25 April 2016
The above is a quote from a post that someone made on a Taekwon-Do related Facebook discussion forum recently.
I remember after reading Alex Gillis’ “A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do” (a must-read) that I felt pretty much the same. Most Taekwon-Do practitioners have no idea with how much vice and corruption our martial art has been embroiled. That book came as a valuable disillusionment to me. It reminded me not to idolize the Taekwon-Do founders and leaders, and not to over spiritualize Taekwon-Do.
Later, it also occurred to me that this very unsavory history of Taekwon-Do actually validates it. Firstly, you don’t hear of flower arrangement being involved in “murder, abduction, assassination plots, bomb scares, political gain and segregation”. Only something with true gravitas (no offense to those involved in flower arrangement) could have been used—and misused—as has been the case with Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do is something serious. Something dangerous. This brings me to my second point.
A sword, no matter how decorative and aesthetically designed, always remains primarily a weapon. We should never be surprised to see a sword covered in blood. When it does surprise us, it can only be because we did not give it the respect it deserves. Or it surprises us because the “sword” is fake. A toy sword or stage prop smeared with actual human blood is indeed a shocking sight, as should be all bloodshed. But a real sword scarlet-stained from rust, dirt and blood, is simply true to its purpose, so seeing a crimsoned sword should not surprise us.
Why, then, should we be surprised when a martial art—i.e. a system of combative skills—is used for power, politics and war?
It is true that a sword may be used in conquest or in defence, and in both these cases it may lead to bloodshed, but the sword itself is neither inherently good nor bad for being used in such ways. What determines the value of a sword is not whether it was used to murder in greed or kill in defence, but whether it proved its metal. Was it good at being a sword? Was the blade strong and sharp? Was it balanced and adherent to the wielder’s intent?
Considering its diverse history, I think Taekwon-Do makes for a good sword.
09 March 2016
The interview was conducted by "Korea and the World", a really good podcast that is worth following for people interested in Korea. You can read more about the interview with Dr Vitale on their website and also download an extended version of the interview.
I'm pleased to say that I played a part in making this interview happen (by connecting Korea and the World with Dr Vitale). I think it was a great discussion that may be helpful for people to get a little better understanding of the history and politics surrounding Taekwon-Do and its principle founder, General Choi Hong-Hi.
28 February 2016
I commenced my studies here in Korea, at Kyunghee University, in 2013. It involved two years of course work, and in the third year I finalised my research and wrote my dissertation. At the end of 2015 I submitted the dissertation, had to give a preliminary defence presentation, and had to later defend my dissertation before five examiners on two occasions. Although I was very nervous about defending my thesis, in the end the defences were less grueling than I had anticipated. I was able to answer the examiners' questions satisfactoraly. The examiners' feedback was quite helpful. While there are parts of the dissertation that I think I could develop more fully, the thing I am most disappointed about my dissertation is that I did not have time to get it professionally proofread. Had I done so, I would have failed to submit before the graduation deadline, which would have meant that I would have missed the 2016 graduation and would have only been able to graduate in 2017. (The Graduate School of Physical Education only has one graduation per year, in February.)
|Me with Dr George Vitale who came all the way from NYC,|
USA, to attend the graduation ceremony. I am extremely
humbled by this beautiful gesture of camaraderie.
For those of you that do not know, the whole idea of having Taekwon-Do as a university degree was the initiative of General Choi Hong-Hi, the principle founder of this martial art. Gen. Choi approached the founding president of Kyunghee University and proposed to him to start a Taekwon-Do degree program; hence Kyunghee University was the first university to start a Taekwon-Do department. Kyunghee University's Taekwon-Do department is arguably still the top Taekwon-Do department in the country, and the university is ranked among the top ten Korean universities.
14 February 2016
I arrived in Johannseburg on Monday, 25 January. The following day I went to Pretoria and visited the Elardus Park, ATC Dojang, run by my good friends, instructors Karel and Annari Wethmar, of our sister federation, the Dan Gun Kwan.
