A. Introduction

For over 50 years, the martial art of taekwondo has flourished throughout the world. There is no argument that the popularity of taekwondo has been developed through international competition and has culminated in its acceptance into the pinnacle of sports competition – the Olympic Games. Taekwondo competition has traditionally been known as a ‘full-contact’ martial sport and this has provided a platform to develop and prove the effectiveness of techniques.

Along with the positive aspects of growth in popularity and official recognition however, is a level of dissatisfaction in the new direction taekwondo has taken, with many senior instructors of long-standing, who have witnessed the changes first hand, finding that taekwondo technique is not as practical and effective as it once was.

This essay explores the effects of modern competition taekwondo on technique as well as on the traditional philosophies and ethical precepts, and the effects of socio-economic factors of modern life which accompany and contribute to these changes. The ideas expressed have been informed by a life spent teaching and practicing taekwondo and living within a family of taekwondo exponents whose practice reaches back to the 1950s. Such a topic does not lend itself to quantitative analysis. The objective is rather to examine the observations made over the decades and present a qualitative appraisal.

B. Discussion

The mind of a martial artist

Studying a martial art is not the same as learning a sport. In studying a martial art it is not merely the physical technique or the required movements we learn. We learn a way of thinking. We learn how to confront fear. We learn to reach inside ourselves and find our confidence. We learn how to conduct ourselves, how to be considerate, and show respect and humility. Whether it be the moments before splitting a seemingly impenetrable wooden board in half or standing before a champion in a fight and daring to be the victor, the conquering of our fears is one of the most important things we learn. Focus and concentration are heightened, as is the concept of selfdiscipline. Precepts of the ancient Hwarang warrior’s code are brought into the present. Skills learnt in the training hall spill into our everyday lives. Akin to the effect parents have on shaping the minds of their children, so is the effect of a martial arts instructor on his students.

The great French philosopher Voltaire once said “With great power comes great responsibility”.1 To put this another way: “Just because you can… doesn’t mean you should”. The implication for a martial artist is that although we acquire a certain power but we must always be mindful not to abuse that power. Society sets the parameters of moral behavior and sets our moral compass, however as humans we are susceptible to the seven deadly sins: wrath (anger), avarice (greed), sloth (laziness), pride, lust, envy and gluttony (over-indulgence).

These aforementioned foibles of human conduct all derive from the base emotion of “fear”. It is fear that can drive good people to do bad things. Martial arts training helps us to understand and overcome our fears, and to develop self-discipline to resist things that negatively affect our mind, body and spirit. The journey of a martial artist is one of self-discovery – recognizing your limits and learning to overcome them. We condition the mind through physical training.

For centuries, regardless of whether you were Korean Hwarang, Japanese Samurai, British Knight, or French Musketeer, the warriors’ code of conduct is what has always distinguished them from bandits, murderers and marauding gangs. They have always taken pride in holding themselves to a higher ideal.

Taekwondo exponents are no exception. Most students are taught an “Oath” or code of conduct as they learn taekwondo. Although the exact wording sometimes varies, the original root of the taekwondo oath relates back to the original five tenets of the ancient Korean warrior class, the Hwarang.

The five tenets of the Hwarang:

  1. Loyalty to one’s lord [사군이충 事君以忠]
  2. Love and respect your parents and teachers [사친이효 事親以孝]
  3. Trust among friends [교우이신 交友以信]
  4. Never retreat in battle [임전무퇴 臨戰無退]
  5. Never take a life without a just cause [살생유택 殺生有擇]

Another important philosophy of taekwondo has always been humanitarian spirit (Hong-ik In-Gan 홍익인간). 2 It is embodied in the code of the Hwarang, and it is also the spirit that the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) has promoted in their International competitions. WTF President Chungwon Choue said during the 40th Anniversary of the WTF that taekwondo “…is a force for good in the world. Its philosophy is a guide for living life with respect for others and in a physically healthy way”3. This ideology is also reflected in the “Olympic Spirit” – a term that is used by the International Olympic Committee to “build a peaceful and better world… …which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”.4

The first world taekwondo competition was held at the Kukkiwon in 1973 with nineteen participating nations competing in only two weight divisions (under 64kg, and over 64kg). In contrast, the 2013 World Championships hosted by Mexico had 130 nations and 812 athletes compete in 16 different divisions5 amongst WTF’s 205 member nations. There is no argument as to the success of taekwondo throughout the world.

