Taekwondo is the name of the martial art turned modern international sport which has been independently developed over about 20 centuries in Korea. The main feature of Taekwondo is that it is free-fighting.
All of its activities are based on defensive spirit since Taekwondo was developed as a defense against enemy attacks. In old days, people living simple lives lacked physical fitness and their bodies became bent in their old age.
The most important fact about Taekwondo as a martial art sport is that it is not only a superior art of self-defense, but it adds remarkable mental discipline and self-confidence, since a taekwondo practitioner is able to attack and beat an aggressor with hands, fists, elbows, knees, feet or any part of his body. Self-confidence makes people generous in their attitudes toward weaker people. They can stand equally against use of force. The virtues of modesty and generosity are fundamentally based on self-confidence.
Philosophical Character of Tobok
In the beginning of Taekwondo training, the practitioner encounters the tobok and learns ettiquette from the Sabomnim. The tobok is special clothing for training the mind and body in which the spirit of Korea and the centuries-old tradition is alive. So it is called a “handobok”.
The tobok consists of trousers, upper garment and belt, of which is called “hanbul”. The tobok has a similarity with traditional Korean clothes “hanbok”. The origin of the hanbok is not known. There are, however records that shows the use of costumes in the period of Shilla (Samkuk Sagi), Kaya (Samkuk Yusa), and Koguryo-Paekche-Shilla periods (Saso, China). It is written in the “Koryo Tokyong” by Sukyong of early China that “people in the Konguryo Kingdom wear white costumes with black silk belts around the waist.”
It seems that the white costumes could be daily clothes for the Koguryo people. It also seems that the long upper garment and trousers must have been the same type of cloth that was found on the wall paintings in the tombs of the three kingdoms.
Taekwondo tobok, which is similar to the traditional Korean clothing in the method of making, has three kinds of shapes: circle, square and triangle. The waistline of the uniform is circular shape, the cuffs square and the hip area triangular. The upper garment is made according to the same manner.
It seems that tobok, which is quite different from common clothing, has a tradition of conservatism, and therefore, it is reasoned that the tobok that Kokuryo people used to wear must be similar to the one that people during the Tangun-choson used to wear (BC37-AD668). It also seems that Ch’oesonin of Kokuryo and Kunson-hwarang of Shilla were from the same tradition of Tangun-choson and that Kukjarang of Tanlgun-Chonson became the ch’oesonin of Kokuryo and Hwarang of shilla. “Won” symbolizes the heaven, “Bang” the earth, and “Kak” the man. The circle denotes the heaven, the square the earth and the triangle the man. The three symbols are the foundation of the universe (Samilshingo). The traditional Korean costumes are made based on the three symbols, and the symbols transform into the unity of the three called “han.” The numeric concept of the Ch’onbugyong, which contains the principles of the heaven as one, the earth as two and the man as three, brought the complete theoretical background for the formation of the traditional Korean uniforms. From these conclusions, it can be reasoned that tobok has the same historical records of transformation as the traditional Korean costume has had.
According to the theory of the “Yin” and “Yang”, the man is the small universe, trousers which is Yin the earth, upper garment which is Yang the heaven, and belt the man himself, which stems from the supplies to every aspect of the life of Koreans including the production of different sorts of costumes.
Tobok and hanbok have the form of no beginning and no ending and it is quite difficult to conclude that the methods of making them were designed by one person’s idea. There is some historical proof that shows the history. One example is from the article of the Choson daily Newspaper on the April 18, 1990. It says that a Japanese female professor discovered a 400 year old Ch’onik Chollae p’um-male costume used during the period of Choson dynasty….. found as an original shape ……seems booty………given by the Shogun Poongshin.
At the beginning, the toboks were made only in white. In 1970, the division was made between the uniform for the under black belt and the black belt. The tobok has a V-neck shape. The p’um uniform has red-black stripes along the neck and the tan uniform only a black stripe.
The white color in the uniform symbolizes the background of the universe. According to the philosophy of the Korean tradition, the origin of the universe is the oneness which is pronounced in Korean as Han. Han stems from the color of white. White is the essence of the universe in Korean belief.
The V-neck is to reduce the discomfort of the previous traditional uniform, which would loosen too often during practice. The V-neck uniform looks neat and is convenient to wear.
Tobok is not only an outfit for daily practice in the Tojang but also for competition at national levels as well as the Olympic Games. The philosophical significance of the tobok is in “Keeping it clean and having proper respect and etiquette toward it”.
