Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What is "Traditional" Taekwondo?

What is traditional Taekwondo? This is something I have struggled with for a long time. The thing that is truest to say for tradition in Taekwondo is Taekwondos tradition for change. Think about it a little. In 1944 Chung Do Kwan opened its doors in Seoul Korea and the first Kwan of what was to become Taekwondo was opened. Other Kwan followed in the years after the Japanese occupation ended and before and after the Korean war.

The art in these Kwan was extremely close to hard style Karate, allthough they did have some unique training methods. For instance they favoured a continueus full/hard contact sparring as opposed to the Karates point system of sparring, and they had their own variations in their forms (most often called "hyung" at that time), but all in all the techniques and much of the art was the same as hard style Karate. They had the same uniform, same rank system, same forms etc. The techniques favoured was straight linear power strikes, and the art was very "simple" compared to todays focus on high kicks, intricate footwork and acrobatics. The modern mainstream WTF Taekwondo is indeed something entirely different from the Taekwondo from the original Kwans from the 40s to 50s. In the journey from "self defense combat art" to "martial sport" many traditional training methods has fallen out of favour or dissapeared all together.

Who in mainstream Taekwondo today knows what "Dallyon Joo" is and how to use one? This was once one of the centerpieces of training in the old Kwans and it is a shame that it has dissapeared from training in modern Taekwondo. For thoose who do not know "Dallyon Joo" means "forging post" and is the Korean equaliment of Karates "Makkiwara". It is essentually a post that you strike do develop power in your strikes, kicks and blocks. General Choi Hong Hee as well as other founders of the early Kwan who published books on their martial arts mentions this part of training and its importance for the development of powerfull techniques. Today it is gone. Forgotten. Other things that have almost dissapeared is one, two and three step sparring.

If you practise Taekwondo in a mainstream Dojang today you probably practise: basics, patterns, sparring (competition style sparring of course), and if you are very lucky you also practise ho shin sul (self defense) and kyopka (breaking). The last two categories of training is also rapidly dissapearing from training in the mainstream, but these categories of training are all viewed as the pillars of Traditional Taekwondo. The evolotion of Taekwondo is extremly rapid, and so it is very difficult to say what "Traditional" Taekwondo really is. Is anyone who practise all the "pillars" of Taekwondo traditional taekwondo students? If you were to remove breaking from the training is it still traditional Taekwondo? If you do not train 1, 2 and 3 step sparring are you a traditional taekwondo student? If you remove the forms from training are you still practising Traditional Taekwondo? What if you practise all this things but you are not using traditinal training methods like Dallyon Joo? Is it still Traditional Taekwondo then?

Maybe there is no "Traditional Taekwondo" left. Personally I think the tradition in Taekwondo is change. Maybe for the better or maybe not. I guess it all depends on what you want out of your studdies. That being said, the label "Traditional Taekwondo" should be used only by those who at least as a minimum practise all the "pillars of Taekwondo" and whose practise methods are in line with the art as taught in the old Kwans.


  1. By your definition 'Traditional Taekwondo' is alive and well in the UK. The UKTA syllabus includes 1,2, and 3 step sparring and breaking. We also practice self defense in my club.

  2. Nice:) UKTA = Unitied Kingdom Taekwondo Association right?

    Good to hear that "Traditional" Taekwondo is alive and well in the UK. In Norway too (where I am living) traditional Taekwondo is somewhat widespread, but I have often noticed on my trips abroad and on the internet that Traditional Taekwondo is almost gone today in some regions of the world.