Trying to make sense of patterns

As mentioned before, I’m learning Taegeuk Oh Jang:

A poomsae (pattern) is a series of  defending and attacking movements designed for practice against imaginary opponents, which have been passed onto and learnt by many people over hundreds of years – they provide the foundation for all the movements and techniques that you can learn in a martial art:

“forms are there to put together your “infrastructures”; co-ordination, stamina, speed, power, response and most importantly, body/mind synchronization; simply put, learning how to walk….” (1)

Taegeuk Oh Jang symbolises Wind:

“Wind is a gently force, but can sometimes be furious, destroying everything in it’s path. Poomse Taeguk/Palgwe Oh Jang should be performed like the wind: gently, but knowing the ability of mass destruction with a single movement.” (2)

To perform contrasting movements involves strength, co-ordination and control as different parts of your body are moving into different stances. Our instructor was demonstrating the difference this week between someone who is maybe drunk and trying to hit using a movement and someone who is using these movements in this pattern. There are differences in angles of how you hold your arms for example which can make a big difference to how well you can perform a striking or blocking movement.

The majority of the movements are in the air and so it is quite possible that you do not perform the same movement in exactly the same bit of air / space regularly, it will always be slightly different. Someone told me that bullets never fly straight, its impossible. I’m intrigued by what we can’t see that we are somehow moving with. I have started reading a book which is hard for me to read, but fascinating: Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language and Situations where

“Rules and forms are always at work; they are implicit in all our situations and our bodily experience — how we interact, eat, sleep, feel, and perceive. If there is a bodily order, we will see it functioning with, not without them. From the right insight that the human bodily order is not without these forms, it is a short — but questionable — step to assume that experience is derivative, ordered only by them. So also, it is a right (and ancient) insight that nature and nurture are not separable in humans. Language and thought-forms are not just added on; they reorganize the human animal. But, it is different and wrong to assume that the human body can not talk back in new ways to these forms.” (3)

So patterns exist in our human ‘shells’ – how we move, think, experience. However if we are using technology to try and recognise these patterns and identify problem areas (for example use of robotics in health), we need to understand whether these patterns are affected by e.g time and whether they exist for specific people or groups of people. Or that the patterns already exist (is our environment consisting entirely of billions of patterns that we don’t yet understand) so we as humans develop our own patterns to work with these? For example when breathing in tai chi – the difference when you take a deeper breath to the movement that you then make. I’m kind of lost in the chapter on language at the moment so will return to later.

verdant fractal

I have experienced a different understanding of rhythm since learning martial arts patterns, which is confusing because you start by applying Western thinking to an Eastern experience and it causes conflict. The Eastern philosophy allows more space to experience and reflect on these conflicts – at least that is my impression so far, and as someone who seems to be in a perpetual rush…I need to find more of the gentle wind now so I can move better within it both within natural and artificial environments.

Tae Geuk itself means “bigness and eternity – that which has no form, no beginning or ending but is the source of everything” (4)

1. Many Trees 1 Forest, Dont run if you can’t walk, Available at:
2. General Taekwondo Information: Patterns, Available at:
3. Gendlin, E.T. (1991). Thinking beyond patterns: Body, language and situations. In B. den Ouden & M. Moen (Eds.), The presence of feeling in thought, pp. 21-151. New York: Peter Lang. Also available at
4. Hee Park Y, Hwan Park Y, Gerrard J (1989), p53. The Ultimate Reference Guide to the World’s Most Popular Martial Art Taekwondo, Checkmark Books


  1. I have a similar DVD with all of the taeguek forms. How come these guys are always demonstrating at temples or Zen-like gardens and I’m stuck in a garage?

  2. Hi yeah I know what you mean I’ve got quite small rooms to practice in and one has this black iron fireplace that I keep kicking every time I do Sam Jang! They didnt have to maneouvre around furniture or bikes or freezers – it would be great to have temple sized space – maybe I will go & recreate Kukkiwon in our local park.

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