Taekwondo contemplates its future

I thought id share this article, Taekwondo is one of the most maligned martial arts going mainly because of the sheer number of bad schools and heavy kiddie emphasis. But if it can find relevance through mixed martial arts maybe peoples opinions will change. My opinion is still on the whole that taekwondo In WTF format has no future, olympic taekwondo is dull as dish water, I analysed 16 hours of Sydney olympics taekwondo matches for a reserach study. I have black belts in Both ITF and WTF taekwondo, even in korea taekwondo isnt taken very seriously by fight trainers. When joining my current MMA gym the muay thai coach laughed and said “I not scared” when I mentioned my TKD credentials before my submission grappling or kyokushin ones. I want to be proud of the 10 years I devoted to the art but its reputation prevents me from doing that. What I can be proud of is my taekwondo instructor (despite losing his MMA matches sorry dave) recommending cross training which has gotten on the path i am now.

Taekwondo Contemplates its future

On May 23 a Brazilian heavyweight named Lyoto Machida destroyed previously undefeated American Rashad Evans in two lopsided rounds in the championship bout of the 92nd Ultimate Fighting Championships.

It was a result no one expected from the unheralded Brazilian from Belem. His knock-out victory did more to promote the Japanese martial art of karate than anything the discipline`s federation has ever done. Quite simply, karate is now relevant again.

Spectators, fellow fighters and comedian-cum-UFC color commentator Joe Rogan were left scratching their heads trying to make sense of the result. Rogan, who holds a second-degree black belt in taekwondo, has been openly dismissive of karate and taekwondo in the past. He was therefore shocked that a karate-based fighter had dismantled a highly-rated opponent trained in the two traditionally acknowledged disciplines of wrestling and Muay Thai boxing. In his post-match analysis, Rogan went so far as to declare, “Welcome to the Machida era, ladies and gentlemen.”

Machida overcame Evans with devastating precision and technique and the 33-year-old represented his martial art with awe-inspiring perfection. His fighting stance, footwork, defensive movement and counterattacking style were all reminiscent of traditional Shotokan karate. The half-Brazilian, half-Japanese fighter showcased the power of what a finely tuned karate-ka can do in hand-to-hand combat.

Some believe a similar scenario may be needed for the declining martial art of taekwondo. Several factors have become hurdles in the evolution of the Korean martial art, particularly in the last decade, and these deterrents have furthered its descent into disreputability.

Taking action

Charges have been levied by spectators who claim that matches were too boring or that the athletes spent too much time stalling and evading opponents after racking up an adequate number of points.

To address these common complaints, the World Taekwondo Federation, which represents taekwondo in the Olympics, announced changes to match rules such as shortening the 10-second stall rule to 8-seconds and dramatically reducing the size of the ring from 10m x 10m to 8m x 8m.

The point system also went through a major overhaul, along with the introduction of video playback to reduce the mistakes committed by officials, who have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Accusations of biased officiating and match-fixing have surfaced since taekwondo`s inclusion as an Olympic category in the 2000 Sydney Games.

The changes will be introduced this October in Denmark at the WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Copenhagen, and the federation hopes they will quell the backlash against the sport.

The most recent controversy occurred during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing when Angel Matos of Cuba was disqualified for taking too much injury time during the bronze-medal match – a match he was winning 3-2. Angered at the referee`s decision, he subsequently attacked Swedish match official Chakir Chelbat, kicking him in the face.

Then there is the general consensus regarding the relative ease in acquiring “dan” certification and belt promotion, plus the lackadaisical regulation in quality control over “dojang,” or taekwondo training centers. Critics point out Korea`s two representative organizations, the WTF and the International Taekwondo Federation, have done not enough to address these problems.

Taekwondo in MMA

Many in the martial arts community believe the fact there has not been a world class taekwondo-based MMA fighter is one of the primary causes of the discipline`s decline. With mixed martial arts growing in popularity every year, they say there is a dire need for a taekwondo flag-bearer.

