Renegade Taekwon-do: A way NOT THE way!
"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."
Traditional Martial Arts (TMA), of which Taekwon-do is one, have a common issue, in fact it's not so much an issue with the arts, more an issue with some of the practitioners. Simply put, the problem is that of fundamentalism. It's entirely too common for practitioners of a given art or style to consider that their way is THE way. The style and interpretation practiced by these practitioners becomes a doctrine, it becomes absolute and unquestionable. It becomes rigid in its ideals, fearful of outsiders or others and absolutely vehemently against heathen non-believers. It sounds insane but traditional martial arts are a breeding ground for blinkered, dogmatic beliefs which may be absolutely contrary to good sense or actual reality.
Take for example the rationale behind the performance of traditional forms (kata, poomse, patterns etc.). There is traditional, and still widely held, belief that these types of training modalities are actually simulated combative routines versus multiple opponents, who are simultaneously attacking from a variety of directions. Any comparison to actual ‘real world’ violent assault by multiple attackers aside, a cursory glance at some of the proposed application of certain movements, techniques and supposed combinations within these forms (for example: repeated block then strike routines; the premise of blocking two attackers simultaneously; engaging two arms to block one incoming strike; performance of jumping or flying movements as they were used to unhorse cavalry soldiers back in the day (really???) etc.) highlights how misguided and potentially deluded some of these beliefs are. Yet regardless these beliefs still remain, they are seemingly perpetually handed down from master to student, with the unquestioning student blindly accepting them as to question would be considered disrespectful, dishonourable and see them excluded from the group.
What then is the future for traditional martial arts? Already many people view them as cultural idiosyncrasies and curiosities. The growth in popularity of combat sports, mixed martial arts and the accessibility of these has served to demonstrate that in many regards the observance of many of the ritualistic aspects of TMA are at best outmoded, and at worst borderline cultist. The level of participation in many traditional martial arts continues to decline, whilst the accessibility and participation in combat sports continues to grow. Without a change in approach here it is possible that before long, given a few more generations, TMA will become as extinct as theories surrounding sea monsters and witchcraft. To protect the arts for the future, we have to take the opportunities for evolution. We have to embrace the crazy idea that maybe the people who taught us didn’t actually know what they were doing. This isn’t to be disrespectful, this isn’t to say that they were not good at what they did or indeed what they do. It is merely we suggest that they, like so many other practitioners, are simply repeating the lessons taught to them, relaying the information they have assimilated in the best way they can. Unfortunately, the basic process of this means that the information will have therefore been distorted, misunderstood and reinterpreted several times before it came to them, and then their personal filters and biases influence to distort this further.
What hope do we then have at getting to a pure, true meaning for these arts? The answer may well be really simple, we don’t have any hope at all. We don’t have a clue what the intentions of those 18th, 19th and 20th century guys were who contributed to the inception and creation of these traditional systems. We don’t have the same socio-cultural pressure and influences that were existent when they did what they did and said what they said. We simply don’t and will never know what their personal views were. Sure things get recorded and maybe some evidence exists to signpost us towards a given conclusion, although even these are subject to reinterpretation through personal interpretation, linguistic differences and influenced by personal biases. The purity of the source may well be lost to us forever, however that doesn’t mean that we should either stop looking or indeed stop seeking to investigate.
There are strides being taken within some areas of TMA to re-establish a more balanced approach. Within karate for example there is a growing number of more open-minded practitioners seeking to move their practice away from the traditional kihon, kata and kumite approach which has predominated for many years. They are looking more deeply at the previously held beliefs concerning their practice and the technical application which has been suggested (bunkai) and are actively investigating and seeking a more enlightened position. This growth and evolution is the only way in which all TMA will continue to exist for future generations. Adopting this type of flexible mentality to the arts and their application, underpins their future development. The need to rigidly conform to previously held, misguided and potentially dangerous assumptions of previous practitioners because ‘this is the way’ is not appropriate or in alignment with a meaningful future for any TMA.
The irony is that any idea can become a doctrine. Even this idea. If blindly followed, it is inappropriate at best. There has to be a scope for the individual to question; to grow, investigate and personally develop within the framework provided by the TMA. The art must provide an opportunity for practitioners to question what is being taught, to review this and for each to determine individually whether it fits with them or not. Does this mean a wholesale dissolution of the arts? Not really, but it does mean that the arts may become a little more amorphous. Commonality in the future may exist in technique, specific training modalities and matrices and yet differences are encouraged in personal application and investigation. The conclusions reached here are then not fixed and there is always opportunity to hold these up for review, without fear of reproach. There are no fixed boundaries within this approach, there is however freedom to express and grow as an individual and a practitioner of TMA.
The Renegade Taekwon-do Way...
We always seek to encourage and reinforce personal investigation.
We teach the technical, how best to perform the movement in respect of anatomical and physiological efficiency. We use a variety (matrix) of training modalities to rehearse and reinforce effective technique acquisition.
We suggest potentials for technique application and actively encourage individual investigation into these.
We embrace alternative perspectives and ideas.
We make evaluations of the art and its techniques based on an evidential and ‘real world’ approach.
We retain flexibility to change.
This is not ‘the way’. This is not the correct way, the right way or the only way. It is simply our way.