Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Taekwondo In Korean History: Meaning Lies in the Eyes of the Practitioner

Taekwondo In Korean History:
Meaning Lies In The Eyes Of The Practitioner

by Taylor DiMeglio

Modern dicta implores us to “let go of the past,” to “stay in the present,” but as useful as it is, in taekwondo as in life, to live in the all-important N-O-W there is much to be said for mindfully including a consciously framed narrative of the history which informs our focus. Consciously framed. In other words, with deliberate choice, for it is not our histories which define our fates but the perspective through which we view them. Shall we be inspired or disillusioned? Do we wish to grow in purpose or to wallow in defeat?

Consider the person who grows up in an abusive environment. At one juncture in life, she counts herself a victim, at another juncture, a survivor. Both stances hold their own kinds of truth; yet, only one yields a fruitful path. So it is with taekwondo.

Some question taekwondo’s legitimacy as a korean martial art, or even as a unique martial art in its own right. After all, they say, a great deal of its techniques originate elsewhere, in China, and, significantly, Japan, via shotakan karate. How can it, then, be considered Korean? Further, some senior organizational taekwondo delegates have diminished, suppressed or otherwise denied avenues of external influence, with some suggesting that taekwondo has been around—in pure form—for thousands of years. (Surely, cave drawings do not lie!) Meanwhile, underplaying or overplaying data raises doubt and suspicion, opposite of its intention.

These are narrow frames, inhibitors of growth. The practitioner who adopts them sets himself up, with conscious or unconscious will, for discouragement and defeat. If I practice an illegitimate art, this mindset says, I, too, become illegitimate. Thus, the skeptic maintains an ‘out,’ imposing in practice a level of disengagement which easily turns into a loss of interest and eventual departure from taekwondo training. Initial gains are wasted. Enrollment declines.

Far better to take the broadest view, to understand taekwondo through the widest lens of Korean history and culture, recognizing that it is a veritable manifestation of a long, intricate narrative and inherently infused with the driven, willing spirit of its people. Pass on the legend of Tangoon, mythical forebear of this “land of the morning calm,” whose philosophical adherence to a universal humanism and duties to family and state underlie central tenets of Korean culture and taekwondo, and practitioners grow in humility and grace. An enlightened spirit underscores skill. Speak of the feats of ancient Hwarang and Sunbae warriors and allow their prowess to infuse today’s practice. Honor the full history through which taekwondo derives, and you are as a wise farmer who does not arbitrarily scatter the seeds, but first tends the soil, recognizing it as the origin of abundance.

Korean history is rife with struggle. Geographically speaking, it is not surprising that the citizens of a country formed on a peninsula might be leery and defensive, when they are both perceptually and actually vulnerable to attack. Ancient kingdoms with rivaling tribes and fearsome warriors establish the backdrop for a people honed to endure, to survive, and, ultimately, to overcome. The Paekche kingdom (18 BCE - 660 BC), Koguryo (37 BCE - 668 BC) and the small but mighty Sillan kingdom (57 BCE - 935 AD) warred tirelessly, though Silla was the eventual triumphant, unifying the three kingdoms into a collective dynasty. Korean strife didn’t end with the ancient kingdoms, but it is here, in antiquity, where the taekwondo practitioner authentically finds Korean spirit in its originating indomitable force. It’s still alive today, and, along with it, the skills and techniques of old, derived of kwonbop and taekyeon, which were practiced by the Sillan Hwarang.

Where infighting set the stage for indigenous martial development, external conflicts broadened its scope, particularly during the Japanese occupation from 1910-1945. During this thirty-five year period of extreme cultural oppression—which included book burning, sexual enslavement and a ban on native language and religion among other severe prohibitions—martial arts training was roundly forbidden, leaving the devoted with few options. Some practiced in secret. Others left Korea and learned where training was available to them, in China and, notably, Japan itself.

It may seem a strange decision for Korean martial artists to entrust their training to enemy hands, even where animus between nations may not have necessarily translated between individual citizens. Yet, life has its mandates. We are not called to travel passively as dust carried on wind, but to engage, to live, to set our own course with purpose. The martial artist, Korean or otherwise, strives for the Warrior Within, that elusive inner self which is enduring and impervious, who surpasses the temporal realm.

It comes again to perspective. The practitioner who demands cultural purity over all will find disappointment in its stead, while the practitioner who honors the multifarious influences of any chosen martial art and the collective value intrinsic in all martial arts gains wisdom alongside skill. It is this frame which emphasizes proficiency over egoistic evaluations.