“The core philosophy of mu-do (martial arts) is for its students to become stronger not just mentally, but physically,” said Kim Dong-hyun, a currently undefeated MMA fighter whose base is judo. “Taekwondo doesn`t get the acknowledgement it deserves because it is seen as an ineffective style in MMA.”

He added that “this is especially the case for Olympic-style taekwondo, where both parties just poke at each other with their feet trying to score points.”

Kim, who has been fast-emerging as Korea`s next big MMA star alongside Chu Seung-hun (Yoshihiro Akiyama), will have his fourth UFC fight at the event`s centurial edition July 11 in an undercard bout against Canadian submission specialist T.J. Grant.

“Taekwondo is a symbol of Korea – it is very much like the Korean flag and for it to gain the respect of the international martial arts community it has to go through a process of evolution so that it can be effective in MMA.”

Other martial arts such as judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and now karate have all been successfully incorporated into mixed martial arts.

Taekwondo has yet to embrace this fusion of different styles. Is it too late?

ITF secretary general Oh Chang-jin does not think the discipline has missed the boat just yet. He feels the successful application of taekwondo into the world of mixed martial arts will ultimately be the only option to rescue the discipline from further descent into irrelevance.

“Right now martial arts are moving towards mixed martial arts. Say what you want to say about the world of MMA but it is the most effective means to promote taekwondo, which has seen its international reputation plummet. It is in tatters,” he said.

“The bottom line is that taekwondo is a martial arts discipline. It is an art form that must assert itself as a representation of power and strength. The taekwondo that the WTF currently promotes doesn`t do that.”

In its hope to establish taekwondo as a credible form of martial arts that can be effective in MMA, the ITF established “musin,” a tournament which pits taekwondo-based fighters against opponents of different backgrounds.

But the inaugural event last month at the Jangchung Gymnasium in Seoul proved a humbling experience for the federation as four of its taekwondo fighters lost against fighters trained in Muay Thai and boxing in succession. The ITF is currently planning its second event and promises to continue nurturing the tournament until a figure similar to Lyoto Machida emerges.

“I want to let it be known that taekwondo is strong, taekwondo is powerful in its pure form as a martial art and is not a sport,” Oh said.

WTF vs. ITF

Although both the WTF and the ITF have the common goal of enhancing taekwondo`s profile on the global stage, the fraternity ends there. This is due to the severity of the two federations` conflicting philosophies; sport vs. martial arts.

The WTF sees taekwondo as a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone; one that promotes mental and moral fiber. Meanwhile the ITF wants to promote it as a pure martial arts discipline that trains practitioners as fighters able to control their strikes with precision, balance and power.

The taekwondo most familiar to the average person is the WTF style because it is the version showcased in the Summer Olympics. WTF taekwondo matches are purely point-based. Hand strikes are prohibited while a successfully landed leg strike to the torso is worth one point and a head strike is worth three. WTF practitioners are also required to wear protective head gear and a chest guard.

ITF-based taekwondo allows hand strikes and trains its students to exercise control when striking, such as being able to stop a strike moments before impact. In sparring, ITF taekwondo students do not don protective gear except for gloves and a gum sheild. It is more aggressive, fast-paced and damage-based.

“We want to promote taekwondo as a sport and as a way of life especially for children – to instill discipline and a sense of calm in them,” said WTF president Choue Chung-won.

“The ITF can go through with their own agenda of promoting their style of taekwondo. Our goal is to spread the virtues and philosophies of the form and also promote it as a sport which can keep practitioners healthy and at peace with themselves.”

He added that they also “want to establish WTF networks all over developing nations so we can cultivate future Olympians.”

At the ITF, Oh responded by saying that the WTF has become “too political.”

“Taekwondo is an important cultural asset that is one of the most distinct symbols of Korea, but the livelihood of their organization seems to rely too much on the Olympics and keeping it there as long as they can.”

“They pour so many resources and so much money into an event that comes every four years that they have lost sight of preserving the discipline in its purest form, and that is as a martial art.”

(kws@heraldm.com)

By Song Woong-ki

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