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Fusion Martial Arts

ITF Taekwon-do + modern sports science + ideas from other Martial Arts

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Monday 6:15-7:15pm Macquarie
  6-8pm Barton (Telopea)*
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  6-7pm Belconnen*
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Friday 6:15-7:15pm Holder
  6-8pm Barton (Telopea)*
What Our Members Say...
  • 2 years ago, I was introduced to Taekwon-do by a close friend. My first impressions were how amazingly well-mannered the younger students were. As a father of 3 under 10 this is something I noticed immediately! I started my journey with Fusion and over time I got 2 of my children involved in training with Instructor Nick at Fusion. They now love training twice a week after school and practicing constantly. I love that they get a great mix of physical education, appropriate discipline and the feeling of accomplishment from learning the art of Taekwon-do. The skills they learn will always serve them well, and I encourage other parents to come along and try Taekwon-do with their kids.

    - Robert, Fusion Parent & Student

  • "I like to going to Taekwon-do because it is fun and I learn new skills and play interesting games"

    - Oliver (age 9)

  • "Our three children have been learning Taekwon-do with Fusion Martial Arts for nearly two years now and we could not be happier! Our children have learnt a range of valuable skills (including strong discipline) and improved their self-confidence, coordination and core body strength. Fusion Martial Arts has inspired our children to apply themselves in a diligent manner and we have been particularly impressed by Nick's dedication. Nick consistently puts a great deal of effort into his classes and is finely attuned to his student's needs. We would thoroughly recommend Fusion Martial Arts to anyone."

    - Zoe, Fusion Parent

  • "Nick is a good teacher who loves doing it and helps us a lot"

    - Sarah (age 12)

  • "If someone asks Nick a question, he listens and if he does not know the answer he will look it up for us.  He doesn't just ignore us"

    - Benjamin (age 9)

Gaining A Deeper Understanding of Pattern-work

Patterns (tul/teul, hyung/hyeong, poomsae/poomse/pumsae, form, kata, etc.) hold a significant role within the Taekwon-do syllabus, consuming more than half of the 15 Volume Encyclopedia. The patterns were designed as artistic representations of combat expressed through a sequence of techniques as preformed by a single practitioner. In a grading context, patterns are used as a primary evaluation tool to determine a student’s ability to consistently and effectively execute a selection of techniques with precision, speed, balance and control.

Other Martial Arts also have a significant focus on this style of exercise:

The basic goal of kata is to preserve and transmit proven techniques and to practice self-defense. By practicing in a repetitive manner the student develops the ability to execute those techniques and movements in a natural, reflex-like manner. Systematic practice does not mean permanently rigid. The goal is to internalize the movements and techniques of a kata so they can be executed and adapted under different circumstances, without thought or hesitation. A novice’s actions will look uneven and difficult, while a master’s appear simple and smooth. [1]

Due to the weight given to patterns within the Taekwon-do syllabus and the importance of similar exercises within other Martial Arts, it is worthwhile to look outside of Taekwon-do for inspiration on how to teach, learn, train and explore patterns as thoroughly as possible.

How Are Patterns Trained Within Taekwon-do?

Generally speaking, patterns are trained as they are described within the Encyclopedia; rote from start to finish. Unfortunately due to Taekwon-do’s pattern design assumption of a single practitioner, applications are not always obvious in this style of training. This results in a layer of abstraction between the patterns and the application of individual techniques. If an instructor is not careful, students will simply “go through the motions” of a pattern without actually understanding the techniques they are executing.

Occasionally a single technique or a short sequence of techniques will be broken out from a pattern and practiced as fundamental movements, but this approach is generally focused on learning the motion of a technique rather than its application. Some instructors try to bridge the gap by incorporating techniques into 3-Step Sparring, allowing their students to learn both application and effective blocking/countering of techniques but by and large student’s are left to their own devices to learn the proper application and blocking/countering of techniques.

