Elwood 5566

The Life of Keiko Fukuda

Posted in Martial Arts by 노강호 on March 1, 2013

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.

Keiko Fukuda - a truly inspirational figure

Keiko Fukuda – a truly inspirational figure

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.

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Haidong Gumdo – Ssang Su Do Keom Beop 3

Posted in Haidong Gumdo, Martial Arts by 노강호 on June 1, 2012

My instructor, Danny Kwon (권용국), performing the third form of the Ssang Su series.

You can find in-depth notes on this form and Haidong Gumdo, over at my site, http://korean-sword.com/

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Four Direction Sequence – Haidong Gumdo

Posted in Haidong Gumdo, Martial Arts, technical by 노강호 on May 25, 2012

This is a basic sequence (사방전환법 – sa-bang cheon hwan beop) of downwards slashes (naeryo-bagi – 내려 베기), either to the left or right. The direction of the slash is denoted by the point to which it moves and not from which it originates. Hence a ‘right slash’ begins above your left shoulder and traverses down to the right-hand side.

the ‘blood grove’ (홈)

Most important in this sequence, is precision of stepping. The sequence should begin and end on the same spot. The stepping sequence is more difficult to master than similar karate and taekwondo basic sequences because the movements do not straddle a center-line. In such sequences variations tends to occur more in terms being in front of, or behind the starting point. In Sa-bang Cheon Han Beop, variation to the side of the starting point also causes initial problems. It is important not to step up, foot to foot, into a position where both feet are parallel,  but into a position where the toes of the moving foot come to rest midway between the toes and heel of the stationary foot. An inch out of position, over several steps, will result in finishing the sequence significantly away from the starting position.

It is well worth practicing the sequence without a sword and with a point of reference marked on the floor in order to gauge precision.

Even after several months, my naeryo-begi is poor as the angle of the cut is wrong and the blade’s trajectory often curves. Over-practice causes tennis elbow and wrist ache. These ailments, plus the technical problems seem to be fairly standard for beginners.

However, using a blunt sword in practice, known as a ga-keom (가검), which has a grove down the blade close the the back of the blade (칼등 – kal-deung), makes you more aware of the importance of angle. When the angle is correct the grove (known in Japanese as ‘bo-hi and in Korean as ‘home’ – 홈), and sometimes called a ‘blood grove,’ produces an audible ‘swish.’ However it is possible to create a ‘swish’ with a curving cut so the presence of the grove doesn’t solve all problems.

And once you begin to demonstrate more success with the downwards slash, initially in a stationary stance, it is difficult to maintain performed in a sequence where one is in effect multi-tasking. These problems should be regarded as stepping stones to guide one towards better technique. I will be writing more about the problems of naeryo-begi in future posts.

Usually, in my school at least, each move is accompanied with a shout from the Haidong Gumdo’s motto. As yet, I’m not sure of either the significance of the ‘motto,’ or indeed, if it is a motto at all. Translating the ‘motto’ is problematic because my knowledge of hanja, on which it is based, is limited – though better than that of many Koreans. Once again, I will write more about this later. On the accompanying video, I’ve put the hanja character at the start of each technique. There are 8 shouted characters with a kihaps at the start and conclusion of the sequence, and one midway dividing the sequence equally. The ‘shouts’ are:

神 – 신 – shin

劍 – 검 – keom

合 – 합 – hap

一 – 일 – il

kihap

快 – 쾌 – kwe

刀 – 도 – do

如 – 여 -yeo

神 – 신 – shin

If anyone can shed any further information on this topic, or correct any errors, I’d be grateful.

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Ssang Su Do Geom Beop 2 – Haidong Gumdo

Posted in Haidong Gumdo, Martial Arts by 노강호 on May 24, 2012

This is the second form (검법 – geom-beop) of four forms collectively known as Ssang Su Do Geom Beop (쌍수도검법). It is often referred to as ‘Do Geom Beop.’ As mentioned in the notes for the first form, the four forms are often strung together making one long pattern.

‘E chang’ (이장 – 2nd form) consists of 22 movements, including drawing and sheathing. There are 12 cuts and 1 thrust (찌르기). All the downward cuts or slashes, whether centre or to the left or right, cut through to the waist. There are five kihaps, the first, as usual, on drawing the sword, and then on all center line downward cuts (정면내려베기 – cheong-myeon naeryeo begi) and on the single thrust (jirugi – 찌르기).

