Elwood 5566

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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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
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Patriotic Taekwon-do and Sam-Il (삼일 March 1st)

Posted in History, patriotic Taekwon-do, taekwon-do, taekwondo by 노강호 on March 1, 2011

Remembering Sam-Il International Taekwon-do Style

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.

emblems of various kwans and federations

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.

Roh Byong-jik

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.

Chung Do Kwan emblem

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.

Hwang Kee, Martinov, Jae Joon Kim and Norris

Moo Duk Kwan

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.

Yoon Byeong-in

Yun Moo Kwan / Jidokwan – Founded by Chun Sang-sup, in 1946.

Jidokwan (Yun Moo Kwan)

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.

ITF's Choi Hong-hi

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.

Rhee Ki-ha, UKTA

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.

Kukkiwon, headquarters of the WTF, Seoul

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.

Korean demonstration team

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.

When Taekwondo Strikes (1973) broached the subject of the Japanese occupation

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.

Japanese troops at West Gate, Seoul, 1904

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…

Name Meaning Level
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

jidokwan link

songmookwan link

Link to ITF taekwon=do patterns taken from here

World Taekwondo Federation link

International Taekwon-do Federation link (1)

International Taekwon-do Federation (2)

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

No Pain no Gain – The Korean Bootcamp

Posted in Comparative, Education, History, Korean children by 노강호 on June 23, 2010

The ebente-tang (야벤트탕). Mugwort (쑥)

As the weather gets hotter I spend increasingly more time in the cold pool than in the e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) which today was scented with mugwort (쑥). In the cold pool  (냉탕) it was so cold I found it difficult swimming underwater but in another few weeks, when we are right into that horrid monsoon, it will be a welcomed sanctuary.

In the cold pool a couple of boys are messing around a little noisily and so some middle-aged man asks them to be quiet. The boys are summoned to attention by the word ‘hakseng’,’ (학생 – student) and simply told to stop mucking about.  A little later they have to be asked again though this time the man raps them on their heads with his knuckles. In pansy Britain that’s assault.

I’m thinking about Daech’eon (대천)  which is on the west coast, not too far from Ch’eonan, and a beautiful stretch of beach. The freshmen boys in my last high school used to visit there in summer just after their end of semester exams. As beautiful as Daech’eon is, I imagine that whenever they are reminded of the place they will tremble and break out in a sweat. For them, Daech’eon was a place where you both met yourself and your limitations, a place from which you returned a different person and  it was feared! In the months leading up to the summer I often heard mention of Daech’eon, always with a mix of  reverence, fear and foreboding.

Kids can learn a lot from a smack around the head and some discomfort and pain. In the west we’ve molly-coddled kids to such an extent they’ve had to invent ‘extreme’ sports in order to make themselves feel alive. Anything potentially dangerous in the playground has been removed and that nasty hard and rough floor replaced with a comforting rubber mat. Of course, there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about their sports other than a scratched knee or bruised shins. ‘Extreme ‘is playing on a playground without the protective rubber floor, getting into the boxing ring or doing some of the more strenuous of martial arts with instructors who take pleasure in grueling sessions. In one taekwondo school I attended in Korea, the instructor put a ‘naughty boy’ in a headlock until the boy’s legs went limp and he flopped to the floor – that’s ‘extreme.’  Back in the UK I’ve trained in schools so strenuous, 200 front rising kicks and 200 hundred sit ups just for a warm up, that membership was limited to less than ten students – that’s ‘extreme.’ My military training was 12 weeks which included  6 weeks at a school of physical training. The day commenced with an eight mile run and the remainder was spent in the gymnasium – that was  ‘extreme.’  Bungee Jumping would freak me out and definitely pump me full of dopamine especially as I’d be terrified the rope would break given my extreme weight. Personally, I see little ‘extreme’ about  such ‘sports’ especially as they are associated with fun and a poncy lemonade, Mountain Dew,  and anyone who aligns their personality with a carbonated corporate  beverage is  gullible and totally un-extreme.

Most kids would think this ‘extreme’

Korean special forces training – ‘extreme’

Facing your own limitations

In order to keep kids in post 16 education Britain, has introduced colleges of football, basketball, dancing, and most likely tiddly-winks. In contemporary teenagers’  jargon, most ‘extreme’ sports as well as the sports offered in sports colleges are ‘gay.’ Most British boys wouldn’t last the day in my last high school and they certainly wouldn’t last if subjected to a real training session. Many of the teenagers in British sports colleges have no idea what it takes to become a professional athlete because the ‘training’ they have been subject to is largely based on making it fun. By sanitizing all unpleasantness and removing all threats, kids are no longer forced to confront their own limitations, let alone attempt to push beyond them and in terms of both sport and academia, most  are still crouched in the starting blocks.

The TV Series ‘Kung Fu’

No Mountain Dew? Brutally Extreme!

Boy crying as he reads letter from home (Link to Rokmccamp.com)

Permeating much of the general life philosophy of Korea, is a belief that through discomfort, even pain, we become stronger. I was aware of this ‘philosophy’ when I first started training in taekwondo in the 1970’s and it is an attitude prevalent throughout the east. In the opening sequences of the 1970’s, Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) is seen taking the final initiation which marks him as a Shaolin monk, lifting a heavy cauldron of glowing coals between his arms. The cauldron bars his way forward and  in moving  it  the symbols of the Shaolin Temple, the tiger and the dragon, are seared onto his forearms. The initiation is one of pain and marks the transition novice to master, from the hermitage of the monastery to life beyond its confines.  Of course, the initiation, symbols and hot-pot are probably historical baloney but it made excellent TV and encapsulated much of the spirit of the time which included an intense interest in eastern mysticism, the orient and martial arts.

