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.

Namaste…

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Poomsae/Kata Is Like Poetry

Pyongwon Poomsae

Poomsae/kata is like poetry.

It’s about feel, about rhythm, about the beauty of performance.

Just as there are “expert” critics of poetry who can elucidate and pontificate on the merits. demerits and technical nuances of a piece of poem but who would never become poets themselves, who could never produce a piece that would touch the heart and soul of a reader, there are “expert” judges of kata who would never move an audience with an almost mystical and beautiful rendition of a kata.

A poomsae must be felt.

Perhaps that is why you would never (possibly) find a (theoretically qualified) kata or poomsae judge who can perform at that level. It would be a different story if a Rika Usami, or Luca Valdessi or Antonio Diaz became a judge after retiring from active competition. These are the people who “KNOWS” kata and feel it in their bones.

A too analytical approach to poomsae (just as with poetry) would render that poomsae “dry”. Like a poem, it could be technically technically “perfect”, fitting all the rules and requirements, but it would not be felt — by the audience.

That is the vast difference between good kata and GREAT kata (just like poetry and dancing)

And just because someone is a qualified judge (poomsae or kyorugi) does not mean he or she is a better Taekwondoist than you. He would certainly try to steer the game in that direction (making it seem he’s better than you), but now you know better.

You are on your own Path, your own process, just as he is on his own. There is no comparison.

Taekwondo must be felt. And if you “feel” it, then you are truly “doing” Taekwondo.

Namaste…