24 February 2011

New Soo Shim Kwan Baby!

A warm congratulations goes to instructor Gerhard Louw and his wife Izelle on the birth of their baby boy, Dewyk, on Tuesday.

The Soo Shim Kwan is happy to welcome little Dewyk into our Taekwon-Do family.
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Aikido and ITF Taekwon-Do

Advanced Aikido (Tuttle Martial Arts)The following is from the book Advanced Aikido by Phong Thong Dang and Lynn Seiser (2006) and is equally relevant to ITF Taekwon-Do.

"The wave motion is a rolling movement. It is continuous. In many advanced aikido movements, one can observe the rolling motion of the wave. The motion of the vertical wave movement is up-down, down-up, down-up-down, or up-down-up. One can also use the wave movement horisontally in an in-out, out-in, in-out-in, or out-in-out pattern" (p. 55).

Had you not known this passage came from an Aikido text, it would have been easy to mistake it for a quote from an ITF Taekwon-Do source.

Here is another quote with emphasis on using one's body weight -- yet another principle shared by both ITF Taekwon-Do and Aikido:

"Eventually, the student of aikido will become technically proficient but will gain the ability to use body weight to make his or her application much more effective and powerful. Rather than force a technique, the advanced student will set up the mechanics of the application and then drop his or her body weight into it. The strength of the entire body is stronger than just the arms. Bring the weight of your entire body, as relaxed dead weight, to bear in the direction of your training partner's kuzushi, or balance point, and it will make throwing your partner an easy task.

"Bending at the waist or using the muscular force of the upper body does not drop one's body weight. Rather, drop your weight by subtlely bending or buckling your knees. Accomplish all vertical movement in aikido by naturally bending your knees to lower you body" (p. 55-56.)

The Taekwon-Doist familiar with such concepts as the wave principle (i.e. sine wave motion) and the knee-spring action will notice the obvious parallels with the principles of wave movement in Aikido quoted above.

Again I affirm my conviction that ITF Taekwon-Do shares many concepts with soft style martial arts like Aikido.
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21 February 2011

Vaal Taekwon-Do Reunion

Over the last few months I have been quite busy with arranging the first Vaal Taekwon-Do Reunion, which was held this past Saturday near Vanderbijlpark, in the Vaal Triangle, South Africa. The event had a double purpose: the first, of course, was to get old acquantances together to catch up on the good old days; the second was to officially confirm the early history of Taekwon-Do, particularly ITF Taekwon-Do in South Africa.

Andrew Fall
During the evening it was confirmed by three individuals that practised Taekwon-Do during the late 70s and 80s that the first person to have brought Taekwon-Do to South Africa was Mr Andrew Fall, from Vereeniging, who started the South Africa Taekwon-Do Institute in 1976. Mr Fall was originally a JKA Karate practitioner; however, he went to England and practised under Rhee Ki-Ha (then a 7th Dan master). When Mr Fall returned to South Africa he introduced this new Korean art to his Karate club in Vereeniging, which resulted in the club to split, with roughly a third continuing with JKA and the remaining students starting their new journey in ITF Taekwon-Do.

General Choi Hong-Hi visited South Africa shortly afterwards in 1978, during which time he presented Mr Fall a scroll that proclaimed him life-president of ITF Taekwon-Do in South Africa. During his follow-up visit in the early 80s, Gen. Choi tested the first batch of black belt candidates in South Africa.

This early history of ITF Taekwon-Do in South Africa has gone nearly unnoticed by the current governing body (SA-ITF), until in recent years different collaborators confirmed the early history, providing various newspaper clippings, and other documents as proof. Such documents were again provided during the reunion over the weekend.

The SA-ITF executive president, Mr Dirk Nel, fully acknowledged and accepted this early history of Taekwon-Do in South Africa and also announced honours to certain key individuals in the early history of South African Taekwon-Do. Mr Andrew Fall was posthumously presented with an honorary fourth degree black belt. (Other individuals were also honoured; a formal announcement will be made by the president in an official letter in the near future.)

So what does this mean to us, the Soo Shim Kwan? Basically, it establishes our group as a direct lineage from the first Taekwon-Dojang in South Africa, starting with Mr Andrew Fall, then Mr Johan Bolton, who was my direct instructor.

