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Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

U-Nam Tul: Taekwon-Do’s Lost Pattern

A selection of the instructions for U-Nam from General Choi's 1959 book on Taekwon-Do

What’s U-Nam tul, you say? First, let me ask you this: how many patterns are there in Taekwon-Do? 24? That’s only in the current syllabus. What if I told you there are 26?

The more studious among you may know about Ko-Dang, which was replaced by Juche in the 1980s. (On a somewhat confusing note, Grandmaster Choi’s ITF renamed “Juche” to “Ko-Dang” to avoid the North Korean connection, but the pattern they use is the same as Juche.) But did you know that for a short time in the 1950s there was another pattern? I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of U-Nam; it’s kind of been forgotten.

A brief history of U-Nam tul

General Choi published his first book on Taekwon-Do in 1959. Choi’s art was still new at the time, and the book was only available in Korean, so it didn’t become a raging international success. But it did lay the groundwork for what was to come.

At the time, Taekwon-Do still looked much like Karate. The photos used throughout the book show much more Karate-like stances and techniques than those we use today. Students were also still practicing Karate kata in 1959, as Choi and his crew had only developed a handful of patterns. One of those patterns (or tuls) was called U-Nam.

According to Dr. George Vitale, the pattern was given its name to gain favour with Syngman Rhee, the first president of Korea. His pen name was—you guessed it—U-Nam. According to Dennis Koenig at Thoughts on TaeKwonDo , using the name U-Nam was an attempt by Choi to expand the influence of Taekwon-Do in the South Korean government [edit: thanks to Dennis who let me know that this info came from Dr. Vitale in a private message].

Rhee was forced to resign in 1960, following nationwide student-led protests, and lived in exile in Hawaii. U-Nam tul was removed from the Taekwon-Do curriculum around this time and seems to have never appeared in another printed publication.

Dr. Vitale believes that U-Nam would have been one of the first six patterns developed, between 1955 and 1959. After it was abandoned, sections of the pattern were used to create Choong-Jang. And some techniques and segments show up in other patterns as well. For example, the ready stance from U-Nam was used in Ul-Ji.

The oddities of U-Nam

There are a few peculiar moves in U-Nam. For example, near the end of the pattern, there’s an inner forearm block in L-stance performed with the rear arm. That isn’t seen in any other pattern, to the best of my knowledge.

In Dr. Vitale’s translation, move 23 says to perform a left side snap kick and a horizontal backfist. Does that sound weird to you? It should: we don’t have a side snap kick in Taekwon-Do. But remember I said that in 1959 Taekwon-Do still looked like Karate? Well, Shotokan Karate just so happens to have a side snap kick with a horizontal backfist. (Check out this video from 0:30 to 0:32 for an example.)

Although I can’t read the Korean text to confirm this theory, I’m willing to bet all above-the-belt side kicks throughout General Choi’s first book were written as side snap kicks.

As General Choi evolved Taekwon-Do, he began a Tim Allen-like quest for more power. By the publication of his 1965 book, the side snap kick was replaced by the more powerful “side thrusting kick”. The side thrusting kick of today is performed with the ball of the foot. But the 1965 version was performed with the footsword and was described as having a “purpose similar to that of [a] punching technique”. Eventually, the term “side piercing kick” was adopted instead, and the side thrusting kick became something else.

And, of course, the horizontal backfist eventually became a checking punch.

If U-Nam were in the Taekwon-Do syllabus today, I think it would be safe to assume we would do a side piercing kick and checking punch (as in Won-Hyo), instead of the side snap kick and backfist listed in the 1959 book.

I would also bet that we would do a bending ready stance A before the side kick instead of bringing both fists to the right hip, as instructed in Dr. Vitale’s translation. Bringing both hands to the hip is common in Karate before the side snap kick/backfist combo. But on page 256 of the Condensed Encyclopedia, General Choi wrote that this is an incorrect technique when performing a side kick. Somewhere along the lines he changed it in favour of a forearm guarding block in the bending ready stance.

I don’t know about you, but I love to find out about these to see how our art has evolved. Now go enjoy some U-Nam!

P.S. Many thanks to Nick Campbell of Fusion Martial Arts in Australia for educating me that U-Nam exists. He has some excellent (free!) Taekwon-Do learning resources that you should check out. Even more important, he has produced condensed instructions for U-Nam that clear up some apparent translation instructions in Dr. Vitale’s version.

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  • George Vitale

    Nick Campbell did a much more comprehensive analysis of U-Nam. He also had the benefit of working with a limited group who were knowledgeable. While I was blessed to have a lot of help from many learned people, few could give us the consistency and time required to make a more accurate recreation. So we rushed through putting together what we did, as I knew that if we did not leave with something, nothing would be done. The gym was literally emptying out as we were trying to rush the finish.
    You could say that too many cooks spoiled our soup. They were all great cooks, but they kept getting pulled from us due to their responsibilities as officials during a world championships.
    GM C.K. Choi has also spent a good deal of time and effort in recreating Woo-Nam. He was the one who initially told me it existed! I then surprised him with a copy of the 1959 book. He told me he did not realize that SAM-IL Tul was in there. But he never mentioned to me it was there all along. We stumbled upon it by pure luck in Bulgaria that year at the ITF WCs.

    • That’s awesome to hear some of the history of how U-Nam was preserved. I’d love to hear more of the story sometime.

      By the way, is it U-Nam (as I had originally seen it written) or Woo-Nam (as both your and Nick have used more recently)?