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June 16: Toward Mastery of Many Poomsae

It’s been several weeks since I’ve reported on my solo poomsae practice, but the work has gone on continuously since my initial posts. At this point, I can generally do them correctly if my goal is simply to do them correctly, i.e. to perform all the techniques without mistakes. But that’s not really my goal, because that’s not really doing a form correctly: it’s just doing it without mistakes.

What’s the difference? In order to achieve a clean run through a certain form, I often find myself looking ahead to the next few techniques, especially in forms that I’ve learned more recently. This is so I don’t blow a technique or have to pause between segments to think of what comes next. It usually works, and I perform the form “correctly.”

However, getting all the techniques right is not, in itself, executing a form in its true and complete spirit. Even though it looks right, and even an experienced observer might perceive the techniques to be outwardly acceptable, I know they’re lacking something important.

This missing element is full consciousness and commitment in the moment—or a closely related concept: being in a state of no-mind. If I’m thinking ahead to make sure I know what’s coming, I’m obviously not in the moment. When I let myself fully inhabit every instant of every technique, a form contains the breath, animating spirit, and intention that it should, both outwardly and inwardly. When I do that, individual moments are fully charged as they should be. . . but I also miss techniques more often than when I allow my attention to skip ahead. This means that the forms aren’t really there yet, in spite of however many correct repetitions that aren’t built on an unshakable foundation.

I’m guessing this is why instructors who eschew practice of large numbers of forms believe it’s best to focus on a few: it’s just really difficult to truly inhabit such a large amount of material without an excess of conscious thought. To do each technique correctly and with full commitment of spirit means the poomsae must be in the bones. It requires a monumental amount of repetition just to get there, and with all the other priorities for well-rounded training, it’s beyond the scope of training for most people who aren’t full-time professional martial artists.

Because of my years of Taekwondo experience, if I get all the techniques right, I automatically bring a lot of the appropriate breath support, power, fluidity, and authority that makes the forms look right on the outside. To an observer, they look, sound, and otherwise seem complete and correct. But I know what’s happening on the inside, and getting the inside to match the outside remains my ongoing focus as I work toward true mastery of these forms.

Post Series: Solo Poomsae
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