For this first workshop I started with a main theme I had for this visit, namely joint-mobility. As I’m getting older I have a bigger appreciation for the importance of range of motion and joint health. It is common for martial artists to focus on muscular flexibility when they think of increasing range of motion; however, the ease of motion of joints in their sockets is often neglected, yet is of much importance, especially as people get older. Although I tried to cover most joints, my main focus was on shoulder mobility and hip mobility, with emphasis on stretching the psoas muscle.
|Explaining the "Golden Move"-principle with the|
help of Sabeomnim Manie.
Finally, we worked on kicks for different angles of attacks, as well footwork for spinning kicks.
My time spent with the ATC folks are always very enjoyable. The students are of great caliber and the instructors are such great friends of mine, we always talk late into the night and always complain that we do not have enough time.
|With instructor Gerhard Louw and some students from the|
Horangi Dojang, Grobblersdal.
The following day, Wednesday, 27 January, I went to the Soo Shim Kwan school in Groblersdal. Instructor Gerhard Louw’s Horangi Dojang was a priority for me this year. Last year I was not able to go to Groblersdal, so this year I placed it high on my priority list, as I promised Instructor Gerhard that I will visit him the next time I go to South Africa. Spending time at the Horangi Dojang was an absolute treat. The passion of the students and their families is tangible, and the level of some the children are some of the best I’ve seen for Taekwon-Doin youngsters in a long time.
Unfortunately I came down with a bug, and felt terribly under the weather. I had a fever and was lightheaded while presenting the two hour workshop, but I tried to hide my discomfort as best I could, and focussed on teaching as best I could. I really aimed at highlighting specifics that the students could make part of their basic training.
We started again with a focus on mobility work, as well as other stretching and warm up exercises that I thought they may benefit from, to supplement their current warm up routine. Since a number of the new members of the Horangi Dojang are adults in their thirties and fourties, I felt it imperative to emphasize the importance of proper warming up.
We then moved on to kicking drills, and foot work.
Third, I spent some time in teaching break falls and rolls. I focused mainly on the basics for falling and rolling and showed some more advanced techniques that the students could do as they master the basics.
Finally, we did some self-defence training.
At the very end the students requested me to perform some patterns. By this time I was really feeling sick and jet-lag was in full-swing, but I obliged. I chose some of the forms that I thought I knew best; however, I got stuck on both forms. So I asked Instructor Gerhard to join me for a form to help jolt my memory. We did a form—without getting stuck this time—and the students really seemed to enjoy it. I know that my technique was not very good (and pray that nobody uploads the video onto YouTube), but I am happy for the opportunity to have performed a form with my friend at his school.
The following evening the Horangi Dojang planned a special dinner. It was amazing to share some time with them and get a feeling for their great camaraderie and passion for Taekwon-Do. It is definitely a testament to Instructor Gerhard’s character to get his students and their families behind him in such a manner.
As I was still feeling rather awful, the Louw’s nursed me with some medicine, and I must admit that I felt much better by Friday. I should really have taken medicine earlier.
|With instructor Philip de Vos and some students from|
the Potchefstroom Dojang, North West Province.
Over the two nights I covered much of what I had covered at the ATC and Horangi schools the previous week. However, the longer time allowed me to go into a little more detail. I also shared a little more philosophy and focus more on theory. Since the Potchefstroom dojang has fewer members than the Elardus Park and Grobblersdal schools, it was easier to give more individual attention to the students, which was nice.
On the Thursday evening Instructor Philip de Vos and I went out for dinner to catch up and talk about some important topics.
While in Potchefstroom I also met up with Master Louise Villiers of Tang Soo Do, who is the president for Martial Arts South Africa (MASA), which is a branch of SASCOC. It was great to catch up with Master Louise again, and also a very informative and fruitful meeting. Master Louise and I have a long history of cross-training and supporting each other with our respective events.
