The Poomsae Series is intended to glean lessons from the meaning of each form (“poomsae” in Korean). My school studies the palgwe forms so that’s what I will use for each post. Descriptions are taken from the book “Complete Taekwondo Poomsae” by Dr. Kyu Hyung Lee and Dr. Sang H. Kim.
Everybody has a cross to bear, a story to tell, a lifetime of experience behind a single glance. Sometimes we need to hear the full story to appreciate someone or something. It offers perspective, clarity, and depth that is otherwise not visible.
Palgwe Pal-jang is…awkward…not busy and weird like Oh-jang, but it lacks the lyrical beauty of Yuk-jang and the dramatic fierceness of Chil-jang. When I first started learning this form I was very frustrated. I felt disjointed, clunky, unsure of what I was supposed to do next. Granted, it’s the final form in the color belt ranks so if it were easy then I would question the quality of my training. Thankfully I have top-notch instruction with exceptional attention to detail…so there’s no way I’m getting out of doing the damn thing.
This form didn’t make sense until I learned the story behind it. Every movement of every form is intended for self-defense training, therefore each form has a “story.” It’s not just a series of randomly choreographed moves, and if that’s all you get from it then you’re not delving deeply enough into it. Someone’s messing with you and you need to…you know…make sure they stop doing that. Sure, there are some flowery moves that provide a little flash, but for the most part they provide the opportunity to perform a variety of techniques in a single flow. You’re kicking ass and looking good while you’re doing it. From an artistic standpoint it provides form AND function.
Last week Grandmaster corralled the red and black belts to the back of the room, and we walked through the form piece by piece. Rather than just demonstrating the moves he explained the reasons behind them.
“Someone kicks at your left side, you turn to low block, and then punch them,” he said, turning his head to look at us to make sure we were following along. The explanation method isn’t new–we often do that when we’re learning new forms or fine-tuning old ones. What made this training special is that he took the time to explain the reason behind every single technique. It’s like getting a tour of an art exhibit with the curator or the artist herself. The story behind the work provides a much richer context than if you’re just muddling through on your own.
“Someone grabs your wrist,” Grandmaster continued, grasping my small bony arm and pulling it out to the side, “and you pull away.” He gently nudged me so I would yank my arm back and prep for a nasty elbow jab to the ribs. It clicked. As we practiced the form in unison I could suddenly see us telling the story with our bodies, our breath, and our intentions. What seemed disconnected and clunky became crafty and calculating. What felt awkward became strong, beautiful, and invigorating.
Everyone has a story–the boring guy you turned down for a date, the old lady who cut you off in traffic, the distracted cashier at the grocery store, the rude waiter at a restaurant you had been so eager to try, the beautiful woman who invokes your envy because you assume she has everything in the world handed to her. Our stories can be inspiring, heartbreaking, depressing, joyous, disgusting, funny, messy, cautionary. We don’t have to learn the details of everyone’s story to appreciate them. All we need to do is recognize that there is an ocean of depth behind every person who glides in and out of our existence.
And now I need to go practice that form again…and again…and again…