Taekwondo is supposedly a martial art and yet I hear complaints from parents that telling students to assume a "fighting stance" is too aggressive, that saying "sparring position" is more politically correct.
Korean Taekwondo fighters are the undisputed champions of international Taekwondo competition. Since Taekwondo is the most popular martial art in the United States, why are Americans not winning? Some say it is because Taekwondo originated in Korea and is more popular there. Some say it is because certain high schools and colleges in Korea have special Taekwondo curricula and scholarships that furnish students with the best possible training and coaching, that these educated fighters are better than the uneducated street fighters of yesteryear. Some say American Taekwondo instructors have either lost touch with modern Taekwondo techniques or simply cannot meet their rigorous physical demands. Are these statements true?
Many traditional Taekwondo instructors think sport Taekwondo stances are too high, the new kicks lack power, and the new forms are not pleasing to watch. Sport Taekwondo practitioners say that if this were true, Americans would be winning international competitions in greater numbers. If this logic was true, then American football players should win in international football competition. However, international football is different than American football. We know the international football game as soccer.
In any sport, the winners are determined by those who perform the best under the given rules. In international Taekwondo competition, the rules are determined by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The WTF is controlled by the Koreans. Therefore, international Taekwondo rules are determined by the Koreans. If you do not play by the rules they set, you will not win.
Some think that change is always good and the adherence to traditional ways is passé. Which came first the chicken or the egg? Did the international rules come as a result of improvements in Taekwondo techniques, or did the new techniques come as a result of them being more effective in international rules competition? If you want to be an effective fighter under international rules, then you must use techniques that take advantage of the rules.
This does not mean that traditional Taekwondo practitioners should not make changes as more knowledge is gained about physical training. We now know that traditional deep knee bends and full sit-ups are harmful to the body and should be avoided. We know that Americans get bored easily, so traditional training classes do not spent as much time performing the same technique over and over, as they did in the past.
Traditional Taekwondo makes extensive use of pattern training and competition. Sport Taekwondo still uses some pattern training, but not in competition. Sport Taekwondo patterns are different from traditional ones, not necessarily better, just different. Is salsa dancing better than flamenco dancing?
Does this mean American Taekwondo fighters should change their style of Taekwondo to conform to the WTF vision of what is correct? If your goal is to be competitive in international competitions (Olympics), then the answer is "Yes." As a college professor once told me, “You may not agree with what I am telling you, but if you do not answer test questions according to what I have told you, you will fail the course." If your goal is to train, compete, and instruct in Taekwondo in the way you feel is best, then there is no need to change.
Traditional ways are not always wrong and modern ways are not always right. For example, integrated circuits have replaced the older vacuum tube circuits, making way for all the modern electronic devices we all use every day in everything we do. The older circuits were big, hot, power consuming, slow, expensive, and noisy. Therefore, it would appear that the modern way is much better than the old way, which it is in most circumstances. However, there is one major problem. When exposed to an intense EMF (Electronic Magnetic Field), such as from intense sunspots or from a nuclear blast, integrated circuits will burn out, unless specifically shielded, such as done in some military applications. Therefore, if someone explodes a small, clean nuclear device over or in New York City, even though people and buildings would experience only minor damage, every electronic device, including computers, cell phones, televisions, and cars, would be destroyed. However, electronic circuits that use vacuum tubes would keep working since they are immune to EMF burn out. Therefore, under these circumstances, the old ways are preferred over the modern ways.
Contrary to the belief of WTF stylists, American Taekwondo is not "outdated" because it has not "updated" to the sport Taekwondo style. If you want to compete in international Taekwondo, then train in sport Taekwondo "leg fencing." Not because it is the best Taekwondo, but because it is the "best" Taekwondo to use under international rules competition. If you want to train in traditional Taekwondo, because of the many benefits to be gained from it other than winning in international competitions, then do so without feeling you are an old fuddy-duddy.