So, too, the practitioner caught up in identifying the single best martial art might just as well spend time selecting a single best variety of toothpaste. Is it the whitening? The baking soda? Enamel protection? Should we do away with fluoride? Caught in the minutia of choice, the practitioner’s focus is cluttered and divided, and another trap, the trap of comparison, is set. Use comparison as a vehicle for fault-finding in a marriage and things become rocky indeed. Those who dig for faults will find them, though primarily because of the perspective of the mind which seeks them than due to the particular shortcomings themselves. No one and nothing is perfect. The practitioner who digs instead for treasure—in relationships, in themselves, in taekwondo—will find it and prosper.

Following the Japanese Occupation, bans were lifted. Korea set out to restore their vast cultural heritage—a restoration of native arts, food and philosophical paradigms. Korean martial artists, among them many masters, sought to unify the whole of their learning, incorporating not a narrow few but all of its influences including Japan, China and their own ancient, native forms. It incorporated not only physical techniques and skill but the Confucian and Buddhist overtones and the in-dwelling Korean spirit so indicative of their history and important to their culture. Through the unwavering efforts of General Choi, Hong Hi this martial art came to be officially known as taekwondo, a Korean martial art. 

The Meaning of Courage and How I Apply it in my Life

Brown Belt Essay by Rocco Manno November 2015

The definition of courage is having the strength of mind to carry on in spite of danger or
Fist Tower on Jeju Island in South Korea
difficulty. This means to be brave and to face your fears. I try to have courage in my life. At home, I am afraid of the dark and I am afraid to go upstairs by myself (even writing that took courage because I am embarrassed to tell people I am afraid of the dark). But whenever I have to go upstairs I think to myself that I have courage and I am able to go upstairs by myself. At school I tried out for the school play and got one of the lead roles, Captain Hook. I was really afraid to audition because I had to sing in front of two judges and other students. I was afraid I would not get the part and people would laugh at me if I made a mistake. But I took a deep breath and said I would do it, and I did! At first I wanted to be the crocodile because I had stage fright and the crocodile doesn’t have any speaking roles and he is only in the background. But I had enough courage to take a risk and to try for a bigger role. If I hadn’t had the courage to try, I would not have gotten one of the lead roles!

I remember the first time I went to Chosun Taekwondo Academy. I was really nervous because I didn’t know what to expect from the instructors and the other students. I had to have courage to walk up those steps and go to my first class. At the end of class I had to go up in front of everyone and do a free kick. I felt nervous but excited. And I did it and everyone clapped for me. As I continued to train in the next weeks and months I made new friends and became more confident. If I didn’t have courage, I would not have walked up those steps on the first day and I wouldn’t have my brown belt which is really important to me, and I wouldn’t be on my way to getting a black belt and only extraordinary people earn black belts in Taekwondo. It is okay to be afraid, but don’t let fear take over your mind. By having courage I can face my fears!


Brown Belt Essay by Stefan Lee November, 2015

Courage. It is something truly important we must have because the world is full of wonderful and sometimes frightful surprises. Another way I describe courage is encouragement. If a big test is coming up or even my taekwondo tests, I always think to myself: "I can do it, I can do it." And most of the time it works!. I think courage also means to believe in ourselves, that we can do something, that we can reach our goals. These are some ways I use courage in my life and how I describe it.


Brown Belt essay by Aidan Morrison November, 2015

Courage is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc, without fear. Courage helps you to try new things and take risks. In school it helps to be courageous. I show courage when I take tests because if I'm not confident I might fail the test even though I could do it in the first place. If someone was bullying in school, I would need to have courage to stand up to them.

It took courage to sign up to take Taekwondo. It takes courage to keep going through the belts because there is more and more to remember and learn. At belt test you have to be courageous to perform various techniques in front of advanced taekwondo masters. That is the meaning of courage and how I apply it in my life

The Meaning of Courage and how I Apply it in my Life

Brown Belt essay by Harrison Gratzel November, 2015

Courage means brave powerful and not scared. It also means being scared but doing it anyway.

How I apply courage in my life: 
I use courage when I am at tae kwon do and I have to stand in front of the class. And when I am doing swimming and I have to put my head in the water. Also when I go on the bus sometimes. I also use it when I am starting a new camp. I also need courage when I am getting shots.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Yoga at CHOSUN "Grounded"

December 3, 2015

Chosun Taekwondo Academy & Hatha Yoga Center 62 Main St. Warwick NY 

The idea and practice of grounding is one of the first techniques you will work with in a typical yoga class. Whether seated or standing, particular attention is paid to your foundation from which centering, alignment and breath will flow. When any human activity, whether it be physical, mental or spiritual, emanates from a strong and stable core, the resulting mobility is enhanced by the relevance to it's source.  In our seated class this week, we will experience the grounding process as a way to reconnect to our inner strength.

