28 March 2012

"Do and War" Q & A

My recent article in Totally Tae Kwon Do magazine regarding Daoism's disdain of war (and by implication all forms of fighting), garnered a response and interesting question from a reader. You can read the original question and response on the Totally Tae Kwon Do-forum, but for your convenience I've also posted it here, below:

Response & Question:

I enjoyed Sanko Lewis' article. It helps put the moral culture sections of the encyclopedias into context, so thanks Mr Lewis.

I understand that the Daoist idea is to return to the basic nature, and also that humans should avoid war at all costs. Don't those two goals contradict one another? Conflict is part of human nature and of [big N] Nature - apparently other primates have wars too. Perhaps Daoism needs to adjust to new knowledge like this?

Reply & Answer:

I'm glad you liked the article. 

The Moral Culture section [in the ITF Encyclopaedia] is indeed influenced by Daoism, but also very much by Confucianism and Buddhism. These three world views form the foundation for most moral ethics in Oriental thought. (Another Oriental philosophy contemplating war is Mohism which acts as a counterpoint to Confucianism and is therefore also worth looking into once we start thinking about Oriental moral issues, particularly those related to war and fighting. Then there is also the indigenous shamanistic culture of Korea that may also have had an influence on Taekwon-Do's Moral Culture.) My focus was on Daoism in particular, because it seems to be the philosophy most overtly alluded to by Oriental martial arts.

Regarding your thoughts on the seeming contradiction in human nature and Nature that seem to inherently include conflict: It looks like Daoism does not recognise conflict as the "Natural Way". Conflict is probably viewed in the same way as natural disasters, which is something that goes wrong when the natural balance is disturbed. That Nature itself could demonstrate such conflict ("natural disasters") does not seem to prove within the Daoist world view that such conflict is a natural part of Nature. Instead, within the Daoist world view such disasters / conflicts indicate something abnormal. The wars among primates, like the wars among humans, like natural disasters, all indicate an imbalance, an abnormality in Nature -- indicating being out of sync with the Way. 

On a side note regarding whether man is fundamentally evil or fundamentally good: there were two chief Oriental (Confucian) philosophers, Xunzi and Mencius, that were in direct opposition with each other on this very point. Your suggestion that conflict is natural to man, is in line with Xunzi. Interestingly the Christian world view seems to be a syncretism of the two, suggestion that man was originally innately good, but then became innately evil (aka "the Fall of Man"), but I'm not sure if such a view would have reconciled Xunzi and Mencius. 

If modern Daoists will attempt to "adjust to new knowledge" based on the Modern Scientific World View, is difficult to say. I'm not too familiar with modern Daoist teachings. I'm guessing, however, that such "adjustment to new knowledge" may alter the world view too much, in which case it may not properly be described as "Daoism" anymore.

In the end, all world views are based on a priori assumptions -- even the Modern Scientific World View is based on some assumptions. They are all different glasses used to look at the world through. It is impossible not to have such "glasses". The important thing is to know that you are functioning within a specific world view and to identify the possible limitations of one's world view. The limitations of Daoism may be that it does not recognise the "fallen" (conflict prone) state of mankind / Nature as innate; while the limitation of the Modern Scientific World View could be that it does not recognise the "Way", a sense of ultimate transcended Truth or Purpose.


27 March 2012

South Korea's Counter-Terrorism Task Force

Arirang TV, "Korea's Global TV" (read: self-promotion / propaganda), recently aired a program on nuclear terrorism. One insert of the program concerned South Korea's counter-terrorism task force.

Martial art training is covered around 4:55-5:21. It doesn't look terribly practical to me. The main purpose of martial art training seems to be to help with maintaining "physical and mental power", only.

26 March 2012

Philip de Vos Wins Two Gold Medals

I would like to congratulate Mr Philip de Vos, instructor of the main Soo Shim Kwan dojang in South Africa, on his victories over the weekend. Mr De Vos, who is also co-head of the Potchefstroom Regional Academy, came in first for both patterns and power breaking during the provincial championships. His victories qualify him to represent the North-West Province at the National Championships later this year and also makes him a possible candidate for provincial colours.

Boosabeomnim Philip, you make us proud!

25 March 2012

Sine Wave Motion in ITF Taekwon-Do (An Exposition)

On this page you can find the main "sine wave motion" posts I have written in a more systematic order. If you truly want to understand the principles behind ITF Taekwon-Do's sine wave motion, then read through this page and its related links.

Note that this page is not attempting to defend the "sine wave motion" from disbelievers; I'm merely explaining what it is, what its origins are, and what physio-kinetic principles it is based on. In other words, I am not trying to be the Defender of the Sine Wave Motion, but rather an Expositor of the Sine Wave Motion--an "explainer". I don't see myself busy with ITF apologetics, but with ITF exposition; not with persuading, but explaining. Hopefully with understanding will come appreciation.