Taekwon-do instructor Catherine McMaster (III Dan) saw the limitations of the standard approach and endeavored to develop new strategies to learn Taekwon-do patterns while considering different learning styles as well as the realities of time constraints. The strategies that Mrs McMaster uses in-class to teach and train patterns include:

  1. Solo Legs: performing the pattern as taught while dispelling arm movements;
  2. Solo Arms: performing the pattern as taught while dispelling leg movements;
  3. Solo Blind: performing the pattern as taught with eyes closed;
  4. Elemental Blind: performing each fundamental movement in isolation with eyes closed; and
  5. Solo Reverse: performing the pattern as taught from end to beginning.

The Solo Legs expression looks to force the student to focus on stances and the transitions between stances. There is a strong argument for this expression as improper stances and unbalanced transitional movements result in poor technique execution no matter the technical ability of the upper body movement. Utilizing this expression to focus solely on the execution and development of proper footwork is therefore highly beneficial.

The Solo Arms expression is a logical progression from Solo Legs. This expression forces the student to recollect the prescribed arm and upper body movements outside the context of the defined pattern movements. This expression is not highly beneficial in refining technique, but is useful in getting students to think of the patterns in a different context which in turn helps them remember the pattern. In light of other pattern expressions, this expression is far less useful and arguably somewhat detrimental as proper stances are not present to support the upper body techniques. Alternately, a supportive argument could be made for this expression as all upper body techniques are executed from a natural posture, giving the student experience in what works and what doesn’t from the likely starting position of a self-defense situation.

The Solo Blind and Elemental Blind expressions focus on stability of movement and accuracy of technique based purely on accuracy of movement. As the eyes are not available for reference to fudge inaccuracies, they highlight a student’s weaknesses in movement and balance during execution. These expressions are most useful when used with slow execution in a quiet space so as many senses as possible are eliminated to the benefit of focusing on the body’s movement to build muscle memory of proper technique.

The Solo Reverse expression exercises a student’s knowledge of the pattern by forcing them to work backwards through the pattern. While ostensibly the same techniques, this expression has the side effect of changing the pattern as techniques are performed in reverse resulting in differently executed and occasionally impracticable techniques (e.g. Choong-Jang #19 reversing the Low X-Fist Pressing Block parry/Knee Strike, changing the nature of sine-waves, etc.). Further, this expression is not beneficial for all students as some individuals are not able to easily mentally reverse a sequence (e.g. saying the alphabet in reverse) and as such this expression results in frustration rather than learning. As this expression’s main thrust is to reenforce the student’s recollection of the pattern, an argument can be made that other expressions accomplish this in a more logical and applicable way.

How Are Patterns Trained Outside Of Taekwon-do?

Similar to Mrs McMaster, instructor Rick Owens (VIII Dan) also saw limitations within the traditional approaches to teaching and training kata within the Bujinkan. Mr Owens’ approach was to focus on the application and by logical extension the realism of the techniques expressed in the Bujinkan’s katas. This lead to the codification of a number of the traditional strategies and the addition of expressions with specific context to kata. Mr Owens argues that if you do not have the ability to perform the kata effectively in each of these expressions then you do not have a full grasp of the exercise. The strategies that Mr Owens uses in-class to teach and train kata are:

  1. Solo: performing the exercise as taught in the official texts;
  2. Elemental: performing each fundamental movement in isolation;
  3. Partnered: performing the exercise as taught against attacking partner(s) with no impact;
  4. Impact: performing the exercise as taught with assisting partner(s) holding shields for full impact; and
  5. Henka (meaning “variations”): performing the exercise free-form against attacking partner(s) with no impact.

At first blush, two or three of these expressions look foreign, yet Taekwon-do still manages to touch on every one of them in one form or another via traditional drill-work. This lends credence to the proposition of incorporating these ideas within a Taekwon-do training regime. Most martial artists are very familiar with the Solo and Elemental expressions. Within the context of Taekwon-do, the Partnered expression is by no means a foreign concept though it not a widely trained aspect. Conversely, the Impact and Henka expressions are much less familiar to Taekwon-doists.

