My instructor teaches both the WTF and ITF versions of Taekwondo. I received a local certificate for first degree black belt in both styles. My instructor is no longer affiliated with the WTF so I did not receive a Kukkiwon certificate. Is it okay for me to assume that local certificates hold the same merit as the Kukkiwon certificates?
Rank certification in the Taekwondo, and all other martial arts, is a mess and has been for decades. There is no national or international organization for Taekwondo that is universally recognized by other Taekwondo organization, any other martial arts organization, or by any legal entity. Although the AAU comes close since it accepts ranks from all organizations and only requires that they all complete according to AAU rules. Since the WTF won the battle for control of Olympic Taekwondo, they are the international sanctioning body for Olympic competition. If you want to compete in one of their competitions or in the Olympics, you must be a member of their organization. Otherwise, it does not matter who certifies you, or that you are even certified by an organization.
In the Navy, when you achieve the rank of chief petty officer, to be accepted by other chief petty officers, you must endure a chief’s initiation that is conducted by your command’s Chief’s Mess (local chief’s organization). There is no legal requirement to complete the initiation, but within in the chief’s community, there is an unwritten understanding that you are not a “real” chief until you have completed an initiation. You will find it difficult to deal with other chiefs if they know you have not been initiated.
Initiations are conducted locally by your current command. Each command conducts the initiation as it see fit; some are relative simple and easy to complete while some are elaborate and difficult to complete. In the past, some initiations were extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous. Nowadays, there are official rules for conducting an initiation for safety and preservation of dignity, but there are still no requirements as to what each prospective chief must endure during the initiation. Therefore, each initiation is different. However, if you have a document from a Chief’s Mess that indicates you have completed an initiation; it will be accepted by any Chief’s Mess in the Navy. Rank testing and certification is similar to the way chief’s initiations are administered. Since there are no laws governing the process, ANY person may teach an established martial art or one the person “foundered,” conduct a rank examinations, and issue rank certifications. These certifications may hold great value to the students receiving them, since they know what they had to do to earn the certifications, they hold great respect for the person who issued the certifications, and the certifications are accepted and respected by all their peers. However, unlike the certification of completion of a chief’s initiation, these rank certification may not be accepted or honored by any other instructors or organizations since each instructor or organization has its own criteria for rank advancement.
Martial artists around the world would prefer that their ranks be universally recognized and accepted, since it would bestow some worldwide creditability to their achievement, but this probably will never be the case. The martial arts were created to conduct hand-to-hand warfare; the type of warfare where each soldier has to individually fight and conquer an enemy. In war, to the victor go the spoils and the glory, so egos are important among warriors. This means that rank certification in the martial arts is ego driven and, since the martial arts were created by males, still comprised mostly of males, and are controlled by males, there is a lot of machismo. Therefore, each martial art, each martial art organization, and many times, each martial art instructor has its own rules. Similar to kids on a playground, if you want to play kickball with us, you will have to play by our rules, otherwise, go play on another playground.
So, if you want to play Taekwondo on the WTF or ITF playground, you must be certified by them and play by their rules. However, if you want to play Taekwondo on a playground down the street, you may be certified by them, play by their rules, and have just as much enjoyment and satisfaction as you would have by playing on the WTF or ITF playgrounds.
Religious beliefs are usually based upon the way people were raised to believe, or upon the beliefs of the religion to which they were first exposed. Martial artists tend to believe that the organization to which they have belonged since the beginning of their martial arts training is the best organization. They have been indoctrinated into the methods of the organization and many do not know, or have no inclination to know, about the methods other organizations. They believe that their organization is the only way to martial arts heaven.
Street gangs have the same goals and core beliefs. Each gang wants to control its neighborhood and has rules governing how this will be accomplished and how its members will act. Since rival gangs may be competing for control of the same neighborhood, gang loyalty is paramount and one cannot belong to two different gangs.
All Taekwondo organizations, the WTF and ITF for example, teach Taekwondo and have the same core beliefs, but they each have variations and differences and as to the way Taekwondo should be taught and performed, and each wants to control Taekwondo around the world. Some of these variations and differences are not compatible with each other. For example, if you teach that techniques in patterns must use low stances, use obvious chambering, use hip snap with punches and kicks, and left the rear heel at impact, and you really believe this is the correct way to achieve power and perfection of technique, then you cannot reasonably also teach that using high stances, no chambering, leaning to punches and kicks, and not lifting the rear heel lift will also generate power and be technically perfect. Just as with street gangs, instructors and schools cannot profess loyalty to two rival Taekwondo organizations and survive within in either organization.
When you believe in two opposing beliefs, you believe in nothing. If you really believe something, you may be considerate of a rival belief, but you cannot accept the rival belief. If you are a Christian and believe the only way to heaven is through Christ, you may be considerate of Muslims, but you must also believe Muslims will not get to heaven unless they accept Christ as their savior. An instructor may have been a black belt with the ITF and then changed to the WTF and earned a black belt with that organization, but the only way to be a true WTF black belt is to reject the ITF and accept the WTF as the true leader of Taekwondo and to only teach Taekwondo as dictated by the WTF. If an instructor tries to believe in both organizations, he or she truly believes in neither.
Through the years, due to my location at the time, I have been affiliated with many different Taekwondo organizations; each organization was based upon ITF style Taekwondo. Many times an organization did not recognize a previous organization’s rank certifications so I had to start over at white belt. Organizations charge for their services, and as they gain in size and power, some demand and exorbitant amount of money from instructors and try to control the way instructors run their schools. Sometimes the school at which I was training got fed up with its organization and changed the organization to which it was affiliated. Sometimes this change meant I had to wait longer to test for the next rank. I just have to deal with it or change schools. However, in fairness to loyal students, a school should do all it can to insure that students are not penalized because of the change in organizations.
The school at which I currently train belongs to an organization that has a few thousand students. The organization has rules and standards of conduct, conducts rank testings, issues rank certifications, conducts instructor training and issues instructor certifications, conducts clinics and camps, conducts regional tournaments of over 500 competitors and national tournaments of over a 1000 competitors, and does all this with a minimal fee charged to instructors. Students do not pay any organization fees. Through the organization, I get rank recognition and I get to know and compete with hundreds of black belts. What else do I need? Being a member a bigger or better known organization would not make my martial arts experience any better. I do not desire or intend to compete in international or Olympic competitions, so I have no need for the WTF, or any other international organization.
All the power struggles and conflicts that occur at the organizational level may also occur at the individual school level. There may be, or may be perceived to be, favoritism, lapses in enforcement of rules, misjudgments, or just simply mistakes. When these things occur, you may resist them and may be able to change them, which may make your life miserable, or you may accept them and keep going, which may also make your life miserable. As you gain in rank, position, and influence in a school or organization, you may be able to change things, but do not count on it.
If you have an instructor you like, if you enjoy training at the school and with the students at the school, and if the school or its organization conducts all the events and tournaments you need to challenge yourself, then be happy, enjoy yourself, and do not worry about rank certification and conflicts between organizations. Training in the martial art of Taekwondo will make you life more enjoyable, but if you let them, some people in Taekwondo will make you life miserable.