Keiko Fukuda, the world’s highest ranking female judoka, died on February 9th 2013, just a few months short of her 100th birthday. She was the last living student of judo’s founder, Kano Jigoro. She held the rank of ninth dan and though she was awarded 10th dan by the USA Judo Federation, the Japanese Kodokan refused to ratify it. The Kodokan barred any woman from holding a rank above 5th dan, which Fukuda obtained in 1953. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Kodokan granted her 6th dan making her the first woman to be promoted beyond 5th dan.
My interest in this wonderful woman was sparked when I stumbled across a documentary, ‘Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful,‘ that was being made about her lifelong contribution to judo. I subsequently posted an article about her in 2012 (link). Fukuda’s dedication to the art was outstanding but what compelled me to write were the numerous mindless responses carried in Youtube’s comments archive. Anyone who posts comments criticising an elderly person carrying a dan grade and who subsequently claims they could easily ‘knock her down,’ totally misses the subtleties of ‘do.’
I believe the documentary about Fukuda was completed and given a public viewing, in her presence, in 2012. Fukuda lived in the USA, and died at her home in San Francisco.
©Amongst Other Things – 努江虎 – 노강호 2013 Creative Commons Licence.
- Keiko Fukuda (telegraph.co.uk)
- Judo Trailblazer Keiko Fukuda Has Died Aged 99 (femaleimagination.wordpress.com)
I’d love to pick up studying taekwon-do in Korea. Not that crappy WTF style (which I’ve also studied to red belt) which seems to simply churn out an endless succession of spinning kicks which look great but have as much potential as a feather boa. And then there’s the total lack of handwork!
Yes, WTF, has it strong points, it has its share of superb practitioners and I’m sure there’s a suitable school somewhere near where I live but I’m annoyed that in the birth place of TKD, the only type of TKD taught is sport taekwondo. I’m 56 and don’t want to jump around a gym doing nothing but back kick-turning kick, back kick-turning kick, or some other flashy combination and churning out a pattern a month so I can dan grade in ten months. I’ve done the kicks to head height and smashed my feet into sand bags with quite impressive power and along with an abdominal hernia, it has ruined the backside of a few pair of trousers. Now it’s time for slightly gentler training and in any case, low level kicks which smash a knee joint have always been more effective as a means of self defence. But in the home of taekwondo – not only is it impossible to find a school which teaches traditional taekwondo – but it is impossible to find anyone who knows anything but the WTF exists.
And how many Koreans adults have you met that study TKD? When you tell a Korean you’re studying a martial art its like telling a westerner you’re favourite PC game is Barbie Homemaker; it’s simply not taken seriously. Martial arts are for kiddies and most Korean men are WTF ‘have-beens’ with a third or fourth degree black-belt earned in less time that it took me to grade to first dan (ITF) in Europe.
I hate everything about WTF, I hate their stupid uniform, I hate their boring patterns, I hate the boring training methods, all the running around the gym and jumping over obstacles and a plethora of other tactics designed to entertain kiddy classes and which have mutated Korean WTF schools into sporty kindergartens with accompanying infant grand-masters. Of course, this is just my experience of Korean WTF, I’ve never trained in a European WTF school. And I hate the way you can kick someone to the face but you can’t punch it. When I was at my peak, my kicks were all dangerous and far superior to my hand techniques but with WTF it seems the feet, despite being the key note of TKD, are ineffectual. Most of all, I hate the way the WTF has re-written history so that in Korea WTF taekwondo is simply taekwondo! No other form of taekwondo is acknowledged. And worse, in Korea, WTF is a business; it is simply about making cash – but then many organisations can be accused of this.
S0, I decided to take up a new martial art and one which has only recently begun to appear in the west – namely Hae Dong Gumdo. It too attracts criticism but I’m not bothered. I want the dan grade as quick as I can get it and in most martial art schools in Korea you can do a dan grade a year. At 56 with 30 years of on and off experience in TKD, I will always feel inferior to the days when I was at my best but with Gumdo, I can be better today than I was yesterday and I’ll be even better tomorrow. After only three lessons I’m already progressing but in TKD (ITF), I’m always a shadow of my former self.
©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
I took my first lesson in the Oh Do Kwan style of taekwon-do on Thursday March 3rd, 1977. I was twenty-one, a soldier in the British Army, stationed in Osnabrück, West Germany. The school was the Song-Do-Kwan and my instructor, Georg Soupidis, then a 3rd degree black belt.
I took my 1st dan exactly 5 years and one month later, on Saturday 3rd of April, 1982. I remained in Osnabrück where I ran my own club in a neighbouring barracks and then, from 1985, became ronin, wandering from club to club never able to settle down because of a spat of short postings, followed by university, teacher training and employment in various schools and towns.
My taekwon-do lineage is close to the roots. Georg Soupidis studied under Rhee Hi-ka in the 1960’s while Rhee Ki-ha was introduced to taekwon-do, by one of, if not the founding father, Choi Hong-hi. Indeed, around 1973, Choi stayed in Georg’s house in Osnabrück.
I actually started martial arts in 1973, in Münster, West Germany, from Peter Dominic’s, ‘Teach Yourself Karate.’
Song Do Kwan, Osnabrück, 1977-85 (1st dan). I trained here under, Georg Soupidies, then a 3rd, and later 4th Dan (now 6th Dan).
ITF taekwondo in London (1980). Under Richard Koo, 2nd Dan.
Wing Chun Kung Fu under Master Simon Lau – London (1980)
Close to a years one to one training with Wai Po Tang – when he was 15 and before his travels to China and Thailand. At the time he’d only just taken up Wing Chun. (1980)
Oh Do Kwan taekwon-do Paderborn, Germany 1986. Under Master Song?
