05 March 2011

Taekwon-Do and Calligraphy

I think it was around 2004 when a Korean artist had an exhibition in Potchefstroom, South Africa, displaying paper fans on which she had painted exquisite pictures in the traditional Korean style. While looking at her paintings I interpreted them from my only solid understanding of Oriental art, namely martial arts and in particular ITF Taekwon-Do. The paintings included both pictorial depictions and calligraphy. I saw in these paintings some of the same dynamics, the same type of energy, the same type of lines and motions, that I'm familiar with in Taekwon-Do.

In around 2005, I saw a CNN broadcast of a Chinese dance choreographer who used calligraphy as inspiration. The choreographer was probably Liu Qi from the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, who choreographed the successful “Upon Calligraphy”.

This of course got me thinking about General Choi, the principle founder of Taekwon-Do, who was himself a gifted calligraphist, being one of many martial art legends who was also known for his calligraphy:

"Many martial arts legends such as Jigoro Kano (Founder of Kodokan Judo), Gichin Funakoshi (Founder of Shotokan Karate), Morihei Ueshiba (Founder of Aikido), Wong Shun-Leung (Legend of Wing Chun Kung Fu), and General Choi Hong-Hi (Founder of Taekwon-Do) were all famous East Asian Calligraphy artists." -- Yvonne Yang-Yun Kwok

General Choi Hong-Hi
Apart from Taekwon-Do, calligraphy was General Choi's great passion. One has to wonder how much his practise of calligraphy affected his development of Taekwon-Do. There is no doubt that his study of Chinese characters contributed to Taekwon-Do. We know that it was his intimate knowledge of Chinese characters that helped him in coining the name “Taekwon-Do,” i.e. 跆拳道. More than merely a semantic contribution, I'm wondering how much calligraphy influenced Taekwon-Do on a technical level? In other words, how much “calligraphy” can we see in the actual motions of Taekwon-Do?

My question is not unreasonable. We know that some of the movements are named after symbols found in Chinese and Korean characters. For instance, the W-shape block is named after the 山 symbol, which means mountain. The Korean term for this technique is in fact mountain-block. The name for L-stance in Korean is nieun-seogi 니은서기. Nieun is the name of the character "ㄴ". The stance was given this name because its shape resembles ㄴ; that's why the name in English is "L-stance", as the letter L has a similar shape (just rotated and inverted). We also know that the diagrams of some patterns reflect certain Chinese characters. The pattern Yul-Gok is an example where its diagram represents scholar.

While I am curious about other techniques that may represent Chinese and Korean characters, my real question is even more poignant. I'm wondering if the aesthetics in Chinese calligraphy which General Choi practised since childhood can be found in the motions of Taekwon-Do technique. Unfortunately my understanding of the aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy is far too elementary to answer the question satisfactory. If I have to go with my gut feeling, my answer would be that there is some correlation, that the way the calligraphy artist makes the strokes resonates with the way a Taekwon-Doin performs Taekwon-Do movements. Drawing a calligraphy brush stroke and performing a Taekwon-Do movement is a complete act; it requires the whole mind and the whole body in a singular action. It necessitates precision, but also fluidity. For both to approach perfection requires unwavering resolve. And while each movement, like each stroke, stands alone, it is also part of a greater whole -- of a sequence of movements that forms a distinct pattern, or a set of strokes that form a distinct character.

Such are the things I think about.

1 comment:

Ymar Sakar said...

Miyamoto Musashi wrote about the connections between wielding the pain brush and wielding the sword. The connections are the same.