One of the more refined elements of taekwondo competition6 is the “unofficial” bowing to the opponent’s coach after the conclusion of the fight. This simple mark of respect is partly ceremonial but reminds the participants that respect, friendship and conducting yourself with honor is an integral part of martial arts. In recent years however, there has been a notable shift in the conduct of competitors, many of whom have shown abusive, disrespectful behavior, including kicking over chairs and storming off the competition area without bowing to the opposition’s coach after losing their fights. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after Cuban Heavy weight Angel Valodia Matos was disqualified, he turned his aggravation against the referee and kicked him in the head.7, 8 It appears that emphasis on the warrior’s code of conduct and, indeed, the practice of ‘good sportsmanship’ is on the wane

The spirit of a martial artist

Confidence, self-discipline, focus, respect and loyalty – all can be learnt without studying martial arts. There is one thing, however, unique to martial arts training – that is the development of martial spirit (Mudo Jeongshin or 武道精神). 12 Martial Spirit is the preparedness for battle, and is the very fuel for our actions as a combative warrior. Modern Mudo (or Budo in Japanese) “does not have an external enemy, only the enemy within, the ego, which must be fought. It seeks to unite body and mind in order to allow the body to act freely and intuitively without fear, emotions or concerns”.9 This is slightly different to fighting will (Tuji-Ryeok 鬪志力) which is simply the competitive spirit to determination not to give up. Martial spirit relates to the conduct of a warrior in both peace and in war. I like to describe it as the “quiet fury”.

A true martial artist has a certain aura. They are exceptionally calm and happy within themselves, yet they are able to produce ferocious energy at will. This is not to be confused with anger. A warrior should never lose control or act purely out of anger, for getting angry means letting your emotions not your mind dictate your actions. In Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War” Chang Yu said: “…if the enemy general is obstinate and prone to anger, insult and enrage him, so that he will be irritated and confused, and without a plan will recklessly advance against you”. 10

A warrior’s mind is a highly trained tool: it has the ability to control emotional energy so as not to act in haste but analytically determine the best strategy and, when required, shift and concentrate energy deliberately and instantaneously in action. It is this ability that defines “martial spirit” and creates devastating power in martial arts techniques.

A martial art is defined as a codified system of combat.11 Broadly speaking, the objective is to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threat. As it is in most circumstances illegal to be physically combative against another person, this is naturally not the reason we train. However, taekwondo provides its exponents with the capacity to defend themselves against a combative assailant. This cannot be achieved with physical skills alone. Martial spirit must be cultivated.

If we draw parallels between a human being and a computer, “martial spirit” would be the power source; the logical “mind” is the CPU or Central Processing Unit; and the “body” provides the output as does a computer screen. The computer can have the highest resolution display and the fastest most logical CPU, but without the power, it cannot provide the end result. Similarly, a person may have the fastest most powerful taekwondo kick (body), and you may even have superior fight strategy (mind), but if you don’t have ‘martial spirit’, you will not be able to execute the strategy

It makes sense that the more you prepare for a realistic fighting competition, the more you will be prepared for a real fight. Historically, taekwondo competitions served to test the skills of combatants in times of peace. In early taekwondo competitions, competitors risked serious physical injury and, at the least, of being knocked out.

Today, a taekwondo sparring match is often referred to as a “game” rather than a fight. In an effort to make taekwondo safer and more spectator-friendly, the rules have changed over the years so that you no longer have to kick with “trembling force” in order to score a point. Now, the slightest touch can score and win the game. Competitors no longer need to stare danger in the face as they once did. This translates to a diminished requirement for fighting spirit.