For the rest of my time in South Africa I focused on seeing family and friends. An important part of my trip was visiting my ailing, 80-year old father. I was able to give my father a formal, printed copy of my PhD dissertation. While my father is too weak and will likely not read it, it was nevertheless nice to give it to him, as he will not be able to attend the graduation ceremony which will occur later this week.
My trip in South Africa, although much shorter than usual, was most definitely a fruitful one.
24 January 2016
Hello Soo Shim Kwan students and friends. Here is my tentative schedule for the next 2-3 weeks in South Africa, which will include visits and/or workshops at several dojang.
Tuesday, 26 January: Pretoria, ATC Elarduspark Dojang
Wednesday, 27 January: Groblersdal, Horangi Dojang (Workshop)
Thursday, 28 January: Groblersdal, Horangi Dojang (Workshop & Braai)
Tuesday, 2 February: Potchefstroom, Potch TKD Club
Thursday, 4 February: Potchefstroom, Potch TKD Club
Tuesday, 9 February: Vanderbijlpark, Vaal Dojang (Not confirmed yet)
Thursday, 11 February: Johannesburg, (Exact location still unclear)
Sadly I won't make it to the coastal areas during this trip, unfortunately.
I look forward to training with and seeing you all soon.
27 December 2015
I make no secret about it, that for me the primary function of the patterns in ITF Taekwon-Do is to teach certain principles of movement, and that they are not primarily templates for fighting.
However, I do hold the view that the patterns are artistic artifacts; i.e. works of art. If we believe the forms to be works of art then we must accept that they are open to interpretation as are all pieces of art.
The power of art lies not simply in their ability to communicate the artist's original intention, but more importantly, that art can resonate at an individual level with the audience so that each person engaging with good art should experience a unique encounter.
For me, I have always considered the patterns to be analogous to poems, and such a view of the forms have helped me gain wonderful insight into them.
Having said this, as with all artistic interpretation -- there is no single correct answer; however, there are some answers that are obviously wrong. Similarly with pattern interpretation, it is definitely possible to come up with alternative applications; however, some applications are obviously impractical and / or illogical. Sadly, I've seen all too many such nonsensical interpretations of movements in patterns.
It is nearly 2016, and I hope to share some good news soon about my studies. May you all have a blessed festive season and may 2016 be a phenomenal year.
11 November 2015
Sabeomnim Chris has been a pivotal behind the scenes figure in the South Africa ITF community. Over his many years of service he held numerous important positions on the SA-ITF's executive board, such as Secretary General, Information Director, and Constitutional Director; he also functioned as National Team Manager during international championships, as NGB representative at important ITF meetings, as the first webmaster for the SA-ITF, and occasionally as the official SA-ITF photographer. It was particularly in his roles as Secretary General and Constitutional Director that he shaped the very core of the organization. Few members know how fiercly Sabeomnim Chris fought behind closed doors on their behalf; how he embodied being a “champion of freedom and justice” for the normal and sometimes disadvantaged Taekwon-Do students all over the country. Sabeomnim Chris also started the Acestes Taekwon-Do Clubs—one of the largest group of Taekwon-Do clubs in South Africa—and is a founding member of the Dan Gun Kwan with whom the Soo Shim Kwan has very close ties. Sabeomnim Chris' progeny students and co-federation heads Sabeomnim Karel Wethmar and Sabeomnim Annari Wethmar of the Dan Gun Kwan has produced more students to represent South Africa abroad than any other Kwan. Indeed, Sabeomnim Chris has left an enduring South African Taekwon-Do legacy.
|Sbnim Chris van der Merwe and Sanko Lewis|
C. S. Lewis is known for saying: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Sabeomnim Chris van der Merwe was an important friend to me that definitely imparted value to my life. And I know that he did the same for many, many other people. He is fiercely loved by hundreds of Taekwon-Do practitioners that were fortunate to be his students and his friends. He will be greatly missed.
