15 September 2010

Do You Do "Chang Hong," ITF, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Taekwon-Do?

In the video above, in one of his last seminars, General Choi Hong-Hi, the father of Taekwon-Do and first president of the ITF, spoke proudly of how ITF Taekwon-Do is not a splintered organization. World wide we practise(d) the same pattern set, the same basic techniques and exercises.

Unfortunately, as you all know, upon his death ITF split into three groups, each claiming to be the authentic ITF. At first these three ITF groups still practised the same way. Eight years later and we are starting to see little differences creeping in. If these groups do not merge again I'm pretty sure that the differences will eventually be substantial enough to differentiate the different groups in a similar way that we can distinguish today different Shotokan Karate styles like JKA and Shotokai. Both these groups are still clearly practising Shotokan Karate as taught by the founder Gichin Funakushi; nonetheless, over time differences are clear enough for an emerged Karateka to recognise the two as different styles -- not only politically, but also technically.

It's nearly ten years later and we are already seeing slight differences between the three ITF-branches. One of these groups recently made the peculiar decision to rename one of the patterns, changing it from "Juche" to "Kodang." The latter is actually the name of a previous pattern that Gen. Choi replaced with a new pattern called "Juche." (I'll write more about that in a future post.) The decision to change names of patterns has clearly set this ITF group up as different from the other two. The different groups have also started to change tournament rules. One group, for instance, is awarding extra points for flashy jumping spinning kicks in order to make sparring matches more interesting for spectators to watch. There has even been slight dobok alterations. Different tournament events like self-defence demonstration and Pro Taekwon-Do (full-contact Taekwon-Do) has also been introduced with one of the ITF groups. How will the ITF groups look another ten years hence?

In the late seventies, early eighties, there were some break away groups from ITF. Because they broke away before the introduction of the sine wave motion and its associated relaxedness, we can easily differentiate between them and the ITF even though they all continued to use the same 24 pattern set developed by Gen. Choi. These patterns are known as Chang Hon patterns. "Chang Hon" was General Choi's pen name. The Chang Hon patterns has stood the test of time and is practised by a significant portion of Taekwon-Do practitioners, whether ITF or not. Still, they are performed so differently between these different organizations that it has become quite difficult to compete together at tournaments. Some judges fancy sine wave motion, others prefer no sine wave at all. Some prefer very fast linear movements. Others like patterns that follow a slower pace. In some, single movements in patterns have been adapted. Stances are not of equal length everywhere any more. Some organizations do kiaps (shouts), others do not. There are even different ways of writing the name of this style; for instance, Taekwon-Do, Taekwondo and Tae Kwon Do. I've even seen the rather ugly variant Taegwondo, which is actually phonetically a better Romanization of the name.

The two videos below shows how different the same Chang Hon pattern Hwa-Rang can be performed by two different Taekwon-Do organizations. The way the pattern is performed in the second video resembles how it is generally performed in the ITF groups at present, while the first video is more reminiscent of how was performed in the 60s and 70s with some organizational alterations.

Such changes are inevitable. This means that Taekwon-Do has become a generic term and does not refer to a single organization. When we talk about Chang Hon Taekwon-Do we include ITF, GTF, ITA, and so on. Similarly I wonder if the prefix "ITF" will become a similar descriptive as "Chang Hon"? I believe that ITF Taekwon-Do will still be practised for many many years. We may just call it something else.

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