03 March 2019

The Teleology of Sparring in ITF Taekwon-Do

The following video recording is of my presentation at Stanford University, at the 2019 International Academic Conference for Taekwondo. The video quality is a bit low as I captured it with my mobile phone from the video stream that was made during the conference. When I find a better quality recording, I will post it later. Below is also the abstract for my presentation.

Abstract: The Teleology of Free Sparring in ITF Style Taekwondo

The Korean term for sparring in ITF style taekwondo is matseogi which denotes opposing or standing up against an adversary. This is different from the term gyeorugi (i.e. from gyeoruda, “to compete”) that is used in WT / Kukki taekwondo or the older term daeryeon (“fighting”) that was used in the early development of taekwondo. Matseogi in ITF style taekwondo ought to be understood teleologically as a “Korean martial art of self-defense.” Towards that goal, the ITF pedagogy guides the practitioner through various types of matseogi (from “pre-arranged” to “unrestricted”), which is supposed to sequentially prepare the practitioner for the telos (i.e. ultimate goal) of real-life self-defense. It is very difficult to prepare for a real-life self-defense situation because reality is often chaotic, with many unpredictable variables. Consequently, the ITF pedagogy offers yaksok matseogi (“pre-arranged sparring”) with much reduces variables, so that the practitioner can focus on and hone appropriate skills for specific variables. Progressively more variables are introduced until the practitioner finally practices jayu matseogi (i.e. “free sparring” or “unrestricted sparring”), which is supposed to allow for the inclusion of as many variables as possible to mimic the chaos of a real-life self-defense encounter. This type of training is often referred to as “reality based” training. However, the term jayu matseogi (“free sparring”) has been appropriated for competition sparring at ITF tournaments. Because competition sparring is bound by numerous sparring rules, this type of sparring still has too many reduced variables to reflect the very high variable situation of a real self-defense encounter. Since for many ITF schools competition sparring is considered jayu matseogi, their pedagogic telos is never achieved, as there is no ultimate “reality based” training that mimics the unpredictability of a real self-defense encounter. It is my proposal that ITF competition sparring should be renamed because the current misapplied use of the term jayu matseogi effectively erases the true definition and purpose of jayu matseogi in the ITF pedagogy. Instead of jayu matseogi the term gyeorugi is an appropriate designation for competition sparring. Furthermore, actual “reality based” jayu matseogi needs to be reintroduced in schools where it is not trained, in order for ITF style taekwondo to achieve its pedagogic telos as a “Korean martial art of self-defense.”

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