Article on Taekkyon and Some Thoughts on Colonial History
I'm starting a new thread to avoid further derailing the KMA Guidelines thread. This article is about Taekkyon as its practiced today, but I thought I'd offer it up as a lead in to my thoughts on the history of Taekkyon during the Colonial Period. I got this article in my e-mail via the Dojang Digest this morning and thought I'd share, because "sharing is caring."
A little touchy feely and kind of flies in the face of the "so d34dly it was banned by the Japanese" history. Speaking of which, I have not been able to find one shred of documentary evidence in either Japan (National Diet Library - Japanese equivelent to the Library of Congress) or in Korea (National Archives where the documents from the Colonial Period are stored in Korea). Moreover, after extensive review of annual crime statistics for the Colonial Period, I found no category for a crime related to the practice of martial arts.
Taekkyon: Gently and Lightly
FEBRUARY 09, 2007
The Dong-A Ilbo
Taekkyon moves are soft and curved. Taekkyon players bend their knees and bodies like the branches of a willow. Simply watching someone performing the traditional Korean martial art gives you a pleasurable feeling, as they move their body left and right, and their shoulders up and down. It appears to be a dance to Korea's traditional farm music, but in an instant it changes into a cheerful mask dance. One cannot find furious and deadly moves in Taekkyon, as in every move lies a hidden "cushioning" action. Taekkyon kicks are not aimed straight at the opponent. They curve like a crescent, in contrast to Taekwondo kicks that are straight and abrupt.
"Neun attacks" are characteristic of Taekkyon. Neun (meaning soft and slow in Korean) attacks knock the opponent to the ground without hurting them, for which advanced power control skills are essential. Taekkyon does not allow the attacking of vulnerable parts of the body. Rather, the forehead, sides, thighs and shoulders are the targets, as the principle is to attack the opponent's hard and safe body parts using one's own soft body parts. For example, Anugeori trips the opponent by hitting their ankle bone with the soft sole of the foot,
and Gyeotchigi impacts the opponent's cheeks, shoulders or thighs with the sole of the foot. "Straight kicks" with no bending and cushioning are a foul in Taekkyon. All Taekkyon moves are based on Neun attacks. Novice kicks impact the opponent's legs and intermediate kicks impact the opponent's shoulders. However, master kicks can tip the opponent's
hat to the ground. A Taekkyon player wins when part of the opponent's body (above the knee) comes in contact with the ground. A player is also victorious when he pushes the opponent more than two steps with a two-foot kick, or knocks the opponent off balance with a kick aimed at the opponent's neck or head. Taekkyon's charm is revealed in matches, where players fight but do not hurt each other. Punches and kicks carry an unusually caring touch. When a match is over, players exchange friendly and encouraging remarks. After all, the purpose of the match is to find out who is the better player. Matches are usually
a part of village festivities. This is why Taekkyon, along with
Ssireum – traditional Korean wrestling – were so popular during the spring festival.
Among Taekkyon practitioners, families and women make up a
significantly high percentage. Many grandmothers over sixty years of age enjoy the sport in local sports clubs, which in itself is tribute to the softness and fluidity of Taekkyon movements. Lim Mi-young, a 34 year old 4th Dan (the highest level) who runs a Taekkyon school in Bucheon, said, "Anyone, even seniors, can see their movements softening with continuous practice. As the bending action in the sport stimulates growth plates, it can make children grow tall." (Bucheon Jeonsugwan Taekkyon School phone number: 032-3232-666) Park Eun-hye, a
fifteen year-old student and last year's second-place winner at the women's Taekkyon Championships (2nd Dan, 1st Poom, Incheon Chungchun Women's Junior High) said that she can sweat away any stress with just a little bit of Taekkyon. The 166 centimeter Park, once a small girl, attributes her growth to the traditional Korean sport. A Yoga-teaching married couple, Jeong Geon (34) and Choi Ha-ran (30), both 3rd Poom, practice Taekkyon with each other regularly. Choi described Taekkyon as dynamic, as opposed to Yoga being static. She said she can develop
agility and nimbleness through the sport, which does not overstrain joints and whose fluid kicks can only be described as splendid. Often witnessed are fathers and their son practicing Taekkyon together. One such example is Kwon Soon-hong, a 43 year-old teacher (3rd Poom), and his son Yong-hwan (5th Poom). Senior Kwon believes that the best parts of the sport for him are its de-stressing effects and the joy of working up a sweat and talking with his son while practicing. Junior Kwon smiled saying he sometimes corrects his father's posture. It has
been only a month since Kang Jeon-hee, a 40-year-old teacher,
practiced with his two sons, Chang-moo (7) and Seung-moo (5). Kang said, "Taekkyon is a soft sport for all and is great exercise. In addition, children can learn about national traditions." Ryu In-gab (8th Poom), a 54-year-old self-employed businessman, who underwent surgery for intestinal cancer six months ago, was charmed by the unique appeal two months ago. Beaming brightly, he said he no longer has indigestion problems and fatigue, and has greatly improved his flexibility.