Taekwondo Poomsae is meant by a “Form” in which a self-practice is devised to be performed in following the lines of movement in a systematic and consecutive way against an imaginary opponent or multi-opponents by using various Taekwondo technics of hand and foot.
Through practising Taekwondo Poomsae, we can apply the technics of hand and foot and the changes of stance learned from the basic technics adaptably to an actual fighting. It also provides us with the effection improving flexibility of body and being skilled in strength control, balance control, breath control, eye control and concentration of spirit, as well as cultivating martial art spirit through its mental discipline.
A taekwondo ‘Poomsae’ comprises various stance, each with its peculiar nature but each blending into the other. A ‘poomsae’ consists of about two dozen stances interconnected. Blocking, punching, striking, thrusting and kicking are among Taekwondo Poomsae, and these are properly carried out with hands, fists and feet to the vital sport of the body or target at which they aimed, and the stances accordingly chnge forward stance, back stance, cat stance and horseriding stance, etc. as the situation requires. Most typical ‘Poomsae’ are Palgwe I-VIII, Taeguk I-VIII, koryo, Kumgang, Taeback, Pyongwon, Shipjin, Jitae, Chunkwon, Hansoo and Ilyeo.
Meaning of each Poomsae:
TAEGUK: This represents the most profound oriental philosophy from which philosophical views on the world, cosmos and life are derived. The Taeguk Poomsae consists of different movements in sequence. The vital points of this Poomsae are to make exact the speed of breath and action and move the body weight properly while executing speedy actions. Thus we can fully realize the main thought of Taeguk.
PALGWE: Supplementary Training. The thought of Plagwe, another concept of the ancient Oriental Philosophy, implies symbolically all the phenomena of man and universe.
KORYO: Koryo is the name of an ancient dynasty in the Korean peninsula. Teh Enlish name of “Korea” originated from the name of this “Koryo” dynasty with which was famed for the valiant spirit of its people which tey defeated the Mongolian aggression. Koryo Poomsae is based on spirit of / sonbae(Sonbi) which was inherited from Koruryo to Balhae and to Koryo. Songae means strong martial art and honest spirit of scholars.
KUMGANG: The word “Kumgang” has originally the meaning of being too strong to be broken. Also in Buddhism, what can break off every agony of mind with combination of wisdom and virtue is called “Kumgang”. The Poomsae “Kumgang”is named after Mount Kumgang, symbol of solidity. “kumgan”is also anlogous of “diamond”.
TAEBACK: “Taeback” is the ancient name of Mount Paekdu where the legendary Tangun founded a nation for the first time in the Korean peninsula 4,329 years ago on Tangun calendar (1996 A.D.=4329 Tangun year). Poomsae “Taeback” takes its principles of movement from the word “Taeback” which means being looked up to as sacred.
PYONGWON: “Pyongwon” is meant by ‘vast plain’. The plain is a source of sustaining the human life and, on the other hand, a great open plain stretching out endlessly gives us a feeling of majesty that is different from what we feel with a mountain or the sea. An application of the providence of the plain which is blessed with abundance and grace as well as boundless vastness into the practice of Taekwondo is Poomse Pyongwon (plain).
SHIPJIN: Shipjin has the meaning of ‘decimal system’ which stands for a symbolical figure of 10 meaning endless development and growth in a systematic order. In Poomse shipjin, stability is sought in every chnage of movements.
JITAE: According to the oriental belief, all living things come from and return to the earth(Jitae is derived from the meaning of the earth). Teh earth is indeed the orining and terminal of life. Living things as well as all the natural phenomena of the earth Poomsae “Jitae” is the movement which supplies these features of the earth.
HUNKWON: Chunkown” signifies the sky. From ancient times the orientals have always believed and worshipped the sky as ruler of the universe and human beings. Teh infinitely vast sky may be a mysterious and profound world of imagination in the eyes of finite human beings. Poomsae Chunkwon is composed of the motions which are full of piery and vitality.
HANSOO: Poomsae “hansoo” derived from the word ‘water’ is typical with its fluidity and adaptability as manifested in the nature of water.
ILYEO: “Ilyeo” signifies oneness.
In buddhism the state of spiritual cultivation is said to be “Ilyeo”(oneness), in which body and mind, I(subject) and you (object), spirit and substance are unified into oneness. The ultimate ideal of Taekwondo lies in this state of Ilyeo. The final goal Taekwondo pursues is indeed a discipline in which we concentrate attention pursues is indeed a discipline in which we concentrate attention on every movement, shaking off all worldly thoughts and obsessions.