ITF taekwon-do, Aylesbury, Bucks. 1988. (green belt). Under Leroy Soutar, 2nd Dan
Traditional shotokan karate (TASK), Aylesbury, Bucks. 1988 (green belt). Under Master John van Weenen.
Self defence instructor Essex University 1988-1992.
Yoseikan Karate (Essex University) 1988-1992. Under Master Mark Bishop, 4th Dan.
Shotokan Karate (Goldsmiths College, London) 1993-1995. Under Gabriel ? 2nd Dan.
Daegu, Korea, WTF taekwondo, 2000-2001 (purple belt). Under Master Bae 7th Dan.
Daegu, Korea 2011, Oh Do Kwan, taekwon-do, (no school)
Daegu, Korea, Monday, April 16th, 2012, Haidong Gumdo. (white belt), Under Master Kwon Yong-guk, 5th Dan (Haedong Gumdo), 6th Dan (Korean Traditional Weapons), 4th Dan (WTF Taekwondo).
In 2001 I had to stop training because I developed an umbilical hernia and had to travel back to the UK for surgery.
In, 2003, I was back training in Daegu, in the school I trained in in 2000-2001. Once again, right before taking my red belt I did a high axe kick and re-birthed a para-umbilical hernia. I later discovered it was part of the first hernia. Once again I had to go back to the UK for surgery under the same surgeon who again managed to bodge a second operation. The operation failed to close the tear in my abdominal muscle and over the next few years a substantial lump grew on my stomach that I named ‘Billy.’
I now considered my training in martial arts over. Indeed, that’s what I wrote in my diary after leaving the consultant’s surgery. In 2008, the hernia was successfully repaired and I returned to Korea. I had put on a lot of weight and considered myself highly unfit but after three years regular gym workouts, which initially began extremely lightly, I eased myself back into martial arts training and eventually took up haidong gumdo.
My heart has always been with Oh Do Kwan style and despite having practiced other styles and compelled to take a break between hernia operations or when I ‘was lost,’ I have always practiced my patterns. Gumdo was a way back into full TKD training but I have quickly grown to like the style and unlike TKD, I’m not competing with past expectations. For now, Haedong Gumdo is my focus.
It’s now my goal to take my first dan in gumdo. TKD is too stressful on the knees at my age and the gumdo ideology much better at adapting to suit your own development. And in a comforting way, practicing gumdo provides a continuity so that I do not feel I have abandoned my style and all it meant to me.
This blog chronicles my journey.
©Facing A Single Opponent – 努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Anyone who has lived in Korea will have noticed just how many kids, mostly boys, have black belts in one martial art or another, usually taekwondo, hapkido or komdo. Seeing kids in martial-art uniforms on the street is a daily experience and indeed many of my students come to school in a uniform, because they are either going onto, or coming from a martial-arts lesson, in much the same way as Western kids might wear a track suit. In South Korea, almost every boy and a good many girls are black belts and many are senior dan grades the equivalent of ‘grand master’ (usually 4th and above).
There is a lot of criticism in the west to the promotion of children to dan grades (ie. black belt grades) and it is a topic that, for as long as I can remember, has divided the martial arts community. The school in which I trained in West Germany, over thirty years ago, and which still teaches today, didn’t promote children to dan grades and there was a strong ethos among the senior grades and instructors that earning a black-belt required both physical and mental maturity.
There is a world of difference between the experience of learning martial-arts in the West and in Korea. Though there is always variation between schools in any country, I’ve generally found schools in the West to be far stricter in both terms of training and etiquette. Further, general attitudes towards the ‘black belt’ differs significantly. It is these differences, as well as those concerning the nature of a style or art that shape attitudes towards junior or even infant dan grades.
I’m told by Koreans, that training and etiquette in Korea were much stricter before martial-arts schools became big business and before the development of sport taekwondo as practiced by the dominating style of taekwond0 on the peninsula, namely WTF (World Taekwondo Federation). Indeed, the different ‘spellings’ of taekwondo, namely ‘taekwondo’ and ‘taekwon-do, reflect the division of this art into two factions represented by the WTF and ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation). Currently, most schools in Korea are sport taekwondo schools under the umbrella of the WTF. I’ve yet to meet a Korean martial artist, or instructor, with any knowledge of the historical development of their art and the relationship between traditional taekwon-do (ITF) and sport taekwondo (WTF). And of course, there are other Korean kicking styles including Tangdoo-do and Mooduk-kwan – all closely related to taekwondo historically and aesthetically.
It is difficult to ascertain the extent of change that may have occurred in Korean attitudes and approaches to training partly as we are either dependent on translated articles or first hand-accounts by the few westerners who may have trained here between the 50’s-80’s and who may have glamourised or romanticised their experiences. Discipline and etiquette in the Korean classroom has changed over the last ten years and without doubt changes are mirrored in the taekwondo dojang (training hall). When I trained in a WTF school in Daegu, in 2000-2001, and again in 2003, I remember writing about students being hit on the legs with sticks, and a boy who misbehaved and was put in a headlock until he passed out. However, these were isolated incidents and in general the school was far friendlier and etiquette and training much less regimented than in the ITF schools back in the UK.
