TAE-means to kick, jump or smash with the foot.
KWON-denotes the fist–mainly to punch or destroy with the hand.
DO-(art, or way of life and literally means “the art of hand and foot fighting.”
Historic Origins Of The Philosophy of Tae Kwon Do
Our philosophy at Authentic defines the actual experience of accomplishment in practice as the legitimate, appropriate interest of most contemporary students of Taekwondo. This interest is fundamentally different from the original, historical interest in studying martial arts, which was as preparation for mortal combat. Martial arts have been developing in Korea, China and Japan for several thousand years. But in the sixth century A.D. an Indian Buddhist monk settled at the Shaolin Monastery in China and founded the first fully systematic martial art, KungFu, disciplined by the philosophy of Zen. The systematic study and rigorous discipline of Kung Fu soon spread across the east as the model and standard assimilated by all other martial arts.
Over the last fifteen hundred years, the many and various martial arts that developed after the example of Kung Fu became the basis of all combat between individuals and forces, among peasants and nobles and professional soldiers throughout the east. In fact, martial arts skill was still a serious military threat in the east at the dawn of modern warfare in the 20th century, even after the invention of the machine gun and the airplane. In the early 1900s, when Japan occupied Korea, they completely banned the practice of the Korean martial arts to preclude violent resistance by the general population.
That ban kept the Korean martial arts disorganized throughout the first half of the 20th century, but eventually resulted in the creation of TaeKwonDo and its rapid world-wide success in the second half of the century, up to the present. The Japanese occupation of Korea lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Before the ban there had been many small schools of martial arts throughout Korea, often using their own different systems. Throughout the ban, masters of these schools had risked their lives to continue to practice and teach in secret. Then after liberation, in the 1950s, these masters decided to unite to create one unified, systematic national martial art that would combine the basic, essential skills and strengths of the many Korean schools. They named that new, integrated martial art TaeKwonDo.
TaeKwonDo as a Competitive Sport: The Founders’ Philosophy of Practice as Preparation for Athletic Competition at Authentic Taekwondo
TaeKwonDo, simply put, is modern Korean karate. Like similar Japanese and Chinese forms, it is a fighting art based on direct action against an attacker: defence and attack by blocking, striking, punching and kicking. Among forms of karate, Taekwondo is unique in its added high-kicking skills. Unlike all of its ancestors, however, TaeKwonDo is the only martial art to have been created to also be a sport. From its beginnings, the instruction of TaeKwonDo was standardized and regulated so that it could be practiced as preparation for athletic competition by students around the world who would never practice the art as preparation for combat.
It should be noted, however, that the same TaeKwonDo practiced by schoolchildren around the world as a sport is also studied by the Korean armed forces precisely to prepare for mortal combat. The hand-to-hand fighting skills of Korean combat troops have been tested in action and are respected worldwide. But of the twenty million students who have practiced TaeKwonDo in more than a hundred countries by the end of the twentieth century, only a very small percentage, all professional soldiers, think of their practice as preparing for combat. And even those soldiers will expect to rely most of the time on high-tech weapons skills.
The founders’ goal of making TaeKwonDo a world-class competitive sport has been realized. In the 2000 Olympics, TaeKwonDo became the first non-gloved striking sport in medal competition. This was a historic accomplishment of the founders’ vision back in the 1950s. Starting in the 1960s, these founding masters had sent top students of the rising generation to live throughout the western countries and become masters of the first western dojangs (TaeKwonDo studios).
Those young masters founded the western national and regional TaeKwonDo associations and connected the sport to government sports programmes in western countries and to the Kukkiwon, the Korean national TaeKwonDo Centre in Seoul. They also personally taught new generations of students, some of whom have now become masters in the many dojangs that can now be found in most Canadian cities. And they coached and sent national teams to international competitions where Canadian athletes have won medals on the world stage. Those young masters who brought TaeKwonDo to the west in the 1960s are today’s venerable grand masters. They are the living link to the founding of TaeKwonDo in Korea in the 1950s.
