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Not waving but drowning: Why sine-wave is irrelevant to applying TKD

As a specialist in the applications of the patterns I am forever getting asked how do I “use the sine wave when applying the patterns”. So I wrote this article to clear up my position. Enjoy ;)

Not Waving But Drowning!!!

One of the biggest debates and perhaps the most divisive of topics among ITF style specialists (and their derivatives) is the issue of body mechanics or more properly:

'to wave or not to wave'

In fact this debate is so subjective and yet hotly disputed that TKD forums and Facebook pages the world over are drowning in it…

Often whether one promotes the sine wave or the alternative method of hip twist is no more dependant on logic or science than is ones own particular choice of football team. Often belonging to one camp or the other is more tribal than rational.

As a specialist in the applications of Taekwon-do I say from my perspective “it doesn’t matter” and here is why:

The applications of the patterns will work with either system (or neither!)

As we know the ITF style TKD is predominantly divided into two major types of body mechanics

1) Sine wave (SW) – A system of rising and falling that incorporates a relaxation of the body before motion, hence producing a slight downward movement caused by ‘natural knee spring’

2) Hip twist (HT) – a much more linear style which uses vigorous hip twists to harness the power of the core.

A short history of sinewave

Sine wave was in creation in the 1980s and in my humble opinion is still being worked on. General Choi was known to have began incorporating the drop in body weight caused by a relaxation of the knee, back in the 1970’s; however, the whole concept of the wave form was not in print until the 1980’s and was not ‘perfected’ until much later (if at all). Very few major ITF associations interpret SW the same way and for a very simple concept it somehow requires masses of investment of training and teaching time.

A short history of hip twist

Hip twist, on the other hand hip twist is a form of body mechanics inherited from the hard and linear style of karate known as Shotokan. Shotokan was a modern form of post war Japanese Karate. Though initially founded by Gichin Funakoshi (an Okinawan Master), Shotokan developed outside of Okinawa. Furthermore many of it’s characteristic traits were in fact the product of Funakoshi’s son Yoshitaka (Gigo).

Between 1936 and 1945 Gigo forged a new style of karate which separated itself from its Okinawan origins and instead took on the stylistic and mechanical properties of the Japanese sword fighting arts of Kendo and Iaido (in which Gigo was a keen student).

Why do you choose one or the other?

Most TKD groups use one of the two above methods of power generation: sine wave or hip twist. There is a huge amount of nonsense and misinformation bandied about to justify why one’s club or association uses one form over the other. But in truth what is most likely is that one’s choice of body mechanics is largely dependent on ones political affiliation. It is highly likely that your club is part of an association that has decided to use one method over the other.

Clubs that are affiliated with one of the many ITF organisations will favour sine wave as this is the method used for patterns competitions, dan grade progression and thus common currency. If your association is not affiliated with the ITF but rather with a large non-sinewave group such as the TAGB then you will have to do hip twist in order to grade, compete, fit in and likely be a member.

Creating power for what?

The debate in Taekwon-do has always been which is the best method to generate power… but rarely is the question asked “power for what?”

Joint locks, strangulation, and throws ‘ALL EMPLY THEIR OWN UNIQUE SET OF PRINCIPLES’. Some of these principles are common to all three practices, yet some are exclusive to only one. But what is common to all three methods of violence is that neither the sine wave not the hip twist body mechanics (in the strict TKD style) play a major role in the efficient execution of such techniques. Therefore most people when talking about power usually talk of striking techniques such as punches or kicks.

IMP: Kicks DO NOT use either hip twist or sinewave no matter what anyone says so the debate is irrelevant to kicks.

So that leaves us with punches or hand strikes. And the truth here is that both methods when used properly generate huge amounts of power. Some people hit harder than others with little or no training.

Both methods when done properly use a drop in body weight and the huge torque from the twist of the hips. Indeed when hitting for power the style of both methods needs to be sacrificed somewhat for expedience. Boxers hit hard. Yet they do so by draining every inch of torque, lift, gravity and mass projection available to them. They don’t care what we call it! They just want the guy they are hitting to fall down. They just need to generate power.