Taekkyon is fun. It is both a martial art and a dance at the same time. Kicks are not intended to cause harm and it requires no protective gear. Instead, it requires self-restraint and consideration of others, which is the reason why players should be flexible and not rigid, both physically and mentally. Players should soften themselves by continuously moving their bodies. If the basis of all martial arts is said to lie in kicks, then Taekkyon kicks are some of the most special. A practitioner moves in the form of a triangle and an inverted triangle, changing his center of gravity among the three points. Here, the arm-flapping movement is to maintain balance. The bellowing sound is another unique element. "Eeeek. Eeeek" – it is the
sound of life, and is made by a person unknowingly and unconsciously. An "Eeeek" rings the lower abdomen, which transforms itself into a round movement. Taekkyon lies somewhere between "spirit" and "sport."
However, I have heard anetoctally that King Kojong banned Taekkyon sometime in the 1880s because gangsters were using it to fight in the capital. One of the edicts that I did find (Seiri #7 I think, but I don't have my notes handy right now) did continue the Korean penal code for Koreans after the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910. This order was later rescinded in 1920 as part of Saito's reforms following the March First uprising, thus putting all Koreans under the same laws as the Japanese. If Kojong really did ban Taekkyon, then perhaps the Japanese were only continuing this ban. However, to substantiate this theory, one would need to examine the Choson Court records during the reign of King Kojong. I'm not sure how complete those records would be, given the Japanese takeover during his reign.
Another plausible explanation for the common idea that there was a ban is that it was more of a matter of the colonial police simply discouraging the practice of martial arts by Koreans out of a general concern that it might be a venue for supporting or inciting Korean resistance to the Japanese rule. Following the Japanes disbanding of the Korean military in 1907, former military and local gentry formed "Righteous Armies" and began a guerilla war that was not fully put down until 1914 (most history texts say 1912, but I found continued reports from the Kempei-tai of Righteous Army activity well into 1914 in the National Archives in Seoul). Given that the Japanese police and military were actively engaged in subduing this resistance movement for seven years, I think it highly likely that regardless of whether there was an official ban or not that the police would not look kindly on a group of Koreans practicing any sort of martial art.
However, the very fact that Taekkyon did survive suggests that the colonial authorities did not take the threat of Koreans studying martial arts as a serious threat to social order (Japanese law enforcement has always been more about maintaining social order and enforcing "harmony" than about abstract notions of justice or morality). By comparison, the Government General took the Korean Communist movement (Korea is home to the first Communist party in Asia) very seriously as a threat to social order and pursued it so relentlessly that it it was completely suppressed and drivend out of Korea by 1929.