Martial-art schools, and especially WTF taekwondo dojangs, are one of the most common Korean establishments and their presence in terms of buildings, colourful mini-buses which ferry students to their schools and the logos, badges and stripes which personalise WTF uniforms, dominant the landscape. Competition for students is fierce and taekwondo schools are as subject to economic pressures as any other business and like many other businesses, they come and go on a regular basis. My old taekwondo school in Song-so, Daegu, despite being the most popular in the area, closed in 2005. A competitor with a better cartoon character on their fleet of mini-buses, or an additional touch of ‘bling-bling’ by way of a gold embossed lettering on a suit, is enough to cause students to migrate. With the pressures of competition, Korean taekwond0 schools have to be ‘child-friendly.’ ‘Adult friendly’ is rarely a consideration as I’ve never seen Korean adults training or doing anything other than instructing. I know adult classes exist but the predominant market caters for children. Hence, schools personalise the standard WTF dobok (uniform) with an array of piping, badges and designs in a way that is interesting, amusing but at the same time tacky, camp and ‘ballroom’ to the extent that only the sequins are missing. And in cold weather, students often wear long quilted coats, sort of anoraks which carry the schools logo and perhaps a few badges and which are worn not just to and from the dojang but sometimes worn over the dobok during training. There is also a custom, not as prevalent today as ten years ago, of wearing a white polar-neck ‘shirt’ under a dobok. Likewise, dojangs are often camped-up with bright colours, manga cartoon characters, stunning logos all of which result in designs more acquainted with kindergartens than gyms.
Like the private academies (hakgwons), taekwondo schools are judged by their results often to the expense of standards. As with English schools, where the ability to pass a test is more important than actually speaking English, the belt is of more importance than the art. Not only must the training be fun and pleasurable, but belts must be passed both with ease and speed. Training in Korea is the quickest way to gain a dan grade and it is easily within the realm of possibility to be wearing a black belt within ten months of putting on a dobok – I’m tempted to say ‘within ten months of first learning how to tie one’s belt’ except that a great number of students, even dan grades, don’t seem to have learnt the correct method. In Germany, where I gained my dan grade in the Chang-hon style of taekwon-do, the journey from white to black took in the region of 4-5 years and above blue belt each belt had to be remained at for 6 months while from red-black to black, the wait was a year.
My school, Song-do Kwan, had originally been owned by a Korean but in the early 1970’s many German dan grades began to break their affiliation with Korean instructors because they were concerned about both the commercialization of the art and the manner in which techniques were often withheld from students in order to maximise potential profits. My school was a two floor gym, rented by the instructor, Georg Soupidis, and training for five nights a week (and I often trained in two or three sessions an evening), cost a couple of pounds. It was the cheapest school I ever trained in and as the school had no affiliation and was independent of the ITF, there were neither club nor membership fees. Unlike Korea, most students were adults.
Training for kids in Korea is great with plenty of tumbling, running and jumping and there is no doubt it is energetic and aerobic but from both my training, and classes I’ve observed, there is little explanation of or focus on the intricacies of technique and a total lack of focus on power. And often, towards the end of a class, kids allowed to play ball or tag games.
In most Korean dojangs the instructors aren’t just senior dan grades, they are grand masters, and often senior ones. In my first Korean school, the chief instructor was a seventh dan and his assistants both fifth dans. In the UK, in all but wing-chun kung fu, I’ve only ever trained under 1st-4th dans and most have been 1st or 2nd dans. As a student in a Korean school, and certainly as a foreigner, you can expect your grand-master to give you some personal training. Generally, the relationship between instructors and students is less formal than in the UK and the respect afforded a senior grand-master is really no different to that afforded a teacher, professor or even an adult in general. This contrasts starkly to my experience of ITF in the UK where senior dan grades, even junior ones, were treated like royalty.
I don’t want to generalise about UK training, because variation always exists but the ITF were particularly strict. Western oriental etiquette seems to over do the significance of bowing to the dojang, instructors and other practitioners maybe because it is not part of our culture and from my experience and observation, you are likely to both bow more reverently and more often in a British taekwondo school than in a Korean one. The Western dojang seems to be more hallowed a space than it is in Korea perhaps because of the fact it is often a manky church or school hall. The increased deference to the area is meant to elevate its status to the point you forget that the bit of carrot stuck to your trouser leg is a remnant of the pensioners’ lunch meeting held earlier that day. Likewise, the status of ‘black-belt’ is of more significance though I think this has declined since the 1970’s and 80’s. Certainly, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, dan grades were revered and while you might not have humbled yourself before them, you treated them with respect. As for grand-masters, when I was at grading sessions in the presence of Master Rhee Ki Ha (9th dan), head of the UKTA, you were not allowed to speak to him or approach him.
The UKTA tightly controlled the design of uniforms and regimented to the centimeter the location of the obligatory badges. ITF taekwon-do, certainly in the UK, has been both thoroughly commercialised and, like many other styles, turned into a sort of medieval guild which at one and the same time protects its own brand, claims superiority over all others, and promotes the importance of its higher ranks. These developments at times conflict from Choi’s original vision which appeared in the first book to be published on taekewon-do, in English, in 1965. Taekwon-do: The Art of Self-Defence, not only included the Chang-hon style patterns which form the backbone of the school, but the five Japanese Heian kata (Pinan-平安). Choi suggested that the skills required for yellow belt could be transmitted by a yellow belt to a white belt and there is the general assumption that once equipped with a black belt, one is able to teach. As both a business and martial-arts organisation, the ITF has been highly successful but the training and membership have never been cheap.
I trained with three ITF schools in the UK and never really felt comfortable in any of them. One had a training regime that was horribly brutal and the 2nd dan instructor would regularly order an assistant-instructor, who happened to be a member of the British ITF team, to kick students from other styles out the gym’s double doors. The preamble to a training session included 200 front leg rising kicks. The school had 8 students, all male, all under 30. Meanwhile, in the same town I was training in a Shotokan school that had 60 members, the eldest of whom was a woman of 67. In another school in London, under a Korean 2nd dan, students were only taught techniques required for belts with all other techniques being ‘banned.’