The Solo expression is embodied by most martial artists’ traditional performance of patterns where a student executes them as defined within the official texts (e.g. the Encyclopedia). Being taught the full Solo expression first gives the student a big picture understanding as well as context for the fundamental movements they are expected to learn.

The Elemental expression is embraced by Taekwon-do’s fundamental movement drills where students work on each technique in isolation. This approach has the benefit of focusing on and polishing a single technique or short sequence of techniques for proper technical execution.

As for the Partnered expression… while Taekwon-doists are taught that a pattern can be thought to generally represent a fight, the patterns were not designed with partner(s) in mind. While training of this fashion is done in Taekwon-do, it is rarely done outside of preparing for demonstrations. The Chang-Hon pattern set was not only developed to highlight techniques per rank and to give students a method to focus on them, they were also developed to be beautiful to perform and to return to the starting position. These additional pattern design criteria inject the occasional impracticality when viewed through the lens of a realistic fight sequence. Despite these impracticalities, there are a number of excellent examples of the Partnered expression being performed at various Taekwon-do demonstrations (such as the DPRK Team performance of Chong-Moo).

Taekwon-do trains a variation of the Impact expression but only within the context of the Elemental expression; as fundamental movements into a shield. This work is generally performed in a forward motion and is therefore not fully representative of what is taught in the patterns. The patterns attempt to train us to utilize techniques while integrating omnidirectional movement, yet in the context of impact training we rarely listen. How often have you executed a retreating punch (e.g. Chon-Ji #18-19) or a technique paired with a turn or transition into a shield? One could argue that the Impact expression is utilized more generally in Dan-level breaking, where multiple targets are destroyed by multiple techniques. The issue is that while there is a higher degree of dynamic movement, it is still highly prescribed (e.g. the boards are positioned “just right”). Besides, impact training of this sort is far removed from both the juniors and the patterns which provide a perfect framework for such training. Balance, power, accuracy and the proper use of attacking/defending tools are gained by the pattern performing student while the assisting student benefits by experiencing applications, learning proper distancing as well as experience holding a shield.

The Henka expression is about utilizing the pattern within the context of a natural posture and response to an initial attack. To “pull the pattern out of one’s backside” as it were. There are only a few fleeting examples within Taekwon-do of using a pattern as a guide in a free-form context. Occasionally, we will extract a short series of movements from a pattern and apply them in a self-defense or sparring context. Prearranged Free Sparring is another example but once again this is far removed from both the juniors and the patterns. Not utilizing the patterns in a free-form expression is an opportunity lost as they can provide a wonderful tool for students to achieve a deeper knowledge and understanding of their movements and applications as well as offer a new avenue to practice distance, angles and timing all within a well-known framework.

A Unified List of Pattern Expressions

Valid arguments could be made for each of the explored pattern expressions but due to the limited class time we have with our students, a succinct unified list of pattern expressions is a useful tool for instructors. Listed roughly in teaching order:

  1. Solo: performing the exercise as taught in the official texts;
  2. Elemental: performing each fundamental movement in isolation;
  3. Elemental Blind: performing each fundamental movement in isolation with eyes closed;
  4. Solo Legs: performing the exercise as taught while dispelling arm movements;
  5. Partnered: performing the exercise as taught against attacking partner(s) with no impact;
  6. Solo Blind: performing the exercise as taught with eyes closed;
  7. Impact: performing the exercise as taught with assisting partner(s) holding shields for full impact; and
  8. Henka (or Free-Form): performing the exercise free-form against attacking partner(s) with no impact.

Some of these pattern expressions deserve more dedicated class time than others. The Solo and Elemental expressions are paramount in establishing a solid understanding of proper technique execution and deserve additional attention when students are learning a new pattern. The Elemental Blind expression is useful to explore in-brief in class to expose the students to this approach and to highlight some weaknesses but generally students should have the discipline to include this expression themselves during Elemental expression drill-work.