The Sine Wave Motion's Contextual Origins

ITF Taekwon-Do has roots in both Japan and Korea. One can think of this in relation to Shotokan Karate and Taekkyeon. The impetus for the "unique" sine wave motion has to be understood from a Korean root. Even though Taekwon-Do is largely based on Karate, what makes it a uniquely different martial art, is its Korean kinaesthetics . Part of this kineasthetics is the traditional Korean three-beat rhythm that is prominent in Taeykkyeon and also discernable in Taekwon-Do. Any discussion about the evolution and inclusion of sine wave motion in ITF Taekwon-Do that does not Korean body culture into account is incomplete. This implies that evaluating the validity of the sine wave motion from a purely hard style, Karatesque paradigm is inherently flawed. It can be argued that the Korean kinaesthetics as seen in the sine wave motion is a manifestation of the greater traditional Korean philosophy and cosmology; in other words, the sine wave motion is congruent with traditional Korean philosophy.

Also, it is worth while to remember that Taekwon-Do was one of the first mixed martial arts of the 20th century and had several influences in its early development. 

The Basics: Sine Wave and Motion

In this post I explain the iconic "down-up-down" motion used in ITF Taekwon-Do and how it is applied in basic fundamental movements. This is the basics you will learn in a typical ITF Taekwon-Do school and also the rudimentary explanation of what the "sine wave motion" is all about if you were to ask an ITF Taekwon-Do instructor. It is important, however, to note that the sine wave motion is not ever present; it is not the only way of moving in ITF Taekwon-Do. Nonetheless, as a learning tool, the sine wave motion teaches the practitioner much about shifting one's body weight with near effortless efficiency; see for instance the post on "motion without movement".

Sine Wave's Function to Direct Body Mass in the Direction of the Technique

In this post I give a short explanation of the main principle of power generation in ITF Taekwon-Do, which is to "accelerate as much body mass as possible in the direction of the technique, with emphasis on strong exhalation, and without compromising your balance and posture." This post argues that the sine wave motion is not just used for dropping the body weight, but at a more advanced level is about accelerating the body mass in the direction of the technique, which could also be at an upward angle! A good "Taekwon-Doin knows how to 'ride the wave' and will fall and push alternately, getting lots of body mass behind each technique." In a related post I explain that the wave can occur both vertically and horizontally. The sine wave motion also works effectively as a mnemonic for teaching joint-locks and throws.

The Sine Wave Motion's Relationship with the Wave Principle and the Circle Principle

The sine wave motion is merely a manifestation of a greater principle, namely the Wave Principle. In physics, the Sine-waveform (and it's derivative, the Cosine-waveform), were derived from plotting a circle's path over the time it makes one revolution; therefore, the sine wave has a fundamental relationship to the circle. Or to put it differently: the sine wave motion is derived from the Wave Principle which is inseparably linked to the Circle Principle. These are all manifestations of the Taegeuk (Yin-Yang symbol).

If you truly grasp the implications of the animation below, then you will understand everything there is to know about how this Wave / Circle Principle applies to any / every technique in ITF Taekwon-Do.


"[Sine] Wave Motion" in Other Martial Arts / Sports

The Wave / Circle Principle is hardly unique to ITF Taekwon-Do and can be found in many other martial arts as well, most noticeably in the so-called "soft styles". One can also observe it in non-martial art physical activities. 

Important Outside Sources 

    • "ITF Taekwon-Do and Sine Wave as 'Sequential Motion'" [PDF]  by International Instructor Manuel Adrogué is a MUST READ article on the topic.

18 March 2012

Little Black Belts?

Most South Koreans train in a martial art as children. This is usually not taken seriously and for the most part the technical standards are quite low. This is because most of the dojang function merely as an after school P.T. centre and the kids often just fool around and learn some rudimentary martial techniques.

Seeing Korean kids run around with black belts is a common sight in South Korea, and does generally not mean that these children are any good. Children's martial arts is a big industry in Korea. Very, very few students fail promotional tests. I've been to the Kukkiwon (the WTF Mecca) and witnessed black belt testing for children. Within the span of a morning around 2000 children are tested for their black belts. There are over twenty such promotional testing centres in Seoul, the capital, alone, although they these centres may have fewer candidates testing at a time. Regardless, it would not be an overstatement to suggest that on any given weekend over 10 000 children test for black belt, just in the Seoul Province alone.

I personally took the video below. In it you can see how children's black belt tests are run at the Kukkiwon. The video shows the poomse (forms) section of the test. A regiment of twenty students perform their poomse at one time. They are required to do three forms, after which they are shooed off the mat so that the next battery of twenty students that have been waiting on the side can be tested. Even though techniques are often done with little power and uncertain form, as long as the candidate does something that resembles the poomse (i.e. as long as they move along), they will be promoted.

The next video shows the sparring section of the test. Candidates spar for about 10-20 seconds, one round. Contact doesn't seem to be necessary as long as there is a general attempt at showing some kicks.

