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I have read that the black belt Taekwondo forms are each associated with an I Ching trigram. Are these correspondences emphasized in any dojangs? What can I take away from these associations?

The correspondences between the trigrams and the eight changing palms of bagua are fairly well documented, but it seems like the associations in Taekwondo are incidental and not particularly focused on. If your dojang does focus on I Ching, can you tell me how extensive this study is and what, if anything, you've learned from it?

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For WTF/Kukkiwon taekwondo the black belt forms: koryo (virtueous man), keumgueng (diamond and mountain), taebaek (bright mountain), pyongwan (a vast plain), sipjin (life and longevity), jitae (struggle and aspiration), chonkwon (heaven), hanseu (water) seem to be paths towards Ilyeo (Buddhist enlightenment). There may be some incidental references to water, earth, mountain, and heaven as those are essential trigrams of the i-ching, but the path of the poomse suggests to use the gifts of the Earth to go beyond the struggle of man towards Buddhist enlightenment especially as the symbolic references of the latter forms are of softer elements and embracing of the spirit of Heaven and selflessness. So in a way they follow the course of change (e.g. I ching) You also have to remember that I Ching is a Chinese /Confucius philosophy and the Koreans have adopted some of these, but it seems that the taekwondo forms (specifically, the Kukkiwon standard ones) are less about I Ching than a path towards selflessness and enlightenment (other than change, in of itself).

The I Ching is a deep discussion of all changes in and around the Earth and can represent the boundless opportunities and chances that are here. It would be neat to see the forms try to encompass this vast philosophy, but I do not think the current set of black belt (or even taeguek or palgwe series) would yield as much meaning as the I Ching.

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    This is not correct: the Kukkiwon Taegeuk forms all represent I Ching trigrams, and this is not incidental but by design. – Daniel Reis Jul 20 '17 at 9:20
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In Kukkiwon/WTF Taekwondo, the poomsae (forms), required for geup (below dan black belt) grades are associated with I Ching symbols.

In the "Complete Taekwondo Poomsae: The Official Taegeuk, Palgawe and Black Belt Forms" book, page 24, states that the "Poomsae reflect the characteristics of Korean culture", including the "eight trigrams, wich originate from the Tegeukki (Korean flag)".

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The Taekwondo Wikia website provides more in depth explanation of this relation:

  • Taegeuk Il Jang: ☰ "Keon" The Sky, the Heavens
  • Taegeuk Ee Jang: ☱ "Tae" Lake
  • Taegeuk Sam Jang: ☲ "Ree" Fire
  • Taegeuk Sa Jang: ☳ "Jin" Thunder
  • Taegeuk Oh Jang: ☴ "Seon" Wind
  • Taegeuk Yook Jang: ☵ "Kam" Water
  • Taegeuk Chil Jang: ☶ "Kan" Mountain
  • Taegeuk Pal Jang: ☷ "Gon" The Earth, the Ground

The 1st, 3rd, 6th and 8th are the four symbols in the Korean flag: Sky, Fire, Water and Earth.

The movements in each form are inspired by what it represents. For example, in the Chil Jang, associated with the Mountain, introduces the Tiger stance, known to live near mountains; in the Yook Jang the movements are similar to a water flow.

Additionally, the floor pattern of each form draws the three lines of the corresponding I Ching symbol. When performing the "lines" with movements to the side, turning with your front foot represents a solid line, pivoting in place represents a broken line.

For example, on the Taegeuk Ee Jang, the ☱ three lines are represented like this (from the bottom to the top line):

  • you first move left, and then turn back, to the right with your front foot, performing a solid line
  • you then advance to the second line, and repeat a solid line
  • on the third line you turn back pivoting in place, representing a broken line.
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I have been in several KKW schools, some of which are, shall we say, "militant" about their teachings of the I Ching and of the relationship to the Taeguek forms. They state that the movements in the form are representative of the I Ching elements.

Ok...

So let's see if I got that right: Taeguek 1 represents the "greatness of heaven", and should be performed "as such". Go ahead: tell me how to perform a low block, step, and punch "with the greatness of heaven". Or better yet, you have a new student to your taekwondo classes, and you try to convince him to perform his movements - his very first form - "with the greatness of heaven".

Seriously?

Some idiot came up with the idea of how to stitch concepts of the I Ching with some crap that they do in the dojang, and decided to use poomsae to do this.

I can think of no greater way to befuddle a new student being told to perform his form "with the greatness of heaven". Like, what's in store for the next form? What could be greater than heaven? (That would be a lake...)

You see the fallacy?

I think the forms were retrofitted to make them work with the I Ching. Oddly, there are only 8 forms - not 9, a revered number in Asian culture. Why are there 8 basic forms meant to tackle the meanings of the I Ching, and there are 10 yudanja forms which again separately re-capture again the I Ching elements again? [repetition intended]

I think what was meant instead is that we Taekwondo students should live the tenets espoused by the I Ching. We introduce a new I Ching philosophical concept at each level (the 8 in the Taeguek/Palgwe series, then again in the yudanja series). Ultimately, this is how we are supposed to live our lives.

What I found in the more I Ching heavy schools was a closeness toward Buddhism, and that was a turn off for students of other faiths. Also, that there is some tie-in to the I Ching philosophy and the specific techniques introduced therein, and not having anything to do with the more practical (and intended) function of a form, which is self-defense, none of this made sense to me. If I were journeying onto a path of enlightenment and following the principles espoused by the I Ching, I'm not sure I would find a Taekwondo school which would help me on that journey - even if I wanted to.

Such did not happen for me. I never sought, nor found, enlightenment. I don't even know what that means. The teachings of Buddhism, and the I Ching, and the relationship to techniques within Taekwondo all became a distraction for me. I was in it for self-defense, not enlightenment. If I wanted enlightenment, I wasn't going to find it in a strip mall dojang, it was going to be in a Tibetan mountaintop temple. (Or maybe that temple in downtown Newark...)

Bottom line, I was part of these schools which focused more on the I Ching, but I realized I lost out on what Taekwondo was really about. I dismiss the concept altogether, except as a cultural relationship to the Korean people. Is it useless? Not really, but it depends on how it is taught. Either, it is all-out and everything about the I Ching, or stay away from it. And either way, don't try to tell a white belt that his first form has to be performed with "the greatness of heaven".

And yes - seriously, that is how my schools wanted me to perform Taeguek 1 - with the "greatness of heaven". I earned my yellow belt, ostensibly after performing my form with the greatness of heaven (or living my life with the greatness of heaven).

  • This mostly an opinion, and "I think the forms were retrofitted to make them work with the I Ching." is inaccurate. I added respectable references in my answer to confirming that. – Daniel Reis Aug 10 '17 at 12:54
  • You did not answer the question. The OP is well aware of the association to i ching; what was asked was whether dojangs apply those concepts. – Andrew Jennings Apr 13 '18 at 10:48

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