Various styles of taekwondo (such as WTF/Kukkiwon -style or ITF/Chang Hon-style) have pre-defined taekwondo forms associated with them. These forms are used as part of training, and are also performed competitively at tournaments. In addition, however, many tournaments also conduct competitions in which practitioners perform taekwondo forms that they themselves have designed. Typically these are called freestyle or creative competitions. The idea is that these freestyle competitions allow practioners to showcase advanced techniques (such as highly acrobatic kicks, as just one example) that are not normally part of the standard curriculum of forms. A common example would be the tornado kick; despite being a signature technique for taekwondo, the tornado kick does not show up in any standard forms.
Freestyle forms may be performed individually or in teams. In some cases they may be set to music.
Designing a Freestyle Form
Generally speaking, each tournament is going to have its own rules for how freestyle forms are judged. Often these are based on the rules of the association taekwondo federation. Some typical rules:
- The performance area is constrained to a prescribed size, such as 10m x 10m or 12m x 12m.
- The performance duration is constrained to a prescribed timeframe, such as 60 or 90 seconds.
- The performance duration may also be constrained to a maximum number of steps ("poom") in the form, where each step may be a short combination. For example, the form may be limited to 20 poom.
- Often there is a prescribed set of basic techniques that must appear somewhere in the form: standard blocks, strikes, and kicks. Typically the number of these techniques is left unspecified; for example, usually the rules say something like, "There must be at least one knifehand technique..." as opposed to saying "There must be at least four knifehand strikes.." For this reason, when designing a freestyle form that may be used at multiple competitions, it's often a good idea to include a good number of basic techniques so that the same form might be used under different rule sets.
- In addition, scoring guidelines for freestyle competitions will often award additional points for advanced techniques. Most often, points are aligned with advanced foot techhniques such as jumping, spinning, and acrobatic kicks. Kicks are judged based on criteria such as heights of jumps, number of kicks in a single jump, and number of rotations in a jump. Generally speaking, acrobatics that do not incorporate a taekwondo technique are not awarded additional point; for example a backflip alone would not yield points, but a backflip that incorporates a kick would.
- Some competitions also award points for sparring-style kicks in the form, especially rapid numbers of consecutive sparring-style kicks.
- Some competitions require that both attacking and defending techniques appear in the form.
- Some competitions require that a set percentage of the form (say 60%) revolve around foot techniques.
In addition to the above scoring considerations:
- Most taekwondo forms tend to be symmetric, with the same technique usually appearing at least twice in the form, once left-sided and again right-sided. This demonstrates that the practitioner is equally skilled on both sides of the body.
- Most taekwondo forms are built around some floor pattern; for example in WTF/Kukkiwon-style taekwondo, the floor patterns have symbolic significance: the Taegeuk forms are built around trigrams from the I Ching, while the foor patterns of the black belt forms allude to Chinese characters of special significance. So for example, when designing a freestyle form, one may want to start by considering what floor pattern one wishes to trace with ones movements, and one may want to choose a pattern that has some symbolic significance for the practitioner. (Additionally, if a symbolic floor pattern is chosen, one may also want to select techniques that further reflect the symbolism. As one example, it is said that the inclusion of Tiger Stances in Taegeuk Chil Jang ("mountain") is intended to reflect the fact that in Korea tigers are known for living in mountains - the technique was chosen to further reflect the symbolism of the form.)
In addition to all the technical considerations, freestyle forms are often also judged on subjective considerations such as creativity, energy, choreography, degree of difficulty, aesthetic appeal, etc.
Example Design Approaches
In summary, one approach for designing a Freestyle Form might be to:
- Decide upon a floor pattern to be used, especially a pattern than has some symbolic significance for the practitioner.
- When deciding which techniques to incorporate into the form, plan on having the form be primarily symmetric.
- Start by deciding where to place the "advanced" techniques in the form: jumbing, spinning, or acrobatic kicks.
- Then decide where to place rapid sparring-style kicking sequences.
- Fill in the form between these kicking techniques with blocks and strikes as appropriate, especially techniques or combinations that further reflect the symbolism of the form.
- When selecting techniques for this fill-in, be sure to include a fair number of basic techniques that the judges will recognize as meeting the minimum requirements for that tournament.
- Also ensure that the lead-in techniques leading up to the to the jumping, spinning, or acrobatic kicks will make it easier to perform those advanced techniques. (I.e., you want to go into those techniques with good balance, room to move, and some wind still in your lungs!)
- Also, ensure that the form has good "flow", with each technique or combination following smoothly and logically from the next.
- Ensure that the form will fit within most tournament constraints: usually about 60 seconds, with ~20 steps, in a 10m x 10m area.
Of course this is not the only design approach one could use:
- Another approach might be to envision instead an imaginary fight, and build the freestyle form around the imagined fight.
- A third approach might be to begin with the selection of the music, and choreograph the form around the music as first consideration.
- A fourth approach might be to simply "start at the beginning" and simply lay out the sequence of movements you would like to perform, in order, and then decide afterward how to lay these out into a floor pattern.
- Of course you do not want to copy other people's designs. You can find inspiration in other people's designs however. Watch a number of YouTube videos showing freestyle and creative forms in order to get ideas. You don't have to restrict yourself to just taekwondo forms either: you might find inspiration by watching forms from other martial arts.
- Many people try to incorporate unique techniques into their freestyle form in order to make the form interesting, but you can create interesting effects by using commonplace techniques instead, but in highly unusual combinations.
- Don't forget to document your form. You can either write-down the steps, or draw figures, or both.
See Also (Choreography of Dance)
There are very few resources on the Internet that focus on how to choreograph taekwondo forms, but there are a number of good references that pertain to the choreography of dance. There references may also have useful tips and guidelines that can inspire better freestyle design. Some examples: