02 July 2015

The 'Soo Shim Kwan' Name

I recently saw a Bruce Lee interview again in which he advises one to become like water. Of course, this immediately made me think about our federation's name: "Soo Shim Kwan" [水心館]. The Chinese characters 水心 that is pronounced Soo-Shim 수심 in Korean, literally translates as Water-Mind.




Originally the name of our federation was Potchefstroom Regional Federation. At the time the federations in South Africa was named after the geographic regions they catered for. This changed in 2003. Many instructors had expanded their dojang representation well beyond particular regions. A chief instructor might have instructors with dojang in multiple provinces. It was then decided that federations need not be confined to particular regions anymore and so the original 11 federations in South Africa chose new names. As one of the original federation heads I knew exactly what name I'd choose, as I had already decided on a name many years before. (Read about the Soo Shim Kwan history here.)

In 1997 I had read an interview in Tae Kwon Do Times in which the Korean concept of Soo Shim was mentioned.

“It is, as the Korean people say, ‘Soo Shim’, water-mind; meaning one who practices the arts will be like water.” Byung Lee, 1997. "Legends of Korea : The Tree" (In Taekwon-Do Times. July.)

It very much resonated with me, and I knew that if I ever have the opportunity to start my own group, that is the name I'll choose as it represents my understanding and approach to the martial arts. These water analogies found in the works of Taoist authors and other Oriental philosophers and also implied in the teachings of great martial artists have always been very important to me. Now, as I live in Korea and study Oriental philosophy, I'm even more convinced about the appropriateness of the name Soo Shim Kwan.

Ironically, few Koreans are familiar with East Asian philosophy and not many know much about even Korean philosophy. When I mention the term Soo-Shim 水心 to the average Korean, they are unlikely to understand the philosophical meaning. One of the meanings of Soo-Shim, based on a different Chinese characters combination denotes the "depths of the ocean" 水深. This is often what Koreans think of when I say Soo-Shim. Another meaning of Soo-Shim, based on another Chinese character combination is "anxiety" 愁心. Unfortunately the study of Chinese characters is not part of the modern school curriculum in Korea anymore. It is, however, the older, more learned Koreans whom have studied the old Chinese characters that immediately grasp the philosophical meaning of our name 水心, and often nod in approval.

I provided a summary of the meaning of our name on our Philosophy page.



A very big congratulations for the great performance by Soo Shim Kwan's Horangi Dojang at the South African National Open Championships that took place in Randburg recently. Instructor Gerhard Louw reported that: "Out of 7 students we brought home 7 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 1 bronze. Maria Ramona Truter performed outstanding by getting 3 gold medals and Best Veteran female of the day trophy. I am extremely proud of you all."

Congratulations Instructor Gerhard, you and your team are hot stuff!

10 June 2015

Congratulations to the Potchefstroom Dojang


A big congratulation to the Soo Shim Kwan - Potchefstroom Dojang for their great performance at the 14th ATC Annual Invitational Tournament that was held at the end of May in Pretoria. Instructor Philip de Vos won gold for III Degree Patterns; Hatting Davel won gold for Special Technique Breaking, silver for Patterns, and bronze for Power Breaking; Adelle Wolmarans won silver in Power Breaking; and Riana Serfontein won gold in Patterns and bronze in Power Breaking.

Well done! You make me proud!

18 May 2015

My PhD Studies & the 5th International Symposium on Taekwondo Studies

Over the weekend of 9-10 May I had the privilege to attend the 5th International Symposium on Taekwondo Studies, sponsored by the WTF as a precursor to the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, and organized by the International Associationfor Taekwondo Research, It was particularly heart-warming that at least three of the speakers at the event were ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners and scholars: myself, Dr George Vitale (who was a keynote speaker), and Dr John Johnson (who was one of the main organizers and master of ceremonies). The WTF Championships' opening ceremony also included an ITF Taekwon-Do demonstration. Later ITF and WTF practitioners demonstrated basic movements together -- a very symbolic act.

The reason for my attendance was to present a paper and a poster at the symposium that preceded the WTF World Champs. I represented the university where I work, and also Kyunghee University where I am currently enrolled into a PhD program.

My poster was concerned with the influences in martial art forms. I argued that understanding East Asian martial art forms as simply combat drills result in several problems. To solve these problems one have to consider other influences that contributed to the development of the forms, which include Daoyist exercises, folk dances and ritual practices, and East Asian conceptions of mind training through physical activity.

