20 July 2020

Promoting Peace, Practising War: Mohism’s Resolution of the Paradoxical Ethics of War and Self-Defence in East Asian Martial Arts

My pre-Covid19 plan for this month (July 2020) was to travel to Europe and attend the 6th Martial Arts Studies Conference, focusing this year on Martial Arts, Religion, and Spiritually. The conference was supposed to occur in the scenic French city of Marseilles at Aix-Marseille University on the 15th, 16th, and 17th of July. Of course, nothing went as planned this year. At first it was thought that the conference was to be cancelled, but in the end it turned into a cyber conference, and although I couldn't visit southern France, I was still able to participate in the conference by recording my presentation as a video and participating in a live online panel discussion.

There were nine panels; I participated in Panel 4: Ethics in Modern Martial Fighting Games and Martial Arts.

Below is a summary of my presentation, below that the official abstract for my presentation, and at the bottom the actual presentation available on YouTube.

The panel discussion was also recorded; I will upload it once it becomes available.

Summary by Kai Morgan

Are the traditional East Asian martial arts physical methods of violence – or peaceful activities of self-cultivation, grounded in traditions such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism? Sanko argues that they are actually both at once – but many practitioners simply ignore the violent aspect, as it’s too complicated and/or uncomfortable to assimilate.

Sanko then asks whether the East Asian philosophy of Mohism can answer this paradox, and enable us to reconcile both faces of the martial arts, as it teaches both active peace promotion, and a duty to physically protect the weak and innocent from harm by means of defensive war . . .


Promoting Peace, Practising War: Mohism’s Resolution of the Paradoxical Ethics of War and Self-Defence in East Asian Martial Arts

by Sanko Lewis, PhD

Many traditional East Asian martial arts seem to counsel against the use of violence, yet actively teach physical methods of violence; in essence “promoting peace, practising war.” In part, the paradox exists because East Asian martial arts derive their morals from the generally pacifist religio-philosophical traditions of East Asia, namely Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. There is therefore an internal conflict between the moral traditions that provided the context in which these martial arts developed and the original combative purpose for which the martial arts developed. Previous attempts at resolving the martial arts paradox of promoting peace while practising techniques of violence simply redefined martial arts as either activities of self-cultivation (cf. “Budo”) or as sport, rather than address the main issue of justified violence. Hence this study searched for ways to reconcile peace promotion with “war” practise. The East Asian philosophy of Mohism provides a framework capable of promoting peace while also justifying violence in a morally congruent manner. Mohism’s teaching of universal love and mutual benefit offers an example of active peace promotion, while accepting the duty to physically protect the weak and innocent from harm by means of defensive war. Likewise, traditional martial arts in the form of civilian defensive arts can also justify their training and conditional use of violence for the purpose of protecting innocent victims from attackers.

Keywords: Mohism, ethics, martial arts, self-defense, violence

From Individual Heroes to National Performers: The Shift in Taekwondo’s Peace Promotion Activities

In 2019 at Youngsan University's 1st International Academic Taekwondo Conference, in Ulsan, South Korea, I presented a paper entitled: "From Individual Heroes to National Performers: The Shift in Taekwondo’s Peace Promotion Activities". With the aid of my friend Dr John Johnson, my presentation was reworked into an article that was recently published in the academic journal Physical Activity Review. You can read the abstract below and a PDF of the article can be downloaded for free here: http://www.physactiv.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020_82_9.pdf

"From Individual Heroes to National Performers: The Shift in Taekwondo’s Peace Promotion Activities"

by John A. Johnson & Sanko Lewis

Abstract: The  writings  of  early  taekwondo  pioneers  promote  peace  through  the  practice  of  the  martial  art  and,  later,  the  combat  sport.  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  (WT),  and  the  International  Taekwon-Do Federation  (ITF)  have  taken  up  the  charge  of  peace  promotion  through  taekwondo  by  means  of  tr  ansnational events, such as goodwill tours and joint taekwondo demonstrations by adversarial states (e.g., South and North Korea). These activities are 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 uphold 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  governing  bodies,  such  as  WT  and  the  ITF.  Instead  of  focusing on issues surrounding justice and the protection of the weak, these national and international organizations   focus   on   geopolitical   cooperation,   which   is   mediated   through   cultural   exchange   activities in the  form  of  taekwondo  demonstrations.  These  events  involve  activities  such  as  acrobatic  performances, dance routines, and board breaking that require little combat skill and may not pose the risk  of  serious  injury  to  the  individual  practitioners,  mainstays of  the  individual  heroes  of  old.  The  charge  to  safeguard  justice  and  physically  defend  the  weak,  which  are  acts  of  true  courage  as  was  envisioned by the taekwondo pioneers, is mostly ignored.

