Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Forward and Backward

A few years ago, my instructor was asked to do participate in a regional tournament's demonstration. This evening show has been one of the yearly highlights in our Region as we get to see the skills of our area's Master Instructors and a few of our other senior instructors. My instructor agreed to participate, and when people asked, he told them he would be demonstrating "Bassai."

A few people's body language unintentionally revealed their disappointment. "Oh, I've seen that form a million times. Whoopee!" was the unspoken sentiment from a few. And really, who could blame them? They were probably hoping to see a cool Master level hyung, possibly performed blindfolded while on fire, or sparring against an angry bear, or using the spinning techniques of a staff to ward off an angry hive of hornets. You know, something entertaining!

Then the surprise hit.

He demonstrated Bassai, and it was an excellent demonstration. After the last move, everyone expected him to return to choonbee jaseh and bow. Instead, he did something a little different. He started going through the form again. In reverse. From the last move to the first move, like a video in rewind (for the most part.)

As he finished the form in reverse, he returned to choonbee, and the audience began to applaud. But wait; there's more!

He then started with the first technique, then the last technique, 2nd technique, 2nd to last, etc, doing the form both forward and backwards at the same time. To this day, I've not had the discipline to try and work that one out. It starts out pretty simple, but there's a point where those two forms must meet, and it is extremely difficult to remember whether you are going backwards or forward.

When he was finished, the crowd gave him his due. The next morning, I saw one or two people trying to do it, and a few even asked him how he managed to pull it off. As always, he gave a frustratingly simple answer: "practice."

In our school, re-arranging sequences of a hyung is not uncommon, and most of our students are encouraged from a very early time in their training to perform a mirror-image version of the form, as well as a backwards version. If you want to make a green belt's head explode - you know the type: the one who thinks they know everything about Pyung Ahn E Dan, and think it is perfectly reasonable to start working on Rohai from videos -- ask them to perform Pyung Ahn E Dan backwards and mirror-imaged.

(It does help if YOU can call their bluff and casually demonstrate it for them after they get stuck about 6 counts into the form.)

This is me performing our most basic hyung in reverse. Sorry for the video quality, but my little digital camera is several years out of date. I've found that performing the form in this manner really helps students pay attention to their footwork and transitions. In order to do the form in reverse, they REALLY have to think about their forward motion. It isn't good enough to just think "low block." Now they have to think about how they distribute their weight, how they chamber, timing, everything.

Once your students gain this deeper understanding of the form, they will begin to truly take ownership of that form and make it theirs. They will literally know the form inside and out, forward and back.

It's a great tool, try it with your students (after you've practiced it!)
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