TAE GEUK (literally Tae - 'largeness' and Geuk - 'eternity') is the name given to the red and blue circle on the Korean flag (Taegukki). Tae Geuk represents the unity of opposites that composes the cosmos. Its characteristics are often described as pacifism, unity, creative spirit, future spirit, eternity, and Um and Yang (Yin and Yang in Chinese). Um (earth, female - the blue lower half of the circle) and Yang (heaven, male - the red upper half) are themselves opposites in delicate balance. Remember that each is dependent upon the other: without ugliness there is no beauty; without night there is no day; without cold there is no hot; without winter there is no summer. By maintaining the balance and harmony of these opposing forces, characteristics and elements in everyday life, we experience the Do (or Tao in Chinese) that is at the heart of our chosen martial art: Taekwondo.
There are eight Tae Geuk Poomse, or forms (perhaps better known under their Japanese name of Kata), and each is represented by a different Gwe, or theory (which explains the derivation of the term Palgwe, meaning eight theories, which was the name for the original Taekwondo poomse). In addition to its Gwe, every poomse also has an associated Chinese trigram drawn from the I Ching (the Chinese Book of Changes). In the trigrams, the straight lines represent Yang, or male, and the broken lines represent Um, or female.
The first Tae Geuk poomse is the Heaven/Universe form. The associated trigram represents Yang, or male/positive energy. The concept behind the form is that of the universe giving birth to the cycle of life. The Taekwondoist starts his or her journey as a White Belt, and the first part of the journey - the end of the first cycle - comes with the attainment of a Black Belt. As the Tao reminds us, with an end comes a new beginning. Just as night becomes day, the Taekwondoist begins anew as a Black Belt. Thus does the life cycle of the martial artist reflect the cycle of life itself.
TAE GEUK #2 - E JANG: TAE/Strength of Mind
The underlying concept of Tae is external gentleness belying internal strength, often characterised by the maxim of the iron fist in the velvet glove. As our confidence and power increase, we paradoxically become more calm, gentle and reasonable. Strength of mind lies behind the core Taekwondo tenet of indomitable spirit.
TAE GEUK #3 - SAM JANG: RI/Fire
Ri, the symbol for the third Tae Geuk form, means fire, sun and light. Literally, the sun contains immense energy, and of course intensity - one of the key components of Taekwondo practice. Metaphorically, fire represents the passion of a martial artist at this advanced beginner stage. There are block/punch and block/kick combinations that require bursts of energy and coordination as defense becomes counter-attack.
TAE GEUK #4 - SA JANG: JIN/Thunder
The fourth poomse is represented by thunder, which is one of the most powerful forces of nature. This form is a major step forward for the Taekwondoist, as he/she moves from beginner to intermediate status, and it must be performed with grace and power. Because the techniques are now much more techincally challenging, mastery of Tae Geuk Sa Jang demands both courage and perseverance from the practitioner.
TAE GEUK #5 - O JANG: SEON/Wind
The wind form encapsulates one of the most important concepts for the advancing martial artist. Wind can be a gentle breeze which caresses everything it touches, yet as it grows in intensity it gains power and destructive force. If it reaches hurricane force it destroys everything in its path. The true martial artist understands that it is necessary to harness this paradoxical strength and weakness: the stronger and more powerful we become through our Taekwondo training, the more peaceful and calm we should become. This is the essence of the Tao - the Way.
TAE GEUK #6 - YUK JANG: KAM/Water
Water, which quietly carves out canyons and mountains, reflects the concept of a flexible mind and a flexible body. Like anything in nature, we must remain flexible if we are to survive. Water teaches us that explosive force and power is not the only way, and by now you should understand the importance of seeking the path of least resistance. The power of water mirrors one of Taekwondo's core values: indomitable spirit. Water can be still, clear, calm and reflective, and as we train we seek these characteristics for our minds. Yet water also retains ultimate flexibility and flowing power, and these are characteristics we seek for our bodies.
TAE GEUK #7 - CHIL JANG: KAN/Mountain
Mountains are the most majestic expressions of our natural environment, and they clearly represent permanence, wisdom, strength, spirit, stability and solidity. Once again, we are faced with a paradox, for Tae Guek Chil Jang requires the demonstration of all these chracteristics - particularly stability - in the long, low and powerful forward stances, and even in the graceful but seemingly weak and unstable cross stance and tiger stance. Chil Jang is a difficult form which requires mental and physical effort and determination.
TAE GEUK #8 - PAL JANG: KON/Earth
Kon means earth, and the associated trigram (three broken lines) is um/yin. Earth provides us with birth, and sustains is in life, and all lives must return to where they begin - earth. Yet the circle of life also provides renewal and rebirth. Thus our status as colored belts begins with Yang, and ends with Yin, only for us to be reborn as Black Belts - a new morning, a new day, a new season, a new challenge. Upon finishing our basic training we face new challenges and are beginners once more, evolving from strong, proud and dignified Gups into humble, honest and eager Dans.
In peforming Tae Geuk Pal Jang we must demonstrate everything that we have learned to date: twisting, turning power; controlled breathing; relaxed internal energy; strong, confident kihaps; fluid movement; bodily control; balance and coordination. Pal Jang should be grand and dramatic.