Keywords: sports diplomacy, cultural exchange, karate, Republic of Korea (ROK), People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Johnson   JA,  Lewis   S.  From   Individual   Heroes   to   National   Performers:   The   Shift  in  Taekwondo’s Peace Promotion Activities. Phys Activ Rev 2020; 8(2): 64-71. doi: 10.16926/par.2020.08.23

Problems with Using Taekwondo as a Sport for Peace Promotion

In 2017 at the 6th International Symposium for Taekwondo Studies, hosted at the Taekwondowon in Muju, South Korea, I gave a presentation titled: "Problems with Using Taekwondo as a Sport for Peace Promotion." Originally, the idea was to develop the presentation into a paper for publication, but I never got around to it. In the meantime, sections from the presentation was developed into a different paper which was recently published. I've received several requests for this text of that 2018 presentation paper and since it has not been published--and probably will not be published in its current form--I decided to upload it here. It is a bit more academic than my usual posts here on my blog, but hopefully it will be useful to some people. This post also provides a locale for citation purposes. However, please note that this blog does not purport to be an academic resource. I usually use this as a space to brainstorm and share thoughts and ideas as there are still developing. Thus, the material I post here are usually pre-academic publication, and therefor not yet peer reviewed.

Problems with Using Taekwondo as a Sport for Peace Promotion

by Sanko Lewis, PhD.


Taekwondo organisations such as the World Taekwondo Federation has made it a goal to use Taekwondo for peace promotion, which is in line with the moral goals of the early pioneers of this martial art; however, there is an intrinsic dissonance between the aim of peace and the violent techniques that are innate to Taekwondo. To overcome this dissonance, there has been a shift in focus towards the sport aspect of Taekwondo. By re-branding Taekwondo as primarily a sport, rather than a martial art, the focus is shifted from violent “martial” techniques, to simply sport competition. In so doing, the peace promotion goal can be accomplished through sport diplomacy, which is a type of soft diplomacy. However, a shift away from martial art to combat sport is problematic: most practitioners continue to view Taekwondo as a martial art, not simply a sport; a sport focus reduces the technical arsenal of the martial art to only those techniques appropriate for the competition context; there is also a loss of philosophical and cultural heritage when a martial art becomes a sport, which is then replaced by new Western sport ideals. The latter may be interpreted as a type of “soft colonialism” with the original Oriental heritage being replaced by Western ideas of sport. Although the aim of using Taekwondo for soft diplomacy is commendable, a sport focus may not be the best course for achieving Taekwondo’s peace promotion goal. Further thinking is necessary to find other means to achieve this peace promotion ideal.

Keywords: peace promotion, soft power diplomacy, sports diplomacy, cultural heritage, martial art, combat sport, taekwondo


The Korean 'Unification Flag'
There are several international entities that govern what is commonly referred to as Taekwondo. For example, Word Taekwondo (WT), previously known as 'World Taekwondo Federation', focusses on the competitive aspect of Taekwondo, while the Kukkiwon is more concerned with the technical and educational foundation of Taekwondo. These organizations have put forth a goal of peace promotion through Taekwondo. WT, especially, has of late emphasized this goal. On 9 May 2015, at the 5th International Symposium for Taekwondo Studies the WT president said the following during the opening address: “Taekwondo is a combat sports, as you all know, a martial art sports, but Taekwondo is the only martial arts sports, supporting sports through world peace” (3). WT established the World Taekwondo Peace Corps Foundation already in 2009 and the following year it was showcased at the UN-IOC Sport for Development and Peace Conference in Geneva. Using sports as a means of peace promotion is a well-established method for “soft power” diplomacy. The famous example of sport diplomacy was the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” used in the 1970s to open dialogue between an otherwise antagonistic United States and China. Another famous example of using sport for peace promotion was when Nelson Mandela used rugby as a means of bringing the racially divided South Africans together when the country hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sport events have also been used to build connections between North and South Korea, for example at the 2000 Summer Olympics and several subsequent sporting events where the two countries shared a single flag (“Korea Unification Flag”). Sport diplomacy is indeed an admirable and possibly useful method for peace promotion. However, there are certain problems with attempts at using Taekwondo for this purpose.