Perseverance (인내)

Team work

In the late 1970’s I remember reports and photos about the Japanese Karate team practicing punching solid surfaces while kneeling on broken glass. The glass must have been ground as anything other would be highly foolish. General Choi’s (최홍희) Taekwon-do ‘bible’  (the first book about taekwondo published in English) advocated training in the snow to develop ones resilience, something still undertaken by Korean soldiers and school kids where  the philosophy of discomfort and pain strengthening the human ‘spirit’ is still alive and kicking.  Indeed, the five tenets of both the  ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) and the WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) include: perseverance (인내), self-control (극기), and indomitable spirit (백절불굴).

A central figure in the history of Taekwon-do,  ignored by the WTF

Korean teenagers often attend trips, organised by schools or private organisations, designed to bond them, develop leadership and strengthen the character and coming from both an ex-military and marital arts background, as much as I dislike macho-militarism, I belief there are some benefits in such pursuits. Without doubt my training in martial arts heightened my mental power and  my ability to ‘tap into’ a superior mental state, now that I no longer train, is severely weakened.  The heightened state of reality, caused by the body being flooded with endorphins, gives rise to a euphoria which can make a lasting impression on the mind and this state, though somewhat perverse to subject ones self to, is rewarding in itself. Confronting ourselves is a revealing experience.

Getting messy hair – ‘extreme’

Part of the economic success of Korea has been attributed to the hard work and discipline of older generations. My closest friend often tells me about his childhood and the constant hunger he faced. His mother used to make dong-dong-ju (a rice wine alcohol) which he carted to the local market to sell. By western standards he is working class and for the ten years I have known him he and his wife have struggled to ensure their son and daughter had a good education and entered a decent university.  For the last five years he has worked in a car factory in Ulsan and lives away from home returning only every second weekend. His wife runs a street pancake stall where she will freeze or sweat, depending on the season. I can think of few individuals back home who work as hard as they do but their experience is one shared by majority of Koreans who were children in the wake of the 1950’s. It is this hardiness which on the one hand is often  attributed to Korean economic success and on the other, to the both the pampering of their children and the occasional desire to provide their children a taste of harshness that might make them better citizens or students.

Korean Kids at a ‘camp’ near Asan

I’ve taught in English schools where you weren’t allowed to shout at children and had to ignore bad language unless aimed at you personally

Knowing your’re alive doesn’t happen very often

Across Korea are various ‘boot’ camps which specialize in providing today’s youth with a taste of hardship. The courses are designed  to  bond, facilitate team work, and develop perseverance and tenacity. Trekking up mountains, standing still for an hour, twice a day, military style discipline and exercises, training in snow, mud, rain or the sea are all common. Some of my middle school students recently went on a trip which involved sleeping on graves in the mountain without any adults – however, how widespread this is I don’t know. Sure, lots of people will see such training as harsh and wicked but for even the most average sports person or averagely talented person, facing your limitations is a common experience.  While many of today’s rich and famous have ascended to stardom by virtue of a mixture of luck and looks, most of us will only achieve great things by guts and determination. As much as I dislike football, Beckham is talented but then he spent many hours hammering balls into goal to hone his skill. Molly-coddling kids and protecting them from facing themselves simply teaches them to be less than mediocre. In addition, discipline subjects children to the will of adults which is no bad thing. I’d rather live in a society where the kids are controlled than in one where they run amok doing exactly as they please.

Link to New York Times article

Indomitable spirit (백절불굴) And it does them good!

It’s only pain!

The British army stopped log  training many years ago and burpees in the mid 1970’s.

All young men are required to undertake 24 months military service and for young boys this kind of training is a taste of things to come. Considering the relationships between North and South Korea, and the fact the war has never officially ending,  conscription is a practical preparation for the unspeakable event. When your country prefers to wage war on distant shores, you can rely on a professional army but when the enemy is on your doorstep such luxuries evaporate.

Circumcision and the freshman summer camp were probably the two most feared events in the lives of  the freshmen in my high school. The morning  the buses rolled up onto the school grounds to cart them off was especially silent, as if an execution were about to be  detailed.  A week later they returned exhausted, sunburnt, bruised and very proud. All the boys were scarred, all had badly friction burned knees  or elbows, there were cuts and bruises and a few  returned with broken legs or arms. Though the boys still had two years of one of the most demanding schools systems in the world to endure, the friction burns, cuts and bruises, like the Shaolin tiger and dragon, were badges of belonging, symbols of esprit de corps. Daech’eon was an intensely private and intimate experience and once recovered, and confined to history, mention of that beach stirred memories and emotions and at such times I felt both an intruder and outsider. In a preface to one of his James Bond novels, Flemming writes: You only live twice; once when you’re born and once when you die. I think the Daech’eon boys, and any other kids who attend such boot camps, have already experienced a second brush with ‘living.’

After the Daech’eon camp

Tired

Post dopamine lull

LINKS TO VIDEO CLIPS OF KOREAN TEEN BOOT CAMPS

ITN News Report

Reuters 1

Reuters 2

Nocommenttv

NTDTV

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LINKS TO WRITTEN ARTICLES ON KOREAN BOOT CAMPS

Jjujund. Translation from the Chicago Tribune Sept 2009

Link to ABC News

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