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bowlie's picture
Being true to your art

I started taekwondo when I was very young, and it was quite short lived. being about 7 I quickly lost interest and did very little sport. At 16 I started weight lifting, at 17 I started boxing and brazillian ju-jitsu. These were great but a long standing shoulder injury kept cropping up culminating in me dislocating it during my first BJJ competition and requiring surgery on both shoulders.

I started taekwondo again as a stepping stone back into combat sports. I really enjoyed it, and the people there so I am still doing it now. But, Im not entirely satisfied with it. My problem is that its too focused on the mystical and abstract. I thought this was a problem just with a few trainers so I started looking around for new stuff, trying to find the 'true' art. Right now im reading through the encyclopedia of taekwondo written by General Choi himself, and I honestly dont like what it has to say. He talks about how its a tool for the weak to defend themsevles. It talks about it being a highly effective art, but it also places alot of emphasis on the mystical. About how through mastery of technique you can punch through bricks or break boards 11ft in the air or kick two oppoents at the same time. These things are entirely possible, I have seen them, but being able to do them does not make you a good fighter, and General choi himself acknowledges that it is 'an art of self defence'.

I was really hoping that by loking deeper into the original art I would find a holistic, no-nonsense art but I havnt. General Choi is held in such asteme by the taekwondo community, but to my eyes he is just wrong. Since becoming interested in Iains work its clear that Choi is wrong about so many things. He borowed alot from karate, but it is clear from the conclusions he drew that the karate masters of the 40's and 50's had the same misunderstandings of things like patterns that they do today.

Im thinking I should look for a new art, but I dont know wich. I really want to teach a martial art and help develop taekwondo as a martial art, but i think in doing so I would take it too far from its origins and make it into a different art, which is wrong and dishonest. If im teaching something under the name of taekwondo and its not taekwondo that is false advertising.

Wastelander's picture

As time passes, I find that I am becoming less and less concerned with labelling what I do with a style. Officially, I train in Shorin-Ryu, but I incorporate my previous Shuri-Ryu and judo training into it, as well as constantly researching and pulling techniques and concepts from other styles. It's still karate, in my opinion, but beyond that it's my own personal method of karate so I can stick whatever label on it that I want, so long as I am clear about where it all comes from. Taekwondo is mostly Shotokan with a heavy emphasis on kicking techniques, so you could explore its roots in Shotokan, and Shotokan's roots in Okinawan karate, without necessarily being "untrue" to your taekwondo. When it comes time to teach, just teach what you feel is effective and be open and honest about where it all comes from--if you do that then there shouldn't be too much of a problem with what you call it.

bowlie's picture

Thanks for the reply. I feel like even though it comes from shokotan, alot of it is so misinformed it doesnt really translate. For example the reasons given my taekwondo-ists for the 'reaction hand' going to the hip is that it increases power. There are so many things like this that come from karate, but that we got completely wrong. Its only since I came across Iains stuff I have found valid explanations for many of these things, but to teach the real reason for the techniques is to directly contradict General Choi in some places, and therefore I am not teaching his art.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I think ITF taekwondo is really good, I just hate the Sine Wave they got going on. Its a new investion by General Choi and there's no real proof of it increasing impact. Also they don't use it in the Self defence or Sparring, just in the Forms, my issue is if it was that good why isn't it used in any other styles other than General Choi's mainstream schools. i know a few independants who don't use it and theirs is just as effective if not better.

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

Hi, I think that being true to yourself and your students is FAR more important that being true to an abstract idea of what is an art.

If you asked 100 different taekwondo-ists what TKD is, you'd get a lot of different answers. The same would be true for most, if not all, of the older arts too. If you're teaching 'TKD' techniques, 'TKD' poomse and so on then you're teaching TKD. Your application of those skills may be radically different to other teachers of the same nominal art but you're still teaching the same art.

