28 June 2011

Balgyeong in ITF Taekwon-Do and the Taekkyeon Connection

Balgyeong in ITF Taekwon-Do, just like the sine wave motion, did not develop out of nowhere. In my mind there is a definite root from which both these ideas came and I believe that root is to be found in Taekkyeon. If Shotokan Karate is the source for the hard techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do, then Taekkyeon is, at least in part¹, the base for the soft techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do.

In the video clip below, from BBC Three's Mind, Body & Kick Ass Moves, Taekkyeon Grandmaster Do Gi-Hyun talks about the differences in motion between Japanese hard styles, Chinese soft styles, and traditional Korean styles. Yes, these are generalizations, but notice when he demonstrates Korean styles that he is in fact doing a balgyeong motion. (You can see it from around 2:05 to 2:25.)

I have spoken to Grandmaster Do about the fact that ITF Taekwon-Do has much in common with Taekkyeon. He wasn't too open to the possibility and I do not blame him. WTF Taekwon-Do is adamantly claiming a lineage from Taekkyeon, but when one looks at WTF Taekwon-Do’s fundamental movements it doesn’t resemble Taekkyeon at all. WTF Taekwon-Do is too Karatesque for such a claim to be taken seriously. However, the “bounciness” of ITF Taekwon-Do is in my opinion very Taekkyeon-like and having practiced Taekkyeon I’ve become convinced that this is the origin of the sine wave motion. Grandmaster Choi Hong-Hi, ITF Taekwon-Do's principle founder, trained somewhat in Taekkyeon as an adolescent under his calligraphy master. It seems like these early experiences started to seep back into ITF Taekwon-Do during its later development. Apart from the “bounciness” we share with Taekkyeon, there is also a shared “relaxation” and “subtleness.” While the focus in Karate is in speed, the focus in ITF Taekwon-Do is not speed as such, but acceleration—moving from a relaxed stillness and the accelerating into an explosive snap, and back to being completely relaxed again.

So when I claim that ITF Taekwon-Do contains balgyeong, i.e. fajin, I do not mean that ITF Taekwon-Do was directly influenced by Chinese internal martial arts like Tai Chi Quan or even that the balgyeong in ITF Taekwon-Do is exactly the same as the fajin in Tai Chi Quan or Hsing-I Quan. Yes, I claim a commonality, but not a shared root. ITF Taekwon-Do is definitely not the same as Tai Chi Quan or the same as Hsing-I Quan; still, there are things that they share. That Taekkyeon (and by implication ITF Taekwon-Do) and Tai Chi Quan should share the same type of motion should not be considered odd. Many disparate martial arts have overlapping principles and techniques. It is quite foreseeable that Judo, Samo and Greco-Roman wrestling may all have a couple of shared principles and techniques, even though they developed in different parts of the world. There is only so many ways in which we can use the human body; therefore it is inevitable that cultures from around the world should come to similar conclusions. The bow and arrow was used by the Native Americans, ancient Japanese, and Southern Africa's Bushmen—this weapon presumably developed independently and although they may not look exactly the same in these three societies, the mechanics is pretty much exact. Similarly, the fact that we see balgyeong in Korea's Taekkyeon and ITF Taekwon-Do, in China's Tai Chi Quan and Hsing-I Quan, and Russia's Systema, all with presumably different origins, is not too surprising. What is surprising is that the West hasn't made more of this concept, but that is fodder for another post.


1. I say “in part,” because besides the Taekkyeon root, Taekwon-Do had some other influences as well in its early development. For instance, Master George Vitale (8th Dan)—one of the foremost Taekwon-Do historians—told me that in its early days Taekwon-Do was exposed to such soft styles as Judo and Hapkido. Be that as it may, it is my conviction that our balgyeong motions germinated from the Taekkyeon connection.


richardc said...

got to this discussion late. i think that the influence of fajing has been used on many okinawan variants of karate from their chinese influence. a good discussion is in "secrets of Okinawan Karate" K. Arrakaki. i think much of this was lost when the Japanese make the whole thing more linear and "explosive(?)" and that this heavily influenced the Korean interpretations.

SooShimKwan said...

Hi Richard,

Thank you for this contribution. This actually brings a completely new idea to the table. Up to now I've considered the source for fajin in ITF Taekwon-Do exclusively from Taekkyeon. I never considered a possible Karate root.


Ymar Sakar said...

Karate was made into a line assembly mass production in Japan. Because of how popular it became, you might have 100-300 students in one dojo. Funakoshi was even forced to adopt the Judo rank belt distinction in order to organize so many students.

This also meant bunkai or oyo was lost in Japan. It also meant Chinese roots were lost in Japan. Also meant applications from techniques were lost in misnamed things like "low/high block". It meant a lot of things, most of em bad. The Japanese version of karate was then directly transfused into Korea.


These applications are also in kyusho jutsu. Inherently Okinawan. Because they got it from the Chinese vital medical theory. Don't see it any more in Japanese karate cause it got lost in translation.


That one shows an Okinawan demonstration of a strike powered by a kinetic link that isn't as rooted as Taiji Chuan, but much more rooted than TKD or Japanese Karate.