Thursday, 16 May 2013

Traditional Taekwondo??

 In this post I would like to delve a little into "tradition" and how we can call Taekwondo traditional.

I practise "Kukki Taekwondo", and the "Kukki" Taekwondo does as its name implies follow the "Kukkiwon syllabus" as outlined in the Kukkiwon Textbook (I am trying to see if anyone will react to my overly use of Kukki and Kukkiwon in one paragraph:p ). Actually I do not usually tell people that I practise "Kukki" Taekwondo when asked about what I do on my free time, I usually refer to it as "Traditional Taekwondo". This is to differntiate "my Taekwondo" from what they might have seen in the Olympics. I too practise the Olympic sparring as it is a great workout, maybe the best way to develop kicking skills against an opponent and it is plain fun to do, but it is just a very small part of my overall system as I define as "Traditional Taekwondo".

I did write a somewhat indepth post on what is traditional taekwondo and you can click the hyperlink if you want to read it, but the main points in how I define it is as follows:
  1. It teaches philosophy/ ethics along its physical techniques
  2. It Practises all 5 different Pillars of Taekwondo
  3. Because it contains the 5 pillars it works within the framework defined as traditional Taekwondo. The end result may look different, and the emphasis on the pillars may vary, but the underlying principles are there.
The five Pillars of Taekwondo is also something I have written extensivly about:
  1. Gibon Dongjak (Fundemental movements)
  2. Poomsae (Forms or patterns)
  3. Kyoreugi (sparring in all its forms not only Olympic sparring)
  4. Ho Sin Sul (Self Defense techniques)
  5. Kyupka (Breaking)
Traditional Taekwondo has all of the above elements in their training, if not then what is being practised is not what I would call "Traditional". Taekwondo has evolved greatly over the years, and the only truly consistant thing about Taekwondo has been "change", but it has always had the same framework, ever since it was "born/ compiled/ etc" in Korea in the 1950s.

The predetermined forms (Hyung, Poomsae, Tul) have been changed and new have replaced the old, but they are still predetermined forms. The excecution of the basics have changed, but they are still basics. The sparring rules have changed and the emphasis has changed on the foot/ hand ratio but it is still sparring. Likewise the Ho Sin Sul has changed from simple to the more complex as more and more people seem to "slap on some Hapkido stuff into their Taekwondo", but it is still regarded as Self defense techniques. So the end result may be very different from Dojang to Dojang and organisation to organisation but the framework is something the Pioneers all agreed upon if we are to take the older publications into consideration.

Some would say that we should keep Taekwondo frozen in time and preserve the art as it was in its infancy in the 1950s, and that any change that is done to the art is a step away from tradition. I will argue that keeping the framework of the Martial Art is enough to call it traditional and I will provide the best example I can find; Christmas. Now everybody who celebrates Chistmas will agree that the Christmas celebration consists of a great deal of Traditions, yet if we turn the clock back say 50 years and compare the regular christmas celebration then and now you will see that the celebration of christmas has evolved a great deal. Some things (the framework) has been kept though and it is that framework that keeps christmas traditional.

Now there is more to Taekwondo than the framework of Training that makes it "traditional" and that is Taekwondo`s use of lining up, bowing, using Korean terminology, teaching philosophy along with the pysical techniques, and the usage of uniforms during formal training sessions. Now all of these things have evolved since Taekwondo`s "creation" in the 1950s but wether we use a v-neck uniform or a y-neck uniform, wether we use the word "hyung" or "poomsae" for our forms, etc they are still only variations within the traditional framework. The framework stays the same eventhough the art evolves. Therefore as long as your Dojang keeps the framework of Taekwondo it does not matter wether you practise "ITF", "GTF", "Chayon Ryu", "Kukki", or an old "Kwan" of Taekwondo, you can still call it "Traditional".


  1. Agreed. You use the term "traditional" here to denote "traditional martial art", rather than a "modern combat sport". In this sense there is a difference between Kukki Taekwondo and WTF Taekwondo. I live in Korea and have visited the Kukkiwon a couple of times. I'm sad to say that most of what I have seen there is WTF Taekwondo rather than Kukki Taekwondo.

  2. Traditional Kukki Taekwondo is indeed hard to find. The best way to find them though is to go through the back alleys, word of mouth or to see if the Master at the Dojang have any adult students. The reason for the back alleys is that the ones who are easy to spot with huge signs and posters and good locations are usually very comercial.

    Even Kukkiwon has in later years started to depart from "traditional emphasis" to sport mentality. Look at any Kukkiwon publication on forms since 2006 and you will find no Applications to any of the movements, and all the reasoning for departing from the Kukkiwon standard is explained with the reasoning being you get deducted for points in competition if you do not do it as illustrated in this book.

    They could have written about forms and provided Applications (even the basic ones would do), wrtitten about the importance of structure (which would explain a lot of the "why we do Things the way we do them" etc. Instead they choose to explain in great detail how to do the forms and nothing more. One exception however is the brilliant book "What is Taekwondo Poomsae" by GM Lee published in 2011.

    One Korean Master told me a late evening in Korea that he was concerned about the future of Kukki Taekwondo. Today there is mostly children practising it for sport and fun. Those who go on to become serious in their martial arts studies go on to "adult arts" like Hapkido, ITF Taekwondo or other arts. According to him ITF Taekwondo has been markeded as a grown ups Taekwondo as opposed to the childrens Taekwondo (WTF) in Korea.