The SA-ITF has ten Kwan (federations). Four of these Kwan branch out of Mr Johan Bolton's structures, and therefore, Mr Andrew Fall's first Taekwon-Do structure; they are Bulsaju Kwan, Juche Kwan, Dan Gun Kwan and Soo Shim Kwan. The other Kwan in South Africa have their roots in Mr James Brooks who came to South Africa from England in the 80s and first settled in Johannesburg -- later moving to Vanderbijlpark. (He eventually had to return to England.)
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10 February 2011

Pinetown Stingers Taekwon-Dojang

Pinetown Stingers Black Belts and I
Last night I attended the Pinetown Stingers Taekwon-Dojang. The Stingers Clubs are part of the San Kwan, which is the principle federation in the KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa. The Pinetown Dojang is one of the oldest Taekwon-Do clubs in South Africa. I think it has been at the same physical address for nearly 15 years now.

The San Kwan and the Soo Shim Kwan has a long history. I lived in KwaZulu Natal at one point and opened a dojang under the San Kwan. I was also on the organizing committee (as event designer) for the National Taekwon-Do Championships when it was held in Natal (Richards Bay) in 2003.

Last night was only my third or fourth time to visit the Pinetown Dojang. I've visited in the past as an assistant examiner with Sabeomnim Garnet Ronander. While my previous visits with the Pinetown Dojang have been few, my history and familiarity with the San Kwan and the Natal instructors made me feel quite at home.

Unlike my other Taekwon-Do stops in South Africa during this trip, the Pinetown stop was not on the original itinerary, so I did not plan to teach anything particular. Nonetheless, Sabeomnim Sean Cremer, San Kwan's chief instructor and head of the Stingers Clubs, asked me to share something with the students. I based the class loosely on the points I shared with the ATC dojang in Pretoria last week. My main purpose was to expand the students' understanding of the sine wave motion and to help them see that it is part of the wave / circle principle.

I also spend some time to show how Taekwon-Do was influenced by its two roots: Shotokan Karate and Taekkyeon.

The Q & A session after the class revolved mostly around my experiences in Korea, ranging from how it feels to be a foreigner in Korea, to what one can expect at a typical Taekwon-dojang in Korea.

I had a irritable stomach bug yesterday that caused for painful sporadic cramps. I tried not to show it while teaching, but I'm sure some of the more perceptive students must have seen my spasmodic frowning every so often. Nevertheless, I think the exercise did me good, since I felt much better this morning.
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How Do You Quantify Taekwon-Do?

During my travels in South Africa so far and discussions with different instructors, a common theme has popped up -- namely, the over emphasis of the sport aspect in Taekwon-Do. I've heard complaints that some practitioners are preferenced over others because of their likelyhood to perform well at championships, while other practitioners whom are not sportsmen may struggle to test for black belts.

I've complained about the over emphasis of the sport aspect of Taekwon-Do before (see here and here), but never really considered why there seems to be such a preference to the sport side. In the meantime, I have come to a probable cause. Sport seems to be a good way to measure success. It is quantifiable. If your students win many medals at a championships, you can call your school successful and you have the medals to prove it. It is much more difficult to quantify self-defence. Then there are the other, more abstract, aspects of the martial arts that are just as difficult to measure, like character building, spiritual growth, and so on. These aspects, in my opinion, is of greater significance, but in a materialistic culture where success is measured by the physical things you have acquired (e.g. Medals), such abstract achievements are under played.

The issue goes much further than just instructors measuring the success of their clubs by how many medals they achieved. The governing body is faced with the same problem. If we want to measure the success of the organization, we obviously look at the numbers. How many black belts were produced? How many competitors attended the World Championships? How many medals did we bring back? We do not ask, How many people have changed for the better? How many people have been saved from a mugging? The issue of self-defence is particularly problematic. If I did my job correctly, I would have made my students more aware of their surroundings, more safety conscious, more confident, and therefore less likely to become a victim of a violent crime. Since we are not counting how many people defended themselves from a physical attack, but rather how many people avoided the situation in the first place, it is exceedingly difficult to put a number on it.