This paper will highlight some of the problems with this sport emphasis towards achieving Taekwondo’s peace promotion goal.

First, a quick historic overview of Taekwondo and its peace promotion goal will be provided. Then, several problems with this goal will be pointed out. Firstly, there is an intrinsic issue with Taekwondo being a system of violent techniques used to promote peace. The solution to this problem is to suggest that Taekwondo should not be viewed as truly a martial art (i.e. fighting system), but that it should rather be reinterpreted as a combat sport. This view is problematic for several reasons, which will be addressed. It is important for organizations such as WT that wants to use Taekwondo as a political peace promotion tool to first address these issues.

Taekwondo’s Peace Teaching: An Overview

Taekwondo developed from nine Kwan (gyms) in South Korea in the late 1940s and 1950. From early on some of these Kwan taught ideals of peace promotion.  From writings dating to 1957 by Park Chul Hee who was co-founder of the Kung Duk Kwan, we learn that the Taekwondo students were “to make contribution to the world peace and prosperity of civilization” (sic) (8). Choi Hong Hi, founder of the Oh Do Kwan, wrote in 1965 that Taekwondo should not be used to start fights, but instead be used “to help the weak” (2). To be proponents of peace were stressed in Choi’s later writings as well. Practitioners should “never misuse Taekwondo”, but instead should be “gentle to the weak and tough to the strong” and aim to be champions “of freedom and justice” that strive to “build a more peace world” (1).  The Chung Do Kwan’s 1968 Taekwondo Manual also affirmed that Taekwondo practitioners should not initiate fights with others, that they should never make the first move in a fight. Rather, Taekwondo practitioners should “love peace, [and] protect justice and humanitarianism” (8). Rhee Ki Ha, one of the early promoters of Taekwondo outside of Korea describes Taekwondo as “the physical, spiritual and mental practice of human rights and human equality” (10).

Apart from such teachings, Taekwondo has also been used as soft power diplomacy since very early on. Already in 1959 a Taekwondo military team from South Korea toured Vietnam and China for intercultural exchange between these countries (7). This was only the first of many future “goodwill tours.” In 1965 a “Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill Demonstration Team” visited Egypt, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, and Turkey (7). Such cultural exchange using Taekwondo was not only used by South Korea, but North Korea has benefited from using Taekwondo in this way as well. The two Koreas have had Taekwondo exchanges since 2002 when a South Korean team visited North Korea, to be followed shortly thereafter by a team from the north visiting the South. A similar exchanged happened in 2007 when a North Korean Taekwondo demonstration team visited Seoul and Chuncheon. The two countries also took hands in 2015 at the WT Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, when demonstration teams from North Korea and South Korea shared the stage during the opening ceremony.

ITF and WT demonstration teams sharing a stage under the slogan "Peace is more precious than Triumph".

With peace teachings being part of Taekwondo, and the precedent of using Taekwondo for soft power diplomacy well established, what could be wrong with using Taekwondo in this manner? The next section will expound on this.

The Martial Art as Sport Approach

In a discussion of modern Taekwondo trends, Taekwondo sociologist Udo Mönig notes the often used “slogan of promoting ‘peace through taekwondo’” (9). Using “an aggressive martial art” for peace promotion is “awkward,” says Mönig (9). Attempts at using martial arts (i.e. fighting systems) for peace promotion seems antithetical—causing an intuitive dissonance. We can infer a similar dissonance from WT President Choue as well, when he pointed out that Taekwondo is a “combat sport” on the one hand, but that it is used for promoting “world peace” on the other hand (3). That he needs to emphasise the odd bringing together of war techniques for peace promotion reveals the innate dissonance of this endeavour.

Aikido is another martial art that emphasizes peace promotion. What makes Aikido different from Taekwondo in this regard is Aikido’s removal of nearly all offensive techniques. Aikido doesn’t actively teach kicks or strikes, nor hard blocks that can be used as offensive-defence. Rather, Aikido’s goal is the use of techniques that blend with the opponent’s force and redirect or lessen the opponent’s aggression. Aikido strategy often includes control-techniques aimed at immobilizing the opponent to prevent an escalation of “fighting” and violence. While the practical effectiveness of Aikido may be questioned by some, at least there is harmony between Aikido’s peace teachings and its physical practice that encourages harmoniously moving with the opponent to dissuade the violent energy. On the other hand, a kicking and striking art like Taekwondo have a discord between its aggressive techniques and its peace teachings.

