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Why are Shotokan patterns on a TKD web site?



Despite what many would have you believe, Tae Kwon Do has very strong roots extending into the Japanese martial arts. The most notable of these, primarily because its tradition still continues today, is Shotokan Karate.

Those studying what Korean TKD stylists call the "Pyong-An" patterns, will either be intrigued or alarmed to discover that they are exactly the same patterns practiced in Shotokan karate. In Japanese they are called "Heian". Tae Kwon Do black belts who, as part of their traditional curriculum, studied patterns called Bal-Sek, Chul-Gi, or Kong-San-Koon would do well to know that these patterns are also traditional Shotokan forms with the Japanese names Bassai, Tekki, and Kanku, respectfully. Even the WTF-recognized Palgwe patterns have Japanese origins. If you examine the Pyong-An (Heian) forms, you will see many of the movement sequences are copied directly into the Palgwe patterns.

When the WTF began its rise to prominence in Korea, it sought a way of purging the Japanese influences from its homeland's martial art. The reasons for this are not officially documented in any official charter or statement. However, one would be safe in assuming that there were myriad reasons -- none the least of which were patriotism, pride, and love of tae kwon do mixed in with equal parts arrogance and fear. Traditionally, Koreans have had a bitter relationship with Japan, beginning with that nation's occupation of the Korean peninsula for nearly 40 years. This was not a friendly occupation, but, rather, one in which Koreans were raped of their culture, art, history and even language. While both nations are quite different now, in many older Koreans this bitterness remains. And, while most of the younger generations will acknowledge that era simply as part of history, it is still a very prevalent attitude ingrained into the culture, regardless of whether or not one disagrees or is in opposition to it.

This may partially explain the WTF's motivations. However, there were a number of other internal and external pressures to "purify" Tae Kwon Do. When Korea won their first Summer Olympics bid, it needed a demonstration sport that symbolized its nation and people. No other sport came close to matching its peoples' strong sense of patriotism, devotion, and beauty. Because this worldwide attention would soon put a critical eye on their nation as a whole, the WTF was saddled with the additional pressures of presenting a sport that would represent all its nations people and, in the end, glorify their home.

As part of this response, the WTF created and promulgated a new series of patterns called the "Taegeuk". ('Taegeuk' is the name of South Korea's national flag.) One of their intentions was to create an entirely Korean set of hyungs (or patterns). You see, by this time, the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) had already begun its spread across the globe, bringing Tae Kwon Do to many other parts of the world. Their patterns (the Chon-Ji pattern set) were also heavily influenced by the Japanese styles. The ITF, however, was disowned (and damned) by the WTF, who is the official government body in charge of Tae Kwon Do's development. (If you're interested in the history of the ITF, follow this link:

So, to bring us back to the topic at hand, why have I included Shotokan patterns here on a web site that, on the surface at least, seems to be one concerned with Tae Kwon Do?

The reason is that the Japanese martial arts were around long before Tae Kwon Do ever had a name. It provided the foundations for what soon became something wholly Korean and uniquely beautiful in the world. Whether these Japanese traditions were forced upon the Korean peninsula during the occupation or whether they were accepted whole-heartedly by open minded masters of the time is irrelevant. What matters, in my opinion, is that they are preserved as such. Today, Shotokan Karate is the only widespread martial art that uses forms upon which modern Tae Kwon Do was built. (Again, in my humble opinion) I feel that, for those students who enjoy their TKD hyungs and are ready for additional material, studying the Shotokan patterns enhances their art and opens new windows of insight into Tae Kwon Do's principles and inherent beauty.