On behalf of the Soo Shim Kwan I wish to share my condolences to the Dan Gun Kwan, the Acestes Taekwon-Do members, and Sabeomnim Chris' family and friends. We share in your grief.
Rest well my friend. Taekwon!
09 November 2015
However, recently I've seen a number of people talking about “sine wave motion” again. One person, for instance, wrote on Facebook that one sees all these Taekwon-Do power breaking videos online, but they never use sine wave motion. Another thing I read recently was a small scientific experiment where people punched a bag that was equipped with measuring tools and the subjects punched the bag with sine wave motion and without sine wave motion. The results showed that “sine wave motion” added little to no force to the hits—that the punch without sine wave motion was actually better.
To me the statement about breaking and also this experiment is obviously flawed because the vector in these techniques travel horizontally, parallel with the ground. The “sine wave motion” is not intended to add force to techniques that move horizontally.
It is pretty simple and I don't know why people don't get it. I think it is because of the wrong appropriation of the term “sine wave.” It is not meant to be understood as an actual sine wave. What General Choi tried to explain was the displacement of the body's centre of mass along the vertical axis—up and / or down. If you also move forward and so displace the body's centre of gravity along the horizontal axis it mimics the motion of a wave, which he referred to as a “sine wave”. It was maybe not the best semantic choice, but don't get stuck on the term. See the principle.
What principle? Simply: accelerate as much of your body mass through your technique at the target. That's it.
Sometimes this means bending your knees and dropping your weight for a technique that includes a downward vector. Sometimes it means pushing with your legs up for a high technique. Sometimes it means not going up or down but keeping level, as with techniques that travel horizontally towards the target.
For me the “sine wave motion” (yes it is a bad term, but get over it) simply means I'm pushing my centre of mass upward or letting it drop downward, depending on the direction the technique is travelling towards the target.
Now some might say, that's not sine wave! Their reasoning is that ITF Taekwon-Do's “sine wave motion” always have three parts: down-up-down. Once you understand the principle of relaxation, activation, and execution that is taught through the “sine wave motion” one need not exaggerate them as is often done as a training mnemonic with the “sine wave motion.” The “sine wave motion” is a training tool used to teach principles of motion; it is not a cookie cutter that should be stamped onto every technique. Every sensible ITF practitioner knows this.
But enough about that—I've written about the phases of the sine wave motion enough elsewhere; let me quickly explain why I say the above experiment and breaking observations are based on wrong assumptions.
The “sine wave motion” contributes to vertical force—the rotation of the hip contributes to horizontal force. If the target is to be reached at a horizontal plane, adding vertical force (through dropping of the body weight) will not contribute to the force of the technique. However, if the target is at a downward angle so that the vector includes a vertical (i.e. downward angled) trajectory, then dropping the body weight will obviously contribute to the technique's power.
What people don't seem to get is that a large percentage of Taekwon-Do techniques reach their target not directly perpendicularly horizontal, but often at a slight downward angle. In other words, many Taekwon-Do techniques incorporate both horizontal (i.e. hip rotation) and vertical (i.e. body-dropping) forces.
Here are a few examples of techniques to which “sine wave motion” contributes.
Obviously, low techniques where the dropping of your body weight into the technique clearly contributes towards the force of the technique, for instance a low punch, low block, or low kick.
Most middle techniques too. For instance when doing a punch, the arm is not held up at the top level of the shoulders, but a little below the shoulders, so that the punching arm is not exactly parallel with the floor, but actually angled downwards a bit. Imagine standing in front of somebody your own height and punching them in the solar plexus, the fly ribs, or the kidneys. How should your arm be angled to achieve this?
|The brachial nerve is reached at a|
diagonal angle, not horizontally.
Many blocks in Taekwon-Do divert the attack not merely sideways, but rather sideways and downwards.
