IN MANY ASIAN CULTURES, martial arts have a distinctly philosophical,
almost religious aura. The finest practitioners are revered for the severity of their discipline and for their mental preparation.
Martial, in this sense, is not far away from transcendental. And transcendental is not far away from religion. Which brings
us full circle back to spiritual training.
The earliest records of taekwondo date back to about 50 BC. The martial art was then known as taekkyon.
Modern taekwondo has been influenced by many other martial arts, but the taekkyon oath has survived in countless taekwondo
clubs throughout the world:
"I shall observe the principles of taekwondo. I shall respect the instructor and all senior ranks. I shall never misuse
taekwondo. I shall be a champion of freedom and justice. I shall build a more peaceful world."
The Japanese tradition of unarmed combat called budo has strongly influenced taekwondo. Although Korea threw off the yoke
of Japanese colonialism after World War II, taekwondo has retained the decisive and sharp thrusts of the various Japanese
martial systems, particularly karate and kendo swordplay.
In fact, the name of taekwondo was only adopted in 1957. The first students were Korean soldiers, who were urged by one
of their generals to train in taekkyon. The police and air force did the same. In 1961, the Korean Taekwondo Union was formed
by an amalgamation of the Soo Bakh Do Association and the Tae Soo do Association. In 1962, the Korea Sports Council(KSC) acknowledged
the Korea Taekwondo Association(KTA), and the World Taekwondo Federation(WTF) was established in Korea in 1973.
WHAT EXACTLY IS TAEKWONDO?
As in all martial arts, ethics are of much
greater importance than it would seem at first sight. Whether it is a question of individual ethics (treating a fellow human
being in the correct manner) or social ethics (showing responsibility for society), the decisive thrust is seen as a straight
choice between good and evil. Taekwondo practitioners emphasize this decisiveness.
Because of the military background,
there is a general code. This code is reflected in the "Commandments of Modern Takwondo," which are strongly influenced by
Buddhism. Students of the art are encouraged to use this code as a guide for their moral development, and it is said that
the student who does not fully understand these tenets can never hope to master the true essence of the art.
Briefly summarized, the commandments are: Be loyal to your country, respect your parents, be faithful to your spouse,
show respect to your brothers and sisters, be loyal to your friends, respect your elders, respect your teacher, never take
life unjustly, show indomitable spirit, be loyal to your school and always finish what you begin.
Some of the trainers
I have talked to add some more practical points: respect your teacher and the higherranked students, respect the dojang(training
hall), respect your opponent, enter the dojang with clean hands, feet and short nails, always wear a clean white dobok(suit),
never wear anything sharp, behave correctly.
So this is the formal, almost religious side to taekwondo, and indeed when
watching about I am often reminded of that old Chinese description of Korea: The Great Ceremonious Country.
But the formal side is not all. Together with the ceremonial aspect goes a technique of fast, high, and spinning kicks.
The name taekwondo is divided into Tae(to strike with the foot), Kwon(to strike with the hand), and Do(the way or art). The
intention is for the practitioner to use his hands and feet in any defensive situation. All resides in the technique. For
without that, one can injure another quite easily.
This most basic technique is poomse(pattern, shape). The word originates
from the Chinese oracle book, I Ching. I Ching has 64 hexagrams, a combination of two sets of three lines, closed or broken.
These sets of three lines are called trigrams; the closed lines represent yang, the open ones yin. The unity of yin and yang,
or male and female, is called taichi, or in the Korean language, taeguk. The energy of the universe.
Poomse is a systematic
series of defensive and attacking movements performed against an imaginary opponent in a set pattern. Through the practice
of these movements, students come to learn the techniques of taekwondo from the simplest to the most complex. The movements
aid in development and refinement of coordination, balance, timing, breath control, and rhythm. A black belt is awarded
to those who achieve taeguk in all eight forms of poomse.
Gyoroogi is actual sparring, either free or in a set pattern
of steps. Step sparring(daeryon) pits an attacker and defender again each other. The defender knows how the attacker is going
to attack. The attacker takes a step backward and gives a yell to say "I am ready," The defender responds with a yell to announce
that he or she is ready too.
The attacker attacks with one punch(one step), two punches(two steps) or three punches(three
steps). You can also use kicks, or a combination of kicks and punches. The defender reacts with several blocks(depending on
the number of punches or kicks) and a decisive blow or kick. Both attacker and defender get back to the start position
afterwards. Everything is done to show the skill you have gained.
The self-defense technique is called hosinsul. It is
intended to let a student know the possibilities and the limits of his or her knowledge in various situations. Such
knowledge is vital if it comes to a conflict. It may be necessary to attack or surprise an opponent. Knowing your own
strength gives self-confidence, perhaps the most valuable weapon.
THERE ARE TWO SORTS OF SELF - defense in taekwondo: the "hard" way and the
"soft" way. In the hard way, arms and legs are used to block an opponent's strike. The advantage in this is that it forms
a direct counter-threat to the other side. However, the method uses a lot of power and looks extremely violent to outsiders.
soft way is to use the power and speed of the opponent to neutralize him or her. All is done by circular movements. The advantage
is that an opponent can be neutralized without being really hurt. The technique uses no strength, but requires an enormous
amount of skill and practice to reach the required level.
Finally, there is competition and self-measurement. A taekwondo competition is between two players dressed
in blue and red. Only kicking and punching techniques are allowed, and one can only attack the front part of the body. Hits
below the belt line are forbidden. All vulnerable sports are covered by protective gear: head gear, trunk protector, groin
guard, forearm and shin guards.
The competition can be won on points, on a knock-out, on the disqualification or resignation of the opponent,
on an injury, on 'negative' points, on clear superiority, and on the referee stopping the bout.
Punches may be made only to the body, not the head. This sounds as if almost no place can be kicked, but since
you can win on a knock-out, many kicks are aimed at the head. You have to be pretty fast to avoid these kicks and answer with
a better kick.
A point is made by a successful punch with the fist to the center of the opponent's body. A successful attack
with the foot to the head, or to the center of the opponent's body also results in a point. If the opponent falls after a
legitimate kick or punch: another point. This doesn't mean it is easy to make a point. Usually a few points(about three) are
made in a competition, which is made up of three rounds of two to three minutes each. There are also six referees to make
sure the game runs properly.
However, important as it is, competition is not the only measurement of success at taekwondo. Kyukpa, a self-measuring
technique, is just as challenging. Since offense techniques can be lethal, practitioners can just as well estimate the accuracy
of their techniques by concentrating all power and strength of will on solid objects such as boards and bricks. Kyukpa is
not taught to beginners, but rather to senior holders of dan belts. As such, it is the highest expression of the "way" of
kicking and punching.