Social media boards and online forums are seemingly full of contentious discussions concerning the identity of “real” Taekwon-do. There’s the political differences between individuals and governing bodies, there’s the ever evolving rules governing competition and the visually spectacular exhibitions, all of which are laying claims to being the “real” face of Taekwon-do. It’s completely understandable that as a practitioner of Taekwon-do you could get a little confused as to what the art is and where to best focus your efforts. Equally, this state of confusion could be a potential barrier for new participants, creating false expectations or impressions of the art.
From a more generalised perspective the factors at play here are not unique to Taekwon-do. All martial arts possess similar “risks” of becoming confined within a single, unitary focus. Some become wholly about competition, with the technical evolution being determined by that which will work within the confines of that specific rule format. Some become so esoterically lost in the quest for development of body, mind and spirit, that the effective practice of martial techniques becomes increasingly marginalised and is ultimately lost. As with most things, acceptance, inclusion and openness are necessary to fundamentally underpin and secure the arts for future generations. Let’s be clear here, this doesn’t mean that the identity of individual arts is lost. Rather that this is celebrated in all its uniqueness and originality, recognising that at the heart of all martial arts is a system for individual self expression and personal defence.
In it’s development the composition of Taekwon-do (Taekwon-do Goosung) was suggested to be formed of five key elements, each mutually supportive and inextricably linked.
“Taekwon-do is composed of fundamental movements, patterns, dallyon, sparring and self defense techniques that are so closely related that it is impossible to segregate one phase if instruction from another” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p.725)
The essential composition of Taekwon-do was to provide as complete a martial art system as possible. The intention that each aspect of training would support and develop another, facilitating repeated technical practice, rehearsal and perfection. In this manner the perception is that the composition of Taekwon-do is a cycle of mutually beneficial training modalities.
Image of Cycle of Taekwon-Do (Soonhwan Do) (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p.725)
One may suggest that, in presenting this premise of composition, the intention was that Taekwon-do should viewed and indeed practiced as a complete art. The suggestion is that no one aspect of practice should predominate and therefore the practitioner be allowed an opportunity for technical development across all five aspects. The intention was further that the art be viewed as a cycle, the practitioner finding,
“...that he will have to return time and time again to the beginning fundamental movements to perfect his advanced sparring and self-defense techniques.” (Chon Hong Hi, 1999, p.725)
The isolation of Taekwon-do into a sport/competitive arena, or for visually spectacular exhibition, would therefore appear to be contrary to this original guiding intention. Indeed if we are to fully identify a “real” Taekwon-do we must be concerned with all elements.
“It is necessary to learn as many fundamental movements as possible and fit them into complete proficiency so that the student can meet any situation in actual combat with confidence.” (Chon Hon Hi, 1999, p725)
“Through constant practice of these patterns , the attack and defense become a conditioned reflex movement.” (Chon Hon Hi, 1999, p725)
“Once the basic patterns are mastered, the student then begins to physically apply the skill obtained from fundamental movements and patterns to sparring against actual moving opponents.” (Chon Hon Hi, 1999, p725)
“...then the time has arrived for the student to test his coordination, speed, balance and concentration against spontaneous attacks; i.e. self-defense.” (Chon Hon Hi, 1999, p725)
The intention for Taekwon-do to provide an effective and efficient system for personal defense. Looking at development within the cycle of Taekwon-do, it would appear on a superficial level that proficiency in this context is the pinnacle of achievement for the practitioner. However, it is essential that we recognise that the perception (and indeed diagram) for development was not linear.There was no conclusion or pinnacle for growth. In modern times we often become fixated with the competitive model for individual development, with the fundamentals providing the foundation and competitive participation being the ultimate goal.
Long Term Player Development (LTPD) Pathway model
Source: Canada Soccer, 2019, Long Term Player Development,[online] [accessed 10/06/2019].
Often represented as a pyramid, this model “athletic” development underpins a belief that the ultimate goal lies in competitive success and participation. It does little to recognise or reinforce that all aspects of development, fundamentals, competitive performance and ancillary (non-specific complementary physical training) are not mutually exclusive. Indeed through the use of these types of models we are provided the impression that physical activities, including martial arts, can only be considered as valid if there is a pursuit for competitive excellence. The essential benefits provided to individual growth, self development and actualisation become somewhat harder to see.
Contrastingly the compositional model proposed with Taekwon-do does provide us a greater opportunity to identify that development is not linear. Indeed to ensure personal development and growth it is wholly necessary to periodically return to the origins, to ensure that the fundamentals continue to be right. In this way the pursuit is one of personal growth and excellence, it is not limited to or solely concerned with competitive success. Clearly within any field of endeavour we must recognise and be conscious of the effect that individual motivations and goals will bear. Many practitioners of Taekwon-do may have been motivated by the desire to compete, to become a champion or elicit the same type of skills displayed by the gymnastic, exhibition teams. The purpose of this article is not to suggest that these motivations are in anyway incorrect. Indeed all are valid and should be embraced.
The purpose of this article is to suggest that the “real” identity of Taekwon-do lies within this composition. The expectation of Taekwon-do should be one that sits equally within all 5 elements of this composition. Taekwon-do is a martial art which provides an opportunity for fundamental technical investigation and development. It is a martial art that provides opportunity to practice flowing, rhythmical and beautiful patterns of movement. It is a martial art that facilitates participation in dynamic and explosive competition. It is a martial art which provides a system for personal defence, in all ranges, using all available weapons. The “real” composition of Taekwon-do is the composition of a truly holistic martial art and one we should be correctly proud of and provide for all future generations of practitioners.
Choi Hong Hi, 1999, Taekwon-Do(5th Ed), Canada, International Taekwon-do Federation