well) into learning and understanding Taekwondo and martial arts history. Often I am asked why I bother with it, as there is perceived to be very little to gain from this, and it can be quite time consuming. Also I have heard (and will undoubtfully hear it more in the future) that understanding and learning history will not make someones side kick any better. It is true that history will not make you perform physically better, but in my opinion it is one of the areas that are grossly overlooked and despite what people believe and perceive, I personally have gained a lot from this research. In the hopes to motivate others into delving a little more into history I will write a few points on what this is in this post.
True understanding of where we came from: In Taekwondo for a long time (and even today) many learn that the art has been developed in Korea from the 3 Kingdoms era (Silla, Baekje and Kogoryo), through the Koryo dynasty, into the Yin/Chosun dynasty until modern times. We kick because of the mountanious landscape gave the Koreans strong legs, and because the Hwarang warrior group developed kicks to break shields, and we do a lot of jumping kicks because the same warriors kicked people off of their horses. I am sorry to say that all of this is simply myths, especially the kicking people off of their horses bit. The problem is that there are grains of truth within much of the modern myths. There were indeed native Korean martial arts as in systematizised combative training both unnarmed and armed all through Koreas history, but their relationship with Taekwondo today is non-existant, except for the fact that we tend to focus on kicking because that is what is said to have been done in the older systems.
|The Author is of a Ji Do Kwan lineage|
For the ones researching history without bias, and doing the best we can to fact check, and check our sources, our sources sources, and sometimes even our sources sources sources, we know a little differently today than what you still see in modern textbooks and hear instructors promote as facts. Modern Taekwondo is a mix of several different Karate styles gathered in Japan, and some minor Chinese influence through a few individuals, coupled with the aforementioned collective memory of native martial arts kicking tendency. ALL Taekwondo lineages can be traced back to one of the following Kwan (Schools) that were opened in Korea between 1944-1950s: Song Mu Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, Mu Duk Kwan, Yun Mu Kwan, Chang Mu Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, and Oh Do Kwan (sorry if I left someone out, this is from memory). Some can trace their lineages back to other Kwan such as Han Mu Kwan, or Kang Duk Won, but these are often seen as sister Schools or anex schools from the aforementioned ones. This means that Taekwondo`s history in Korea can rightfully be said to have started in the 1940s, but the art did have older roots. Its just that these roots leads outside of Korea, most notably Japan, but also in two noteable cases; China. Why is this important? Well read on and see :-)
Unlocking a treasure trove of vital information: Once we have established were Taekwondo came from, we unlock a lot of information we can access to understand our modern system. If I say to a mainstream Taekwondo exponent that you should read what the founder of Shotokan Karate wrote, he would probably think I am joking. What does Gichin Funakoshi have to do with a 2000 years old Korean martial art? The answer is that Taekwondo is not 2000 years old as we just observed, and when I add that the founders of Oh Do Kwan, Yun Mu Kwan, Song Mu Kwan, Chung Do Kwan learned Funakoshi`s style of Karate (in most cases directly from Funakoshi himself), and that the rest
|Bubishi example of Application of|
the Keumgang arae makki
Better understanding of the practical application of Taekwondo: Ever wondered about the weird things that define traditional taekwondo techniques? I have. The unrealistic stances, the chambering of the blocks, the hand withdrawn to the hip while punching, and so many Poomsae minutae details did not make any sense to me until I researched history, got hold of the relevant information (for instance Funakoshi`s early works) and applied the knowledge I gained to the modern system. Sometimes just looking within Taekwondo itself is enough, as I have learned tons of early Taekwondo books from the 60s and onwards that are not openely taught today.
The hand on the hip is explained in a great and simple way by Funakoshi in all his books (I have them all) that deal with karate instruction. It is perhaps best explained and demonstrated in the 1935 edition of Karate Do Kyohan (translated by Neptune publications). Stances are also explained by him and by Motobu`s "fighting drills", which you can get all of his publicated drills in one book translated by Patric Mcharty. "The Study of China Hand Techniques" by Ittoman from the 1920s translated by Mario Mckenna gives us a great view into the role of grappling techniques and unorthodox (by modern standards) punching methods. The Bubishi (also translated by Patric Mcharty) gives us a view into philosophy, vital points, self defense applications and much more that the Karate pioneers had access to. The writings of Kenwa Mabuni gives us further insights into the relationship between forms and self defense (I have quoted him before on the meanings of angles in Poomsae).