When it comes to junior dan grades, your opinion on their credibility is probably going to be based on the values you associate with your particular style. WTF taekwondo is a sport and though it produces some fantastic martial artists, the day-to-day nuts and bolts of a Korean WTF class is churning out a flurry of successive spinning kicks. In the competition arena power and technique are sacrificed to speed. Apart from in the practice of patterns, I don’t think my classes in WTF ever included hand techniques and indeed the WTF fighting rules have turned the hands and arms into vestigial organs which hang limply at the sides. Even styles which are not renowned for kicking ban head kicks because of their potential danger but the WTF allows head kicks, even the largely uncontrollable spinning and axe kicks, while banning hand to head techniques. For an art where the feet should be superior to the hands, this isn’t a very good advertisement for kicking potential. Further, as it is good strategy to ‘box’ a kicker and kick a ‘boxer,’ the WTF style fails to fully develop or raise awareness of both the importance of a good guard (against hand to head attacks) and effective offensive handwork strategy. Every style has limitations but I feel that if ITF taekwon-do were to die out and WTF dominant, much of the essence of taekwon-do would be lost. Naturally, a style is only as good as the person practising it, and there are excellent martial artists in all styles, but I cannot avoid concluding that the emphasis on sport severely weakens taekwondo as a martial art.
With the objects of tournament competition as the orgainising features of WTF taekwondo, there is nothing wrong with junior dan grades. The lithe-light, supple bodies of children are able to unleash a blur of fascinating footwork which is equal to, if not better than that of many adults. Some of the grand masters I teach in school, and I teach several a day, are able to kick with as much stretch and beauty as the likes of Bill Wallace but in terms of power, they are totally lacking.
And what age is too young to have a black belt or to be a grand master? The youngest 4th dan I’ve met so far has been 7! Does a child or infant grand master deserve the same respect and admiration as an adult senior grade? Does mental maturity have anything to do with black-belt qualities?
If the values of your art or style believe power to be an important facet, then junior dan grades are as incapacitated in this field, by virtue of their physical and mental development, as are prepubescent ballet dancers in the performance of adult ballet. This is no slur on their ability, it is simply that they do not yet have at their disposal, the tools to be powerful.
©Bathhouse Ballads – 努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
I feel quite at home among taekwondo and martial arts clothing. With twenty years experience of taekwon-do, I got to the stage I could go shopping in a supermarket in the UK or Germany, in a ‘dobok’ and not feel out-of-place. I find something quite ‘homely’ about the various uniforms you see on Korea streets and in schools and again this is probably because I was also fifteen years in the British army. Wherever you go in Korea, uniforms are part of the scenery and one of the most popular is the taekwondo ‘dobok.’
Jay performing a side kick
©努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
”This was my life…I chose to live judo over marriage.’ Says the aged Keiko Fukuda as tears begin to fall down her face. This clip of a documentary in the making is incredibly intense and moving. Born in 1913, Fukuda, the highest ranking woman judo-ka, is also the last surviving student of Kano Jigoro, founder of judo. Fukuda’s personal motto is ‘be strong, be gentle, be beautiful,’ and there is no doubt she epitomizes such virtues.
In today’s world, where everyone on the internet is a master of something and so many individuals derive pleasure from condemning the efforts of others, Fukuda’s gentleness, her humility are a reminder, perhaps a relic of a reminder, that there is more to martial arts than simply defeating an opponent. Perhaps my assumptions are an idealization, a fabrication derived from a fascination with the oriental that anyone training in the 1970’s will recall, but when I began taekwon-do, in 1977, there was a real sense among many practitioners and teachers, that qualities such as perseverance, determination, courage, humility and respect were equally, if not of greater importance than simply bashing an opponent.
I remember an excellent book on Karate by C.W Nichols, (Moving Zen) which recounted a westerner’s experience learning Karate in Japan in the late 60’s or early 70’s. In his school, a student had just been promoted to first degree black belt and shortly after was made to fight one black belt after another until he fell to the ground from exhaustion. When the instructor was asked why the new black belt was being treated in this manner, he replied that, when a nail sticks out from the wood, you bang it back into place. Yes, it’s harsh, but in life sometimes there is more to learn from defeat than there is from victory. There are bad people in every walk of life but in my first martial arts school, all the dan grades were role models, they were all gentle, all strong and in their own way, all were beautiful.
While the movie clip of Keiko Fukuda is inspirational to genuine martial artists, regardless of their rank or ability, the comments that followed the Youtube clip demonstrated how either many people don’t understand the breadth and complexity of martial arts, or simply inhabit a completely different mindset. Kata, for example can never be mastered because perfection is beyond grasping. The goal of kata is to better your spirit in the pursuit of a perfection that cannot be acquired. And they miss the myriad of skills which pursuing martial arts encompass, precision of technique, the art of teaching, power, character, timing, rhythm, strategy, focus, beauty, the moving Zen! When it comes to learning a martial art, a good teacher is of far greater value than a competition champion who can’t teach.
I would have thought that any expert in their field who had dedicated their life to some pursuit, in this case over 70 years, who had risen to the top of their field before many of us were even born, would be an ideal candidate to hold in unreserved reverence but no, the internet provides the perfect anonymity for every armchair expert to promote their own ignorance. Sadly, instead of a celebration of effort and achievement, much of the response to the Fukuda clip was a litany of criticism. Yes, Fukuda is old, and of course she cannot defeat a younger, less experienced even untrained assailant and there are probably thousands of kiddies who could push her in the gutter! Of course you could easily mug her or knock her over and of course she is frail! She’s 90 years of age! But let’s not be too serious, how can anyone who lashes out at the abilities, mental or physical, of a little 90-year-old woman be taken seriously. Perhaps the proliferation of martial arts as sport, as solely competition and sometimes savagery have led us in the wrong direction and if so it is the likes of frail Fukuda who remind that we’re missing part of the picture.
