03 Feb What is Taekwon-do?
At Miles Martial Arts we teach the traditional form of taekwon-do that General Choi Hong Hi (who is usually called just General Choi, pronounced chay) developed and improved throughout his life and that he was still teaching up to his death in 2002. This is known as ITF style taekwon-do or, more traditionally, as Chang Hun style taekwon-do. ITF stands for the International Taekwondo Federation.
As a young man, in the late 1930s/early 1940s, Choi Hong Hi trained in the Japanese martial art shokotan karate. Japan had been unwelcome occupiers of Korea since before he was born. In June 1945, Japan surrendered to Allied Forces and the United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into two countries along the 38th parallel to create North and South Korea. By 1946 Second Lieutenant Choi Hong Hi, as he was then, was teaching karate to soldiers in the the newly formed South Korean Army as form of physical and mental training. Here are some photographs of General Choi.
But General Choi did not want to teach a Japanese martial art. He wanted to create a Korean national martial art, one that he intended to be superior “in spirit and technique” to karate. Over the years, he and other taekwon-do pioneers, modified and added techniques to create a Korean fighting style. In 1955, Choi Hong Hi christened it “taekwon-do”, the art (do) of foot (tae) and fist (kwon).
And Today, taekwon-do is a distinct martial art (though with many styles) enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.
General Choi created 24 “patterns”. These are pre-determined sets of moves against an imaginary opponent. We still practice these today. They introduce students gradually to an increasing range of techniques. General Choi gave each pattern a significant name and a meaning that he hoped would forever keep alive knowledge of Korean history and culture.
As time passed, different forms of taekwon-do evolved. There may be quite big differences between styles e.g. between the ITF style that we teach and the WT (World Taekwondo) style that is now an Olympic sport. Or there may be more subtle differences between styles in how techniques are executed or what rules apply in competitions. Today, there are many different organisations representing Masters and clubs that teach particular types of taekwon-do. [Miles TKD] is affiliated to the National Taekwon-Do Alliance (https://nationaltaekwondoalliance.co.uk) which in turn is part of ITF Headquarters Korea (https://itfofficial.org).
Taekwon-do is largely an empty handed (unarmed) martial art and one of the so called “hard” martial arts. Although we relax as we execute he initial stages of a technique, the emphasis is on delivering strikes and blocks that are powerful at the moment of impact. It features lots of kicks – often incorporating jumping and spinning – and hand techniques, both attacks and blocks.
Students practice these techniques solo, in their patterns, aiming to improve movement, stances and power. They can develop fantastic muscle memory of movements through patterns practice. They learn the name (in Korean too!) and purpose of each technique in their patterns and which vital spot of the body they are aiming for with that technique. They can then apply that in self defence applications and sparring. Sparring ranges from set sparring, where two students face each other and carry out predetermined attacks and blocks to build confidence and technique safely, to sport-based free sparring which is a form of semi-contact sparring using point scoring. Students wear padded head guards, mouthguards, gloves and foot guards for free sparring. But the emphasis in free sparring is on speed not power and on staying on your feet; it is never about hurting an opponent. We do give our students the opportunity to demonstrate the power of their techniques on re-breakable of wooden boards, to the great enjoyment of many!
This video shows Mr Mark Trotter and Mr Carl Van Roon, both world champions, demonstrating pre-arranged free sparring.
Students wear a white uniform called a dobok and start with a white belt. They progress through 9 colour belts towards their first degree black belt, learning a new pattern with each new belt. Black belts learn three patterns at each belt up to 4th degree, two at 5th degree and the final pattern called Tong-il at 6th degree. 7th and 8th degree black belts are referred to as Masters and 9th degrees are called Grand Masters.
There are so many facets to taekwon-do training. There really is something for everyone. Some students prefer the technical, precise practice of patterns. Others like padwork or the adrenaline rush of free sparring.
Every class is different and there is so much to learn, or improve upon, that you will never get bored. And taekwon-do training has many benefits. For example….
- Taekwon-do offers great all round body conditioning for students of all ages.
- Taekwon-do improves strength, flexibility, balance, coordination…and perhaps even memory.
- It promotes a feeling of confidence and achievement as students progress through the belts,often accomplishing things they thought they would never be able to do.
- Students support each other, learn from each other and generally have a lot of fun trainingtogether.
- We promote good listening, discipline, concentration and mutual respect among youngerstudents. As they grow, children can start to assist in class and act as role models themselves.
- Our black belt students have the opportunity to research topics that interest them and writeabout these as part of their black belt grading assessments.
- And our students can challenge themselves by competing in local and national competitions ifthey want to.
We look forward to seeing you in the dojang. Taekwon.
Why practice patterns?
This is a very common and understandable question. There’s not one definitive answer to this but here are my thoughts…
Traditional martial arts are like any other hobby that bring a variety of positive effects to the practitioner’s life. It keeps you fit, and helps you to leave your troubles at the door and go home feeling happier than when you walked in.
You gain flexibility, strength, coordination, all of which contribute towards generally moving better in daily life. And in addition of course, one of the fundamental reasons for training any martial art is to gain some self defence skills.
But many of the movements in the patterns are quite abstract, and unconvincing in terms of their intended application. Now I know that many instructors may try to convince their students that these movements are lethal and highly effective, if only they are just carried out properly having practiced sufficiently. I’m sorry, but that’s not my view!
HOWEVER, I do believe patterns to be an awesome and valuable addition to a martial artist’s training regime. The huge variety of movements in the patterns in Taekwon-do challenge our bodies and minds in ways that are difficult to replicate.
And I believe patterns should be thought of as an art: a way of expressing ourselves, just like painting a picture, but with the huge added benefit of being a full body workout that makes us engage muscles that we didn’t even know we had!
And if you train diligently in your patterns, the strength, balance and focus that you will attain in the process will undoubtedly contribute heavily towards your ability to defend yourself if needed.
So… HIT THOSE PATTERNS!!” Mr Miles IV Degree.