The paper I presented concerned another topic, namely pacifism and war ethics. The title is "The Paradoxical Pacifist Teachings of East Asian Martial Arts." Basically, East Asian martial arts admonish their members not to engage in fighting, or that the highest goal of martial art practise is not fighting. This is paradoxical since the core focus of martial art practise is combative techniques. I argued that the reason East Asian martial arts (as apposed to Western combat systems) teach combat avoidance is because they are based on the pacifist teachings of East Asian philosophies such as Taoism, Confucianism, Mohism and Buddhism. I furthermore continued to show ways in which this paradox can be overcome by means of normative ethics.

This paper is part of my research for my PhD dissertation, which I need to submit--God-willing--by October this year. I have finally completed all my coursework and a few weeks ago I wrote my comprehensive exam and obligatory foreign language exam. I'm thankful that I passed both, since nearly half of the attendees did not pass the comprehensive exam.

Unfortunately, because I'm so busy with work and studies, I'm not getting to write here as often here as I would like. For what it is worth, I have several writing topic ideas just waiting for an opportunity to be written.


01 April 2015

First Taekwon-Do Book to Be Made Available for Download


The very first book about Taekwon-Do was written and published by Gen. Choi Hong-Hi in 1959. This "lost" book will soon be made available to the general public.

Most people don't know about this book and very few have seen it. For most, the oldest resource on Taekwon-Do has been the 1965 book (also written by Gen. Choi), of which one can still buy reprints. The difference between the 1959 book and the 1965 book is not small, and it is not merely a difference in language, keeping in mind that the 1959 book was written in Hanja (Chinese characters) and Korean.

I have been privileged to have received an initial digital version of the first Taekwon-Do textbook and find it fascinating to notice that although Taekwon-Do was obviously very Karatesque at that time, even at this early stage we can notice some of the germs of what would become Taekwon-Do as a Korean martial arts -- for instance, several photos depicting flying kicks.

Me and Master (Dr) George Vitale
This year, 2015, on April 11th, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Taekwon-Do, this first Taekwon-Do textbook will be made available for download as a PDF. The book will be provided by Taekwon-Do historian, Dr. George Vitale on his blog: HistoryOfTaekwondo.Org. Dr Vitale is an 8th Dan ITF master, and one of the foremost Taekwon-Do historians in the world. I had the good fortune of recently spending some time with him again. His passion for Taekwon-Do and its history is contagious, and him sharing this invaluable resource is typical of his character. He is on a mission to educate the world of the true history of Taekwon-Do and now you can be a part of that too, by downloading the first ever Taekwon-Do textbook. One particularly grand thing about it is that on one of the very first pages of the book you can also see the very first calligraphy of Taekwon-Do, written in hanja as  by South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee. This historic work of art acted as the official approval of the new name "Tae Kwon Do", and what would become Korea's national sport and one of the most widely practised martial arts in the world.

Download Taekwon-Do's first textbook on 11 April 2015 in celebration of Taekwon-Do's 60th anniversary from HistoryOfTaekwondo.Org 

Congratulations to the Potchefstroom Dojang

Instructor Philip de Vos, with
Riana Serfontein and Adele Wolmarans

The Soo Shim Kwan is happy to congratulate the Potchefstroom Dojang with its recent victories at the 2015 Gauteng North & Northern Provinces Provincial Tournament that was held on Saturday 21 March 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Instructor Philip de Vos again won gold in patterns. His students Riana Serfontein and Adele Wolmarans also won medals, gold and silver respectively, in their patterns division. Congratulations!



30 March 2015

Congratulations to Horangi Students

Back: Instructor Gerhard Louw and Stephani
Front: Hussain, Tlotlo, Katlego, Sena, and Andreas
The Soo Shim Kwan is proud of Instructor Gerhard Louw and the students from the Horangi Dojang in Groblerdal, who recently participated at the Northern Gauteng and Northern Provinces regional tournament in Pretoria, South Africa. The six Horangi participants won 10 medals in total. Well done to you all!

06 March 2015

Vacancies at Korean University for BJ/Muay Thai Instructors

Kyongbuk Science College < http://golfma.kbsc.ac.kr/ > is the first university in South Korea to offer a major in Mixed Martial Arts. Kyongbuk Science College has produced many famous athletes such as the Korean Zombie, Jeong Chan-Seong, Im Hyon Seong, and others. In 2015, for a more systematic education, the university is interested in recruiting two well rounder foreign (non-Korean) instructors with extensive experience in Brazilian Jiujitsu and Muay Thai respectively.

