Exploring the Definition of Taekwon-Do

This article is from the SooShimKwan blog, which is highly recommended.

Reference: Definition of Taekwon-Do (ITF Encyclopaedia: Vol. 1, p. 21-23.)

In volume one of the Encyclopaedia, the definition of Taekwon-Do begins with the statement "A way of life." It would do you good to read through this section in the Encyclopaedia on your own. However, I would like to highlight and comment on some sections.

"To put it simply Taekwon-Do is a version of unarmed combat designed for the purpose of self-defence." This statement says much about how we should consider Taekwon-Do. Firstly it is a form of combat. It is, in other words, a method of fighting, battling or making war! The goal of this combat, fighting or war is self-defense. In Korean history, the Korean nation only went to war as an act of self-defence. This is the same in Taekwon-Do, only fighting when needing to protect yourself or your loved ones.

"It is the scientific use of the body in the method of self-defence; a body that has gained the ultimate use of its facilities through physical training and mental training." It is quite clear that Taekwon-Do training has two parts; physical training being the one and mental training being the other.

The definition continues to say that though Taekwon-Do is a martial art: "…its discipline, technique and mental training are the mortar for building a strong sense of justice, fortitude, humility and resolve." It is Taekwon-Do's aim to uplift the character. The Taekwon-Do Black Belt should courageously and firmly stand for what is right no matter the circumstances, and with humility. (Note how humility is defined in Taekwon-Do: Moral Culture, Part Two, C. Be Humble.)

"It is this mental training," continues the section, "that separates the true practitioner from the sensationalist content with mastering only the fighting aspect of the art." When a student asked his Grand Master 'What is the essence of Taekwon-Do training?' the Grand Master answered: 'It is just mind training.'

Because Taekwon-Do is first and foremost an art of fighting, it has the innate possibility of being misused. Taekwon-Do is a "lethal weapon" intended for the "rapid destruction of…opponents." It is therefore imperative that "mental training must always be stressed to prevent the student from misusing it." This mental training is known as Moral Culture in Taekwon-Do. A student trained in Taekwon-Do, but without the Moral Culture to govern it, is to be compared with a gun in the hands of a child!

How little time is spent on anything else but the fighting aspect of the art? Most Taekwon-Do classes focus only on the fighting aspect. There are many reasons for this, but I am not going to discuss them now. However, the Black Belt must, therefore, make it his or her self-proclaimed obligation to spend quality time at this mental training that is so ignored. This mental training is one of the reason we can call Taekwon-Do an "art of self-defence".

Added to self-defence is "health". General Choi says that Taekwon-Do: "…indicates the mental training and the techniques of unarmed combat for self-defence as well as health…" How pitiful it is when we teach people how to defend themselves against aggressors, but we neglect to teach them principles for healthy living. If we do not teach our practitioners how to defend themselves against an unhealthy lifestyle we can just as well stop teaching them to defend against an enemy, for both have the ability to shorten the life. Self-defence should be broadened to self-preservation, which includes protection from various forms of attack on one's well-being. Do you now understand the importance of something like "Health Principles" in martial art study? It is the natural overflow of studying an art of self-defence.

Taekwon-Do is also defined as a "scientific" method of self-defence. "[I]nvolving the skilled application of punches, kicks, blocks and dodges with bare hands and feet to the rapid destruction of the moving opponent or opponents." This says quite a lot about the characteristics of Taekwon-Do. As a scientific method, it should include the "scientific use of the body" through scientifically sound techniques. In other words, the use of "punches, kicks, blocks and dodges" should make sense scientifically. This means that their use should make sense both on an anatomical/biological level as well as be in coherence with the science of physics.

Taekwon-Do's technical superiority is clear when we consider its understanding in the fields of anatomy and biology in such teachings as "Vital Spots", "Blocking and Attacking Tools" and the "Training Secrets" and in its use of Newtonian Laws in such principles as the "Theory of Power".

What many overlooks is that Taekwon-Do's ultimate goal, as an art of self-defence, is fighting against "moving" opponents. As an art that relies on traditional physics, Black Belts should familiarise themselves with these theories of motion, balance and momentum in the context of human combat. The Encyclopaedia states: "Most of the devastating manoeuvres in Taekwon-Do are based especially on the initial impact of a blow plus the consequential additional force provided by the rebound of the opponents moving part or body."

When I tell students that Taekwon-Do has much in common with styles such as Tai Chi Ch'uan or Aikido they are shocked. This is because of an unbalanced understanding of Taekwon-Do. Clearly, they have never read the following sentence that follows on the previous quote: "Similarly by using the attacker's force or momentum, the slightest push is all that is needed to upset his or her equilibrium and to topple him or her." Does not this sound like something from an Aikido lesson? No, dear reader, this is basic Taekwon-Do theory and part of the "definition" of our art!

The final thing I would like to highlight from this section of the Encyclopaedia is that Taekwon-Do, which is "A way of life" should be natural and instinctive. "In the case of the students of Taekwon-Do who have been in constant practice or the experts themselves, they spend no time thinking, as such an action comes automatically to them. Their actions, in short, have become conditioned reflexes."

In conclusion, I hope that from the above, you as a Black Belt have become aware of some of the voids in your understanding of Taekwon-Do. Study these voids and through practice fill them and you will have attained the mind of a Taekwon-Do Black Belt.