To resolve the dissonance of using an aggressive martial art for peace promotion, WT and several scholars have claimed that Taekwondo must be understood not as a martial art (i.e. a system based on fighting techniques), but rather as a sport. Indeed, some scholars such as Mönig are arguing for the full metamorphosis of Taekwondo from a martial art with roots in military practice, to a pure sport stripped of all its historic martial arts baggage (9). Such an evolution of Taekwondo from combat system to sport would align Taekwondo with the goal of the Olympic Games, which is to “place sport at the service of harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity” and “to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace” (6).

Is Taekwondo simply a sport?
The argument in favour of changing Taekwondo from martial art to sport is based on the notion that in “modern civil societies . . . martial arts have no purpose for real fighting” (9). In other words, Taekwondo’s function as a martial art used for fighting (either in military contexts or personal self-defence) has become obsolete because of the civility of modern societies. This is, however, a privileged interpretation by people fortunate enough to live in such “modern civil societies.” While martial arts may not be of much value in modern military combat, the value of martial arts as self-defence systems for people living in both first and third world societies are still of great value. In fact, a primary reason for a large percentage of people taking up martial arts continues to be the self-defence value of martial arts. Official attempts by Taekwondo organizations to brand Taekwondo as a combat sport, rather than a martial art, is doing so contrary to the millions of instructors and practitioners around the world for whom Taekwondo is more than just a combat sport, the likes of, say, western boxing.

The Unfortunate Cost of Evolving from Martial Art to Combat Sport

Furthermore, an evolution from martial art to combat sport comes at an unfortunate cost.

First, when a martial art changes into a sport there is a dilution of the rich historical arsenal of the original system. When Judo was developed as a streamlined version of Jujutsu, many of the original techniques were purged. Similarly, when the focus in Taekwondo becomes sport competition, a big percentage of techniques are inevitably neglected. Taekwondo enthusiasts are all aware how Olympic Taekwondo has reduced the martial art—that is by its very name supposed to be a foot-and-hand system—into primarily a kicking system. Sadly, an emphasis on kicking in sport Taekwondo has not enriched Taekwondo’s kicking arsenal with more kicks, but rather reduced the arsenal to only a handful of techniques that works well in the limited context of the sports ring.

Second, not only are there technical losses when a martial art becomes a sport, but there is also an intangible loss in the form of a reduced cultural and philosophical heritage. Of the surviving historic European martial arts (HEMA) that became modern sports such as western boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, and fencing, very little of the original cultural and philosophical heritage are practised and celebrated by the athletes practising these sports. Even Judo, which was intended by its founder to be a pedagogic tool to teach certain philosophical values, is in current times usually practised simply as a sport with hardly any philosophical teachings as part of training. Contrary to such combat sports, in martial arts the cultural and philosophical heritages are usually integral to their practise.

Olympism is based on Grecian (i.e. Western) philosophical ideas.

Third, when the philosophical and cultural heritage is removed it is often replaced with “[p]ositive sporting values and objectives” (9). In the case of Taekwondo as promoted by WT, an emphasis is given to the sport values of Olympism. This means that the original East Asian philosophy and values that are inherent to the martial arts are replaced with western values (i.e. Grecian inspired Olympism) for the combat sport. The adoption of Olympism may at first seem commendable. However, the East Asian martial arts are not culturally neutral. Quite the opposite: East Asian martial arts, like folk dances, function as containers of cultural heritage. Therefore, when focussing on the sport aspect of the martial art there is an emphasis on the new sport values, which inevitably results in a de-emphasis of the original cultural heritage. In a discussion on the western-centric Olympic sports, Allen Guttmann laments the resultant cultural imperialism (5). He argues that even when East Asian martial arts spread to the west, they often “[transformed] in accordance with Western assumptions about the nature of sports” (5). Ironically, instead of the intended goal of using Taekwondo for soft power diplomacy, the result is a form of “soft colonialism,” where the original martial art loses its Oriental identity—to be replaced with a western inspired identity. At the very least this should be considered culturally insensitive and a regrettable loss.