TKD Scoring Wi-Fi

TKD Scoring Wi-Fi

The physical skills – Sparring (Gyeorugi)

In taekwondo competitions of the 1970’s, devastating punches were often used in competition, however in recent years powerful punches are rarely seen and kicking has almost exclusively dominated the scoring. Although a body punch is a legal point scoring technique, even when solid contact is made points are rarely awarded. For this reason, body punches are used less and less, and usually only as a way to setup a point-scoring kick.

A punch to the face is an illegal competition technique6 as it is considered to require little skill and is deemed “too easy” whilst posing risk of serious injury. This has led to the further development of higher and more effective kicking techniques for which taekwondo is renowned. However, to be prepared for a real situation where a punch to the face has high probability, it is clear that practice against punches is needed.

The traditional exercises used to practice against a punch in taekwondo are called One-Step sparring (Han-Beon Gyeorugi) and Three Step Sparring (Sam-Beon Gyeorugi). Unfortunately with so much focus on taekwondo competition, this sort of training is rarely seen in the dojang. The use of punching in competition is now so rare, that national representatives of taekwondo rarely train in this skill.

Throughout the history of taekwondo competition, whenever new rules are applied, the fight style adapts to take best advantage of those rules. In the case of the London Olympics, the rule was changed so that you would score three points “…as soon as any part of the foot touches the head, regardless of impact”. 13 This was intended to “…encourage fighters to try for more head kicks whilst reducing the potential damage they do”.13 The competitors adapted to the new rule, but instead of delivering powerful taekwondo kicks, they played a sort of jousting game, extending their leg and driving forward, hoping to make even the lightest of contact with the opponents head. This of course does not reflect a real combat situation but is merely an exploitation of the competition rule for the purpose of scoring a point.

Taekwondo was once renowned as one of the most lethal and effective kicking martial arts in the world and its era of greatest strength could arguably be the early 1990’s. Taekwondo skill (in particular counter-attack strategy) had reached such a high level that fights were often like watching a pistol duel. There would be a lot of inactivity as the fighters read each other’s body language looking for weaknesses and actually sensed the opponents attack before they started. However, once they engaged each other it was usually a blinding flurry of attack and counter-attack.

The complexity of taekwondo’s counter-attack strategy (known as bada-chagi) has been compared to an instantaneous game of chess – and like chess, a battle between masters can lead to a stalemate or draw. In taekwondo competitions of that era, scores were often very low, and a “0:0” score was not uncommon. This obviously concerned competition organizers who were pushing for taekwondo’s inclusion as a full-medal Olympic sport and in the mid 1990’s competition rules began to change and lighter contact was permitted to score. No longer does the competitor need to strike with “trembling shock” or a “disabling blow if the protection wasn’t worn” in order to score a point, as was the requirement of former competition rules. 14, 15

Imagine a scenario where three thugs intended to attack you in a dark alley. Does today’s taekwondo competitor have the necessary skills to deal with the situation? The sort of foot jousting that was seen at the London Olympic Games would not only be ineffective, but would place the “jouster” in even more peril!

Perhaps the growing differences between taekwondo the sport and taekwondo the martial art (and the resulting dissatisfaction of many taekwondo martial artists) is in the name. Jujutsu is a martial art developed by the samurai during feudal Japan as a method for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon, or only a short weapon. 16 By the late 19th century, Jujutsu had lost popularity and a sense of relevance in Japan and in 1882, Jigoro Kano developed his own systemized martial art with a different philosophy from that of jujutsu. Instead of the term Ju-Jutsu (柔術) where ‘ju’ has the meaning of “gentle or soft” and ‘jutsu’ means “technique or skill”, he utilized the first part ‘ju’ and changed the last character to “do” (道) which has the meaning of “path, road or way” to encompass a broader philosophy of his newly founded ‘judo’ which was more than just about physical skill.17

Judo has evolved over time to become safer and more spectator friendly. However, Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) which was an adaptation of early judo, did not follow these changes.18 Now, through the mixed martial art competitions such as Ultimate Fighting Competition (UFC), BJJ has come to be regarded as one of the most effective martial arts.

