What Happened to Olympic Taekwondo?
The changes were supposed to make it more exciting to watch. The examples of skill were supposed to be enhanced. The participants themselves were to have demonstrated greater abilities. So, what happened?
Of all that has been of the past Olympic Games since the initiation of Taekwondo at Seoul in 1988, there seems to have been a degradation in the caliber of Taekwondo skills reflected in the Olympic games. With the exception of a few, competitors reflected at the most recent Rio Olympic Games, we have been left to lackluster performances, with the inclusion of something called a “scorpion kick” (which looked more like an afterthought of wrapping the leg around the body to touch the opponents head from behind – with no power whatsoever), only to be awarded points. Then the ‘my turn to kick, now your turn to kick’ exchanges that neither excited, not resembled true execution as both competitors were nearly horizontal – leaning back to keep from being hit. Hands dropped to the sides and no blocking techniques. Only something that resembled pushing kicks away from minor scoring positions.
As an instructor since the time ‘before’ inclusion of Taekwondo in the Olympics, and trainer of former gold and silver medalists, I find myself longing for what appears to be something that will be included in future Olympic Games: Karate. A fowl word to be spoken in most Korean Martial Arts circles. Yet the look and feel of what is demonstrated in Karate tournaments seeking Olympic inclusion is that of Taekwondo’s yesteryear.
There have been the regular ‘point tournaments’ of the 1970’s which reflected individual techniques in scoring. Then, the evolution of Taekwondo in the 1980’s, as reflected in the 9th and 10th “Pacific Taekwondo Championships” held by GM Kim, Yong Kil of the then-famous Do San Gymnasium in Los Angeles. These tournaments saw the excitement of continued sparring when skills still included sweeps and stunning aerial displays of multiple uninterrupted techniques. These translated well to the demonstrations of 1988 in Seoul and the 1992 in Spain. The Pan Am Games used to mean the elite of the elite would demonstrate their prowess. Nationally ranked tournaments, as requisites for the Olympic Games, actually produced the awe of Traditional Taekwondo, reflected in a safe, secure, competitive environment.
Perhaps the idea that this ‘martial art’ could claim lives, cause permanent injury, or enhance liability issues, caused the demise of its nature as insurance companies envisioned nightmarish payouts. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the timidity in which opponents came together this past Olympics pales in comparison to the fact that we may have seen the last of Taekwondo in these games that we fought so hard to have accepted.
If Taekwondo no longer remains an Olympic Sport, what then will be the future of Taekwondo for all those schools and practitioners that have worked so hard to teach what they term as; “Olympic Style Taekwondo”?
Perhaps the thrill of the martial arts is no longer as it once was. We seek to reflect the look and feel of tournament as seen in “Best of the Best”. Maybe even the skills reflected in the motion picture “Forbidden Kingdom”. Or, the thrill of victory reflected in the former “Karate Kid” series of films.
The ‘best’ of the best is not found in movies, tournament, or hope of what once was. Rather, the consistency of tradition, the focus on one’s personal development, and the drive to create the best personal skill-set possible – for sake of … what?
In Song Moo Kwan Taekwondo, we have been blessed to have a continued traditional purpose, under modern Taekwondo’s founder, Supreme Grand Master Byung Jick Ro. SGM Ro remained a constant beacon, stressing the importance of traditional training which can transcend any arena. In fact, as we look to photographs of past, SGM Ro remained the only original Kwan founder wearing his uniform and continuing to teach until just before his passing September 9, 2015.
Senior Grand Master Hee Sang Ro remains the only son of the original Kwan founders to prepare in taking up the mantle of his father’s teachings. The only man to establish his own set of credentials in support of the legacy that remains unmatched in Taekwondo history.
Why is this so important? Because there has never been a lack of direction, exclusion of tradition for sport, or reality-based Self-defense. In short, this realization that Taekwondo retains multiple facets, including sport competition, where proper training would never see a time when the traditions of the past are excluded in favor of passing fads.
When the future of Taekwondo seems to be in question… when the lackluster performance of most competitors slip into obscurity, and the presumed inability of martial prowess is in doubt by many, there comes an evolutionary advantage. From the founder’s son, Senior Grand Master Ro, Hee Sang, there comes an exciting new, interpretation of forms; an electrifying return to ‘reality-based’ self-defense; and, a seamless blend of skills that permit coexistence between sport and tradition – of a caliber never before reflected in the martial arts world.
It is estimated that there are more than 70 million Taekwondo practitioners in the world today. They came from the original Song Moo Kwan (established March 20, 1944). Yet, those who are permitted to hold that rank in Song Moo Kwan amount to no more than tens of thousands. Why? Because true Song Moo Kwan practitioners preserve the traditions that founded this movement. True practitioners know the difference between martial arts and martial fluff.
Karate is not the future of Olympic competition. Traditional Taekwondo can return to its origins. It is reflected in the personal prowess of each and every true practitioner. Those that can embrace their own destiny. Those that have the courage to lead. Those that commit to personal enhancement without disdain for tradition over supposed Olympic Taekwondo prowess alone.
What are we to do?
Take a chance. Test your skills. Find out what it means to return to the Taekwondo’s origins. Then follow those that originated, defend, and continue to teach the original system that protected a nation… and now millions of people throughout the world as a result.
As for me… Song Moo Kwan has permitted my success as an instructor; keeping my life in times of danger; and, continues to provide a challenge for personal excellence. As a result, I look forward to the future of Taekwondo, in all its facets.