Reading history on its own wont make your sidekick any better, but it might increase your knowledge on when and how to apply that side kick, as well as greater insights into how it is used in Poomsae as opposed as sparring. The simultanious hammer fist strike and sidekick combination of Taegeuk Oh Jang and Taebaek Poomsae for instance makes little sense when you look at the textbook applications today critically. Theres nothing wrong with the sequence as is, but the modern interpretation leaves much to be desired.
Not being led on a wild goose chase: The 2000 years myth that have been pushed to a degree until
|Taek Kyon only has an indirect|
influence on modern Taekwondo
Understanding what the goals of the founders of Taekwondo were: What were the goals of the founders of Taekwondo? What did they want us to take away from studying the martial arts? How did they view the relationship between basics, forms, free sparring and self defense? Is the way you spar today compatible to what they themselves were saying in the 1940s-70s? Is Taekwondo just a sport? Is it a martial art? Is it self defense? Is it everything? What values were important to them? This blog explores a lot of these questions rutinely if you have not noticed citing the different books that has been published and that I have gotten my hands on. Mainstream Taekwondo today is a far cry from what the Kwan founders set out to established just prior to and after the Korean war. Learning about this is crucial to understand were we came from and what we should focus our training on, should we want to honor these founders and pioneers.
No artificial limiting factors: "Pure Taekwondo does not include throws or grappling", "original Taekwondo did not contain joing locks they came later from Hapkido", Choi Hong Hi never taught grappling so I do not teach any either", "My teacher never taugh throws or break falling so I do not either", "Only ITF Taekwon-Do is true Taekwon-Do, the others simply copied the name" etc. These are just a small sample of what I have been told, and read in comments. The thing they all have in common however is a display of a lack of knowledge of Taekwondo history. There is no such thing as "pure Taekwondo" because Taekwondo itself was a mix of different arts, which themselves was a mix of different arts. Once you understand Taekwondo history you will see the absurdity of the notion of "pure Taekwondo". "Original Taekwondo" is also a problematic term, but in later years I have come to support noted Taekwondo historian George Vitale that "Original Taekwondo" should be preserved to be Oh Do Kwan Taekwondo. Simply because they used the name first, not because of age or content of the system. Joint locks, throws and grappling I will not comment much on in this post, but it has been part of the system since long before Taekwondo came into being and still is. People not learning this aspect just demonstrates that they are learning a limited part of the system. The name Taekwondo was "given" to the KTA (Korean Tang Su Do Association, into Korean Tae Su Do Association and then Korean Taekwondo Association) by Choi Hong Hi twice. Last time in 1965 were he used politics to get them to accept Taekwondo as a name for what they were doing by one vote. They did not "steal it" by any means, and Choi did not "force" them either, but he lobbied heavily and tactically to make them accept the name and use it. Only after he fled Korea and lost all control over the KTA did he start talking about frauds and copycats (at least thats what I have come to understand).
Looking at this we see that what keeps people restrained is often artificial restrictions that we can put to the side and work to develop Taekwondo to become the best we can get it to be. As both the ITF and WTF/Kukki Taekwondo has roots in the KTA we see we share lineage together eventough there are modern differences, so we should not fight each other, but help each other and learn from each other. Some of the best conversation partners online have roots back to Choi Hong Hi (Stuart Anslow for instance has learned me a ton) eventhough I am a Kukki Taekwondo exponent.
Clear understanding of our past, gives us an educated standpoint as to where to go from here: Once we know were we came from, know how the traditional techniques are applied, and know what the founders of Taekwondo wanted us to learn and study we have a firm educated standpoint on how to develop the art further. The new Poomsae developed for competition fails in this regard in a spectacular way, as in it would be very funny had it not also been so sad and highlighted the
|Funakoshi demonstrating |
an Application from Kory Poomsae.
Note the pulling of the opponents
arm toward the hip.