Another example that can be examined is the difference between “Amateur Boxing” and “Professional Boxing”. Although there is no significant difference in technique, the rules are different and, as observed above, strategy to win in competition is governed by the rules. In the case of amateur boxing, head gear must be worn and points are scored electronically. One match typically will last 3x 3min rounds.19 Fighters usually don’t aim for the knockout blow, instead they focus on accumulating points while not conceding them. This differs markedly from professional boxing where, for one thing, no head protection is worn. Clearly more dangerous, it is motivated by the incentive of prize money is the chief objective. There can be as many as 12 rounds in one match. Points are not scored per effectively struck blow. Instead, the winner of the round is awarded ten points, and where no penalties are applied, the other boxer will usually receive nine points. For this reason, the strategic objective of a professional boxing match is usually to knock the opponent out quickly.19

So what of taekwondo? Is the sport of taekwondo on the right track? As was the case with judo, should it become its own classification that has more to do with games and sports and less to do with self-defense and martial arts? Would classification according to different names help to define the difference between martial art and sport? Or perhaps professional taekwondo would be one solution. In fact, professional taekwondo has been attempted in various formats around the world20, 21 but has not gone onto enjoy the success of other professional fighting competitions. The main speculation for this lack of success is that the scoring system was too similar to normal taekwondo competition and so the fighting did not really change.

Full-contact taekwondo sparring competition has been an important ingredient, not only in the development of taekwondo as a fast, powerful and effective martial art, but also in the development of the individual as he/she travels on the path (道) of self-development. However, with the popularity of taekwondo competition, there has sometimes been an almost exclusive focus on competition taekwondo with little training in other aspects of the art. Also, competition rules now require only the lightest of contact in order to score. As competitors no longer need to kick with “disabling force” (or defend against such kicks) there is now little correlation between what is required in competition and what is required in a real combat situation.

The physical skills – Demonstration taekwondo

Public demonstrations of taekwondo have often showcased skills such as board-breaking (gyeokpa), forms (poomsae) and self-defense (hoshinsul). In the 1980’s, Taekwondo demonstration skills took on a life of their own – not simply demonstrating traditional taekwondo techniques, but modifying techniques to give them greater showmanship. Whereas the objective of the martial art of taekwondo is to be effective, the objective of Demonstration taekwondo is to be visually spectacular and entertaining.

[youtube id=”YFngoTZtgU8″]

During the 1988 Seoul Olympics Opening ceremony, 1000’s of taekwondo practitioners took to the field in a mind-blowing display of precision and uniformity. Watching this demonstration, we can see how some techniques were modified to give greater visual impact.22

For example, a high front kick (Ap Chagi) starts in a square position with both fists at shoulder height. As the kick is executed, the arms are simultaneously swung downward to give a contrasting action to the kick. This contrasts markedly to a combative application of the front kick, where the fists have a different starting position and should not be dropped during the kick. In the case of Low Cleaving Block (Arae Hecho Makki) the finishing position is approximately two fist lengths away on either side of the body. However, we can see that for greater visual impact, the demonstration version of the same block is much more horizontal with the force of the arms moving outward rather than downward.

Demonstration style Arae Haechyeo Makgi

Demonstration style Arae Haechyeo Makgi

The physical skills – Breaking (Gyeokpa)

Breaking of thick wooden boards and concrete tiles (gyeokpa) is a traditional element of taekwondo training and is used in black-belt promotion tests. Although it requires physical power, speed and accurate technique, the most important ingredient is the mental approach. Only with intense mental focus and the total lack of hesitation can a person be successful. “Power Breaking” takes this skill even further, not simply breaking one board or tile, but breaking as many as possible using one devastating technique.

As more and more focus is put on other aspects of taekwondo, we are seeing less and less focus on Power Breaking. The World Taekwondo Hanmadang staged by the Kukkiwon continues to hold power breaking competitions, yet the WTF (the world body for international taekwondo competition) does not.