My shotokan doesn't look like other people's shotokan. My body type isn't identical to everyone else's (no one's is), I spent 15 years before shotokan doing TKD so how I move is heavily influenced by that (I still love kicking!), I follow the Kissaki method of applications/bunkai, I also study judo (and discovered that when I'm left foot forward I favour strikes and right foot forward throws - that was interesting to realise)... etc. Still, fundamentally what I do looks more like shotokan than other karate styles.

I can tell you that TKD today is not identical to TKD from 30 years ago when I started doing it. Things change, modify, adapt. It's still called TKD though.

Zach_MB's picture

In the past 50 years TKD has has been run through the sports machine. There is nothing wrong with sport martial arts. But there is something wrong with sport martial arts being passed off as holistic, self defense based systems. This machine has lead to the the high kicks that are present in TDK today, because they weren't part of the early days of the system and I promise you that Choi did not pick them up from Funakoshi.

Like the above posts have said, don't hold your self to a single system. Find you base system and then start expanding your study to other arts that address some of the shortfalls that you see with your base. And they don't even have to be shortfalls, maybe just different ways to deal with the same thing. There are very few absolutes in the martial arts and there have been many people have spoken on many different topics. Personally I just picked up Hinori Otsuka's manual on Wado Ryu Karate. The first part of the book includes personal writing of Otsuka on the purpose and intent of martial arts and the marital artist. I highly recommend it. But even though I am reading about Wado Ryu, and I agree with the majority of what Otsuka said, that does not mean that I'm abandoning my base. It just means that I'm expanding my base which makes me a better martial artist personally and for the people that I will pass it on to.

PASmith's picture

These days I do Shidokan Karate (kyokushin offshoot) and ITF TKD and I've started to really see many arts today as being in the same "family". Wado, Shotokan, TKD, Tang so do etc etc. They all sprung from poorly understood (or transmitted) Okinawan Karate and then got added to by others in different directions. But the base influence is still there. They share many similarities IMHO. Certainly enough similarities that I can draw both from Iain's bunkai work and Stuart Anslow's TKD applications. Mix and match.

So long as you are training to hit hard, controlling the opponent, attempting to stay upright, pressure testing and above all HAPPY with what you are doing then I think you are being true to your art whether that's Okinawan Karate or TKD.

bowlie's picture

Thanks for the brilliant responses guys. Your totaly right about TKD changing because of sport, and I was hoping that If I went right back to the beginnings, to Choi's encyclopedia itsself, it would reveal the true, holistic art complete with throws, standing grapples and close rance striking.

I will go back to it and keep reading, but what I want to do seems fundamentally different. I guess you are right that if it is influenced mostly by TKD, it is still TKD.

I currently do boxing too, and hope to add in judo next year. Between the three I should have a pretty comprehensive fighting stly for me to adapt into the holistic, real taekwondo I want to teach. TKD does have throws, locks and punches, but I think they need developing.

neil kenyon
neil kenyon's picture

I have been studying Shukokai karate for 32 years and only recently have i started to really look at what i do. I was always into competitions and competed a lot. I have been teaching for about 10 years and have started to worry that what i teach might not be as effective as i have been lead to believe. I have heard so many times the term "there are no throws in Karate" and "we must not change the kata" i agree with the kata staement to some degree, but the throws, i firmly believe that i have let myself down in not questioning more.

I have started to look further afield for more knowledge and understanding to try and understand the art further. The work i have seen Iain Abernethy do has facinated me.  I would say to any martial artist or instuctor, look around for other things to make your art more effective, dont follow blindly what other people have told you, question them ask "why is this so" its not rude or disrecpectful to do so.

bowlie's picture

I guess the problem im having is that when Iain looks at karate and says 'we had throws' he can back that up with solid evidence. The origional masters gave him a mandate to teach it by including it in their art, and its the same with loads of other things.

The problem im having is that our origional master, General Choi put down in writing his thoughts about specific things. And he is wrong. When Iain goes against what masters are teaching at the moment, he can point out that origionally it was done differently, and better. Taekwondo was messed up from the start. Maybe I should look into starting karate, because that way I could teach things that are right, without having to contradict my own art.