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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Martial Arts


Learning Taekwondo

Barry Hooper

Taekwon-do is Korean for foot (tae), hand (kwon) and way, or art (do). It can thus be rendered, "the art of fighting using the hands and feet." The word "do", essentially the key to the art itself, implies a totally dedicated way of life, the pursuit of excellence.

Strictly speaking, the nomenclature, Taekwondo, is relatively recent, being coined by the Father of Taekwondo, General Choi Hong-hi in 1957, but its roots go back over 2000 tears to c.60 BC to the art of Taek Kyon. Taek Kyon was developed, like karate and Kung-fu, as a devastating, surprise tactic against the depredations of marauders, ironically, in this case, Japanese pirates.

The Japanese were both directly and indirectly responsible for Taekwondo's development. Indirectly, as they banned martial arts during their Korean occupation from 1909 until World War 2, forcing Taek Kyon, also known as Subak, to be pursued secretly in Buddhist temples. At the onset of war, the Japanese forced Korean subjugates, to learn karate in Japan, where Choi, himself, became proficient in Shokotan karate, later attaining the grade of 2nd Dan.

To learn tae kwon do accordingly involves many of the rigours of karate, thanks to Choi, typically, intense body-conditioning and muscular development. It's a hard style involving direct, forceful blocks, powerful, linear attacks, and angular movements. Its also an amalgam of T'ai Chi, Kung-fu, judo, and other styles, incorporating spinning motions, punching, high jumping kicks, dodges, and parrying with both hands and feet.

For Taekwondo students, its military background is crucial. Latterly, as it was incorporated into the military training of both the Korean, and US forces. But far more importantly, because of the ancient parallels with the Roman legions, the quintessential martial artists.

Initially, worshipping Mars in his most brutal, slaughtering aspect, as Ares, the legions' beliefs progressed through Mars Ultor -" the Avenger"- to their ultimate devotion to Mithras, the Zoroastrian god of battles and victory. However, for Taekwondo, it's as god of oaths, mutual obligation between the king and his warriors, protector of the righteous, and arch-foe of the powers of evil that he's most significant.

Ultimately, Mithras represented friendship, integrity, harmony, and all that successfully maintains order in human existence. He thus accords with the highest martial art principles, extolled by the ancient promulgators of Taek Kyon, the HwaRang - "the Flowering of Youth".

It's to this aristocratic elite that the latter 11 point honour-code of Taekwondo - respect, loyalty, and fidelity i.e. deference, adherence to the law, allegiance, and oath-keeping to country, ancestors, spouses, siblings, friends, and school - owes its origin; representing the most arduous task for the student.

But it's the Buddhist respect for life, inherent in the HwaRang's oath never to take life unjustifiably, the attainment of indomitability of spirit, and the completion of what one has begun that students will derive the greatest benefit from. Plus taking to heart the HwaRang's Confucian directive that the noble man should study poetry, the arts, and play music, as martial arts are best left to the common, or even inferior, man!

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