The Taeguek Cipher

Discussion in 'Tae Kwon Do' started by Liam Cullen, Nov 19, 2008.

  1. Liam Cullen

    Liam Cullen Valued Member

    The Taegeuk Cipher - Simon John O'Neill

    Patterns. Tricky things aren’t they?
    Even trying to work out how to start writing this has proven hard. Where do you begin? The idea of looking for the practical application of patterns is nothing new, anyone who reads this board will know that, I believe someone here even has a book on the subject out already. Up till now most of the talk has been geared towards the Chang Hon patterns. I have, thanks to the joys of the Internet, seen more and more examples of peoples’ applications of the Taegeuk patterns. However, to be perfectly frank, pretty much all of these have been rubbish. The applications have either been straight translations of the patterns as they are commonly currently taught (such as low block a front kick in long stance and counter with a mid section punch, while stepping forward in walking stance), or people have forced their own bizarre interpretations on to them in such a fashion that the movements they’re performing no longer correspond to those of the pattern in any clear way.

    With this in mind it was with extreme scepticism that I picked up a copy of The Taegeuk Cipher. I was ready to tarnish it with the same brush as so many other abortions of attempts to ‘unlock the true meaning of the patterns’ that you can find polluting places such as youtube so easily these days.

    I started off by flicking to the pictures. Yeah, that’s right, I was attracted by the images, my girlfriend draws kids picture books for a living, make all the jokes you want I’m sure I’ve heard them all by now. The applications had the author (I assume?) performing the move from the pattern on his own then underneath a series of images showing the application of these moves. Now the first thing that struck me was that when he was doing a low block, he wasn’t blocking, he was striking. Now this isn’t something radical in itself, a lot of people have (in my mind rightly) asserted that in patterns, and TKD in general, a lot of the moves we class as blocks and strikes were originally something very different. What was different about this however was that I could tell what the movement was, I could relate the application to the movement previously demonstrated as a low block against a fictional attacker. Flicking to another page, a double knife hand guard; rather than being an odd guarding block, now becomes a grappling application, yet still looks pretty much like a regular knife hand guard pose.

    Moving on again I see the application of front kicks, however this time I see the moves have changed from kick to a knee when it comes to actual application, and some of the closed hand strikes are changing to open hand strikes. Maybe the author can’t actually find an application for all the moves after all? Maybe he’s had to resort to altering them beyond initial visual recognition after all? Maybe I should read the lengthy 65 page introduction to see if there are some answers? And so it is I start over, reading the book from, well, the start…

    We start out with a history section and my scepticism notepad comes out, I’m looking for the sections that will let me tick the usual boxes with labels such as ‘2000 year old art’ and ‘flying kicked off a horse’. Except…. Expect they never seem to come. What I find myself reading is possibly the best and least biased introduction to the history of TKD I’ve come across. Gen Choi gets his dues, which I was curious to see if he’d get a mention being a Kukki based book. No one is painted as a saint, and no one is painted as a villain either. As it goes on I start to realise that this history section is actually the introduction to the book and the ideas within, not just a brief outline of TKD in general.

    The main thing it does is give credit to all the arts that helped form the basis of TKD, not just Shutokan which seems to get the most credit these days. By going through this and examining the history of this arts the author presents a compelling case as to the true applications of the patterns and how, most importantly, they have arrived at the mangled mess we have today in the form of the Taegeuk patterns.

    After taking all this in and then looking at the applications everything seems extremely clear. Personally my only gripe with the book is that it should have come out about 10 years ago. It would have helped with my understanding of what is a fairly large part of TKD training. I’m finding it very hard to review the book without talking about it page by page, I can only strongly urge ANY Taegeuk practitioner to get themselves a copy of this book and have a look for themselves.
  2. captainmoomoo

    captainmoomoo Valued Member

    Preview the book here. Looks good, so I'm gonna buy it:

    I've also read some of the works of Iain Abernethy and Stuart Anslow, which I loved so I reckon this should be good too.
  3. captainmoomoo

    captainmoomoo Valued Member

    OK, I surfed around and saw that StuartA loves the book, so I ordered mine right away!

    Here's looking forward to it arriving...
  4. StuartA

    StuartA Guardian of real TKD :-)

    I thought it was pretty decent and I don't even do the Taegueks. My review can be found here on map, I think its pretty fair, though I'm glad Liam has a copy and can give his review/thoughts from a WTF perspective.. which I'm glad to read concur with mine.