Suddenly I am reminded of that cringy scene in the opening of Way of the Dragon, where Bruce Lee, a Shaolin monk, scolds a young student for kicking without ’emotional content.’ ‘It’s like pointing a finger at the moon,’ he tells the boy. ‘Don’t focus on the finger or you’ll fail to see all the heavenly glory.’ Suddenly, the scene is a lot less cringy!
©努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.
Sunday evening and Migwang bathhouse was again packed to watch Samsung Lions (Daegu’s baseball team) from the comfort of either the ‘ebente-tang,’ (today infused with ginseng), the hot pool, or the large jacuzzi. It would have been possible to watch it from the cold pool but it was full of noisy students. At one point I moved to the small ‘ebente-tang’ during a commercial, when it almost empty and as soon as the game restarted, it suddenly had 9 occupants.
The moment I arrived at the changing rooms I spotted the numerous foreigners. There were 9 of them and they were all very fit and athletic with washboard stomachs and compact physiques. I wasn’t sure whether they were middle eastern or Eurasian but assumed they were probably Islamic as they all wore briefs or even jjimjilbang clothing in the bathhouse complex. I’d heard about the reception people get wearing underwear in the bathhouse and though they attracted much attention, no one seemed to take objection. However, at one point I did see one of the grumpy old attendants trying to explain that they should take their pants off.
When one sat next to me I learnt they were the Azerbaijan taekwondo team, here to train at Keimyung University in preparation for the World Championships in Gyeongju, between May 1st and 6th. This morning I googled ‘Azerbaijan taekwondo’ and two of the men I’d seen I was able to research. One was Ilkin Schabazov, two times world champion for his weight division. Another fighter I recognized but couldn’t identify.
Only one spoke English. How do you like Korean food? I asked. He replied, Pizza, McDonald’s and fried chicken!
Arirang video on World Taekwondo Championships in Gyeongju, May 2011
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
Dan Gun (단군) is the second pattern (형) of the International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF) and is used to promote beginners to yellow belt. Dan-Gun Wang-geom (단군왕검) is the legendary founder of Korea who is associated with the founding of the first Korean kingdom, the Gojoseon in 2333 BC. The origins of Dan Gun (pronounced more like ‘Dan Goon’), are steeped in rich myths involving bears and tigers. Dan Gun’s lineage was heavenly and his father had descended to Earth via Baekdu-san (백두산, 白頭山), a volcanic mountain on the borders between North and South Korea. Baekdu is a common destination for school trips and family outings and is especially beautiful as the caldera is occupied by Heaven Lake. Dan Gun was himself born from a woman who had originally been a bear and ascended the throne to form the Gojoseon Kingdom, near Pyongyang.
The ITF pattern Dan Gun builds on the foundations laid by the first pattern ch’eon-ji-hyeong (천지형 – Heaven and Earth – ie, the creation). Dan Gun is the only ITF pattern where all strikes are to head height representing Dan Gun climbing a mountain. The pattern operates on the diagram, 工, this being the hanja character (장인 – 공 – labour: workman) which is an important radical conveying the concept of labour and work and is often present in characters associated with scholars, study,building, achievement, production and examination.
DAN GUN HYONG (ITF) DEMONSTRATION
- Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam-Il (삼일 March 1st) (elwood5566.net)
- A Tale of Philosophers and Carrots (elwood5566.net)
- An interesting site on information on Dan Gun and Korean myths.
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
There is a Korean ‘idiom, dang-guen-i-ji (당근이지 – that’s the carrot, or absolutely!). Now, this isn’t directly borrowed from English but is apparently a development, by children, of dang-hyeon ha-ji (당연 하지 – absolutely!) If you say them repeatedly and alternatively, dang-guen-i-ji is definitely easier.
So, one day I am buying something in a shop and use my newly acquired idiom and proudly ‘joke, ‘ ‘dan-goon-i-chi ‘(단군이지). The old lady serving gives me a funny look, no doubt amazed at my ability to use colloquial Korean. That day, I use the phrase several times and not just overdo its use but probably use it in slightly odd situations and this, so I believe, accounts for the bemused faces it induces.
A week or so later, I use it after having my hair cut and then I discover, I’ve been confusing the Dan-goon Wang-geom (단군왕검), the revered emperor-philosopher with dang-guen (당근), the common carrot. In translation, I suppose Dan Goon-i-ji might be rendered, ‘that’s the Socrates,’ or ‘that’s the Wittgenstein,’ depending on your current taste in philosophical schools. I should have realised my mistake earlier as I have a long history of confusing the legendary founder of Korea with Bugs Bunny’s favourite crudité.
Part of the course in learning a language is that you make mistakes and some of them can be amusing even if they do cause embarrassment. I’m probably quite famous in the area in which I live for entertaining locals with my bumblings. One of the local Monday morning market vendors was very bemused when she realised that the ‘eagle jelly’ I was asking for, was in fact ‘acorn jelly’ and on more than one occasion I’ve asked for, ‘some thinking,’ rather than ‘some ‘ginger.’
In English the sounds ‘kan’ (간) and ‘kang’ (강) or ‘tan’ (탄) and ‘tang’ (탕) are very easy to distinguish but this is not the case in Korean. For years I’ve heard and read silly arguments between western taekwondo students quibbling about the transliteration of terminology into English without realizing that the relationship between many Korean letters and English ones is an approximation and that many simply cannot be effectively captured with a letter of the English alphabet. English script isn’t adequate enough to differentiate the sounds of its own language let alone those of another as is borne out by the discrepancies between the ‘a’ in ‘cat and ‘father’ which result in disagreements between those speaking northern and southern variations of British English. Koreans for example, finalise a word ending in ‘n’ with the tongue between their teeth and distinguishing between some sounds often necessitates watching the mouth closely. So, I often mispronounce ‘soy-sauce’ and end up asking for ‘liver sauce’ and confuse ‘soup’ with ‘briquette.’ ‘The reason I’ve spent so long mispronouncing Dan Goon (단군) is because it was one of the first 10 Korean words I learnt some 30 years ago when I began training in taekwon-do. Many non-Korean TKD teachers mispronounce the word because the transliteration often rendered it ‘Dan Gun.’ If you want to pronounce Korean accurately you have to learn the Korean script or at least study the systems of transliteration used closely so as to avoid simply producing ‘approximate’ pronunciations.