When generating power there is no one size fits all approach… because people are different and what works for one may not work for another. Though a student may use hip twist or sinewave to generate power during a pattern when faced with a heavy bag where feedback is instantaneous one may find that slight adjustments in body position or timing increase your power much more efficiently than a text book sine wave/hip twist.

Sine wave gets a rough time which is a little unfair

Another issue that is debated when selecting a method of power generation is that the knee drop of sinewave is said to telegraph the move. This is a misconception brought about through people’s ideas of violence looking like it does in training. Most dojangs continue to use the modern Japanese practice of set (or step) sparring as a way to train blocks and punches. In this method the attacker stands at least 6 feet away and usually seps forward in a lunging punch. Using sinewave means a dip in the knee before the attack is launched. By its detractors sinewave is often said to thus telegraph the move. This is to miss the whole other much larger issue. Namely that …. this whole process is so unrealistic.

People do not attack in this way in the real world. And if they did they would be easy to deal with as you have so much time to enact any form of counter you so choose. As such the whole thing is telegraphed ALWAYS. When would lunge punching from 6 feet away not be something that would get noticed? How would that be stealthy?

The mechanics of punching cannot be used for everything else

But the debate about power is to miss the most important issue that NEVER gets addressed in such debates: What about the rest of the patterns which aren’t strikes?

The patterns consist of strangles, throws, joint locks, pressure point stikes, escapes/counters, and ground control techniques. How does the SW or HT fit in here? Which is better in these instances?

And the answer is of course neither! They are irrelevant! If you can use them effectively then great but if not, then don’t worry!

How do we know this? Well the templates (2-3 moves used to deal with a habitual act of physical violence) from the patterns predate the invention of hip twist (1936-45) and sine wave (1970-80s) both!

Mechanics of the 'KATA' are neither SW nor HP but double hip twist

If you have read my book ‘old school perspectives on Taekwon-do’ you will know that the most of the templates of the patterns are 100’s of years older than TKD and Shotokan Karate. Therefore, the body mechanics used to generate power for these templates was originally completely different than either SW or HT. In fact many Okinawan styles still employ the original body mechanics or stepping and sliding combined with vigourous shaking of the hips. Often an action known as a double hip twist is the main method of power generation in Okinawan Karate. Though this can be done whilst stepping in, it is often performed whilst stationary: as such the power is generated by the employing the body’s core and each pull or punch or strike or combination of movements is harnessed to a single twist of the hips which follows a preparatory hip twist to create kinetic and elastic potential energy. The two twists are often followed by a third to reset the hips and shoulders to a neutral position. The whole set of movements can seem quite comical when looked upon by the uninitiated as the karate-ka can look like a hula-hooper without a hoop; however, it is an extremely efficient method of power generation and likely to be the one employed by the creators of the original karate kata from which most of the TKD templates were derived.

This so called ‘double hip twist’ can be coordinated with all manner of defensive and offensive techniques to great effect. One interesting point is that punching when using the double hip twist necessitates a further rotation of the shoulder creating a follow through. With TKD and Shotokan punches the shoulders are nearly always flush (or full facing). Conversly, punching with the double hip twist permits the shoulder and arm to continue through the target.

Is this better?

Is this better?

Who knows?

It is certainly much more in keeping with how boxers punch. However as I said previously its horses for courses. The best method of doing anything is often subjective and idiosyncratic. What works for you may not work for me ;)


To summarise, both sine wave and hip twist are modern creations of power generation. The reasons why a student has selected one method over the other are often spurious and more likely to be guided by political affiliation than much of the cod science used to justify either system. When one is asking which method creates more power one needs to understand what kind of power one is talking about and what kind of task one wishes to employ this power for.

The principles and mechanics used to generate power in punching and strangulation are not the same. Attacking through Joint locks, throws, and pressure points must employ the specific mechanical principles required for each of these different tasks. And often neither sine wave nor hip twist is relevant. Many of the techniques of the patterns and their defensive combinations (templates) predate both HT and SW by 100’s of years. Therefore, when looking at how the patterns are applied one can pretty much discount either system as they are not relevant. That’s is not to say that either system is useless however it is important to accept that often neither system is best. So guys, let's not be so hard on sine wave.


This short blog article will feature in an expanded form in my new book (being written as we speak) Old School Perspectives on Taekwon-do: Volume. 2”

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