A form or poomsae is a pre-arranged pattern of techniques consisting of blocks, strikes and kicks that a practitioner uses to fight off imaginary opponents attacking from multiple directions.
Poomsae originates from a Chinese oracle called, the "I Ching". The I Ching has 64 hexagrams, a combination of two sets of three lines, closed or broken and these sets of three lines are called trigrams. The closed lines represent Yang, the open lines Yin. In the Chinese language, the unity of Yin and Yang is called 'taichi'. In the Korean language, the unity is called Tae-guk. This explains the term Poomse Taegeuk. The eight trigrams together are called Pal-gwe as in Poomse Palgwe.
The Taegeuk series of poomsae or patterns is recognized by the WTF or World TaeKwonDo Federation for rank promotion. Those who study and practice Olympic style TaeKwonDo, typically learn and practice the TaeGeuk series of poomsae. Though this series is somewhat standard, you will find the exact techniques performed can vary quite a bit depending upon the school they are taught in or the instructor that teaches them. In fact you can visit multiple Tae Kwon Do schools in the same city and find each teaching the same form a little bit different.
Poomsae for Taekwondo has been transformed greatly by competition. The need to be flashy or add flare to a pattern in order to win has left us with a wide variety of interpretations for each one. Kicks originally intended to strike the middle section of your imaginary opponent are now performed by most, as kicks to someone floating in the sky, while other techniques are intentionally slowed down and turned in to what we call tension moves. Purchase three books on Taekwondo poomsae and you will find each explains the patterns with different footwork and variation of strikes or blocks. So, it's best to keep an open mind regarding the practice of forms and understand the influence that competition, in this wonderful art, has had on them.
Taegeuk can be loosely translated as meaning Great Eternity or Eternal Greatness. The idealisms represented by Taegeuk are: pacifism, unity, creative spirit, future spirit, and eternity. The Taegeuk has the same symbolism as the Palgwe and can be said to integrate the methods of attack, defense, forward movement and retreat, control of the speed of movements, and the intensity of the actions. The directions and lines of movement are represented by the eight symbols of 'Palgwe.'
Each Poomsae needs to be practiced many times so that it can be performed without having to think of what the next move, direction or stance would be. Only after practicing a form, hundreds of times, will a student begin to understand the movements performed and the intended meaning.
Though the poomsae is not something a student would directly use to defend themselves while being attacked in real life, they help to teach each practitioner the fundamentals of basic techniques and how to perform them efficiently. There is much symbolism behind the patterns and those who choose to learn them should understand the meaning behind each one. Poomse can also help students to control breathing that is to be synchronized while executing techniques requiring great speed.
Keep in mind while learning these forms that every school and instructor does not teach them exactly the same. Although they are supposed to remain standardized, some instructors may alter the timing or actual techniques depending on how they themselves were taught or if they decided to just change a move. Many movements are changed to make them look nice while in a forms competition and really have nothing to do with the original intention of the actual techniques. For example many instructors will make some techniques into slower tension moves for looks, such as the knife hand blocks in TaeGeuk Yuk Jang.
Try not to waste your time attempting to make forms look nice while doing them. Simply practice each technique and movement individually and then you will find when you combine the pieces the forms will naturally look good all on their own.
Below you will find the trigram that symbolizes each of the TaeGeuk poomsae. Click them to learn the movements. Each page has a video which demonstrates the patterns as we teach them in our program, and are not competition style.