Tiger Style Tae Kwon Do #3[1] : Theory And Practice

Dr. James A. Noel, Ph.D.


     All Asian martial arts styles can be traced back to the physical exercises and fighting systems developed and systemized in China’s Shoalin Temple. The systems developed there have been crudely grouped into “hard” and ‘soft” martial arts styles. At the highest level of mastery, however, there is really no distinction between a ‘hard” or “internal” and a “soft” or “external” martial arts style. Differences in style can be understood to be alternate routes leading eventually—after years of training—to the same destination. In actual fighting the “hardness” or “softness” of the techniques a master uses will depend on the requirements of the situation. It is with these reservations that we classify Tae Kwon Do as a “hard style” martial art. It is because of the type of training it uses to develop martial arts mastery. Like other hard styles, Tae Kwon Do emphasizes the straight/linear principle in the martial arts. It stresses the use of forward/horizontal motion in generating power for kicking, blocking, and punching. This principle governs the logic and character of Tae Kwon Do forms wherein the usual case is that one distinct block, kick, or punch is executed for each step. This emphasis makes Tae Kwon Do’s basic techniques very intelligible to novices. The beginning student is able to develop a sense of stability and balance through proper body alignment that incorporates forty-five degree angles in the stances and arm positions. This principle is consistently maintained up through the advanced level of Tae Kwon Do forms. The linear/horizontal principle of movement expresses the fortitude, will power, and determination of the Korean psyche and physique.

     The superiority of Tae Kwon Do’s kicking techniques over other martial arts styles has been clearly demonstrated in open competition tournaments in the US during the 1960s. The result was that other styles began incorporating Tae Kwon Do kicks into their repertoire. The flip side of this equation was that Tae Kwon Do competitors experienced certain limitations in their style when fighting stylists of Kung Fu, Kempo, and even boxers at close range. Tae Kwon Do’s linear/horizontal principle of movement was most effective at the long to medium range of distance where its superior kicks came into play. Tae Kwon Do’s hand techniques, however, were too limited and too slow at close range. These realizations lead some Tae Kwon Do stylists to attempt at appropriating the hand techniques of opposing styles. But few Tae Kwon Do artists who borrowed in this way gave due consideration to how compatible this was with Tae Kwon Do’s principle of linear/horizontal motion. The result was often a potpourri of fragmented styles but not something that can be said to be an integrated whole.

     The Tiger Forms that Ken Youn developed to meet the above-described exigency overcame this problem. This is because all the Tiger Form techniques are modifications in the application of traditional Tae Kwon Do techniques. Therefore, these modifications do not violate Tae Kwon Do’s principle. They can be comprehended within the theory of Um and Yang


     Tae Kwon Do like all other Asian martial arts is based on the philosophy of Yin (Um in Korean) and Yang. This philosophy views all of reality as consisting of a dialectical unity of opposing principles and forces. The Heaven cannot exist without the earth, its opposite. There is no hard without soft, no straight without curve, no external without internal, no action without inaction and reaction.

    Thus, if we are executing a technique that is based on the linear/horizontal principle of movement we have to also appreciate how such movement may also contain or suggest a circular motion as its dialectical opposite. The reverse punch, for example, begins with the fist held beside the waist and turned upward. The punch ends with the fist extended with the knuckles facing downward. For, say the right fist to get from one position to the other requires it to turn 180 degrees in a circular pattern. Hence, the straight horizontal movement of the reverse punch also contains a circular motion. Indeed, the technique will lack power if the punch is executed without the twisting, circular, motion. The motion of the hip is what also provides power to Tae Kwon Do techniques. If we examine the skeletal structure, we can see how the spinal column acts as the vertical axis for the hip’ s horizontal rotation. In the execution of the right reverse punch, the right hip moves forward and the left hip snaps backward. Structurally, however, the right and left hips are actually tracing a horizontal curve around the axis of the spine. Numerous other examples can be given to demonstrate how circular motions are hidden in Tae Kwon Do’s straight techniques in accord with the Um/Yang theory.


    The above principles are contained in the defensive/offensive maneuvers of Tiger Style of Tae Kwon Do. Rather than being a collection of extraneous techniques that were attached to Tae Kwon Do to make up for its limited hand techniques, the Tiger Style is actually based on the ingenious application of selected movements found in Tae Kwon Do’s traditional Pyung Ahn forms.

     Without revealing any secrets of Tiger Form tae Kwon Do stylists, we can say that Tiger Style fighters employ numerous spinning moves in our defense and utilize a forty-five degree angle of entry in our offense. In defending, when the line of attack from the opponent is straight we become like a ball , deflect and roll off the attacking motion. This places us to the side of the opponent at an optimum angle of attack (forty-five degrees) with the option of an additional spin. Defense is quickly turned into offense. Soft is instantaneously turned into hard. The curved is suddenly straight.

     Many of these motions are carried out by assuming the cross-leg stance (basai jaseh), modified horse stance (ki ma rip jaseh), and modified twist stance (bul yeoo seo jaseh) of traditional Tae Kwon Do. Tiger Style Tae Kwon Do’s spinning attacks are mirrored in the ninth through twelfth movements of Pyung Ahn Sam Dan. Its linear attacks resemble the lunge ending with an assisted inside block/strike in the Bassai Hyung. The swivel positioning of the hip relative to our opponents straight line of attack is mirrored in the fourth through eighth movement of the newer Cheonkwon Hyung. In the twelth through sixteenth movements of Cheonkwon Hyung we have mirrored the use of the front hand for defense and offense followed by stepping in (entering) with another attack. The palm heel low block (son ba dak mit or jang kwon) and the wrist block (son mok deung) performed in Tiger I Hyung are found in traditional Tae Kwon Do’s repetoire.


     In this author’s opinion the quality of Tae Kwon Do as a martial art has declined considerably in the past twenty years. The rules and protective gear made mandatory in Olympic Tae Kwon Do free sparring has reduced the art to a form of second rate kick boxing. Students are being promoted in Korea and the US without being able to perform basic stances, blocks, and punches. Their kicks no longer have the snap that so characterized our art. Olympic style free fighting is merely a wild exchange of kicks. Hand techniques have become non-existent! This situation makes it imperative for those of us who were trained in the Tiger Style to revere and preserve our forms. These forms and techniques resemble some of the techniques found Wing Chung Kung Fu and Baqua but they are not derivative. As we pass the secrets of our Tiger Form to our students must also teach them how these forms express the real meaning and ultimate development and goal of Tae Kwon Do—to realize the unity of Um and Yang. For the Tiger Form stylist the linear/horizontal movement is always dialectically related to the circle. Our techniques are mysterious and profound because: when moving straight we spin; when spinning we move straight; defending we attack; attacking we defend: retreating we remain stationary by twisting. Thus, the opponent is always confounded.

[1] The Tiger Style of fighting and the Tiger Forms were taught by Master Ken Youn in the early 1970s. These forms continue to be practiced and taught in the San Francisco Bay Area by the author and Masters: Luther Secrease and Julius Baker at Secrease’s Tae Kwon Do and Baker’s Tae Kwon Do, respectively.