Children are generally not expected to do any breaking techniques. The children's black belt promotional test therefore requires less than five minutes of performance time. Children black belts do not don the full black belt, in South Korea, but instead a "children's black belt", which is a belt divided into black and red. Obviously children are not expected to be at the same standard as adults. However, adult tests for first to third degree black belt in WTF taekwondo doesn't require much more. They have to demonstrate some extra kicks and / or some easy breaking.

My point is not to humiliate the quality of WTF taekwondo in South Korea. We cannot forget that it is still the South Koreans that take most of the medals at the Olympic Games. South Korea taekwondo has for the most part a completely different function than in many other countries. It's original purpose as a combat system or self-defence system is nearly non-existent, in part because South Korea is such a safe place and there really is hardly a need for civilian self-defence training. Here Taekwon-Do is primarily a form of recreational exercise aimed at children. Parents send their children to Taekwon-dojang for the exercise mostly, seeing as children are forced to spend so much of their time sitting and doing academic studies. At the Taekwon-dojang it is not unusual for them to play other exercise-games such as soccer as well. The emphasis is not in learning martial arts per se, but in getting fit and releasing pent up frustrations.

Since the general quality is therefore so elementary and one so often see children with black belts with poor abilities, it is nice to see those children that are truly talented and particularly keen martial artists. One example is the boy below, Seung Ahn Lee, who was a semi-finalist in Korea's Got Talent 2011. What he does is mostly martial acrobatics, but seeing as he is probably only six years old, it is very impressive, nonetheless.

Another example is WTF taekwondo prodigy Frederick Emil Olsen, who at the age of eight was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame last year, receiving the Youth Award. His talent and amazing (international) tournament track record, often competing against children much older than himself, makes him one of the greatest child athletes today. As is obvious from his name, he is not Korean, but Danish.

During the recent Annual General Meeting for the ITF Taekwon-Do group in my home country South Africa, an interesting decision was made. It was decided that children under the age of 12 years cannot receive the normal black belt, because it was argued that a young child cannot truly embody the qualities, both physically and mentally, that a black belt represents. Like WTF taekwondo here in Korea that awards a "children's black belt" for children, the SA-ITF have decided to do something similarly and also only award a local "children's black belt". Children that did get such a black belt, will have to do a re-evaluation when they become 12 years old, in order to be awarded the internationally recognised ITF 1st Dan black belt. I must say that I support this decision. Of course, if there is a child prodigy of the likes of young Mr. Olsen in South Africa we may need to make an exception, but even then keep in mind that a black belt not merely symbolises technical ability, but also a certain maturity and philosophical insight.

But back to the technical ability: ITF Taekwon-Do, with its "Art of Self-Defence"-focus, and in particularly in a country like South Africa where self-defence is indeed a necessity, cannot afford to slack technical standards, not even amongst children. In South Africa Taekwon-Do may have a recreational function, but considering the potentially violent context, martial arts in South Africa has a responsibility to equip their practitioners with actual defensive skills. A 1st degree black belt in South Africa must be equipped with a functional degree of self-defence ability. A black belt cannot merely resemble a fair knowledge of theory, the memorisation of some patterns, and an accepted period of training. South Africa's violent crime context necessitates more.

This is an important point, regarding "Little Black Belts" -- what is applicable in one context is not in another. Such young black belts in South Korea truthfully do not need much self-defence skill or knowledge. Children in South Africa, on the other hand, requires vigilance, a different type of self-defence awareness, knowledge of general self-preservation principles, and even some physical defensive ability appropriate to their age.

16 March 2012

Philip de Vos Promoted to Co-Academy Head

Mr Philip de Vos
It is my pleasure to announce that Boosabeomnim Philip de Vos has been appointed as Co-Academy Head for the Potchefstroom Regional Academy, the main functioning academy within the Soo Shim Kwan.

Boosabeomnim Philip's contribution to the Soo Shim Kwan and to the Potchefstroom Dojang have been consistently loyal and focussed. It was therefore with great certainty that I could approach the South Africa International Taekwon-Do Federation's Executive President, Sabeomnim Dirk Nel, with the proposal to promote Boosabeomnim Philip to the level of Academy Head, who is already an accredited South Africa Three-Star Instructor.

04 March 2012

Totally Tae Kwon Do

In the March 2012 edition (Issue #37) my contribution on "Do and War", which is a much expanded version of the notes on the topic I made here on the blog in January, is the feature article. You can read it on pages 11 to 13.

Another article on a similar theme than mine, albeit discussing more current concerns is "Why Fight?" (p. 23-24) by Dave Lomas. It explores some reasons why people take up martial arts and also warns that the mere act of doing martial arts could entice other people to challenge you to fighting.

A contribution in this issue that I especially liked is the one by Brendan Doogan in which he explores the diagram origins of the ITF patterns. He shows how the pattern "floor plan" is based on certain Chinese characters and speculate on their symbolic meaning. The article starts on p. 19.

A also liked the essay by Master Doug Cook about our ever progressive increase in the understanding of techniques, which he refers to as "Revelations" (p. 39-41).

There are many other interesting looking contributions as well, but I haven't read them yet.