Are patterns actually useful for self-defence? This is a question often discussed in many online forums and in training halls across the world.
What exactly is a pattern?
In Taekwon-Do, patterns are a “series of predetermined moves against an imaginary opponent”. Therefore, as each movement is being performed against this imaginary opponent, there must be a clear application to each technique. This is one of the reasons why we teach patterns move by move, in order to allow the student to gain a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve through visualisation.
Of course, if movements from a pattern were to be performed at their normal speed in a situation outside on the street, then they would most likely be ineffective, as in reality the blocks or counter strikes would need to be performed at a much higher speed. However, this is where it is essential to understand that every technique taught in Taekwon-Do must be “flexible in combat” as stated in the encyclopedia. This means that an outer forearm side block may need to be performed without a correct cross in order to stop the oncoming attack from a real opponent. A student who has performed their patterns many times with power and correct technique will have the muscle memory to perform this block at the required speed so that it will be effective in actual combat.
Furthermore, one of the most under-appreciated benefits of patterns are the leg strength and foot work that they develop. A student who has properly taken the time to study and perfect correct stepping and turning will find themselves with much better movement than a student who has not focused on stepping, which will certainly limit their mobility. Stepping correctly in patterns, eg not moving the supporting foot prior to stepping can develop a surprising amount of leg strength, allowing the student to step, pivot and turn correctly and in a controlled manner.
So in answer to the original question, yes.
Patterns are most certainly useful for self-defence if practised in the correct manner with power and accuracy whilst maintaining attention to detail in regards to stepping and execution of techniques. Therefore they should not be neglected in practice. The benefits of practising patterns will become apparent in the rest of the Taekwon-Do syllabus, such as improved control in sparring and improved power delivery in almost all of your techniques through the study of how to effectively use the body to generate power.