As TaeKwonDo has succeeded as a sport, however, it has carried forward the ancient philosophy of martial arts practice as preparation, by adding the value of preparation for athletic competition to the value of preparation for combat (which has now ordinarily been quite appropriately scaled down to preparation for self-defence). Both expressions of this philosophy define the central value of TaeKwonDo practice as preparation to overcome someone else, at a later time. At Authentic TaeKwonDo, we believe that for most students in the modern individualistic west the central value of practice should now be understood not as preparation to overcome someone else later but rather as the actual experience of accomplishment of physical self-development in regular, progressive practice through to the achievement of a black belt.
There are still two exceptional parts of practice as a whole where the philosophy of preparation to overcome someone else later does always apply. In both parts, however, the preparation is necessary for the actual possibility of self-defence and neither part necessarily involves preparation for athletic competition. One is the part of practice that is specifically designated as self-defence, meaning the learning of specific techniques for specific emergency social situations, appropriate to the student’s actual environment. The other part is sparring, which must be practiced by all students above a safe level of basic competence. The purpose of sparring in practice is to prepare the student to respond to an attacker who is trying to control the course of the action, to take charge of deciding what will happen next. Sparring in practice is preparation to fight back strategically in self-defence.
Sparring in regular practice is every student’s practical preparation for strategic TaeKwonDo fighting, necessary both for self-defence and for any competition, but also for the students appreciation of their own body’s potential for fluid, efficient movement. All students must develop sparring self-defence skills as part of regular practice toward their black belts, and most students will also participate in the friendly, safe tournaments between local associated dojangs. Sparring practice as preparation for advancing in athletic competition from that level on up to the Olympics, however, is a specialized study pursued successfully by only a small percentage of students. The pursuit of competitive athletic achievement by those few students requires its own specialized practice and specialized coaching in addition to and separate from the regular practice of all students toward their black belts and advanced degrees. Becoming a black belt or eventually a Master of TaeKwonDo does not inherently or necessarily require any preparation for or participation in advanced competitive athletics.
But even though the practice of TaeKwonDo is not inherently competitive, (although the sparring and self-defence parts are, of course, inherently combative), the philosophy that practice is preparation for athletic competition dominates the culture of the sport today. This is not surprising. As discussed above, the founders’ vision of TaeKwonDo’s worldwide success pictured world-class athletes in the highest levels of international athletic competition. The logical consequence of this vision is that the athletes who fulfilled the founders’ vision by being our most brilliant competitors have also been the black belts who continued in the sport as instructors. These are the black belts who, in due course, opened their own dojangs as businesses, in order to stay in the sport as professionals.
And these brilliant and exceptionally gifted athletes have, quite reasonably, seen their own future in the sport as first reaching their own full potential as competitors and then coaching their successors, students attracted to their dojangs by their reputation as champions. The mission of the dojang in this competitive culture, however, becomes that of supplying a continuing population of students with raw talent as potential competitors, attracted by the impression, which for almost all of them is completely false, that through practice, they could become like their instructors, competent or even exceptional competitive athletes.
But they can’t, Most of the students who have ever studied Taekwondo have had neither the natural talent nor the attitude of dedication to competitive TaeKwonDo needed to sustain their practice of the sport for the reward of competitive success. In most dojangs, where the individual attention is focused on students who have the attitude and talent of potential competitors, the students who are not competitive athletes by nature will gradually understand that they cannot succeed in this sport by definition, cannot even become truly competent on the example of the instructors and the few natural Taekwondo competitors among them. For most students who begin, then, the progress of practice is a continuing experience of feeling and actually being inadequate and out of place. And after a few months or even a couple of years of this sense of not really belonging or performing adequately, they will drop out. And most of them do. And, even while they remain in practice, they are surrounded by other students who are privately and silently having the same experience of isolation and failure.
Most TaeKwonDo students drop out, and drop out before getting halfway to achieving their black belts. We believe they drop out at this rate and so early in their study because the vast majority students who begin TaeKwonDo have a fundamentally different interest in practicing the sport than athletic competition. We believe that the philosophy of practice as preparation for athletic competition not only ignores but actively rejects as irrelevant the true and legitimate interest of most students who begin TaeKwonDo. Even worse, most students, by not displaying in their practice either the facility or the attitude of competitive athletes, may be convinced, entirely wrongly, that they are failing to achieve a goal they actually could achieve, should achieve and should want to achieve, because of weakness in their own character, especially because they lack determination and perseverance.