While Power Breaking has lost popularity, demonstration board-breaking has become ever more dynamic and complex over the years, manifesting into its own discipline known as “trick kicking” or Xtreme Martial Arts (XMA). 26 In the quest to push the limits of human movement, more spectacular board-breaking involving gravity defying acrobatics and multiple board breaks in a single jump, have become a focus of modern demonstration taekwondo. Super-human athleticism is the focus and only very thin boards are used. These gravity defying feats have no practical application in self-defense.

The concept of a “deathblow” has been associated with many martial arts and is expressed in Korean as il gyeok pil sal 일격필살 (一 擊必殺 ) 28 or Ikken Hissatsu (一拳必殺) 27 in Japanese. It translates as “one fist (or strike) will kill” and is a combat philosophy that focuses on developing sufficient power in a single technique to defeat an opponent in one blow. This is of course what we try to achieve in power breaking, where boards or tiles take the place of an opponent.

With the modern emphasis on sports taekwondo, combined with themes of the “do” (道) philosophy emphasizing the need for peace and harmony with the universe to dominate over the need for combat, this sort of training has lost popularity. However, even in times of peace, “breaking” is still a useful method of developing the mind in preparation for combat, or self-defense, and can be seen as one of the methods of cultivating “ki” (氣).

In the film Enter the Dragon, after his opponent smashed a wooden board in mid-air, Bruce Lee famously scoffed “Boards don’t hit back”29. Although this may be true, gyeokpa still has value in developing a strong focused technique and an equally focused mind – both of which are needed when facing an opponent in a real combat situation.

The physical skills – forms (Poomsae)

The practice of forms (poomsae) is considered an essential element of training in many martial arts. It provides a method of solo training where the exponent uses visual rehearsal and imaginary opponents to perfect techniques, while developing speed, strength, timing and balance. The reality is that very few people practice poomsae in this way and therefore do not obtain the associated benefits. The more realistically the practitioner visualizes the imaginary opponents, the more accurately his technique will become.

In 2006, the World Taekwondo Federation held the 1st World Poomsae Championships. In order for poomsae to be assessed and judged, specific standards and point deduction criteria were established. Competition requirements helped to redefine taekwondo poomsae technique, and the changes again demonstrate a departure from the original purpose of poomsae, which was the development of practical skills through solo training.

As an example, let us look at the first and most basic blocking technique beginners are taught – Arae Makgi or Low Block. This block is designed to defend against a kick or low punch aimed at the groin or lower abdomen. Traditionally, this block starts by bringing the fist to the opposite shoulder, then bringing it swiftly down. The end position is with the wrist in the midline of the body. The elbow should be slightly bent to protect the joint.

If we look at the Low Block as required by current competition poomsae standards, the fist starts at the same place, but swings across the body, and its final position is vertically in line with the shoulder, not the midline. The resulting force is lateral (not vertical) and the arm is straight. If the arm is perceived to be bent in any way points are deducted.

Low Block (아래막기)

Low Block (아래막기)

The aim of the current standard appears to be a more uniform conformation in the low block. However if you were to apply this action against an actual front kick it would present two problems: 1) The block would be biomechanically less effective at defending the midline of the body. 2) Extending the elbow leaves the joint vulnerable to attack and thus goes against basic principles for safe practice in martial arts.

The physical skills – Self-Defense techniques (Hoshinsul)

After I left my hometown of Melbourne, I maintained my training at a number of taekwondo dojangs in Los Angeles and Seoul. I found there were NO CLASSES that included the practice of self-defense techniques (hoshinsul) as a part of their regular class activities. Astonishingly, some taekwondo instructors did not even know what the word “hoshinsul” meant or that it is an integral component of taekwondo training. Fortunately this does not mean there are NO instructors teaching self-defense techniques. Unfortunately it reflects a general trend.

Although taekwondo is renowned as a kicking martial art, kicking can only be used when the distance is appropriate. The reality is that no matter how a fight starts, it usually transitions to some form of grappling. Why? Because people have hands and like to grab on!