Finally, even if Taekwondo were to fully evolve from martial art to simply a combative sport, it doesn’t solve the original “awkward” issue of using combat (i.e. fighting) for peace promotion. The use of combat sport to bring people together is much too reminiscent of gladiator matches or monomachy used to settle disputes. Endorsing the use of violence to create unity is hardly a message that Taekwondo authorities should wish to promulgate.


The goal of using a martial art, with its violent techniques, for peace promotion is intrinsically “awkward” (9). To overcome this awkwardness there has been an effort to reinterpret the function of Taekwondo. Instead of viewing Taekwondo as a martial art with roots in military combat, Taekwondo is to be viewed as a combat sport. This evolution away from “martial” to “sport” is an attempt to remove the innately violent aspect of the martial art. If Taekwondo can be viewed as primarily a sport, then its violent aspects can be downplayed as simply sport competition. As merely a sport, Taekwondo can be used as a tool for soft power diplomacy (i.e. sports diplomacy). Unfortunately, the change from martial art to combat sport presents other problems and regrettable losses of both techniques and cultural heritage.

The goal of employing Taekwondo as a peace promotion tool is an admirable endeavour and clearly in harmony with the intention of the early Taekwondo pioneers. However, there is a difference between how the early pioneers viewed peace promotion and how such peace promotion is attempted by the current Taekwondo organizations such as World Taekwondo. From the writings of the early pioneers we notice that their peace promotion ideal was not separate from the combative function of the martial arts. Although they encouraged members not to be the instigators of violence and not to misuse Taekwondo, they did not try to remove the possibility of violent (re-)action. Practitioners were encouraged to protect the weak from the strong and to fight for freedom and justice—this may involve literal, physical fighting and cannot be understood only as figurative fighting. Their writings clearly imply that the use of Taekwondo’s violent combative techniques are to be used if necessary. Current attempts at de-emphasizing the violent side of Taekwondo and emphasizing Taekwondo as a peace promoting sport is at odds with Taekwondo’s historic development as a “Killing Art” and intrinsic function as “Korea’s Art of Self-Defence” (4, 1). What the pioneers had in mind was less political, in the form of soft power diplomacy, and more practical forms of empowerment. The practise of Taekwondo strengthens both body and mind and thereby empowers practitioners to stand-up for themselves and stand-up for others.

The current approach of envisioning Taekwondo as a sport to be used for sport diplomacy is praiseworthy, but it is the author’s opinion that this is ultimately not the best way to ensure Taekwondo’s peace promotion ideals. Instead, a way to harmonise Taekwondo’s innate “martial” nature with its peace promotion ideal should be sought. One path suggested is to emphasize the empowering nature of the martial arts. Further research into reconciling the martial arts and peace promotion ideals is necessary.


  1. Choi, H. H. Encyclopedia of Taekwondo. 5th ed. Canada: International Taekwon-Do Federation; 1999.
  2. Choi, H. H. Tae Kwon Do. 2nd printing. Los Angeles: Masters Publication; 2007.
  3. Choue, C. W. The 5th International Symposium for Taekwondo Studies – Dr Chungwon Choue Opening Address [Internet]. 2015. [cited 2016 November 25]. World Taekwondo Federation – YouTube Channel. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxE7be83wAY
  4. Gillis, A. A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do. 2nd ed. Toronto: ECW Press; 2016.
  5. Guttmann, A. The diffusion of sports and the problem of cultural imperialism. The Sports Process. 1993. p. 125-137.
  6. International Olympic Committee. Olympic Charter. Lausanne: IOC; 2015.
  7. Kimm, H.Y. Taekwondo History. Baton Rouge, LA.: Hando Press; 2013.
  8. Kukkiwon. Taekwondo Leadership Training Manual – 1st Class. Seoul; c2014. 364 p.
  9. Mönig, U. The Incomplete Transformation of Taekwondo from a 'Martial Art' to a 'Martial Sport'. Doctoral Dissertation. Department of Physical Education, Graduate School of Keimyung University; 2012.
  10. Rhee, K. H. This Is Taekwon-Do. UK: Media Insights; 2012.
  11. World Taekwondo Federation [Internet]. Taekwondo Peace Corps; n.d.; c2015. [cited 2015 Oct 4, 2015]. Available from http://www.worldtaekwondofederation.net/taekwondo-peace-corps

01 July 2020

Symposium: "The Early Globalization Process of Taekwondo, from the 1950s to the 1970's"

Dr Sanko Lewis talking about the history of Taekwon-Do

On Tuesday, 22 June 2020, I attended a #taekwondo symposium at Youngsan University in #Busan, to discuss the article "The Early Globalization Process of Taekwondo, from the 1950s to the 1970's" by Dr Udo Moenig. The article was submitted to the 'Asia Journal of Sport History & Culture'. At the symposium, attended by several Taekwondo scholars and dignitaries, Professor Moenig summarised his article in a presentation. This was followed up by presentations, questions, and discussion from myself and Dr John Johnson. We also took questions from the floor.

