02 September 2012

Three-in-One Imbalance in Taekwondo

I'm currently attending the 2012 Seoul World Taekwondo Leaders Forum (서울 세계 태권도 권도 지도자포럼), and in particularly the academic symposium. I came late for a paper by Youn Je Hong, head of the Korea Martial Philosophy Research Center, but the bit I did catch (and understood -- it was in Korean) was quite interesting. His focus was on "Measures to Innovate Taekwondo Training for Young People".

Young argued that Taekwondo has a "Three in One" composition consisting of Musul (무술 / 몸 / "body"), Muye (무예 / 감성 / "sensibility" or "emotion"), and Mudo (무도 / 겅신 / "spirit"). (See my post on Moosool, Mooye, and Moodo.)He pointed out that Taekwondo has wrongly focussed on only one aspect of the "Three in One" composition, namely on Musul, or the physical aspects of Taekwondo.

Since Young started his presentation against the background of the 2012 Olympic Games and also because the symposium is a Kukkiwon sponsored event, it is safe to assume that he refered to WTF (Kukkiwon) Taekwondo almost exclusively and not ITF Taekwon-Do; in the case of the latter the "Three in One" is much better balanced.

The lack of the more abstract and philosophical components (Muye and Mudo) is indeed an unfortunate current state of WTF Taekwondo and it is therefore heartening to see that it is being addressed at an academic symposium like this one. At the same time, it serves as a warning to ITF Taekwon-Do which seems to place ever more emphasis on the sport aspect (i.e. Musul) of the style.
It is my opinion that the reason for the "Three in One" imbalance in WTF (Kukkiwon) Taekwon-Do is its over-emphasis on Taekwondo as a martial sport, rather than a martial art. ITF Taekwon-Do is not immune from such a focus shift, in part because the more abstract and philosophical qualities are exceedingly difficult to measure. (See my post on "How Do You Quantify Taekwon-Do?")


Ymar Sakar said...

Because life and death matches had so much risk to go with the rewards, many of the previous fighters that survived many conflicts, started thinking about the philosophical side of things because they were no longer focused purely on surviving.

In the modern day, people don't think about the philosophy because the meaning of action in life means less when every single moment isn't going to determine your continued existence (or not). Modern humans have plenty of "time" to think about it, they just don't. The question often never pops up, except in religious contexts.

It is also a sign of degradation in physical applications that most of the worry in training is spent on efficiency of technique. While firearms training spends time doing that as well, first it always determines the philosophical/moral/ethical/legal justifications required to use lethal force before teaching the actual techniques. If you were to ask me why martial arts don't do that, it would be either 1. they know they aren't really teaching people lethal force, just pretending to or 2. they're reserving it for some advanced student 2 decades in the future. Of course, by the time that future came about, 2 million people may have started teaching the "art" without the lethal applications anywhere in sight.

Without lethal applications, there is no particular reason to worry about ethical justifications: right or wrong. It just doesn't impact your daily decisions as much. In historical sense, ethical delineations became critically important as China's martial lineages ramped up in speed and coverage. To the point where people were advised by Confucius and other philosophers not to use lethal force because of blood debt and feuds.

In the modern era, it is not that people lack the maturity to learn how to utilize lethal force. Americans learn it every day at the training range, often with decades less time put it into it compared to sport enthusiasts or H2H users. No, the lack of spiritual maturity comes from the lack of need to use lethal force and thus the lack of need to consider the implications, spiritual and philosophical, about violence.

If Miyamoto Musashi or Sun Tzu had just killed a bunch of people and that was all they cared about, they would be pretty limited in their historical significance. Modern day people are like common barbarians, good for only one thing, except that one thing wasn't something that would have been recognized as half way competent by the Ancients. Modern day people are far more often going to care about "one thing", and that one thing won't be very important in the grand scheme of things.

C.Wells said...

I understand Ymars take on things. It makes sense. The absence of lethal force, in this case of WTF makes ethics of sportsmanship necessary to the art. Since the environments perception of Taekwondo has changed to sports, the art has also transformed the demands and need to fit its context. However, with children in the equation, ethical considerations are necessary as there is a higher need to regulate behavior. Hopefullyt ethics are reinforced for the kids.