31 July 2012

Original Taekwon-Do?

It has been about two months since my last post. Appologies to regular readers of this blog. It had been the end of the semester and as a university lecturer I had exam papers to compile, and then grade, which is an exhausting exercise. I didn't have the time to write about martial arts and when at last I had the time I didn't have the energy or inclination.

But onto something else. I was talking to my Kwanjang here in Seoul, and the question came up, when did Taekwon-Do really become Taekwon-Do? When did it stop being Shotokan Karate. Was what General Choi Hong Hi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, taught as Oh Do Kwan “original” Taekwon-Do? At the time, like most of the other original Kwan, it didn't differ much from Karate.

Should we consider the Taekwon-Do of 1955, when the term “tae kwon do” was coined, as the Golden Age of original Taekwon-Do? At this time most of the patterns used were still Karate kata, with only a handful (plus minus five), new Chang Hon patterns developed. In 1959 when the first international Taekwon-Do demonstrations were held, it was already something else—something different from mere Karate, but even at this point Taekwon-Do was still “incomplete”.

Or is the time that the 24 patterns were set, around 1965, the Golden Age of “original” Taekwon-Do, or maybe 22 March 1966 when the International Taekwon-Do Federation, was formed—was that the pinnacle of “original” Taekwon-Do? But we all know that General Choi was still altering the ITF style, and even as late as the early 80s major changes were introduces, such as a more thorough implementation of the sine wave motion. The principles for the sine wave motion had by this time already been available in the ITF Encyclopaedia, but not really applied, until Grandmaster Choi began emphasizing it at seminars. Is this “original” Taekwon-Do?

I'm asking this question about what or when “original” Taekwon-Do was, because there are now so many people claiming to be doing “original” Taekwon-Do. For some it means a complete return to the Oh Do Kwan days of the 1950s. To them I would say, why bother with Taekwon-Do at all? Go find a good hard Karate system, like Kyukushin Karate and do that instead. Others want to do something “Korean”, but without the later (embarrassing?) North Korean connections or the inclusion of the sine wave motion. To them, I'd say, stop doing Taekwon-Do and adopt Tang Soo Do.

Taekwon-Do had never been “original”. From its very start it had been a type of mixed martial art. It developed out of Karate, was flavoured with Taekkyeon, and then spiced with some Kung-Fu, Western Boxing, Judo and later Hapkido. It sourced a lot from military strategies (particularly Western military strategies), and is heavily influenced by a selection of centuries old Oriental philosophies. And the moment Taekwon-Do became international, it also became international in its characteristics. The form of ITF practised in South Africa has a different “personality” from the form practised in, say, Japan.

Admittedly, I have used the terms “original” and “authentic” Taekwon-Do myself, but such terms, as this essay hopes to highlight, are innate problematic. Taekwon-Do is a constantly evolving organism. Not only ought one be suspicious of people claiming to teach “original” Taekwon-Do, one must also wonder if what they are doing is not stagnating the natural adaptation of the organism.

Momentarily moving away from the term “original” to the term “authentic”, for me “authentic” Taekwon-Do is anything that manifests Taekwon-Do's Theory of Power and other such principles. In this sense, Taekwon-Do is less of a style, but more of a Tao / “Do” and I can sometimes see Taekwon-Do in an MMA fighter's “Brazilian kick” or an urban free-runner's vault, or a baseball pitcher's throw, or a B-boy's equilibrium, or a cat's pounce, or the oscillation of an arrow as it darts toward its target, or the suppleness of an erect bamboo yielding in the wind.

Just some incomplete thoughts on the question of “original” (and “authentic”) Taekwon-Do.