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.

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