I'm not yet sure what the sollution is. It should entail a mindshift from quantity to quality. It also needs to take into account the more abstract value of martial art training -- the value of the 'Do'.
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04 February 2011

At a Dojang in Pretoria

Last night I taught at a dojang affiliated to the Dan Gun Kwan. The Dan Gun Kwan and the Soo Shim Kwan have very good relations as Sabeomnim Karel Wethmar, co-federation head of the Dan Gun Kwan, takes care of our (Soo Shim Kwan) gradings here in South Africa while I live abroad.

I taught at the ATC Dojang in Pretoria. After general warm ups, I covered a number of different concepts. One thing I started with was my sequence of five basic kicks, which I've titled 오주차기 Ohjuchagi -- or Five Basic Kicks. The kicks include the front snap kick in front of you; the turning kick to your side-front; the side-piercing kick to your side; the hook kick at a fourty-five degree angle to your back and the back kick; all done with the same leg.

Next, I shared with the students some Taekkyeon. We did same basic Taekkyeon stepping and a few typical Taekkyeon low kicks. I even had them do some partner work. Considering that they only had around 15 minutes to practise these motions, they did pretty well.

Finally, I spend some time on the sine wave motion, the wave principle and the circle principle and attempted to get them to understand that all of these concepts are in effect the same principle, merely approached from different points of view.

The evening finished with a Q&A session. I quite enjoyed the thoughtful questions and hope that I answered them adequately.

Attending the ATC Dojang once a year is always one of my Taekwon-Do highlights during my annual South Africa trip. I'm especially thankful for the hospitable friendship I receive from the ATC-instructors.
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03 February 2011

New Soo Shim Kwan Dojang

I am happy to announce that a new dojang has joined the Soo Shim Kwan.

Last night I visited with the Taekwon-Dojang in Bela Bela (Warmbaths), Limpopo Province, to meet with the instructor, Mr Gerhard Louw (2nd Dan) and meet some of the students. I taught the class, reviewing some of the ITF principles and also share some of the Soo Shim Kwan interpretations. The students are all friendly and courteous and I perceived lots of potential among them.

Mr Gerhard Louw and I have been in correspondance for a while now, and we were both very happy that I was able to arrange my traveling plans in South Africa to visit with him and welcome him into the Soo Shim Kwan structures. The SA-ITF President, Mr Dirk Nel, has also given his blessings and we are glad to announce that the Bela Bela dojang will affiliate with the SA-ITF this year.

Mr Gerhard Louw and I both received our formative Taekwon-Do training in Vanderbijlpark. Mr Louw's principle instructor was Mr Rudey Brittz, a black belt under Sabeomnim Johan Bolton. Mr Rudey Brittz was a renowned black belt when I started Taekwon-Do and my brother and I often frequented his dojang for extra training. Mr Louw had received provincial colours a number of times and was also once chosen to represent South Africa abroad; unfortunately, because of personal reasons, he could not attend the event.

We are happy to welcome Mr Gerhard Louw into the Soo Shim Kwan family. We also wish him, his wife, and their soon to be born son, all of the best for 2011.
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02 February 2011

Happy Korean New Year!

Oriental countries traditionally followed the lunar calendar. According to the lunar calendar, New Year's Day for 2011 is tomorrow, 3 February. The Korean New Year is in sync with the Chinese New Year with which Korean shares many traditions. According to the Chinese Zodiac, which concists of twelve animals, 2011 is the year of the Golden Rabbit. The rabbit is considered a lucky animal in the Orient.

The Lunar New Year is called Seolnal in Korean. The celebrations requires families to gather together at their ancestral "home town". Because of all the traveling involved, both the day before and after the actual holiday are also public holidays.

During the holiday children will make a deep traditional bow to their parents, grandparents and other elders. In return, the children are often given money as a new year's gift. The festivities also include lots of eating, particularly "rice cakes" -- known as ddeok, and the playing of folk games. Traditional dress -- hanbok -- is often commonly worn during the holiday.

To say "Happy New Year!" in Korean, one could say: "새해 복 많이 받으세요!" -- pronounce: seh-heh bock mahn-hee bah-duh-se-yoh. It basically means: "May you have many blessings in the New Year!"
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