And then there’s ‘ddong’ ( 똥 – shit)! A westerner only has to attempt the combination ‘dong’ (동 – east) to elicit laughter and hence ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) and ‘dong-wui-o’ (동의어 – synonym) have the potential to temporarily disrupt English lessons. Maybe it’s just my lack of ability, but it seems no matter how hard you try, Korean kids seem to choose to hear ‘dong’ (east) as ‘ddong’ (shit).
Some Koreans, can be quite cruel in their derision should you attempt to speak their language and even ‘sounding’ a word or phrase in a Korean manner, can elicit sniggers and subsequent mimickery. I’ve even known friends write my blunders down so they can narrate them to others but I don’t mind as I too have learnt such blunders, regardless of nationality, are cute and on occasion my pen comes out to record mistakes.
First, there are the obvious ones:
I’m fine – I’m pine
I like fish – I like pish.
Last week a new student appeared in a class and a student informed me, ‘there is a new pace in the class.’
‘I like crab’ usually always sounds like, ‘I like crap.’
And there is always the older boy who tries to impress you with his knowledge of ‘naughty English’ and proudly states, ‘puk-you! On the subject of four letter vulgarity, ‘vacuum cleaner’ becomes ‘pak-um creaner.’
How about, ‘make a mistake,’ which students often repeat as ‘make a steak’ or similarly, ‘be careful,’ which becomes ‘big apple.’ I hadn’t thought of combining the two but there’s a laugh when I want to exact some revenge; ‘be careful not to make a mistake’ – ‘big apple not to make a steak.’
However, the one I remember best was years ago when a colleague was teaching a class to sing, Queen’s, ‘We Will Rock You.’ The kids were thoroughly enjoying the sing along as they loudly sang, ‘we will, we will LOCK you.’
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
It may be of interest to know that there exist two ‘spellings’ for Korea’s most famous martial art; namely ‘taekwondo’ and ‘taekwon-do.’ Here in Korea, ‘taekwondo,’ basically sport taekwondo, is the most popular style with most practitioners, however not only does another major style of taekwon-do exists, but there were originally 9 different schools of TKD.
In the 1940’s, 5 major schools (kwans) had survived Japanese colonization where their practice had been banned. A ‘kwan’ was a school or group of martial artists following one particular style or leader. Kwan members were forced to study Korean systems, such as taekkyon, in secret, or learn Chinese or Japanese styles often in Japan, Manchuria or Okinawa. During this period, the future of Korean martial arts were significantly influenced by this exposure and most especially the exposure to Japanese Shotokan karate, the practice of which had been allowed. After WW2, when Japanese colonization ended, five major kwans emerged:
Soeng Moo Kwan (성무관) ‘Pine School.’ Founded by Ro Byung-jik, in 1944. Influenced by shotakan karate. Popular in the army.
Cheong Do Kwan (청도관) sometimes spelt Chung Do Kwan, ‘Blue Wave School.’ Founded by Lee Won-kyuk, in 1944. Lee practiced taekkyon (Korean traditional kicking) and Okinawa te. Popular in the police as Lee was a teacher at the Korean Police Academy.
Moo Duk Kwan (무덕관) (from which Tang Soo Do is derived). Founded by Hwang Kee, in 1946. Hwang practiced taekkyon, tai chi and kung fu.
Kwon Bop Kwan – later became Chang Moo Kwan. Founded by Yoon Byeong-in, in 1946. Yoon studied kung-fu and karate andof all the kwan styles, early Chang Moo was the most heavily influenced by Chinese kung-fu.
Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan – Founded by Chun Sang-sup, in 1946.
By the end of the Korean War, four other schools were established but these emerged from the original 5 kwans. The ‘new’ styles were:
Han Moo Kwan – Founded August 1954 by Lee Hyo-yoon. This kwan derived from Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan.
Oh Do Kwan – Founded by Choi Hong-hi (죄홍희) and NamTae-hi (남태희) in 1955 who were originally Chung Do Kwan (Cheong) exponents.
Jung Do Kwan – founded by Lee Yong-woo, in 1956 and also emerging from the Chung Do Kwan.
Kang Duk Kwan – founded in 1956 by Park Chul-hee and Hong Jong-pyo, emerging from Kwon Bop Kwan.
In the early 1950’s, President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi (Oh Do Kwan) to introduce martial arts to the Korean army where he was a senior officer. On April 11th 1955, either Choi (Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk-son (Chung Do Kwan) proposed the name ‘taekwon-do’ as the term to identify the styles practiced by the kwans. Though not all adopted this name and continued using terms such as tang soo do, it was broadly used. In the mid 50’s, Syngman Rhee then instructed Choi to unify the nine kwans which led to the establishment of the Korean Taekwon-do Association (KTA) in 1959-60.
In the early 1960’s, The KTA and Korean Government dispatched a team of 12 taekwon-do ‘diplomats,’ known as The Original Masters of Taekwon-do, on a world tour to promote taekwondo and Korea. The twelve were: Choi Chang Keun, Choi Kwang Jo, Han Cha Kyo, Kim Jong Chan, Kim Kwang Il, Kong Young Il, Park Jong Soo, Park Jung Tae, Park Sun Jae, Rhee Chong Chul, Rhee Chong Hyup, and Rhee Ki Ha. The group was led by Choi Hong-hi and Nam Tae-hee of the Oh Do Kwan. Members of this group became instrumental in introducing and establishing taekwondo in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, Germany the UK and Ireland.