Grappling or the defense against it is usually associated with martial arts such as judo, or with the increasingly popular Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ). Nevertheless, the skills of taekwondo hoshinsul incorporate self-defense strategies designed precisely for that situation, and furthermore, designed to be effective against assailants of greater size and strength

To develop effective self-defense skills, practitioners must first practice potential scenarios in isolation, for instance, the situation where someone seizes hold of your wrist. Assailants are usually of greater strength or armed with a weapon, so the success of the technique should never be dependent on power, but on biomechanics and risk reduction. These techniques must then be practiced with progressively greater realism by progressively increasing speed, resistance and power. After individual situations and techniques are mastered, they should be applied in a “freestyle” scenario, where the attacker improvises, changing the attack without notice. This final stage mimics taekwondo sparring competition, the important difference being that the rules that limit the scope of techniques used are removed.

As discussed earlier, the “mind-spirit” of a martial artist is a defining factor in the successful outcome of a combat situation. Mental preparedness and confidence in one’s skill can only be achieved with training. In addition, it is essential that instructors teach an understanding of the legal entitlements and limitations of defending oneself and others as governed by the laws of the city or country you live in.

As a general example, according to U.S. law, the right of self-defense or the defense of others is defined as “the right for civilians acting on their own behalf to engage in a level of violence (called reasonable force or defensive force), for the sake of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including in certain circumstances the use of deadly force.”30, 31, 32 The term “reasonable force” is significant: it is deemed “reasonable” only when appropriate or proportional to the attacking or threatening force. When not proportional to the threat or the attack, it is deemed “excessive force” and thus unjustified and unlawful.

The practice of self-defense skills in the event of unlawful physical assault is the very foundation of a martial art. If instructors no longer teach this aspect of taekwondo, can it still be called a martial art? If a beginner were to enrol in a taekwondo class with an assumption he would learn to defend himself and was not taught adequate skills to do so, is this misleading advertising that may eventually place the student at greater risk?

The business of teaching taekwondo

In ancient Asian cultures, martial arts tuition was not something you paid for. It was not a profession, it was a life-skill and a necessity for survival. It was a privilege to be permitted to attend classes, and the master would not give instruction unless he felt you deserved it.

Today, taekwondo has become a profitable business model. In order to run a successful business, instructors need to keep fee-paying students (or their parents) satisfied. The balance of power has changed, and in an ever competitive society, it is the “consumer” that now dictates the “market place”. This means taekwondo instructors are either softening or else totally abandoning the traditional training they themselves were taught simply in order to maintain a profitable business.

Even in Korea, the birthplace of taekwondo, commercialization of taekwondo has manifested itself. Seoul is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. Every aspect of life in Seoul has an element of competition far beyond that of other places. Taekwondo is considered an essential part of Korean life: every village and suburb has its dojang or taekwondo training hall, and on the roads you will see mini-buses picking up and dropping off students. Once you step inside these taekwondo dojangs however, your perception of a traditional martial art very quickly changes.

The majority of dojangs are filled with elementary school and, to a lesser degree, Junior High school students. Classes are usually only 50 minutes in duration. Taekwondo uniforms are often brightly colored and the classes have a playful, recreational atmosphere more befitting a kindergarten than a dojang. Cartoon characters often adorn advertising, popular upbeat music is played in class, and it is a common sight to see children swinging brightly colored foam Ssang-JulBong (nunchaku).

It is evident that the target “consumer” for all this “fun” is the 5-15 year old demographic. But with all this “fun” the classes are often rowdy and there is no focus on discipline or conduct. Whilst more traditional dojangs do exist, they are hard to find.

“But what about adult classes?” I hear you ask. In Korea, if you are serious about taekwondo, you will eventually follow the path to one of several universities that specialize in taekwondo training. For the greater portion of the population there is no time for a hobby. Competition to enter the best universities is so high that even elementary school children attend academies for additional study after school. By high school, the pressure to succeed academically is so high that Korea, sadly, has one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world.

Once you are in the workforce, the competition to succeed continues. Korea has the longest work hours of all OECD countries, even though it has the lowest productivity.33 Work-life culture in Korea is demanding leaving no time for recreation in this demographic either. Finally, in comparison to some parts of the world, Korean streets are relatively safe, so the need to defend yourself is not at the forefront of social consciousness. This contrasts with taekwondo businesses in Western countries that tend to cater for students across all age demographics where the stated reasons for training include improving children’s concentration, fitness, and a desire to learn to defend oneself.