    Last edited: Nov 21, 2008
  5. Liam Cullen

    Liam Cullen Valued Member

    That's a nice review Stuart, and by nice I mean far better than mine. ;)
    The history, and pre-TKD history I think will interest anyone, no matter what style of TKD you study. I found the honesty about the Taeguek patterns refreshing, explaining how they've become a bastardised version of older patterns. I'd be very interested in a second book looking at the Dan grade patterns as they have been around for longer.
  6. SJON

    SJON Valued Member


    It's come to my attention that my book was being discussed here, so ...

    I'd be pleased to participate, answer questions or whatever, and I hope to contribute to the wider forum. I'll be around this week, then away for two weeks, as I have a business trip far from internet connections.

    Best regards,

  7. captainmoomoo

    captainmoomoo Valued Member

    I've been informed by my wife that my copy just arrived today! I'm at work so I'm going to have to wait until tomorrow to have a proper read sitting on the tube :(

    Really looking forward to this Simon!
  8. Liam Cullen

    Liam Cullen Valued Member

    Hello Simon,

    Welcome to the board, first let me congratulate you on the new book. I've personally enjoyed it as both an insightful look into the history and basis of Taekwondo, and as a potential training guide.

    I suppose my first question must be about yourself, rather than the book. You've studied both Judo and Shotokan previously; with your knowledge of these styles did you start to see the more practical application of the Taegueks from the start of your Taekwondo training? Or was it as your training progressed that you started to question the authenticity of the explanations of the movements, and then subsequently started to draw on your experience of the other arts to make sense of things?

    Towards the end of the book you list different styles of sparring that could be beneficial to a student wishing to learn self defence. Are these all styles you practice in your dojang currently?
  9. SJON

    SJON Valued Member

    Hi Liam.

    I'd say that the Judo was more of an influence than the Shotokan, although the Shotokan did show me a few things about trying to punch someone who is charging towards you.

    Judo obviously gave me the tools to recognise certain mechanics in terms of specific throws in the patterns, but I think its main value was to drive home the necessity to develop ability in clinching - not necessarily particular techniques, but the whole kuzushi thing of trying to keep you balance while trying to take the other guy's.

    I pretty much began to question the value of the patterns right from the beginning, and specifically to look for how the different elements of what I was being taught fitted together. By looking at it in that light, things started to take shape.

    Regarding the sparring stuff, I generally place more value on the asymmetrical drills. Of the symmetrical ones, I think the most valuable are the one I call "Clinching" (i.e. "upright Judo") and the one I refer to as "Strike & Grip" (i.e. a kind of Kickboxing plus the standing Judo stuff).

    Best regards,

  10. FCP

    FCP Valued Member

    The Kukkiwon Text Book list shows some applications.
  11. Liam Cullen

    Liam Cullen Valued Member

    The Kukkiwon applications seem to be direct applications of the moves current naming. As in, every block is executed as a block. I don't have the text book to refer to at the moment, but the Kukkiwon site has some applications for viewing. Their direct translation of movement seems to lead to some odd applications, such as the double block against an attack who is both performing a front kick with his left leg and simultaneously attacking with a right hand reverse punch, all handily just out of striking range enough for the blocks to work. Also consider that this movement is performed with a forward step, suggesting you'd actually be walking into this bizarre attack.

    Are the applications in the text book of a similar nature?
  12. FCP

    FCP Valued Member

    I know :) I did notice some strange applications but it was the Kukkiwon instructors that created the patterns.

    A couple of years ago I have the chance to train with Grandmaster Park Hae Man, 10th Dan. He had a hand in creating one of the patterns we practise today. Can’t remember which one though.
  13. TKDstudent

    TKDstudent Valued Member

    Great book & a must have for all serious TKD students. I knew it was great just by reading the history which was very well done. All students need a book like this to help them to more than just go through their forms. Likewise the Chang Hun one by Stuart Anslow is also a must have. There really is so much more to forms then simply going through the motions. If you are a thinker & you use your mind for SD, get these.
  14. StuartA

    StuartA Guardian of real TKD :-)

    Just seen this - thanks TKDStudent.


Share This Page