In 1966, Choi (Oh Do Kwan), and other senior members founded the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). In the early 1970’s, other members founded the official governing body, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). Their headquarters became the Kukkiwon. The WTF is supervised by the Sports Division of the Ministry of Culture.
On January 8, 1977, the nine kwans unified, recognizing the Kukkiwon as the black belt promotional body for Taekwondo. The WTF replaced kwan names and gave them a numerical designation: (1) Song-Moo-Kwan, (2) Han-Moo-Kwan, (3) Chang-Moo-Kwan, (4) Moo-Duk-Kwan, (5) O-Do-Kwan, (6) Kang-Du-Kwan, (7) Jung-Do-kwan, (8) Ji-Do-Kwan, and (9) Chung-Do-Kwan.
WTF taekwondo emerged largely because of political machinations between the various kwans and its subsequent popularity, especially in Korea, was enhanced by the introduction of taekwondo into the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. In 2010, taekwondo became a sport in the Commonwealth games. ITF taekwon-do has suffered division since Choi’s death in 2002 and now has three competing organizations, two in Austria and one in Canada all claiming direct decent from Choi and the ITF. The ITF, structured on Oh Do Kwan practices and most especially retaining the 24 patterns originally practiced by the Cheong Do Kwan, also came to dominate North Korean taekwon-do. Pyongyang is the unofficial headquarters of ITF taekwondo training.
Although I have trained in both WTF and ITF styles, I have a preference for ITF which is perhaps not unusual as I took my black belt in this style and taught it for a number of years. The reason for my preference is that for many ITF practitioners, practicing at a time when Korea was isolated and mysterious, learnt about Korea came from the Choeng Do school (Blue Wave School) of patterns which were taught throughout the Korean army and in universities. All the patterns imparted some aspect of Korean history. Though my knowledge was superficial, I at least knew who founded Korea, who the Hwa Rang-Do were and who Ahn Joong-gun was at a time when you’d have found it difficult to locate any relevant information whatsoever. A few years ago I quite impressed a Korean teacher when they asked me if I knew who, in tradition, was reputed to have founded Korea. I instantly replied, somewhat like a robot, ‘the holy Dan Gun’ legendary founder of Korea, 2333 BC.’ When taking my junior grading in Germany, you were required to know the relevance of each pattern.
Today is Sam-Il, which the anniversary of the birth of the Korean Independence Movement which was initiated when 33 nationalists signed a Declaration of Independence, telephoned the local Japanese police to tell them what they had done, and were subsequently arrested. The event not only led to some softening of harsh Japanese rule, but led to further displays of nationalism both in Korea and further afield.
We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.
We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race’s just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.
Sam Il, (which means 3,1, ie March 1st), is the 16th pattern of the International Taekwon-do Federation and the pattern used to test black belts for their 3rd dan. It comprises 33 movements, as a reminder of the 33 activists who had the courage to sign their name to a document that they knew would lead to imprisonment, and possibly their torture and death.
I no longer train in TKD but I feel its spirit and I miss it. My own teacher, Georg Soupidis, trained under one of the Original Masters of Taekwondo, namely Rhee Ki-ha and gained his black belt under him. Rhee is still the leading figure in the British International Taekwon-do Federation and I once spoke to him at a grading in the UK. And General Choi Hong-hi once stayed at Georg’s house when he was visiting Germany. Further, if you should find a copy of Choi’s ‘bible’ of taekwon-do, on one of the back pages, Georg can be seen among the ITF black belts representing West Germany.
There are twenty four patterns in ITF taekwon-do, all descended from the original Cheong Do Kwan (Blue Wave School). ‘One pattern for each hour of the day.’ All have a significance in terms of Korean history and it’s struggles against oppression and diversity and I have certainly found no other form of martial more patriotic or more insistent on developing decent citizens, via a code of conduct, than taekwondo and none more so than taekwon-do. If you want a potted history lesson, read through the meanings of the 24 patterns, below…
|CHON-JI||means literally “the Heaven the Earth”. It is, in the Orient, interpreted as the creation of the world or the beginning of human history, therefore, it is the initial pattern played by the beginner. This pattern consists of two similar parts; one to represent the Heaven and the other the Earth.It is said that the pattern was named after Lake Chon-Ji, a beautiful lake in North Korea with water so clear and calm that you can literally see the Heaven meeting the Earth.||9th Gup|
|DAN-GUN||is named after the holy Dan-Gun, the legendary founder of Korea in the year of 2333 B.C.||8th Gup|
|DO-SAN||is the pseudonym of the patriot Ahn Chang-Ho (1876-1938). The 24 movements represent his entire life which he devoted to furthering the education of Korea and its independence movement.||7th Gup|
|WON-HYO||was the noted monk who introduced Buddhism to the Silla Dynasty in the year of 686 A.D.||6th Gup|
|YUL-GOK||is the pseudonym of a great philosopher and scholar Yi I (1536-1584) nicknamed the “Confucius of Korea”. The 38 movements of this pattern refer to his birthplace on 38o latitude and the diagram represents “scholar”.||5th Gup|
|JOONG-GUN||is named after the patriot Ahn Joong-Gun who assassinated Hiro-Bumi Ito, the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, known as the man who played the leading part in the Korea- Japan merger. There are 32 movements in this pattern to represent Mr. Ahn’s age when he was executed at Lui-Shung prison (1910).||4th Gup|
|TOI-GYE||is the pen name of the noted scholar Yi Hwang (16th century), an authority on neo-Confucianism. The 37 movements of the pattern refer to his birthplace on 37o latitude, the diagram represents “scholar”.||3rd Gup|
