During the 1960s, if a person desired to study a martial art, their choices were likely limited to kung fu, karate or judo, all often popularized in the cinema by luminaries such Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris. Today, however, every strip mall across the nation boosts schools featuring taekwondo. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the public knows little of this martial discipline or why it has so successfully taken root in such a relatively short span of time.
Taekwondo is the traditional martial art and Olympic sport of Korea, an Asiandiscipline with over ninety-million practitioners worldwide. What is it then about this unique way of life targeted at cultivating the mind, body, and spirit that has captured the hearts and minds of so many? Could it be that taekwondo contains over 3200 self-defense techniques with proven effectiveness on the field of battle? Or is it the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the art that attract those seeking more than a simple, physical workout. Perhaps, it is the fact that taekwondo shares the spotlight, along with judo, as being the only two martial arts in a constellation of many, recognized by the International Olympic Committee with the exclusive privilege of participating in the Olympic Games. Either way, it is clear that taekwondo has taken its place as the fastest growing, most popular martial art in the world today.
Without a doubt, the current popularity enjoyed by taekwondo, literally translated as “foot-hand-way”, or “the way of punching and kicking with hands and feet”, is largely due to an ingenious process of standardization introduced during its formative years. This development required the core infrastructure of taekwondo to become unified and, therefore, transferable wherever it is taught. Students practicing the art in New York, for instance, can, for the most part, relocate to another state or country and feel secure that their proficiency and rank will be recognized by another legitimate taekwondo dojang or school. This is a great benefit to families transferring from place to place due to attractive job opportunities.
Yet, it is important to note that taekwondo is not merely about kicking and punching. Rather, it is an action philosophy that seeks to enrich the lives of those who diligently apply its ethical principles to their daily routine. Subsequently, it fosters achievement over simple intention – a process frequently forgone in modern society where promises are made but seldom materialize. Furthermore, while on the surface taekwondo represents a system of authentic self-defense coupled with a means of attaining high levels of physical fitness and weight-control, the art rests on a virtuous foundation influenced by the three Asian philosophical paradigms of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. For the practicing martial artist, of whatever age, the doctrines borrowed from these systems act as a moral compass, pointing the way towards self-improvement. Overriding virtues such as courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit, serve to govern the use of the many potentially dangerous techniques students learn.
Born in ancient times and nurtured through global conflict, it is commonly believed, that modern taekwondo represents two sides of the same coin; one focusing on the combat sport of Olympic Taekwondo where tournament competition and triumph in the ring is the primary mission, with the opposite side labeled Traditional Taekwondo where self-defense and character enrichment prevail. While both styles are frequently taught in unison, in searching for an appropriate school, potential candidates need to be acutely aware of the differences since many years of loyalty, practice and effort preface success in the art.
Lastly, it is essential to find a legitimate school led by a certified instructor. Too often today, martial arts are seemingly created overnight with little or no attention given to tradition, accuracy of technique and lineage of its pioneers. A few hours of research and visits to the various locations will result in a rewarding and ultimately enlightening experience while pursuing a path to excellence through the disciplined practice of taekwondo.
Master Doug Cook, a 6th degree black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, and an author of four best-selling on taekwondo, all published by YMAA of Boston. A six-time NYS gold medalist, he has trained in Korea seven times and is the recipient of many awards presented here and in Korea. Master Cook can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at www.chosuntkd.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.