Requirements:

  • The candidate should have a four year university degree or higher qualification. (The field of study is not important, but needed for processing the visa in order to work at a university in Korea. A relevant degree, for example in Sport Science or Physical Education, may result in better pay and benefits.)
  • The candidate must be able to communicate and teach martial arts concepts in a clear, well structured way to young athletes that use English as a second language. 
BJJ Position Requirements:

  • A black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu from a reputable affiliation, 
  • with proof of BJJ teaching experience. 
  • Previous exposure to an MMA environment may be useful. 
Muay Thai Position Requirements:

  • Affiliation with a reputable Muay Thai association such as the IFMA, 
  • and proof of Muay Thai coaching and competing experience. 
  • Previous exposure to an MMA environment may be useful. 
Responsibilities: The teacher will lecture and coach students in the Sports Department.

Remuneration: 2, 000 000 ~ 3, 000 000 Won (Roughly US$2000-US$3000) per month depending on degree and experience.

Housing: Dormitory housing on campus will be provided.

Duration: One year contract, with the possibility of renewal.

The contract is negotiable.

Please send your resume ASAP to itfkimhoon@hotmail.com

02 March 2015

The Value of Patterns (Part 2): Kinaesthetics (Part 3: Controlled Power)

This is the last post for the time being on the kinaesthetic value of the ITF patterns and was published in Issue #72 of Totally Tae Kwon Do Magazine.

In my previous discussion of the value of the ITF patterns I discussed the emphasis put on accelerating as much body mass as possible in order to achieve greater force. There is however a danger in over-zealously forceful techniques, which will be the discussion of this instalment.

ITF Taekwon-Do has an obsession with power generation. Fundamental Movements are often idealized techniques for generating tremendous amounts of force by accelerating as much body mass as possible in the direction of the technique, be it block, punch, strike or kick. Although generating force is the primary goal, it is trumped by keeping proper posture and maintaining balance. The ITF practitioner wants to generate as much force as possible, but without compromising posture and balance. Fundamental Movements, as practised in the patterns, are a way to practise powerful techniques; however, the power is curbed just enough to maintain good posture and balance.

A light-hearted video of a man zealously punching but missing the target,
leaving him in a potentially compromised position. 

Let’s look at some examples. Imagine punching a target, such as a punching bag, as hard as you possibly can. Now imagine doing the same, but just before your fist hits the punching bag, someone suddenly pulls the punching bag away. What is likely to happen? It is likely that the momentum of your punch will swing you off balance. Another example: consider doing a turning kick as hard as possible to kick “through” the target. Let’s say your target is again a punching bag and you kick it with all the force you can muster. And rather than snapping the leg out and back as you hit the target as is the common practise in Taekwon-Do, you instead drive through with all your body mass—in effect doing a Muay Thai style roundhouse kick. And again, just as you are about to land the kick, somebody moves the bag out of range; once more you are likely to be thrown off balance, the momentum of the kick probably pulling you around exposing your back.

A tutorial for the Muay Thai roundhouse kick.

The Fundamental Movements as practised in patterns teach us an important principle, that while power generation is very important, it should never happen at the expense of good posture and balance. The Muay Thai style turning is indeed more powerful than the Taekwon-Do turning kick because it has much more momentum and drive through than the snapped turning kick. However, the snapped turning kick with the reaction force of the arms that are pulled in the opposite direction maintains much better balance and posture, whereas the momentum of the Muay Thai roundhouse kick causes the practitioner to turn and expose his flank and back, resulting in compromised positioning.

Similarly, the over zealous punch also throws the practitioner off balance, whereas the traditional martial art punch that we practise in Taekwon-Do (and similar styles such as Karate) remains full facing, rather than over extend. Certainly doing a punch as a boxer that uses big rotational forces of both the hip and the shoulder would be much more powerful. Why then does Taekwon-Do and other traditional styles often only use hip rotation, rather than also full shoulder rotation, to punch? Why do we emphasize staying mostly full-facing during our punches, when pushing the shoulder forwardwould result in deeper penetration and more force? As I pointed out before, posture and balance trumps power.

