Wow – what a lucky day! Master Pearson just shared with me something I would never have been able to really get my hands on otherwise. He has recently been digging into Taekwondo’s history and came across a valuable gem – the Fifteen Volume magnum opus composed by General Choi regarded by ITF (the International Taekwondo Federation) as Taekwondo’s founder. Choi is a controversial figure as regards martial arts history and many practitioners of WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) – the larger organization to which we generally belong – do not recognize his status as the father of Taekwondo, often casting him in a rather negative light or leaving him out of their published histories altogether. I don’t know what the true story was…obviously things were done and sins committed (probably on both sides) or it would never have ended the way that it did.
In brief, Choi grew up in Japanese occupied Korea. It is told that as a child he was exposed to Korean taekyeon, a more ancient fighting system, by his calligraphy tutor. According to most authorities, he later traveled to Japan to pursue his secular studies and in Kyoto, he came across a fellow Korean who was also a master of Shotokon Karate and took Choi under his tutelage. When Choi returned to Korea, he apparently combined elements of the Shotokon that he had learned with the taekyeon of his youth into a new art which he called Taekwondo. He started one of the kwans (schools) within this new system (Oh Do Kwan) and held an honorary rank in another (Chung Do Kwan) which he later lost, due to accusations of dishonesty. Today, ITF Taekwondo often credits Choi with starting the spread of Taekwondo on the international scene by stationing instructors from Korea around the world. They have also consistently made the claim that ITF-style Taekwondo is the only authentic style of Taekwondo, accusing all others of being dangerous imitators (read the intro to volume 1 in his series!). The 15 volume textbook-like encyclopedia, published in 1965, is important however because it was the first English language book dealing with this new art. In 1972, it seems Choi went into exile in Canada and the South Korean government then formed the the World Taekwondo Federation. He lived in Toronto until he returned to North Korea in 2000, dying there of cancer in 2002.
The above biography is really just a concise convergence of things I have gleaned from various texts on the subject. I certainly do not claim to be an expert in the history of Taekwondo!! I have a casual interest in it, as all practitioners of this art should – it is our history after all. I am told that a new book has been released this year which pokes holes in much of what we thought to be true about the development of Taekwondo. I have ordered the book but not yet read it. At any rate, what Choi’s story (in whatever version is the truth) tells us, is how detrimental politics can be to any art. So much knowledge has been lost because one particular group refuses to acknowledge the authenticity of another, and vice-versa, therefore rendering their teachings as “off-limits.” I think this is a sad reality and overall it only hurts students who wish to learn. Therefore while there are some of you out in the internet world, perhaps staunch supporters of the WTF, who may admonish me for delving into Choi’s famous book and infamous history, I’m intrigued and I’m going to do it anyway! Thank you, Master Pearson for sharing the text with me!
At the very beginning of volume 1 (which is as far as i have gotten considering I just received the text today!), Choi outlines his creed for all practitioners of “his” art. This is similar to the creed that those of us practicing WTF Taekwondo grew up having to memorize and recite on a promotion exam. Yet I think Choi’s is really beautifully written and it gets to the heart of some of the things I have spoken about in previous posts about the art of Martial Arts and the role martial artists play in the world. So I’d like to share his words with you here…again these are take from his work Taekwon-Do published in 1965 by Daeha Publication Company.
Charter of Taekwon0Do
Taekwon-Do Hun Jang
Since Taekwon-Do is an art of self-defense which aims at noble moral-rearmament, high degree of intellectual achievement, graceful techniques, formidable power and beauty of physical form, it can be considered as a part of one’s daily life, just as are breathing and thinking.
Through scientific practice of Taekwon-Do one can significantly improve his health and nourish his intellect. One can be in a position to aid others in the cause of justice, thereby promoting social ethics and morals, thus helping to bring about a happier and more peaceful society.
In order to come to terms with life, in spite of its detestable aspects, and with the idea of death, one ought to continue studying the art of Taekwon-Do to learn techniques of power and grace and to enlarge his spiritual realm. Thus the motivation to study shall be an inheritance of limitless value to succeeding generations.
Human beings come into the world with simple needs and desires. They need not become avaricious but ought to remain always humble and merciful, never compromise their principles, nor be swayed by selfish motives, to insure freedom and independence of Taekwon-Do so that it will be passed on it its pure form.
Since all students of the art are subject to the same rules of conduct and judged accoridng to the same criteria regardless of their stations in life, their origins, and their religious convictions, the demonstrate to the world the essential equality and brotherhood of man.
Modern society is characterised by selfish preoccupation with material excess and unnecessary dependence upon machines. Moral society is characterised by self discipline, sacrifice, and devotion. Dedication to the art can promote change toward a moral society.
Those who devote themselves to their fellows and live according the dictates of their consciences are always helpful toward their juniors and show respect toward their instructors and seniors.
A beginning constituted a significant part of the whole endeavor. Therefore, students of Taekwon-Do should not fail to take action whenever to do so might benefit the society. If he behaves thus, he himself will benefit most.