27 December 2011

Martial Arts at an Old Age

I watched this video of a 98 year old Judo grandmaster who continued practising Judo at a very advanced age. Albeit weakness, she is still to a degree active in her art and teaches Judo three times a week. You can read more about Grandmaster Keiko Fukuda here. I find this very inspiring because for me the martial arts is a lifelong endeavour, a lifelong pleasure. For it to be a lifelong activity one has to take care of your body. Many practitioners are forced to retire from their practice prematurely because of injuries and unnecessarily wear and tear. It is unfortunate that so few martial art schools emphasize healthy living and healthy training practises.

For many martial artists that focus on sport their competitive ambition cause them to end their practiseat quite a young age. Here in South Korea the national (WTF) Tae Kwon Do team members typically retire from competition in their early to middle twenties, and sadly usually with arthritis! The intense training may win them Olympic medals, but the price is lifelong aches and pains. (We see similar early retirement and associated arthritis in other strenuously physical sports such as gymnastics.)

In its early form (ITF) Taekwon-Do was a hard style martial art. Although quite effective, the strain put on the joints on those early practitioners caused many of them to suffer in the long-run. It is not unusual to hear of those old practitioners having severe arthritis, austere knee and hip-joint pains and even associated surgeries such as hip-replacements. There life is one of constant painkillers and other remedial drugs. Fortunately, there came a change. The modification from an original hard style to the inclusion of soft style principles in Taekwon-Do is one of ITF Taekwon-Do's greatest evolutions. Not only did it diversify the arsenal of techniques, it also brought a healthy balance to the style with much less stress on the joints. The unnecessarily hard techniques have been tempered with soft style principles that are still tremendously powerful, but with less strain on the body.

Instructors bear a responsibility to teach safe training methods and to promote a healthy lifestyle, but ultimately the responsibility is with the individual practitioners. Each person should know that while the human body is surprisingly resilient, the way we treat it will affect its long term health. Health into old age is seldom chance, and more often the result of living sensibly, adhering to sound health principles.

Wednesday morning I woke up with a severely aching knee. The previous evening I did Taekwon-Do followed by a Yoosool (Korean jiu-jitsu) session. I don't know if the kicking was the cause or the grappling. During the Taekwon-Do class I led us through a series of seldom practised kicks, like low twisting kicks, sweep kicks and so on. During the Yoosool class I grappled a couple of times and it is hard to tell during a grappling bout how one's legs are bent. Be it as it may, Wednesday I suffered from unusual pain on the outside of my knee. Luckily I have a good knee guard which I wore for the day and had the good sense to keep it relatively still for much of the day. I also applied some ointment (eucalyptus oil). While it was still a little tender on Thursday evening, after a good long warm-up and loosening up of the joints, I was able to teach a fairly effective class, followed by another Yoosool session. Had I stubbornly ignored the pain, trying to prove my toughness, and gone back to training on Wednesday again, I'm sure I would still have have suffered from acute pain. Health is a gift that is not to be unduly neglected—it is often something we can actively manage and nourish.

It is my wish, as we enter 2012, that you will continue to grow in technique and health, so that you can still enjoy your martial art training well into your golden years.

21 December 2011

A South Korean Tricking Performance & Movie

The video shows some Koreans doing a Taekwon-Do tricking performance. I think it was as part of a promotion for the recent Thai / Korean family film The Kick 더 킥. See the trailer below and read more about the film at HanCinema.

16 December 2011


The end of the semester always keeps me busy, this year more so than most, so I don't have the chance to add posts as regularly as I'd like. In any case, I saw this little insert about Taekkyeon, one of the main martial styles from which Taekwon-Do developed, on Arirang, a television station dedicated to promoting Korea and Korean culture.

The insert on Taekkyeon is a little skewed as it might imply that there is only one master dedicated to the survival of Taekkyeon, when in fact there are three main branches of Taekkyeon, also stemming from the late Teacher Song Duk-ki whom is credited for resuscitating Taekkyeon after its suppression during the Japanese occupation.

The three branches are the Korea Taekkyon Association (KTA), the Korea Traditional Taekgyeon Association (KTTA), and the Kyulyun Taekyun Association (KTA). Personally I think the KTA (Kyulyun Taekyun Association) is the form of Taekkyeon that follows most closely the teachings of Teacher Song Duk-gi, and is therefore technically the most traditional Taekkyeon system. (Although I'm sure each of the three groups will claim the same.)

03 December 2011

Totally Tae Kwon Do

Last month in Totally Tae Kwon Do we looked at the side break fall. This month's Totally Tae Kwon Do (Issue #34) my series on break falling continues. You can read my latest contribution on pages 49-52, in which I cover the front break fall, the back break fall, and the bridge break fall, with assistance from members of the Soo Shim Kwan dojang in Potchefstroom, South Africa. 

There is a particularly nice essay in this month's issue by Stuart Anslow (the editor of Totally Tae Kwon Do) on the Korean word Eui-Ri 의리, meaning fidelity, which is an important concept in Korea and the martial arts. It starts on p. 63.