Also, when I started Taekwon-Do over two decades ago my instructor insisted that most kicks should reach the opponent at a downward angle. The sidekick was taught as a “stomp”, the front kick as a “trample”, the turning kick as a “clobber” like with a sledgehammer for which you use gravitation to aid you in the technique. High kicks were never prioritized and even when kicks were performed high, the admonition was that you should hit with gravity as the kick was on its way down.
Let me point out that all these examples of "Taekwon-Do work[ing] with gravity" (as my first instructor used to say) are from my basics. These are techniques I learned over twenty years ago in a Taekwon-Do gym where nobody every mentioned “sine wave motion.” I only learned of the term after I had my first black belt.
Setting up breaking boards (or measuring equipment) to be hit with fully horizontally moving techniques are flawed, I think. If you want to test if “sine wave motion” (i.e. the dropping of the body weight into a technique) adds to the force exerted by a technique, then you should set-up the experiment for techniques where this makes sense, where dropping the body weight into the technique is actually measured. That's why, when I teach breaking techniques to my students we hold the breaking boards at various different angles and heights.
05 November 2015
Something that I slowly researching is how cultural ways of moving affect martial arts. I've already written a bit about it with regards to the "sine wave movement" on this blog and am currently working on a book about the topic (but it will still be a while before it's finished as I'm focusing on my PhD at present).
For this short post I want to show a small example of the relationship between a culture and their way of moving in the martial arts.
The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto. Although Shinto does not have specific moral “doctrines,” it has a type of moral aesthetic. To quote Shinto priest Motohisa Yamakage: “Shinto conceives of good and evil in aesthetic terms, likening them to straight and curved lines. To the Japanese sensibility, a straight line is inherently beautiful. It need not be rigidly straight, but its emphasis should be forward and positive, signifying organic growth, clarity, and honesty” (The Essence of Shinto, 2012:44, 45).
There is an assumption people have about Karate—that K.arate's linear movements developed for practical purposes based on the idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. What if Karate movements evolved to look the way they do not primarily because of their practicality, but because the cultural “sensibility” is that straight lines are “good,” while curved lines are “evil”? I propose that while this might be a weird concept to accept for people unfamiliar with body culture it becomes less strange once you start to look at the dances of these cultures. I have asserted before that there is a connection between Korean folk dance, Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do. They all share a particular Korean anapaestic rhythm and a peculiar “bounciness” or what is known in Korean folk dance as “verticality” When one look at Japanese performing arts and dances, one can also see similarities with Karate. Neither is it surprising that Chinese martial arts and Chinese performing arts (Chinese opera) greatly overlap.
The idea that in the traditional martial arts we move in certain ways, that Kata or Patterns are performed in particular ways, strictly based on efficiency or practicality of technique is an assumption. I'm not denying that practical consideration are indeed part of the way the martial arts move, but one cannot deny the influence of a cultural context on the martial arts—of “body culture”. There are reasons all the martial arts around the world do not look and move the same way. If it was all about the most “effective” technique, then there should have been much more uniformity. The cultural context has a big influence on the body culture, and in turn on the martial arts that developed in those cultures. Body culture may be influenced by such obscure things as an aesthetic appreciation of straight lines over curved lines, or the cultural folk rhythms, and many other variables.
What does this mean for martial artists? For one, there is a difference between a martial art which is embedded with a cultural heritage as opposed to a pure (if such a thing exists) combative system. The next time you practise Taekwon-Do, or Shotokan Karate, or Whin Chun, or Capoeira, or Savate, to name just these few martial arts as examples, know that you are not simply learning fighting techniques, you are also learning a particular cultural way of moving your body—you are in fact learning a body culture.
25 August 2015
The first draft of the logo was designed by myself, and aesthetically improved by my once Taekwon-Do senior turned friend, John-Wesley Franklin. Copyright of the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club logo belongs to the Soo Shim Kwan. All rights reserved.