black, symbolising a different kind of expertise to that of the instructors. The instructor is skilled in teaching; the referee is skilled in scoring a fight.

But to avoid the symbolism of black, the referees’ dobok could be dark blue or dark red. Blue and red are the colours of the Taegeuk, as seen on the flag of South Korea. If the doboks had gold embroidery, they would not look dissimilar to the clothing worn by the aristocracy of ancient Korea. Yellow also has traditional symbolism – it is one of the colours of the Samsaeg-ui Taegeuk – perhaps appropriate as it’s the colour that represents humankind (blue and red represent the sky and the earth). However, yellow is bright and garish, so likely to be unpopular. Orange, magenta, and purple are also too garish. Green has no particular symbolism, and is an odd colour choice for a dobok generally. Brown and grey are too dull.

So blue, red, or yellow would all be advisable colours, with gold embroidery. No black edging – I think that would be too much. Despite the challenge of designing and manufacturing a dobok, and then persuading practitioners to buy it and wear it, I think having special doboks for referees would be worth it.