This form introduces a turn with a defensive position which appears again in the third form but on the opposing side. This is a difficult technique and requires much practice to perform with ‘good form.’ Like forms in other martial arts, there are nuances and subtleties which go beyond the positions themselves and which vary from school to school and from individual to individual. Such subtleties and nuances mark a mediocre performance from an advanced one and are something I wish to return to in later posts when I have a better grasp of the fundamentals and have developed a ‘feel’ for individual patterns.

I often find myself watching my teacher’s performances repeatedly and perceive much in common between his performances of a sword pattern and a piece of music performed by an accomplished musician; cadence, speed, timing, posture, focus, power, precision, balance, tension and relaxation, and more, are all aspects to be considered and nurtured in bringing a performance ‘to life’ and investing it with emotional qualities.

Ssang-su-do-keom-beo 2:

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Ssang Su Do Geom Beop 1

Spear Techniques 3 (기창)

Posted in Martial Arts, Spear by 노강호 on May 21, 2012

The following two videos demonstrate the conclusion of the spear flag form. Notice that there are a number of short pauses between segments of the pattern.

The final video demonstrates the form at demonstration speed, in its entirety. Ki Chang is demonstrated by my teacher, Danny Kwon (권용국).

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Ssang Su Do Geom Beop 1 – Haidong Gumdo

Posted in Haidong Gumdo, Martial Arts, My MA techniques by 노강호 on May 16, 2012

Ssang Su Do Geom Bop (쌍수도검법) translates as ‘the way, or method of the two handed sword.’ There are four ‘keom beop’ (forms) in this series and though they are independent, once learnt they are often strung together and performed in an unbroken sequence.

The form consists of 22 movements, including drawing and sheathing. There are 13 ‘cuts,’ and a few defensive moves or transitional positions. ‘Kihaps,’ of which there are five, are called on the initial draw, this is a standard procedure on drawing the sword, and on all subsequent thrusts (찌르기) and the one center cut which follows through to waist height (전명내려베기).

The upwards cut (올라 베기) performed almost as if playing cricket, need special attention as the leg moves forward when in line with the sword. At some stage in the future I will devote a post to olla begi (the upwards cut). The piercing thrust performed after the second upwards cut, also needs extra practice as initially it is weak, lacks focus, and the blade is apt to wobble. I remember finding the ‘olla begi’ sequence quite awkward when I was first introduced to it.

Another technique I found problematic was performing the horizontal cuts without the sword wavering as it traverses from one side to the other.

Here is my teacher performing Ssang-su-do-keom-beop 1:

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Spear Techniques 2 (기창)

Posted in Martial Arts, Spear, video by 노강호 on May 7, 2012

This is the second video of the Korean ‘Flag Spear Form’. The Flag Spear is a 2.7 meter spear with a flat blade, capable of slicing and piercing and to which traditionally, a small flag was attached. This form is cited in the military treatise known as the Mu-ye-do-bo-tong-ji (무예도보통지 – 武藝圖譜通志) which was commissioned in 1790, by King Jeongjo.

When the pennant is attached the spear is called a ‘ki-ch’ang’ (기창) which basically means ‘flag spear.’

 For the other parts of the form see:

Part 1

Part 3

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Moving on to Haidong Gumdo

Posted in Hae Dong Gumdo, Martial Arts, taekwondo by 노강호 on April 18, 2012

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!

one of my instructor’s swords. I’ve seen plenty of replicas and blunt blades, but in the presence of a genuine, live blade, one is struck by both their beauty and frightening potential.

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.

another ‘live’ gumdo blade

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.

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First Step – Yet Again

Posted in General, Martial Arts by 노강호 on April 8, 2012

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.

Training for my dan grade with Frank Zippel, left (1981, Osnabrück)

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.

Georg Soupidis and I in 1982

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 Current Instructor – Danny – 권용국

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.

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Every Boy a Black Belt

Posted in Martial Arts, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on April 3, 2012

one master to another

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.

everyone a dan grade

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.

2nd dan

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.

3rd dan

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.

(1965)the first TKD book to be published in the English, before the ITF, WTF or black piping

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.’

a 4th dan

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.

fantastic stretch and technique - 4th dan

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.

the famous 'Superfoot' Bill Wallace, an incredibly powerful technician. Dan grade? No idea...

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.

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