A measure of success in any business lends itself to endorsement of that business and therefore it becomes more attractive to anyone wanting to use its services. In the case of a taekwondo business, this often means success at competition.

For the individual, a gold medal at any competition from regional tournaments to the Olympics is an endorsement of his or her skill. For the school or club, the medals and success stories are visible evidence of success and are used as a means of promoting the business. For this reason there are many clubs around the world that focus exclusively on competition success as an endorsement of their business – to the extent that entering sparring competition is sometimes compulsory. In these cases, the focus is less about the self-development of each individual’s potential, and more about the promotion of the business.

C. Conclusion

From ancient times human beings have conquered each other through violence. People developed martial arts for both attack and defense. Now, we live in modern societies that are for the most part peaceful as laws and law enforcement protect the community. The ancient Mu-Sul or Martial Art which focuses only on combat skills eventually gave way to Mu-Do or Martial Way which encompasses a greater philosophical ideal of peace with the surrounding universe. Now, with the popularization as an Olympic sport and the commercialization as a business, taekwondo has been adversely affected – both in its efficacy as a martial art (the “Mu”) and the dilution of the principles and philosophies for which it stands (the “Do”).

This essay has examined the comparisons of the traditional martial art of taekwondo and its modern evolution into both competition sport and business, and discussed how that has impacted on its efficacy as a martial art. All aspects of taekwondo – martial spirit, poomsae, gyeorugi, gyeokpa, hoshinsul – have been affected by the global development of taekwondo as both a sport and a business. The original tenets of the ancient Hwarang warriors on which taekwondo based its core philosophies are being lost.

Some have argued that taekwondo was never a practical martial art for street defense, but as discussed, the value you obtain from taekwondo is a matter of how it is taught. If it is taught only as a sport or in a way that simply appeases parents and entertains children, then of course the original objectives of the martial art will be lost. For effectiveness as a combative art form in real life threatening situations certain mental and physical training must be adopted. In the past, taekwondo sparring competition provided many of these benefits whilst attempting to do so in a relatively safe environment. However, as has just been explored, taekwondo sparring is now moving further and further from providing these benefits.

Today, there is still violence in our society, and the need for martial arts has not gone away. Also, with each generation of human beings that are born to this world, the benefits of selfdevelopment that taekwondo traditionally teaches as not gone away either. Continual evolution is vital. As a second generation taekwondo-in, I have observed and participated in the past 35 years of change. With the focus on developing it as a sport and also on making businesses more profitable, are we not losing sight of the core strengths that made taekwondo one of the most practiced and most popular martial arts in the first place? It is now time to reflect on these strengths and make an effort to re-incorporate them into modern taekwondo for the benefit of future generations of taekwondo practitioners.

D. References

  1. Voltaire http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/709747-with-great-power-comes-greatresponsibility
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  7. Ian Ransom “Poor taekwondo judging sportsmanship mar Games” Reuters 24.AUG.2008 [accessed 17.AUG.2014] http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/08/24/us-olympics-taekwondoreview-idUSPEK1588720080824
  8. “Video of Angel Matos Kicking the Referee in the Face” Youtube 2008 [accessed 17.AUG.2014 http://youtu.be/CecGsG_4yoc
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E. Recommended Reading

  • The Book of Teaching and Learning Taekwondo – Official Publication of the World Taekwondo Federation ISBN: 978-896060516
  • Taekwondo – More Than A Martial Art: A Journey For Life by Petra Roesner, PhD Xlibris, 2013 ISBN 978-1-4931-5177-6
  • Taekwondo: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior [Kindle Edition] by Doug Cook
  • TAEKWONDO: A Practical Guide to the World’s Most Popular Martial Art by Bill and Katie Pottle 2013
  • aekwondo: The State of the Art Paperback by Sung Chul-Whang 1999
  • Competitive Taekwondo Paperback by Yong Kil 2006

Available online