|HWA-RANG||is named after the Hwa-Rang youth group which originated in the Silla Dynasty in the early 7th century. The 29 movements refer to the 29th Infantry Division, where Taekwon-Do developed into maturity.The meaning of this pattern sometimes causes confusion as it refers to two time periods, the Hwa-Rang youth group of the 7th century and the Korean 29th Infantry Division formed by General Choi in 1953.||2nd Gup|
|CHOONG-MOO||was the name given to the great Admiral Yi Soon-Sin of the Lee Dynasty. He was reputed to have invented the first armoured battleship (Kobukson) in 1592, which is said to be the precursor of the present day submarine. The reason why this pattern ends with a left hand attack is to symbolize his regrettable death, having no chance to show his unrestrained potentiality checked by the forced reservation of his loyalty to the king.||1st Gup|
|KWANG-GAE||Is named after the famous Kwang-Gae-Toh-Wang, the 19th King of the Koguryo Dynasty, who regained all the lost territories including the greater part of Manchuria. The diagram (+) represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to the first two figures of 391 A.D., the year he came to the throne.||1st Dan|
|PO-EUN||is the pseudonym of a loyal subject Chong Mong-Chu (1400) who was a famous poet and whose poem “I would not serve a second master though I might be crucified a hundred times” is known to every Korean. He was also a pioneer in the field of physics. The diagram ( – ) represents his unerring loyalty to the king and country towards the end of the Koryo Dynasty.||1st Dan|
|GE-BAEK||is named after Ge-Baek, a great general in the Baek Je Dynasty (660 A.D.). The diagram ( | ) represents his severe and strict military discipline.||1st Dan|
|EUI-AM||is the pseudonym of Son Byong Hi, leader of the Korean independence movement on March 1, 1919. The 45 movements refer to his age when he changed the name of Dong Hak (Oriental Culture) to Chondo Kyo (Heavenly Way Religion) in 1905. The diagram ( | ) represents his indomitable spirit, displayed while dedicating himself to the prosperity of his nation.||2nd Dan|
|CHOONG-JANG||is the pseudonym given to General Kim Duk Ryang who lived during the Lee Dynasty, 14th century. This pattern ends with a left-hand attack to symbolize the tragedy of his death at 27 in prison before he was able to reach full maturity.||2nd Dan|
|JUCHE||is a philosophical idea that man is the master of everything and decides everything, in other words, the idea that man is the master of the world and his own destiny. It is said that this idea was rooted in Baekdu Mountain which symbolizes the spirit of the Korean people. The diagram ( | ) represents Baekdu Mountain.||2nd Dan|
|KO-DANG||is the pseudonym of the patriot Cho Man Sik who dedicated his life to the independence movement and education of Korea. The 39 movements of the pattern show the number of times of his imprisonment as well as the location of his birthplace on 39 degrees latitude.Ko-Dang was replaced by Juche in the early 1980s, either in the year 1982 or 1983.||2nd Dan|
|SAM-IL||denotes the historical date of the independence movement of Korea which began throughout the country on March 1, 1919. The 33 movements in the pattern stand for the 33 patriots who planned the movement.||3rd Dan|
|YOO-SIN||is named after General Kim Yoo Sin, a commanding general during the Silla Dynasty. The 68 movements refer to the last two figures of 668 A. D., the year Korea was united. The ready posture signifies a sword drawn on the right rather than left side, symbolizing Yoo Sin’s mistake of following his king’s orders to fight with foreign forces against his own nation.||3rd Dan|
|CHOI-YONG||is named after General Choi Yong, Premier and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces during the 14th century Koryo Dynasty. Choi Yong was greatly respected for his loyalty, patriotism, and humility. He was executed by his subordinate commanders headed by General Yi Sung Gae, who later become the first king of the Lee Dynasty.||3rd Dan|
|YON-GAE||is named after a famous general during the Koguryo Dynasty, Yon Gae Somoon. The 49 movements refer to the last two figures of 649 A. D., the Year he forced the Tang Dynasty to quit Korea after destroying nearly 300,000 of their troops at Ansi Sung.||4th Dan|
|UL-JI||is named after general Ul-Ji Moon Dok who successfully defended Korea against a Tang’s invasion force of nearly one million soldiers led by Yang Je in 612 A.D., Ul-Ji employing hit and run guerilla tactics, was able to decimate a large percentage of the force. The diagram ( L) represents his surname. The 42 movements represents the author’s age when he designed the pattern||4th Dan|
|MOON-MOO||honors the 30th king of the Silla Dynasty. His body was buried near Dae Wang Am (Great King’s Rock). According to his will, the body was placed in the sea “Where my soul shall forever defend my land against the Japanese.” It is said that the Sok Gul Am (Stone Cave) was built to guard his tomb. The Sok Gul Am is a fine example of the culture of the Silla Dynasty. The 61 movements in this pattern symbolize the last two figures of 661 A.D. when Moon Moo came to the throne.||4th Dan|
|SO-SAN||is the pseudonym of the great monk Choi Hyong Ung (1520-1604) during the Lee Dynasty. The 72 movements refer to his age when he organized a corps of monk soldiers with the assistance of his pupil Sa Myung Dang. The monk soldiers helped repulse the Japanese pirates who overran most of the Korean peninsula in 1592.||5th Dan|
|SE-JONG||is named after the greatest Korean king, Se-Jong, who invented the Korean alphabet in 1443, and was also a noted meteorologist. The diagram (Z) represents the king, while the 24 movements refer to the 24 letters of the Korean alphabet.||5th Dan|
|TONG-IL||denotes the resolution of the unification of Korea which has been divided since 1945. The diagram ( | ) symbolizes the homogenous race.|
VARIOUS PERFORMANCES OF SAM-IL HYOENG (삼일형) ‘BLUE WAVE SCHOOL.’
Some Interesting links
© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.