Sport Taekwondo Vs. “Traditional” Taekwondo

The Korean national team using new technology to enhance their training

Old-school-new-school-no-school (whatever) are (to me) false dichotomies that arise only because of the improper or inadequate focus/emphasis of both sides of the divide (martial art vs martial sport). Every sport has its technical fundamentals (proper technique, power, execution, skill, character — oops, sound familiar?) that must be attained in order to play that sport at the highest level. And every martial art has IT’s own technical fundamentals (proper technique, power, execution, skill, character –again, oops, sound familiar?)

The fundamentals of any martial art must never be compromised, of course. However, putting aside the “fighting” aspects of the martial arts and the “win-at-all-cost” mentality of modern sports, we see profound similarities between the practice and focus of martial arts training and (true) sports. The focus on proper technique, power, precision, attitude, etc., in the physical dimensions of both sports and martial arts indirectly inculcates their mental/psychological equivalent in the athlete.

Compare Michael Jordan with Morio Higaoona and, below the surface, you might find great similarities in their psychological and character make-ups, in spite of the vast differences in their physical and technical skills.

Michael jordan throws hoops. Sensei Higaoon throws punches — and people — but both showed great dedication, focus, discipline, character, integrity, etc., et. in their “games” and their lives.

I would be hard put to find a so-called “traditional instructor” who would put in the kind of training, time and intensity of many of the top athletes at any level. When I was coaching state Taekwondo athletes, they trained six days a week, three times a day, and some traveled 30 miles every day to attend training. Weekends were either off-days or used for recreational activities (e.g., swimming, futsal, volleyball or just plain ‘ol play-catch).

I have never met any “master” who had put in that kind of effort or showed that kind of dedication.

Some “train” (read: go through the motions, a few punches here, a few kicks there) once a week or hardly train at all, and then lament that the “old ways” have gone down the drain. What old ways? Riding on camels? What?

I grant that there may be masters around who train with dedication every day (me, I train only three times a week, and hardly at the same intensity of the ahtletes), but I have not met them personally (yet).

In any case, the prevalence of sports (whether combat or otherwise) make them the ideal vehicles to inculcate the values of sportsmanship (which, I believe, are not that much different from the values that traditional martial arts try to inculcate) and the lessons of focus, dedication, etc., etc. In fact, I’d say that the average tennis or hockey player (or cheerleader, for goodness sake) who is trying to make the team is infinitely more disciplined and dedicated than the kid who attends a “traditional self-defense Taekwondo class” once a week.

Oh yeah, I would much prefer MY kid to attend a Taekwondo or Karate class where the instructor teaches them Sport Taekwondo or Sport Karate than one who teaches 5-year-old’s (or 14-year-old’s, as the case may be) “self-defense”. The first one will (hopefully) teach my kid the value of sportsmanship, focus, discipline — and even the “ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat”, while the latter might get him killed because of false confidence in their “self-defense” skills.

There are, of course, many shades of instructors and coaches in between, and I’d be the first to admit that what I have written above is a generalization (or over-generalization) and is not representative of all instructors

And don’t get me started on “masters” who go, “Sports science? Naw, I don’t need all that stuff. Doesn’t work anyway. You know, back when I started, we kicked buffaloes for sandbags…”

These “masters” conveniently forget and leave out that Sensei Funakoshi walked miles in moonlight to get to his teachers place. I don’t see them walking, do you?

Hehehe…end of rant.



How Did We Get Here?

Firstly, let me clarify and qualify a few points.

While I am an instructor, member and office-bearer of Moodukkwan Malaysia, I’m not the official spokesperson, and neither are the views I express here and on the blog it’s official position. They’re just my opinions and views (and in the case of the two interviews, the views of the two Grandmasters).

Secondly, the “chaos” that is currently besieging the local Taekwondo scene is the result of specific “political power-grabbing” actions of particular individuals in the past, and the current administration is as much a victim of its (dark-side) human nature, as it is the perpetrator of acts unbecoming of a national governing body. In other words, they “promoted” themselves up to the level of their incompetency (Peter Principle). And now things are not working.

Yet, they’ve made and are making moves that would, they think, help them consolidate their position. Would it work? I do not know. All I know is that dinasours once roamed the earth, and they were the kings of the realm. Now they’re extinct.

How did things get this way? Simple. Good men, and women, kept quiet while these people were conspiring to “take the land” for themselves. Members and Masters, all kept quiet while the wolves circled and snarled, eyeing the babes. And when the wolves moved in, the besieged defenders said nothing, did nothing. And the wolves feasted, and flourished.

Still they (the wolves) rage and conspire, seeking whom they can devour.

And yet the Members and the Masters, they kept quiet. Some remained quiet out of fear. Some, out of apathy. No matter. The results were the same. The wolves overran the kingdom.