Another example we notice in blocking techniques, which are generally in a half-facing posture. A further rotation of the hips into the full-facing position would usually make the block more powerful. Over-zealous blocking are nevertheless avoided, as the benefit of a slanted body angle which reveals less of the body’s surface area and vital points outweighs the possible benefit or more hip rotation that would increase the power of the block. The Fundamental Movements as practised in the patterns teach us that the benefit of more power does not surpass exposing more vital spots.

Instead of increasing the power through over-exaggerated rotational power that may expose vital points, we attempt to increase power through dropping the body weight into the technique in the form of the sine wave motion, where appropriate. (Not all techniques benefit from sine wave motion body-dropping, but a great number of techniques do.)

Why is it that a martial art like ITF Taekwon-Do that is so obsessed with powerful techniques would so often curb its Fundamental Movements in order to maintain good posture, positioning and balance; while other styles like modern western boxing and Muay Thai throw all they have into some of their techniques? The answer is most likely to be found in Taekwon-Do’s original purpose as a system aimed at self-defence, rather than a martial sport. An over-zealous swinging punch in boxing or a big Muay Thai roundhouse kick that spins you around exposing your back to your opponent is a risk worth taking in a sport context. If the technique lands it may knock out your competitor and cause you to be the victor. If the technique misses, you may expose your back to your opponent or lose your balance and fall; however, that is a risk a competitor may be willing to take. Tournament rules prohibit lethal attacks to the back of the head or spine or kicking a fallen opponent, and there is also a centre referee who will look out for your well-being. Even in UFC, known for its brutal and high intensity tournament fighting that is often touted as “no holds barred,” strikes to the spine and back of the head or attacking the head of a downed opponent is illegal. While there is a risk in using over-zealously powerful techniques that may compromise your posture and balance, it is a risk often worth taking by martial sport practitioners because in a sport context it is nearly never a lethal risk and such techniques have the potential to ensure a victory.

However, in a martial art concerned with self-defence such over-zealous techniques that compromise balance and posture are particularly avoided. In a self-defence (i.e. life-or-death) situation, the last thing you want to do is to allow your attacker access to your back, or find yourself on the floor if it could be avoided. Traditional martial arts are therefore often conservative with regards to their Fundamental Movements when it comes to posture and balance.

Taekwon-Do is known for many “flashy” techniques. While such techniques are often encouraged in sport settings, the Fundamental Movements as practised in the patterns are by contrast very conservative. The patterns contain almost no risky, flashy techniques. In the patterns the practitioner is encouraged to practise power generation, but always in a controlled way, so as not to compromise posture and balance.


Further reading:

See also my article "Taekwon-Do Kick versus Muay Thai Roundhouse Kick" and Dan Djurdjevic's article on why traditional martial arts tend to stop their techniques at predetermined points.

24 February 2015

Seoul: Taekwondo Classes for Adults Kicking Off Again in March

Although Korea is the motherland of Taekwondo it is ironically often difficult to find serious Taekwondo classes, as Taekwondo schools usually focus on children and sport rather than the original martial art / self-defence focus. For foreigners it is further challenging because it is very difficult to get instruction in English.

H
owever, there are places in Korea where adults can train in Taekwondo with focus on martial art and self-defence, and taught in English.

The ITF Taekwondo training at 'The Way' Martial Arts & Fitness Gym in Seoul (close by Ttukseom Resort and Konkuk University) is officially kicking off again, start of March. The class is very “foreign friendly”, as instruction is conducted mostly in English.
The Taekwondo training follows the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) syllabus, following the Soo Shim Kwan philosophy. ITF style focuses on martial art, rather than martial sport, and includes practical self-defence techniques. The class is also augmented with techniques from Hapkido. Practitioners learn traditional martial art techniques based on Newtonian scientific principles. The practitioner is then progressively taught how to adapt traditional martial art motions into practical self-defence techniques. The syllabus covers a full arsenal that includes strikes and punches, elbow strikes, various kicks and knee attacks, throws, joint-locks and escapes. The instructors have decades of martial arts teaching experience and have presented seminars internationally. Both Master Kim Hoon (8th Dan) and Instructor Sanko Lewis (5th Dan) have received honorable mentions (“citations”) from the Taekwondo Hall of Fame, and both have written extensively on Taekwondo and the martial arts.
Training is every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 7pm until 8:40pm. The monthly fee is 120,000 Won per person. (At an additional fee, students can also partake of the many other training offered at 'The Way', such as Cross-Fit and Kickboxing.)
This is a unique opportunity for foreigners to learn an established and battle proven Korean martial art. If you always wanted to learn a martial art, now is your chance. See you in March!