Join us for grounded movement...

Chosun Taekwondo Academy & Hatha Yoga Center
62 Main Street Warwick, NY

Class Schedule:
Tuesdays     9:30am
Wednesdays     6:30pm
Saturdays     9:30am

First Class is Free

$15 per class / $130 for 10 classes


Korea "Destinations" by Jeff Rosser from CHOSUN newsletter December, 2015

Jeff's monthly Korea "Destinations" column can be seen every month in the Chosun Taekwondo Academy newsletter

     Imjingak, located on the Imjin River near the city of Paju, is a park near the border with North Korea.  For most people, this is as close to North Korea as you can get without joining a guided tour to the DMZ which South Koreans are not allowed to join.  From the
observation deck here, you can see across the Imjin River to the DMZ and even into North Korea.  The park also has numerous monuments and memorials to those who have served and died, to the families that remain separated, and to the continuing hope for peace and reunification.  Amongst the monuments are also a number of relics from the Korean War and the Cold War which include tanks, war planes, and a UN supply train from the Korean War that is riddled with 1,020 bullet holes.
     The Freedom Bridge, which was built as a temporary crossing over the Imjin River for the purpose of bringing home more than 12,000 South Korean POWs after the signing of the Armistice Agreement, is also here.  It was relocated to this spot to serve as a memorial and now sits next to an old railway bridge that stretches across the river and into North Korea.  Also near the Freedom Bridge is the Mangbaedan Altar which was constructed by the South Korean government in 1986.  This permanent altar was created for North Korean refugees and South Koreans with family in the north to carry out ancestral rites during major holidays like Chuseok and Lunar New Year.  Prior to the building of the altar, visitors would create their own each year.  Now, they have a permanent altar from which to carry out these rites.  The altar itself consists of an incense burner and seven stone slabs, each carved with an image representing each of the seven provinces in North Korea.
     You will also find what is likely to be the most colorful barbed wire fence in the world.  Visitors, both Koreans and foreigners alike, write messages of peace, reunification, and reconciliation on ribbons and attach the ribbons to the fence.  While interesting to look at, the ribbons are also a reminder of the effects and pain felt by the division of the Korean peninsula.  To reach Imjingak, take a train from Seoul Station to Munsan station.  From there, transfer to another small train to reach Imjingang Station.
About the author:

Jeff W. Rosser is a teacher, martial arts instructor, and writer in South Korea.  He’s a former AAU U.S.A. National Karate Team member and has competed internationally in Karate and Taekwondo.  He also has over 24 years of experience in Karate, Taekwondo, Hapkido, Ju-Jutsu, and Judo.  He’s a columnist for Taekwondo Times (“The Hidden Art”), a monthly contributor to Totally Taekwondo Magazine, and the author of “Combative Elbow Strikes:  A Guide to Strikes, Blocks, Locks, and Take Downs” published by Turtle Press.  Contact: (Email), (website)

"Mrs. Pyke Eats Korea" Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving

"Mrs. Pyke Eats Korea" can be seen every month in the Chosun Taekwondo Academy newsletter 

     Chuseok is the harvest festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Everyone returns home to their families for this three day event. Very much like our Thanksgiving as we go over the river and through the woods to Grandmothers house! Just as we do, traditional food is consumed to honor the harvest. One of these foods is Songpyeon. Songpyeon is a rice cake made from glutinous rice and filled with honey, sesame seeds, sweet red bean paste and chestnut paste. The cakes are shaped in little half moons and are made to be as pretty as possible because it is believed if you make a beautiful Sogpyeon you will have a beautiful daughter. The cakes are shaped in a half moon because it is believed the full moon can only wane but the half moon will wax and grow bigger, thus representing a growing abundance for the year. The cakes are steamed on a bed of pine needles that imbues them with the scent of pine. This must be quite a taste sensation!!
     Another interesting fact I came upon about Chuseok, some say that Chuseok marks the day when the Silla  Kingdom won a deciding battle against the Baekje (Paekje) Kingdom.
Next time I head to the Korean market I will look for some Songpyeon . This will be a fun addition to our Thanksgiving desserts.
Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!
Peace and Love,

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chosun e-newsletter Archive volume 6 #12 December, 2015

Dear Martial Arts Enthusiast,

Welcome to the December edition of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy e-newsletter! As 2015 winds down and we look back over the year, many moments of success and achievement
Chosun students meditating at recent Belt Promotion Test
stand out. Our journey as a community of dedicated martial artists has been a solid one and now 2016 holds much excitement as we embark on the next chapter. Construction of our new home on Galloway Road is in its final stages and the long wait will come to an end... 2016 promises to be a year of new beginnings! Onward and upward!