They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. -Andy WarholIf you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. -Maya AngelouIt is never too late to become what you might have been. -George Eliot
Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. -ConfuciusTo improve is to change: to be perfect is to change often. -Winston Churchill
One night in December 1914, Thomas Edison's labs were destroyed by fire. On seeing the ashes the next morning, Edison said, "All our mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew." Almost everything is affected by the attitude we bring to it. Taekwondo is no exception.
Self-defense techniques have changed dramatically in recent years due to the prevalence of drugs, both licit and illicit. Traditional restraint techniques may be useless against assailants who are under the influence of drugs. These assailants do not react to pain since they are numbed to it. To stop this type of assailant, one must incapacitate them. An arm lock may convince a normal person to stop attacking, but it may not stop a person under the influence of drugs. The arm of a drug-influenced assailant must be broken so it is useless as a weapon.
In boxing, there are two types of pugilists: the boxer and the fighter. Although both strive to beat the opponent, they each approach the task differently. The boxer is a technician who uses perfect techniques applied in a traditional manner. The fighter is a warrior whose only concern is to hit as hard as possible as many times as possible. Fighters are not concerned with how perfect their techniques are, only that they win. Even though they fight differently, both boxers and fighters rely on only a few select techniques that have proven to work for them.
Taekwondo has changed
Like everything else in the world, Taekwondo has changed, and it is still changing, since its roots in ancient Taekkyon and since its creation in 1955. These changes occur for a variety of reasons:
- Improvement of techniques.
- Mixing with other styles
- Misinterpretation of techniques
- Instruction by under-trained instructors
- Techniques deleted due to non use or distrust
When a long standing Taekwondo technique or procedure is proven wrong, instructors and long-time students must be prepared to give it up and start anew. Change is inevitable.
Although most traditional Taekwondo principles and techniques are still effective, many traditional techniques and training methods are not effective in today's society. Taekwondo must keep changing to meet the changing technological and social environments of the times.
Taekwondo also has technicians and fighters. Technicians spar with perfect form in preplanned combinations. Fighters are not concerned with their form; they are only concerned that they win. Both act and react according to the situation and both rely on a few select techniques that have proven to work for them. Which is better? Each is effective but fighters are not considered "correct" in their technique. The Taekwondo community must accept change and accept both types of combat. Taekwondo students used to learn and perform numerous techniques, some rather obscure and ineffective, in a technically perfect manner.
Many technically perfect techniques are also powerful and effective. However, in today's society, time is at a premium. We want to be able to protect ourselves, but we do not have the time it takes to learn to hundreds of techniques or to perform a technically perfect technique. Now, due to changes in our society, Taekwondo students learn relatively few techniques.
Traditional Taekwondo practitioners do countless repetitions of a technique until they perform it perfectly; perfect as judged by someone else who performs it perfectly. The problem is that healthy people with equal abilities may have physical differences that either aid or hinder their ability to perform a perfect technique. One person who can kick through a board with a perfect technique is judged as a better martial artist than one who can kick through a brick wall with a technique that does not conform to the "standard." Modern Taekwondo practitioners should appreciate the differences in people.
Many in today's society want to be able to protect themselves—today—not many months in the future. Instead of stressing perfection of a few basic techniques and then moving on to more techniques, modern Taekwondo starts a beginner with physical conditioning, power development, basic fighting skills, and fighting tactics and then progresses toward perfection of technique. Modern Taekwondo students may become excellent fighters while, due to physical limitations, never being able to perform perfect techniques, even after years of concentrated effort. They learn to maximize their assets while dealing with their liabilities. In modern Taekwondo, techniques should not be judged as to their technical perfection but as to their effectiveness.
Traditional Taekwondo seeks perfection of numerous techniques. However, perfection is not required in techniques that are seldom or never used. Modern Taekwondo students should be taught every conceivable technique, whether from Taekwondo or another martial art, so they are familiar with them. They may then choose the ones that work for them. Perfection is sought for basic, regularly used skills, but for more obscure techniques, only a working knowledge is required. Modern Taekwondo should attempt to develop each person's natural fighting skills, which sometimes do not conform to the way traditional techniques are performed.
The concept of primacy of learning postulates that one remembers best what one learns first. Traditional Taekwondo teaches new students to perform techniques in perfect form as required in the performance of hyungs/forms/patterns. Then, after months of training this way, they have to change the ways they perform these techniques to ways that will be effective in sparring. It is best to teach techniques in the way they will be used in sparring and then teach them the perfect techniques used in forms.
Traditional Taekwondo stresses kicks. Taekwondo is known for its kicking techniques. Kicks are powerful but they require at least one foot to leave the ground, it is difficult to hit the number one vital area (the head), require a large area to move in, require loose clothing, and they require the use of too much energy. This is why professional karate has a minimum number of kicks that must be performed each round. Professional fighters know that the most effective and efficient techniques are hand techniques. Kicks can hurt your opponent; punches can kill your opponent. Modern Taekwondo should stresses kicks, but hand techniques should be given as much or more stress.
Most students automatically assume their instructors are correct in what they teach and how they teach it. Some instructors feel the need to be the best technician in the school, so they may reserve certain techniques for only advanced students. This prevents lower rank students from progressing too quickly and ensures their reliance on the instructor for a longer time. The instructor's primary concern should be to develop Taekwondo proficiency in his or her students. Modern Taekwondo should allow each student to progress at his or her own rate. Students that work harder, train more, and develop proficiency quicker may be promoted at a faster rate, even skipping belts if deserved.
Some traditional Taekwondo instructors argue that, if you do not learn how it feels to be hit in training, you will not know how to react when hit in a real fight. In reality, in an actual self-defense situation where the adrenaline level is increased and the body is prepared for fight or flight, anyone may be hit several times without the feeling any pain. This occurs with or without any hard physical training. However, one must be trained on how to execute powerful techniques that may stop an attacker. Enduring pain does not require training, but developing the power needed to inflict pain requires intense training. Modern Taekwondo should stress the development of power.
Some martial art instructors believe that everyone should want to become an expert fighter. Most people will never have to defend themselves during their lifetimes and, if they do, usually the situations will not be life threatening. To spend so much of your life training for something that may never happen is a waste of time. Taekwondo has so much to offer that one’s life will be enriched even if Taekwondo is never needed in a self-defense situation.
Taekwondo has changed and is still changing. It is up to Taekwondo instructors to ensure the changes remain true to the art while still reflecting the time we live in.
Koo, R. & Smith, J. (1995) Forbidden Subjects. What Other Martial Arts Don’t Want You To Know. Tae Kwon-Do Times. Vol. 17, December 1, 1995.
Wong, D. L. (1974). Shaolin Fighting. Theories and Concepts. Hollywood, California: Curtis Wong Enterprises.