One of the highlights, I think, was the last question by a Taekwondo bachelor's degree student asking, 'Who is Choi Hong-Hi?' Inevitable his name came up frequently in the discussions regarding Taekwondo's history. It is sadly ironic that still, in 2020, there are Taekwondo practitioners—even Taekwondo university students—who don't know who #ChoiHongHi is. Not only was he the person who came up with the name "Taekwon-Do" #태권도, but he was the person foremost responsible for the spread of this #martialart around the world. I call this young man's question the highlight for me at the symposium because we have opened another person's eyes to the truth of Taekwondo's origins.

During the event I shared a bit about the development of Taekwondo in South Africa. Afterwards Drs Moenig and Johnson encouraged me to write an article about this. I'm asking anyone that is familiar with aspects of the history of Taekwondo (ITF, Kukki/WT, and independent lineages) in South Africa to please contact me so that we can write up as thorough a document as possible.


Dr Sanko Lewis

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.

16 September 2019

Potch TKD at SATI National Champs

Three members of the Soo Shim Kwan Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club entered the recent South Africa Taekwon-Do Institute (SATI) National Championships and all came back with medals.

Instructor Philip de Vos earned gold medals for patterns and power breaking in the Black Belt Patterns Male Power Breaking categories.

Tondorai Chavi earned a gold for sparring in the Senior Male Novice Middle & Heavy Weight category. Tondari also got a gold in the Adult Male Novice Special Breaking category.

Edrich Louw earned a gold medal in the Senior Male Novice Patterns category, and came second against team mate Tondari in the Senior Male Middle & Heavy Weight Sparring category, earning him a silver medal.

We are very proud of Instructor Philip and his students Tondarai and Edrich for the great achievements.

11 August 2019

The Long Fist Punch (aka Leopard Fist)

The Long Fist Punch (긴주먹)

The long fist (gin-jumeok 긴주먹) is one of ITF Taekwon-Do’s less known “fist” postures. It is not a particularly common striking method although I think it could prove devastating if used appropriately.

The long fist is formed by curling the front and middle knuckles of the fingers and pulling the thumb back, similar to the knife-hand posture. The result is a flattened hand position, with the middle knuckles protruded as the attacking surface. The name “long fist” is due to the slightly longer reach than the regular front forefist punch.

The main targets to attack with the long fist are the Adam’s apple and temple. Secondary targets may include other soft target areas such as the nerves on the side of the neck and Jugular veins, the trachea, the spaces between the ribs, the armpit, philtrum, bridge of the nose and even the eyes. The hand position need not be horizontal; it can be turned vertically, for instance, or diagonally, depending on the target. The long first also works well in a raking motion: raking the knuckles up and down the sternum creates quite a nasty sensation that causes people to retreat, or quickly raking the knuckles over the back of someone’s hand that is holding onto you often causes them to release their grip.

The long fist should not be used to punch hard targets like the skull as one is likely to injure one’s own hand.

The long fist works well for narrow targets such as the philtrum.

For people with long nails that can’t roll the hand into a full fist, the long fist may be a compromised alternative, although it doesn’t have the same range of targets as a front forefist punch does. Nevertheless, the same long fist hand posture may also work like a knife-hand strike with hardly any disadvantages. Also, with only minor adjustments the long fist hand posture can become a bear hand, under-fist, and back-hand strike. Alternatively, with the wrist pulled back it becomes an open fist. It is therefore a very useful default hand posture because it can so comfortably morph into other hand-weapons.

The long fist was most likely inherited from Karate where it is known as hiraken tsuki. It is very likely that Karate got the technique from Chinese martial arts, where it is often known as the leopard fist, which is a primary hand technique of Leopard Kung Fu, one of the Five Animal Styles. One can also find it in Choi Li Fut, and in more modern combat systems like Krav Maga where it is referred to as a half fist punch. 