Once the students are familiar with the pattern in a big picture sense, the Solo Legs expression is useful in refining and further underlining the importance of proper footwork. It also provides the opportunity to highlight the importance of specific elements of the footwork. To establish a basic understanding of distancing, timing and applications within the context of the pattern, expose the students to the Partnered expression. At this time, students can also be exposed to the Solo Blind expression to highlight any latent technical deficiencies.

With a thorough foundational understanding of the pattern in hand, the Impact expression can be employed to once again highlight any latent deficiencies when techniques are executed for effect as well as underline the proper use of attacking and defending tools. The Henka expression can also now be employed to further refine distance, angles, timing and applications within the context of the pattern.

Applying the Pattern Expressions In Class

Ultimately we end up with three levels, each with 2-3 pattern expressions based on the level of understanding of the pattern; initial, basic, and thorough. Expressions 1-3 are for laying down the initial understanding of the pattern, with Elemental Blind employed primarily by the students themselves. Expressions 4-6 are worked in parallel once a basic understanding is in place to further refine the pattern. Expressions 7 and 8 are only undertaken once a thorough understanding of the pattern has been achieved. This is not to say that as an instructor you do not revisit the earlier expressions once a level of competence has been achieved; far from it. Rather this is a description of the order of operations to help a student progress through the expressions for each pattern they are to learn.

The final challenge is in regards to integrating the pattern expressions that we are less familiar with; Impact and Henka (Free-Form).

Integrating the Impact Expression via Modified Drill-Work

Utilizing the pattern-specific Impact expression is simply a matter of adding a second student to a by-numbers pattern performance.

Impact Pattern Drill: Create groups of 2 students each, preferably of varying ranks. Ensure both students are able to perform a particular pattern (any pattern will do). Initially, task the junior rank with performing the pattern by-numbers while the senior student positions a shield (or grab) in advance of each technique.

The junior student is tasked with performing the pattern first as that is the easier of the two tasks as the senior student must know the pattern’s applications and techniques in advance. Performing the pattern by-numbers allows time for the senior student to properly reposition the shield/grab between techniques while most Fast, Continuous and Connecting Motion movements allow for a single placement to be effective.

Integrating the Partnered and Henka (Free-Form) Expressions via “Pattern Sparring”

Utilizing the Henka expression requires new drills to be added to your training arsenal. These drills can be thought of as a new form of sparring; Pattern Sparring.

Basic Pattern Sparring Drill: Create groups of 3-6 students each, preferably of varying ranks. Ensure all students are able to perform a particular pattern (any pattern will do). Initially, task the junior rank with performing the pattern by-numbers while the other students are tasked with attacking the junior with appropriate attacks and defending with appropriate blocks based on what the pattern prescribes for each count.

For example: Dan-Gun movement #1 prescribes a Left Mid Knife-Hand Block. The attackers are to execute a penetrating mid-section attack (Mid Punch, Mid Front Snap, etc.) that allows a valid application of the Left Mid Knife-Hand Block as a defense. Dan-Gun movement #2 requires the other students to properly defend against a Right High Punch.

When students first attempt this drill, they invariably stay on diagram; that is to say they perform the pattern as taught maintaining the directionality of each technique. This version is akin to the Partnered expression and is referred to as Pattern Sparring (On Diagram). In order to achieve a Henka expression, do away with the diagram and rather require the student performing the pattern to react to the random angles of attack from their partners. This variation forces the pattern performing student to focus on supporting the prescribed techniques with footwork that likely differs from the pattern’s prescribed footwork. All students are forced to adjust to different distances and angles. This version is referred to as Pattern Sparring (Off Diagram).

Minor modifications of this drill lead to a number of other skill development opportunities:

Balance, accuracy and the proper use of attacking/defending tools are gained by the junior student while the senior student benefits by experiencing applications and learning proper distancing.


1 – Rosenbaum, Michael. Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge in Traditional Martial Arts. YMAA Publication Center, Boston, 2004. (via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata#Background)