Monday, December 8, 2014

U-Nam - The Forgotten Form.

The internet can be a wonderful and terrible place when it comes to discussions on the martial arts.  In this article, I can thankfully mention the better side of the net for what is to come.  I had no idea there was a lost Chang Hon form until just very recently.  I am a part of a wonderful TKD discussion group, and one of our recent posts was about forms that you wish you could learn assuming you had the means.  In the course of the discussion one member suggested that before I step outside of the TKD I love, that I should check out U-Nam.  I'd like to thank Mr. Ed Patrick here for the suggestion. 

After learning of U-Nam's existence I threw it in Youtube to check the form out.  I was not initially impressed with the form.  I found myself, though,  coming back and back to Youtube in my downtime that day, and watching the form again.  Before I even realized it, I knew part of the form just from watching.  It seems that although I didn't initially intend on learning the form - my brain had different ideas.  At that point I decided to actually dedicate myself to learning the movements of the form.  I spent about two hours working the video and reading a document about the form and after a short time learned the entire form.  In the end, I'm glad I learned this form.  It is a piece of history not many people are even aware of.  It is one of the rare forms that has only one rendition on Youtube - which is normally a sea of people posting their renditions of forms.  I'm happy to know the form because of its historical position and because of the rarity of it, however it isn't the greatest form ever invented - not by a long shot.

George Vitale's document tells a lot more about the origin of the form that I need to discuss here in my blog.  You can find it here: if you want to learn more. 

U-Nam was a form created for political reasons.  U-Nam is the pen name of the first South Korean President.  At the time, General Choi was trying to get his art named as the national art of Korea and so the form was named after the then president to gain favor with him to expand the influence of TKD.  Unfortunately for TKD, the president was a despot (among other things) and was forced to resign amid country wide protests. Because of this the form only showed up in one copy of the book on TKD written by general Choi - the original 1959 publication that was in Korean.  

Architecturally, U-Nam has many elements in it that would become the form Choong-Jang.  It features the opening moves of Choong-Jang perfectly, save for the starting position which U-Nam shares with Ul-Ji.  Later in U-Nam there is a drop down round kick followed by arc hand grab-groin punch - again - straight from Choong-Jang.  Finally U-Nam has a turn that is at least reminiscent of the move in Choong-Jang where after a front kick, you spin on one leg and slowly lower yourself into a front stance while bringing your hands to one hip.  Suffice it to say, U-Nam is clearly where a lot of Choong-Jang came from.

In terms of uniqueness - U-Nam is in a class of its own.  It features several turns that are not like any turns in any of the other forms.  Off of the first front kick of the form, you complete the kick and then swing what is now your back leg all the way around 180 degrees to the outside.  As we make similar and more efficient turns in Kwang-Gae, and Ge-Baek this was very jarring and awkward.  A similar turn is thrown near the end of the form when again the back leg is swung around to the outside. I'm not sure if movements like this are featured in Tong-Il, but I know you don't see such awkward turning in the other 23.  Probably the most unique movement of the form is a simultaneous side kick and back fist - something that I have never seen before.  The last unique movement worth noting is a rear hand inner forearm block in a back stance near the end of the form. 

U-Nam is an awkward form.  I wouldn't refute the notion that the form was discontinued because of its political origin, but I wouldn't stop there for my reasoning.  The form itself feels more like a work in progress than an actual Chang Hon form.  Several of the transitions, notably, the aforementioned turns and a sequence where, off of an X-block low you have to flip your chambering hands over to perform a knife hand strike, show that this art was very new, and that the architects were also still learning as they went.  Finally, it was envisioned as being a 5th dan form the forms that would become 5th dan forms are much more difficult.  It would have stood out as being far too easy to be a 5th dan form. 

I am glad to know U-Nam, and I'll practice it because I love my art, but I'm glad it was dissected and what worked was applied elsewhere and what didn't work was discarded. 


  1. Nicely written article. I agree all the way, except that I have seen the side kick with backfist before. It is straight out of Pinan/Pyong Ahn (Heian) 4, and the Karate kata Kusanku. Some styles do a backfist while others a hammer fist strike. If you look in the 1965 Taekwon-Do by Gen. Choi you will see the karate kata listed and written out in the last chapter of that first English book. Enjoy U-Nam!

    1. Yes you are correct. The actual instructions say do,that move from the Karate Kata. So to recreate it, we had to Google that Kata to see the move was a side snap kick with a backfist strike.

  2. 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.