As the saying goes:

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Till a good many people, out of necessity, driven by the voice of their hearts, left. They left for nothing else save to preserve their Freedom. And not to submit to the arbitrary whims of a few who seek to impose their will on the many. The haughty, arrogant few who demanded – DEMANDED – fealty on pain of excommunication and worse: economic death (for those instructors who depended on teaching in schools for their livelihood)

So at Moodukkwan Malaysia, our objective is simple: Freedom.

Freedom to learn, to act, to congregate, to associate, to train, to teach, etc. etc., as our hearts and minds and traditions move us. Not to yield, and not to submit to “organizational slavery”, as those masters and pretenders would have us do.

And our destination? Unity, and glory.

Unity among ALL Taekwondo brethren, regardless of affiliation, and glory for the country. Unity among all the major national governing bodies, and all Kwans (which we can encourage to form here). Glory for the country in the international arena, not only in competitions, but also in leadership.

In the beginning, Malaysia used to be a hub, and transit point, for the dissemination of Taekwondo knowledge and expertise to the world. We were one of the original pioneer countries. Where are we now?

Where is our glory?

We need to find the best of the best Taekwondo athletes and give them THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET A SHOT AT A CHANCE!

Yes, just the opportunity to get a shot at a chance. We are not asking it to be GIVEN to us. We’re NOT demanding a place at the table. All we are asking is for a fair shot at a chance — for everyone! Be they from WTF, ITF, GTF, Moodukkwan, etc.

I understand that not everyone wants to go into the competitive arena. And that is as it should be. Martial art is not merely for learning how to spar or fight. It can be practised as a Way (Do), whose primary orientation and purpose is the development of character. As GM Pan quoted WTF Secretary General Yang Jin Suk in his interview: the new, better  definition of Taekwondo is ‘the development of the mind and body to become a good person’.

And Taekwondo, particularly traditional Taekwondo as practised by the Kwans, including Moodukkwan, is well suited to this purpose. So, if you’d like your son to continue on the path of Taekwondo, it does not necessarily have to be on the competitive path.

It can be a path of The Way.

My own path now lies in this direction, and my personal motto is “Virtue, Valour, Victory” in everything I am and everything I do, while my Academy’s purpose for every student is “Forging spirit and character in the crucible of honor”

That is all I can — and want to — do as a Teacher.

“We Happy Few”

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother” – King Henry V

Who, in Malaysian Taekwondo today sheds his blood, sweat and tears with you? We have not even that few, that happy few, because we no longer are brothers-in-arms.

Look to the history of any martial arts style and you will see that those that had grown tremendously beyond even the imagination of their founders were those who had members with indomitable spirits and zeal who trained together as brothers and vowed in their hearts to propagate their art in honour of their founder.

They had a mission, a commitment, a struggle.

Today, we have only “politics”, never mind the ideas, the talent, the leadership.

I have no answers. The answers must come from you, the members.

My wish, my fervent desire is to find that happy few who are content to do Taekwondo for the sake of DOING Taekwondo, and not for anything else. But alas, the quest will be hard and long, for many have fallen by the wayside.

If you are a kindred spirit, please, stand up and speak up.

Mudo is a lonely road; more so the byway of Taekwondo, because it is thronged with those who have sold their souls to expedient politics.

Where are you, my brothers?

Every Heroes

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game above the prize,
To honor, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.
–Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)


Who is the warrior  whose heart would not jump at first reading of these words? Who is the warrior who is so uncultured, so unrefined as to miss the greatness, the nobility of such sentiments? And yet, in such modern times as ours, such sentiments remain but such — just sentiments.

Not principles, values, morals, etc. But sentiments.

For we live in a world and an age of expediency, of convenience. And such sentiments, if they be taken as guiding principles for one’s life, will serve but to bog down the modern human erectus. And so, we have a lack, a very serious lack, of heroes, everyday heroes, in this day and age.

Not only the heroes that give their all in one supreme act of courage, but the heroes that daily exhibit and live by an ordinary (yet extraordinary) courage required by the hum-drum of daily life. Heroes that stay, that stand, that don’t run away from their life.

Mandate To Lead

When you have been given a mandate to lead, you have been given, in trust, the privilege to lead a specific segment of humanity in a specific sphere of human activity. Contrary to your own inflated opinion, you have NOT suddenly attained to the Throne of God and become as God Himself, able to govern the entire universe with a flick of your pinkie.

Therefore, lead and govern with all wisdom and humility, or suffer the consequence of being smote down by the will of the vox populi. Many a leader have fallen to the rocky seas of ignominy, seduced and tricked by the siren-song of a power-mad and ignorant ego that would not learn from history.

I know at least one such “leader” who have been repeating the same mistake for 30 years — and keep on failing.

Leaders, beware…


Taekwondo is a never-ending journey of discovery that can never be completed in one lifetime. Full of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, one meets masters and pretenders, teachers and sages, the pure and the political, but one never loses heart, never gives up, never surrender that indomitable spirit that has made both the art and its motherland an examplar of greatness and noble spirit.