18 June 2019

The Fingertip Hand Technique

Walking stance straight fingertip thrust (걷는서 선손끝 뚤기)

The photo above shows a straight fingertip thrust in walking stance 걷는서 선손끝 뚤기 (geodneunseo seon-son-ggeut ddulgi). The finger tip 손끝 (son-ggeut) hand position in ITF Taekwon-Do requires the tips of the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger to be aligned. Notice how my three fingers are aligned in the photo. Because the length of fingers differ greatly from person to person, the degree to which one has to bend particular fingers to align with the shortest of the three fingers will be very specific to each individual. Of course, for most people the middle finger is the longest, hence it will be bent the most. The tips of the three fingers should be aligned at the front, but also pressed tightly against each other; in other words, the index finger and ring finger should put pressure against the middle finger. It is important to ensure that all three fingertips point forward. The middle finger which will be bent the most might have a tendency to point down, which is wrong, as shown in the photo below.

This photo shows an incorrect alignment of the fingertips.
In this photo, the tip of the middle finger is point downwards
instead of forwards like the index finger and ring finger.
For a proper technique, all the fingertips should point forward.
You can practice the correct positioning by tapping the three fingers together on a hard surface. This technique is designed to work with short clipped nails. (There are techniques such as the "cross-cut" aimed at the eyes that may benefit from longer nails, but the fingertip thrust works best with short nails.)

For a fingertip thrust, the hand can be turned vertical or with the palm either facing up or down, depending on the target aimed for. The vertical hand orientation is known as the spear hand or straight fingertip 선손끝 (seon-son-ggeut) as seen in the photo, the palm facing down orientation is known as the flat fingertip 어픈손끝 (eopeun-son-ggeut), and the palm facing up orientation is known as the upset fingertip 뒤집은손끝 (dwijib-eun-son-ggeut). There is also a variation where the fingers are at a right angle to the palm, which is known as the angled fingertip 호미손끝 (homi-son-ggeut).

Although a conditioned technique can be tough enough to pierce wooden boards, the technique is ideal for attacking nerve plexuses, such as the solar plexus (diaphragm), the philtrum, the bronchial plexus under the arm or the side of the neck, the nerves between the ribs, the pelvic region, and so on. Other soft targets such as the eyes and throat (windpipe) can also suffer damage from a finger tip thrust.

Fingertip attacks are classified as thrusting techniques in ITF Taekwon-Do. Thrusting techniques #뚤기 usually refer to techniques aimed at nerves and soft targets. Thrusts usually hit these vital spots straight on. Punches #찌르기 also usually attack linearly, but are generally aimed at harder targets; for instance, the sternum and ribs, or jaw (chin and angle of mandible) and skull (temple). A "thrust" should not be confused with a "strike" #대리기, which tends to reach its target with a curved or whipping trajectory.

The straight fingertip thrust as shown in the photos have the opposite palm below the elbow of the straightened arm. The palm-below-the elbow execution of the straight fingertip thrust is the formal way it is performed. This is not meant as a support for the arm. Rather, the palm is employed as a preliminary block. The palm is used to check the opponent's attack, to block down the opponent's attack, or push away the opponent's guard, in order to clear the path for the fingertip thrust. The block is formally taught as a palm downward block 손바닥 내려막기 (sonbadak nae-ryeo makgi) and as such the vector of the technique is downward. However, more advanced and realistic execution is as a type of parry, hence the block doesn't have to pedantically press down per se, but could instead just slap the opponent's attack aside (away from your center line), usually diagonally down rather than exactly downward. This deflection is very much akin to pak sao blocks in Wing Chun. As a strategy, this combination of clearing the obstacles followed by an instantaneous attack is very practical and can be done with other attacking tools. For instance, a palm downward block with simultaneous vertical punch, regular fore fist punch, or middle knuckle punch are obvious variation.

In the ITF Taekwon-Do curriculum, the straight fingertip thrust (with it's near instantaneous preliminary palm downward block) is taught around 8th geup as part of the fundamental movements in the pattern Do-San Teul (movement #6). Such a rapid combination of techniques is also found in another cluster in Do-San Teul, namely the fast motion double punch (movements #15 & #16 and #19 & #20).

Read more: Blocking in ITF Taekwon-Do