On the other hand, the Government General largely turned a blind eye to the activities of kkangp'ae (Korean equivelant of yakuza - technically, this term didn't become common until the mid '30s), who were allowed to grow from what were small bands of petty thieves, con-men and extortionists in the early Colonial Period into fairly large and well organized gangs by the 1930s, unless their activities threatened social order (e.g. gang fights, unlicensed prostitution, gambling). These gangsters had a reputation for having martial arts skills (Taekkyon, Ssirium, head butting [another traditional Korean MA/sport] and Judo), which further suggests that the practice of these martial arts was not systematically supressed by the Government General. From what I've heard from Koreans that grew up during the Colonial Period, it was the widespread practice of Taekkyon by kkangp'ae at this time that gave Taekkyon such a bad reputation as an MA for thugs so that after Liberation few Koreans wanted to be associated with Taekkyon.
Last edited by TEA; 2/13/2007 1:48pm at .
This article was published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts:
I don't know how accurate it's, but it was a very interesting reading.
Sorry if it was posted before.
Fascinating, TEA - thanks.
The Korean nationalism angle sounds plausible, given the same trajectory in Japan (martial arts as indigenous authenticity).
But as you say, Taekkyon survived. Perhaps like many martial arts, it gains prestige when associated with suppression. It's no longer just a fighting art, but a sign of struggle and pride.
Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness
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Blues-Man, thanks for posting the link to that article. Very interesting indeed.
If you don't mind, I'm going to add it to the KMA Bibliography thread.
Of course I don't mind. I just posted the link here.
You may recall that in the last few years the oft-quoted bit of history about weapons being "banned" in Okinawa was disproven as a mis-translation. This did not keep this from becoming the basis for the oral tradition regarding Karate being essentially a civic art used by farmers to bushwack the unsuspecting samurai, yes?
My sense is that some innocuous policy was probably "spun" by person-or-persons-unknown to develop an aura or mystiqu around what is otherwise a pretty banal pass-time. Just a thought.
BTW: a clip on YOU TUBE had some interesting footage of one of the original TK teachers going through his paces. He was followed by some pretty acrobatic young practitioners, but the older gentlemans' material was low and moderate. Seemed a bit more dynamic than what I would expect old women to be messing with. Could be wrong.
Yeah, thats the whole reason that Choi came up with the name Tae Kwon Do - to try and link it to Taekkyon and promote a little nationalistic enthusiasm for Korean Karate.
Originally Posted by DAYoung
Also, I find it interetsting that after Liberation, most of the kkangp'ae (e.g. Kim Du-han and Yu Ji-kwan) reinvented themselves as "resistance fighters" who protected Koreans in Seoul from the depridations of the Japanese police, despite the fact that they worked with the Government General to recruit labor during the war years and any attempts to resist Japanese occupation were brutally and successfully crushed by a very efficient police aparatus. I guess because the merchants in their area paid them "protection money" they could claim that this was to protect them from the colonial police. Of course, this is pretty much a tangent, except that these kkangp'ae were also reputed to be bad ass Taekkyon fighters.
Last edited by TEA; 2/15/2007 5:33pm at .
I agree, it does seem more in line with what I've experienced of it (which admittedly is little). However, having seen some Taegyeon comps and sparred a few of them, the idea that there's nothing in the arsenal that can hurt you is a bit stretched in this article.
Originally Posted by TEA
One thing the article did get right...Taegyeon is a great way to meet chicks.
I haven't found anything either. Given that most MA practice had fallen to ill-repute at that point, I find it hard to believe that the Japanese would ban something that didn't exist.
Originally Posted by TEA
Gundal would be more likely the equivalent term to Yakuza, though perhaps just more from a modern standpoint. Ggangpae always seem more like gangbangers to me.
Originally Posted by TEA
Some time back on another forum I put out a request for anyone who had information on the "Peddler's Guild" ("Guild of the Peddlers"?) which reportedly offered to provide security for the Korean royals in the closing days of the dynasty when there was so much intrigue, and motives could no longer be trusted. I think it would be insightful to know more about this obscure part of Choson Dyn history. Maybe it might put a different face on what so many refer to as "criminal gangs", "organized crime" and the sort of "insecurity" that the Japanese referenced for taking over security around Seoul. Thoughts?
A little off topic, but does anyone know where I can find info on Taekkyon classes. From what I've seen there are only schools in Korea or Cali. Does anyone know of any others?