12 November 2019

2019 International Academic Conference for the Promotion of Traditional Martial Arts

On Friday, November 1st, 2019, I presented a paper at the 2019 International Academic Conference for the Promotion of Traditional Martial Arts, hosted on Jeju Island, Korea, by the Korean Alliance of Martial Arts #대한무도학회. The theme of the conference was the "Popularization and Globalization of Traditional Martial Arts" with the additional aim of promoting the academic development martial arts.

The title of my presentation was "Preserving Korean Body Culture in Traditional Korean Martial Arts."

I started the presentation about Korean body culture with some audience participation, teaching them a basic movement sequence from traditional Korean dance. It worked well, but I must admit I was a bit nervous as I wasn't sure if the audience would go along with it, as they are all serious academics including some martial art grandmasters and even a judo Olympian. I'm glad they were all good sports though, as during my presentation I often referred back to this movement and I am sure that their participation made the abstract concepts I discussed much more tangible.

If you are curious about the particular movement I taught them, it was this one than can roughly be translated as "waist wrapping" [허리감기사위].

My presentation had two parts. First, I explained my ethnography of traditional Korean body culture as manifested in traditional movement disciplines, in particular traditional Korean dance and Korean martial arts. This involved movement analysis, whereby areas of overlap in the movements of Korean dance and martial arts were identified and described as kinetic characteristics. The study required ethnographic descriptive research, cross-referenced with written work. I identified eight kinetic characteristics that seem to be present in traditional Korean movement disciplines. While not all these elements are always present in all traditional Korean movement disciplines or in every technique, many or even most of them are usually perceivable and it is the combination of several of these elements that gives traditional Korean movement disciplines their particularly Korean identity.

In the second part of my presentation I showed how modern taekwondo (i.e. Kukki/WT taekwondo) is evolving away from these traditional Korean kinetic characteristics. Because of changes to modern sparring rules and the inclusion of popular music and dance in modern taekwondo, taekwondo may be losing its traditional Korean identity.

I concluded my presentation by referring to the English idiom “adapt or die” that suggests that it is necessary for survival to evolve with the times. However, if attempts at promoting traditional martial arts lead to adaptation of those very “traditional” kinetic characteristics that exemplify a traditional Korean martial art, then adapting is as good as dying.

I'm really thankful that my presentation was very well received and based on the questions during the final discussions section, I can surmise that my presentation was one of the favourites for the day. I also received some requests by other scholars to work together on related research projects. I'm glad that my research in this field is slowly gaining traction and recognition.

Since I'm currently still developing my paper for submission with an academic journal, I can't post it in full on my blog just yet. However, some of the ideas I address regarding Korean body culture have been touched upon on this blog through the years. The research paper it is just much more elaborated and much better substantiated with references to other research and academic publications.

11 November 2019

UNESCO ICM: 2019 International Martial Arts Academic Seminar


On October 30th, 2019, I attended the 2019 International Martial Arts Academic Seminar as a discussion panelist for one of the three sessions. The annual academic seminar is hosted by UNESCO ICM, that is, UNESCO's International Center for Martial Arts for Youth Development and Engagement. The theme for this year's seminar was "Advancing Sustainable Development Goals through Martial Arts". When I first heard the theme, I was rather confused -- what has martial arts to do with sustainable development. However, it was eventually explained to me. UNESCO has identified 17 sustainable development goals as part of its Agenda 2030. Among these goals are gender equality and (youth) education, which are part of the focus of UNESCO ICM. The more specific focus of this seminar was youth development and women empowerment through martial arts.

The keynote speech was given by Susan Vize, who is one of UNESCO's regional advisor for Social and Human Sciences. She focuses on the program initiatives currently in use and being developed by UNESCO for youth development through martial arts. I found it a very useful presentation, and look forward to the resources that are being made available by UNESCO for this purpose.

Session 1 focussed on Martial Arts for Youth and included Professor Emeritus Colin Higgs and Prof Jungheon Kim as presenters, with Prof John Frankl as panelist.

Session 2 looked at Women Empowerment through Martial Arts and included Christopher Matthews and Lina Khalifeh (founder of SheFighter) as presenters and Ana Maria Stratu from the Women in Sport Commission as panelist.

Session 3 aimed at Ways to Promotoe Martial Arts Education and Good Practices, and had Professor John Johnson and Chungju Taekkyun Operation Manager Jounkun Shin as speakers, and myself (Dr. Sanko Lewis) as panelist.

I always find the UNESCO ICM seminars very interesting, but must say that I found this year's seminar particularly practically useful. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to summarize all the great presentations and discussions here. However, a PDF of the seminar booklet that contains prints of the presenter's Powerpoint slides can be downloaded here.

I think I was the only one of the academic participants who
posed for a kick photo! (-;

06 November 2019

1st International Academic Taekwondo Conference Youngsan University

1st International Academic Taekwondo Conference
Youngsan University

On October 4th, 2019, Youngsan University hosted their 1st International Academic Taekwondo Conference at their Yangsan Campus (Ulsan, South Korea). I was invited to present a paper for this conference.

Dr Sanko Lewis presenting at the
1st International Academic Taekwondo Conference,
Youngsan University

I titled my presentation "From Individual Heroes to National Performers: The Shift in Taekwondo's Peace Promotion Duty". Following is the abstract:

The writings of several of the early taekwondo pioneers connect taekwondo practice with peace promotion. These pioneers charged taekwondo practitioners with a duty to contribute to justice, defend the weak, and build a more peaceful world. National and international taekwondo organizations such as the Kukkiwon, World Taekwondo, and the International Taekwon-Do Federation have taken up the charge of peace promotion through taekwondo by means of transnational events, such as goodwill tours and joined taekwondo demonstrations by adversarial states (e.g. North and South Korea). These activities may be described as soft diplomacy initiatives and have seen some level of success. While these soft diplomacy activities are in line with the goal of peace promotion that the early pioneers advocated, they are qualitatively different from what the pioneers advocated. Originally, the responsibility of peace promotion was on the individual taekwondo practitioner, who ought to cultivate moral character, courage, and martial art skill in order to standup for justice and defend the weak. With the current use of taekwondo for soft diplomacy, the responsibility of peace promotion has shifted from the individual practitioner to the corporate, i.e. the governing and national bodies. Instead of focusing on issues surrounding justice and the protection of the weak, these corporate bodies focus on geopolitical cooperation, mediated through cultural exchange activities in the form of taekwondo demonstrations, involving activities such as poomsae performances and board-breaking that require little actual courage or serious personal risk to the individual practitioners. The charge to safeguard justice and physically defend the weak, which are acts of true courage that may have serious personal risk, as was envisioned by the taekwondo pioneers, is mostly ignored.

The article still needs some work before I can submit it with an academic journal for publication.

The conference included two other well established taekwondo researchers, Dr. John Johnson who spoke on "Mudo within North Korean Taekwondo Pedagogy" and Dr. Steven Capener, who addressed "How Korea Created and then Destroyed the Martial Sport of Taekwondo". Dr. John Frankl and Dr Udo Moenig took part in the discussion session. Drs. Johnson, Capener, Moenig, and myself (Lewis), are the four non-Korean academics living in Korea, working at universities here, and doing research in Taekwondo. Dr Frankl's martial art focus is Brazilian Jiujitsu.