The Tao of Taekwondo

Notes and reflections from a deeper practice of traditional taekwondo

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why practice?

Happy New Year.

I've been off for most of December letting my broken toes heal, and not so much my toes but my confidence about my broken toes. Today I've returned to practice, with some strength training to begin the conditioning I need for my second Dan test in June. I'm checking out the 100 pushups program, which is a very cool thing, in addition to some weight training.

Today a nice find from my regular reads. John Vesey at Martial Views writes about solo practice. I responded accordingly:

Practice is hard, and practicing alone is harder still. But for me that is the reason to practice: to meet what I find difficult in myself. Sometimes training everyday is harder than executing 100 roundhouse kicks perfectly. If that's the case, then I know what it is that I need to practice, and that is perseverance as opposed to technique.

For me I practice because it raises questions. And then I live those questions.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The egoful history of Taekwondo

One of the things that bothers me about the history of Taekwondo is the number of egos and personalities that are associated with its development. As a new martial art, it has been a battle ground between individuals first at the kwan level and later at the world federation level as several strong personalities jockeyed for control over the evolution of the sport.

I love to live in the paradox of being a traditional practitioner of Taekwondo. How can one be a traditional practitioner of a new art form? For me it depends on my approach. I focus on Taekwondo as a personal mastery development tool, working beyond the techniques to use the art as a physical way to develop myself. I learn more about my inner self from practicing than I do about sparring strategy and perfectly executed high kicks.

In fact I would say that my practice of Taekwondo is about as far away as one can get from the politics and egos of the men who at first unified Korean martial arts and then in their squabbling, divided it up again into the myriad of federations and forms that exist now.

For me a key meaning of the tenet of integrity is looking at what the motivations are for instructors and practitioners as well as those who step up to lead the various federations. Why are you doing Taekwondo?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Striking through

Four phases of learning to strike:

  1. Learning to extend your power to your opponent
  2. Learning to strike so that your power enters your opponent
  3. Learning to strike as if you are striking through your opponent
  4. Learning not to strike at all.
These correlate to learning something about opponents

  1. Learning to be in relation to another person.
  2. Learning to make contact with another person
  3. Learning to reach into another person
  4. Learning to invite another person.
Mastery with striking through means living in a stance of invitation, striking directly when needed but only if that strike will carry through a person so as to restore the field of invitation. If you have not mastered striking through you only strike the opponent and leave him or her without and invitation to restore peace and integrity.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Powerful punching and kicking

Today we were working with the adult beginners on bringing power to punching. We were doing a botchy job of explaning kinetic linkage, but this video is a great exploration of power, especially the boxer's punch:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The sport side

Taekwondo has come in for some well-deserved criticism after the Olympic tournament featured a nmber of judging farces and furious competitors who lodged protests and in the now infamous case of Angel Matos, kicked a referee in the head.

The problem with taekwondo as a sport is that there is no way to measure objectively and safely the winner of a bout. It all relies on judging, and judging is subject to numerous flaws ranging from poor scoring to outright bribery. Furthermore, the results of a taekwondo fight tell you nothing about the quality of the fighter, and in many cases, they don;t even give an accurate comparison of the two figters in a match.

But since 1988, taekwondo has been in the spotlight at the Olympics and this has driven many in the WTF to place a high emphasis on the competitive sport aspect of the art. There are many WTF schools that focus almost exclusively on sparring now, to the detriment of the other factors of the art. This has had tragic consequences for taekwondo as a traditional martial art.

I hope sincerely that taekwondo is dropped from the Olympic games. It has become a highly political sport now. Perhaps if the popularity if Kukki style taekwondo were reduced, instructors and masters would ficus more on training well-rounded individuals, versed in self-defense and self-discipline and less focused on trophies and national pride.

Friday, August 8, 2008


In Kumgang, the diamond block is executed in a one legged crane stance. In this stance, you experience presence or you fall.

Balance is simply having all of your thoughts and every atom of your body aligned in this present moment. If you are anticipating with your mind, or leaning with your body, you will topple over.

Often in the dojang I see people going through patterns without thinking. When Master Kook is calling out the moves we often fall into a rhythm and fail to respond to his calls for the next move. If you are unconscious in practice you will sometimes fall forward or move to the next move without waiting for the call.

A good practice is to simply practice being still in your form. When you have completed the move, rest completely, quietly and ready for what happens next. Don't assume the rhythm will continue.

This is good training for keeping balance and keeping one's wits. Practice consciously.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Remaining still

Taekwondo is self-defense first, attack second.

To train in this aspect of the art, try to practice keeping still. Observe your opponent with curiosity and clarity, not with a story. For example, if in sparring practice, your opponent comes at you, see what the latest is that you can move. Notice, leg is moving, leg is rising, leg is forming kick, hips are turning, leg is approaching, my body is moving out of the way.

If you can regard you opponent with that clarity, you will not be drawn into the story of "I am being attacked" and you will be more resourceful in your defense.