What are patterns?

Patterns (forms in English or Kata in Japanese) are a set of movements that combine defense and attacks at different directions fighting an imaginary opponent. Almost every traditional martial arts have patterns and some are necessary to be mastered in order to level up in your rank.

Why do we perform patterns?

This is a good question and is a question that creates a lot of debates, so I will spend a little bit of more time here and hopefully I can answer some of the questions and then explain the reasoning behind it. I can only talk about ITF TaeKwon-Do patterns since that is what I practice and teaching now. The patterns serve for a lot of purpose that sadly most of the instructors fail to explain to the student creating doubts about the purpose of the patterns.


So what are the purpose? 

  • Memory – This is the first thing I will mention, memory; oh you will need to remember so many movements, which direction you go next, what technique goes next. Not only on one pattern but ITF TaeKwon-Do has 24 patterns to learn and they range between 20 to 40 movements each. That is a lot to remember, another way to keep your body healthy is training your brain and memory is one of those exercises.
  • Coordination – You need to know that while you are kicking or punching one way your body has to move with it. Let’s take the simple movement of walking. When you walk you have one leg in front of you and the other one back but have you noticed the movement of your arms, they are going the opposite way. If your right leg is in-front your left arm is in front, this is your body creating a coordinated movement in order to keep balance and create coordination while walking. Patterns are the same way plus it challenge the body to do things that you don’t think are possible, like punching one way while kicking the other way.
  • Balance – Who hasn’t fall before in their lives, I think everyone and if you don’t ever remember falling on the floor, ask your parents, I am sure they can tell you how many times you fall while you were learning how to walk. This is very important in patterns, because the pattern challenge your body to perform certain movements (sometimes more than one) at the same time but still keep your balance. This practice will train your muscles on how to react and your brain on what to do to keep your body balanced while doing so, eventually helping on fighting, defense or even daily life routine, like slipping on a banana peel or wet floor. I guarantee you that if you don’t practice any martial arts, a surfer will have more chance avoiding falling to the ground on a wet surface than you.
  • Flexibility – When you start learning ITF TaeKwon-Do the first few patterns don’t have any kicks, then by the third pattern a simple Ap Chagi (front kick) is added and after that different kick techniques between hands and legs are combined. How the pattern work on the flexibility? well very simple, when you start reaching the middle belts, now you will be doing high kicks, jumping kicks and steady kicks. By the time you reach the black belt level now you are holding your kick, moving your body with extended kicks, kicking two different places, etc. And since the patterns are not on a fast pace like a sparring you better have flexibility in order to have control. Yes you can achieve flexibility by training and stretching but mixing the flexibility with balance, coordination and control is something different.
  • Control – Talking about control, is easy to learn how to kick and punch then go to a shield or a sand bag and hit it with all your strength. But how about keeping control? How can you achieve performing kicks that look strong but since you are kicking the air they need to look real and not all over the place? Try to do this exercise, perform 10 Ap Chagi (front kick) or 10 Yop Chagi (side kick) but every time you kick with force keep it steady and straight, look yourself in a mirror and see if you look straight, postures are right, hands are where they suppose to be. Can you do it? Great! well you just did a pattern. Don’t believe me? Well look at the meaning of Pattern = “The element of a pattern repeat in a predictable manner.” If you can control all those 10 kicks without losing balance you are on your way, even the simple kicks can take you off-guard sometimes because your body want to do something else while you are kicking.
  • Breathing – Well I hope while you are reading this you are breathing, cause breathing is a very important part of a pattern. Now since I am talking about ITF Patterns I have to bring something in particular that we do while we perform the patterns and is the breathing. Why do we exhale with force when doing a pattern? Well because we need to breath between techniques and there is a difference between other martial arts patterns and ITF Patterns, ALL the patterns are suppose to be performed with strength, power and precision, not forgetting concentration. Well sometimes when you concentrate in one particular thing you forget something else, well you don’t want to forget how to breath right? That is why at the end of each technique we exhale with force, first we release the power that we are generating, second we are coming with a lot of strength to execute the technique which means we are tense and we have to release that tension somehow, third when we execute the technique we have a stop point so using our breathing that give us an idea on where to stop the block or the kick so we can continue with the next movement and last it give us rhythm, I’m sure you have seeing kung fu movies and their movements, they are different from TaeKwon-Do but they look so smooth, so perfect but at the same time you can’t follow them because of the multiple techniques they apply in a random way (but believe me they are breathing); in our case it give us a rhythm to follow kind of like dancing: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4…

Well all that is great but how can I apply that in real life?

Oh! I read this a lot in forums and YouTube discussion videos. “Patterns are useless, you never use that in real life”, “Who is going to stand like that in a real fight” and a lot of similar opinions. Well I am going to tell you right now that you are 100% RIGHT! What? you were expecting a different answer from me? I practiced ITF TaeKwon-Do since I was 8 years old and stopped at 22 and started again at 38 years old. So believe me  I had seeing, read and experience a lot and yes I can tell you that a few things they teach me in TKD cannot be applied in real life. Now I will not say they are useless but I will say no one is going to fight like that in the streets. Believe me if I ever encounter a situation where I have to defend myself, the last thing I will do is a fancy pattern (or maybe if I do I will make the guy laugh and I don’t have to confront him) but anyways remember I mentioned Coordination and Balance? That is where the pattern applies to the situation. Your body will be trained to learn a certain way automatically and if you have to use your legs or your hands you will keep your balance because you’ve been training your body with so many repetitive movements that it will become natural, your arms and blocks will become natural. So even tho in the streets you will not do a high block in walking stance, you will know how to block and move away in order to counter attack. Another thing you may had not noticed is that on our ITF patterns, we do punch, hand strike, knee strike, punch to the groin, upset punch to the stomach, poking eyes, etc. So many attacks in a pattern that if you still think you cannot use any of that in the streets well I hope you have some other legal ways defend yourself.


Can you accomplish the same practicing self defense or going to a MMA (Mixed Martial Art) school?

You may… But every person is different and not every training applies to everyone and that is why ITF TaeKwon-Do covers more than just kicking and punching, we also train in self defense and throw downs, arm breaking, and everything that you can break in a body and patterns is a good way to train on all the aspects I mentioned before for someone that maybe is bigger and cannot move at the speed of light or train like a MMA fighter. That is why ITF TaeKwon-Do is good for everyone while certain sports are good for athletes and fighters.


So patterns are very important in your development and growth in TaeKwon-Do, just be patience you may not understand the purpose of it now but when you start seeing the movements applied in real life, when you see how much balance and coordination you have after repetitive movements you then will understand the real purpose and i you ever have doubts just ask your instructor. You grow with the patterns and it feels good when you level your belt knowing that a more challenging one is coming to test you. If you like video games, is like when you already conquered a level and now you past to the next one. If you guys have any more questions just sign up and comment below or send us an email.

Here is a pattern at White Level

[youtube height=”315″ width=”420″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l9PX_wDVsI[/youtube]

Here is a pattern of a Black Level

[youtube height=”315″ width=”420″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUD7kqgPRJ0[/youtube]

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