25 April 2016

A Deadly Weapon

“A while ago I was a bit disillusioned by the thought of practicing a martial art that was made out of racism, spite, politics, that was later used for murder, abduction, assassination plots, bomb scares, political gain and segregation. Been feeling that way again for a bit.”

The above is a quote from a post that someone made on a Taekwon-Do related Facebook discussion forum recently.

I remember after reading Alex Gillis’ “A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do” (a must-read) that I felt pretty much the same. Most Taekwon-Do practitioners have no idea with how much vice and corruption our martial art has been embroiled. That book came as a valuable disillusionment to me. It reminded me not to idolize the Taekwon-Do founders and leaders, and not to over spiritualize Taekwon-Do.

Later, it also occurred to me that this very unsavory history of Taekwon-Do actually validates it. Firstly, you don’t hear of flower arrangement being involved in “murder, abduction, assassination plots, bomb scares, political gain and segregation”. Only something with true gravitas (no offense to those involved in flower arrangement) could have been used—and misused—as has been the case with Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do is something serious. Something dangerous. This brings me to my second point.

A sword, no matter how decorative and aesthetically designed, always remains primarily a weapon. We should never be surprised to see a sword covered in blood. When it does surprise us, it can only be because we did not give it the respect it deserves. Or it surprises us because the “sword” is fake. A toy sword or stage prop smeared with actual human blood is indeed a shocking sight, as should be all bloodshed. But a real sword scarlet-stained from rust, dirt and blood, is simply true to its purpose, so seeing a crimsoned sword should not surprise us.

Why, then, should we be surprised when a martial art—i.e. a system of combative skills—is used for power, politics and war?

It is true that a sword may be used in conquest or in defence, and in both these cases it may lead to bloodshed, but the sword itself is neither inherently good nor bad for being used in such ways. What determines the value of a sword is not whether it was used to murder in greed or kill in defence, but whether it proved its metal. Was it good at being a sword? Was the blade strong and sharp? Was it balanced and adherent to the wielder’s intent?

Considering its diverse history, I think Taekwon-Do makes for a good sword.