Taekwondo is an amazing and ancient form of self-defense. The Hwang Warriors in ancient Silla created Taekwondo for use in the first battle on the Kyongyli Plain of Korea in 669 A.D. The nobility kept it for their own use as an art form, a type of dance. They felt only the higher casts could understand these techniques. It was a mixture of fighting styles influenced by a code of honor taught in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. These elite youth also studied music, dance, poetry and philosophy.
As the Silla society diminished in the 10th century the martial arts declined and were transformed from a tool of war to entertainment. They were mostly taught in monasteries.
However when the Japanese invaded Kora in the early 20th century, the art of Taekwondo was revived as a form of resistance. Since the forms and moves had once been revered as dance, the self-defense aspect was minimalized to the enemy. All weapons had been confiscated by the Imperial Japanese soldiers, but farming implements were substituted. Rice flails were used as Nunchucks, anything with a long handle worked as a Bo Staff, scythes used for cutting stalks were very sharp weapons as they were. These tools became weapons in plain sight when the people were taught alternative ways of using them. When nothing else was available, they learned to use their hands and feet as weapons. The moves we know today as ‘forms’ were taught as dance.
While it wasn’t ideal, it helped save lives and give people time to escape when the Japanese soldiers tried to kidnap them into slavery. The art continued even when the need for protection lessened. Recently Taekwondo sparring has been included in the Olympic games.
So many people begin to study Taekwondo for self-defense. And of course that is an extremely important aspect of the art, but there is so much more.
While learning forms of defense and attack, of course muscles are strengthened and endurance expanded. What began as impossible becomes the norm. So many students, especially adult students, felt the energy needed for classes, or even one form was beyond them. As they progress in class, often alongside family members, they are amazed that the skills, endurance, and fortitude needed are there. Not only in Taekwondo class, but in all of their endeavors.
Another aspect of strength is balance, which improves as both intellectual and muscle memory increases. Students who could not master kicks and pivots find they have not only learned the form, but mastered the strength to perform it perfectly. Most will not be ballet dancers, but they have an increased grace of movement. Watching the Black Belt testing is amazing. Candidates do lines of forms with endurance and grace.
Forms are complicated connections of movement. They have Korean names that do not easily fly off the tongues of our American students who learn to count and name the forms in Korean. This takes memory skills. Children learn fairly easily. Adults less so, but celebrate more when blocks to memory are removed. This exercise of learning a foreign language, even on such a limited basis, is proven to enhance learning skills in all areas of life.
Confidence is enhanced. Often what holds a student back is not lack of skill or even learning. It is an absence of confidence. Especially if the student has had a failed attempt to learn a skill or has been bullied. In Taekwondo, the instructors are trained to reward each ‘win’ and to encourage more success. We have seen shy people blossom with the accomplishments of form. Of course, each student has their own timeline, but if they are willing to put the effort in, Taekwondo will reward them with confidence and victory.
As told above, Taekwondo is a peek at the South Korean culture. This rich nation has been largely overlooked because of its vulnerability and reserve. Studying the martial art that has contributed so much to this nation is a unique opportunity to discover the beauty and diversity of this lovely country.
Beyond physical enhancements, Taekwondo is a rich social environment. Students encouraging each other in class, entire families participating together, instructors becoming mentors. Class sizes are kept small to facilitate individual attention. Classes are often repeated so students can find the best time and environment for each one. Each segment will focus on a particular aspect while reviewing past lessons so the student can remember progress and continue the arc to the next level of the curriculum. The belt around the student’s waist is a concrete symbol to them of how far they have come. Classmates encourage classmates, families encourage one another, instructors encourage and correct errors. We have seen Black Belt candidates proceed through the ranks together. We have seen family members ‘wait’ for each other so they can test together. These classmates often become friends.
All of this is a great deal of work. Sweat happens, fatigue happens, weakness happens. But in the midst of all the work much laughter happens. After all, when friends get together, it’s fun! Special events are scheduled – movie nights with pizza, bowling parties, celebrations. The comradery of tournaments and special testings contribute to the fun of learning something few have the opportunity to learn. Classes themselves are fun. Games enhance learning, the dojo is large so running is encouraged, while skills are improved. All is done to have fun. What’s better than to learn something while you laugh?
So, Taekwondo is a self-defense skill, but it’s so much more. We improve our physical well-being, our mental acuity, and our social quotient. All while we have fun, learn about another culture, and gain confidence. When more than fighting is sought, more than fighting is found. Much of the art of Taekwondo is used to avoid a fight if possible. (See the story in Blog 1 about avoiding hurting a dog.) If one has mastered the self-confidence of Taekwondo, avoiding a fight is not unusual.
Self-defense, of course. But so much more.