14 July 2010

Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do

It's been two weeks since I've taken up Taekkyeon again. The first time I did Taekkyeon was in 2008, but after a number of months the classes started to clash with my work schedule. I also reached a plateau because the group of people I trained with were quite old, which did not allow me to train much of the practical applications of Taekkyeon. The first dojang I went to focussed on health. Taekkyeon was used in the same way that Tai Chi Ch'uan is practised by most people, as a recreation focussed on health. Not that there is anything wrong with this, it was just not the reason I wanted to learn Taekkyeon.

Recently, some time opened up in my busy schedule, so I decided to take up Taekkyeon again. The last two weeks I've been focussing on the basic stepping motion in Taekkyeon, which is harder than it looks. Hard especially for me because my instructor tells me that I've acquired some bad habits from my previous Taekkyeon exposure. I'm spending much of my time in class trying to unlearn wrong motions.

But that's not the purpose of this post. I'd like to talk about one of my main reasons (there are a number) why I took up Taekkyeon. Basically, I'm learning Taekkyeon in an attempt to understand Taekwon-Do better. As readers of this blog (mostly Soo Shim Kwan members) probably know, Taekwon-Do has two roots. General Choi Hong-Hi, who was the principle driving force behind the development of Taekwon-Do (and ITF Taekwon-Do in particular) trained in two martial arts -- Taekkyeon as a teenager and Shotokan Karate as a young man. These two martial arts became the chief influences in the development of Taekwon-Do. The greatest influence, at first, was undoubtedly from Karate. The techniques from Japanese Karate is typically hard and linear in character. The kicks borrowed (and altered) from Karate were the front kick, turning kick, side kick and back kick. Most of the other kicks in Taekwon-Do are derived from Taekkyeon and are typically circular in character, for example crescent kicks, sweeping kicks, checking kicks; also the pushing kicks. The spinning kicks were developed in Taekwon-Do and does not come from either Karate or Taekkyeon.

The things that truly intrigue me about Taekkyeon and the reason I decided to acquaint myself with this martial art are two other similarities I've noticed between ITF Taekwon-Do and Taekkyeon: mostly relaxed techniques and a waving stepping motion. Relaxation and the sine wave motion were not part of the original Taekwon-Do dating from the 1950s to 1970s. For all practical purposes, this old style Taekwon-Do was nothing more than Korean Karate with added techniques and new patterns. But then ITF Taekwon-Do made a sudden change, as if the Taekkyeon seeds from General Choi's past suddenly germinated and the stringent Japanese flavour that was so prevalent in Taekwon-Do was suddenly replaced with something different. This different ingredient, I have come to believe, has its source in Taekkyeon. Both the relaxation and the bobbing (sine wave) is something we see in Taekkyeon.

I'm not suggesting that ITF Taekwon-Do and Taekkyeon is the same thing; far from it, but I do believe that they are related and much more so than say that is commonly suggested. From my exposure to many different martial arts, Taekkyeon's way of stepping is the closest to the ITF sine wave. It is not the same, but it is more similar than similar body-sinking movements in other martial arts. I truly believe that in his later life General Choi wanted to make Taekwon-Do less Japanese and more Korean and therefore borrowed from his childhood experience in Taekkyeon.This has completely altered the look and feel of ITF Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do used to be a hard style like Japanese Karate. In the meantime it has incorporated many more "soft style" principles (as I mentioned in the previous post), so that it is now a very interesting hybrid; a strange synergy of hard style and soft style principles.

As I get to understand Taekkyeon better, and as I understand the similarities between Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do better, I will be sure to report about them here.

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