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Misconceptions

Intro

There are many misconceptions about taekwondo. One reason for this is because there are so many sub-styles. Taekwondo was created jointly by masters of different Korean and Japanese styles, and, while it is theoretically a unified system, the training will vary somewhat according to each instructor's background. However, the primary reason for these misconceptions has to do with the Korean ranking system.

While most Americans think a black belt is a great achievement in the martial arts; that is not true for taekwondo. A first-degree black belt in taekwondo means the holder is accomplished enough in the basics to begin serious training. Even second and third-degree black belts only signify levels of skill in advanced training, not mastery of taekwondo. In Korea, you must be a fourth degree to be considered an instructor and a fifth-degree to be considered a master instructor.

Most of the misinformation about taekwondo comes from people who have studied it but did not achieve the rank of black belt, so most of the misinformation comes from people who have not even completed taekwondo basic training, much less advanced teachings.

The following are some common misconceptions about taekwondo.

Taekwondo is a safe sport

While it is true that compared to other contact sports taekwondo is relatively safe to perform, especially when compared to football or soccer, it is still a contact sport, and as such, bad things can happen. There have been serious injuries and even deaths in taekwondo over the years.

Taekwondo is good for fitness training

To improve your general fitness you need a steady, moderate level of exercise that lasts for at least 30 minutes, such as running, swimming, cycling, etc. While taekwondo is an excellent form of exercise, by itself it is not effective in increasing overall fitness. Just look at the many pot-bellied black belts who have trained for years and display excellent techniques but are physical slugs. Taekwondo, like most martial arts, consists of moments of intense exertion punctuated by long periods of just moving around.

Taekwondo patterns are constantly changing

While is true that taekwondo patterns are relatively new, many are incarnations of older karate patterns that have been revised, but this does not mean they are inferior or possess no merit. Most modern taekwondo patterns are designed as a way to practice actual fighting techniques.

Although many of the movements in patterns are simple to execute, they are still effective self-defense maneuvers. Most experienced martial artists agree that the most effective fighting techniques are those which are the least complex. A form that shows an exotic defense against a horse-mounted warrior wielding a double-headed spear may have been practical at one time, but it has extremely limited application in today's world, which is why taekwondo patterns are occasionally modified. In fact, the patterns of most martial arts have been changed or modified over time to reflect the changing conditions of the world.

The techniques in patterns may be useful for self-defense, but that is not their only purpose. Patterns are an exercise in discipline. They are used to train the body to perform in a predefined manner, such as when playing a musical score. Patterns are a repository of perfect form, where techniques are performed in a precise manner to preserve perfect form.

Taekwondo is an ancient martial art

Taekwondo was created in 1955, hardly ancient, although I was created before 1955 and some consider me ancient. There is evidence to suggest that martial arts existed in Korea 2,000 years ago, but taekwondo is a blend of several Japanese karate and Korean martial art styles and it did not evolve until just after World War II.

Taekwondo is repackaged karate

It is true that Korea was occupied by Japanese troops for about 40 years prior to 1945 and that many of taekwondo’s founders studied Japanese karate. Early taekwondo patterns and techniques were heavily influenced by the karate background of the founders. However, the founders of taekwondo were also influenced by the native martial arts styles practiced for over 2,000 years in Korea. In centuries past, Korea conquered and occupied many parts of Japan, so it could be argued that Korean styles first influenced the Japanese martial arts.

The is no need for change in taekwondo

No one master has, or ever had, everything right in the martial arts. Changing a movement in a traditional pattern will not make the entire pattern useless. As technology, medicine, and research advance, we learn things we never knew before. Taekwondo should reflect this new knowledge.

Taekwondo is a sport, not an actual martial art

As described in other topics, taekwondo has evolved into two main types, one more a traditional martial art, and one more a sport. Taekwondo is a constantly evolving entity with many different versions being practiced, so it is not fair to judge taekwondo as a whole based on observations of a few of its variations.

Kicks have little self-defense value

While taekwondo is primarily a kicking art and, while high, spinning, "flashy" kicks are part of the taekwondo arsenal, they are not recommended for self-defense purposes. Basic, quick, powerful kicks to the midsection are taught for self-defense purposes.

Some people are always talking about the applicability of certain martial arts to self-defense. Although self-defense is a key part of all martial arts, most people are not concerned with self-defense and most people will never need to defend themselves. Contrary to popular belief, people who live ordinary lives are not living in fear of attack because they are never around places where most attacks occur.

Most people stay in martial arts, not because of a need for self-defense, but because of the camaraderie that develops through training with people of like interests. If you are a person who feels the need to "defend" yourself constantly, it is probably because you are personally offensive. There are martial arts that cater to these types of persons; taekwondo is not one of them.

Taekwondo has few hand techniques

Legs and feet are normally only used only for locomotion, but in taekwondo, they are used as weapons; therefore, much training is expended to make them effective weapons. Most people are proficient in using their arms and hands, so not nearly as much time is needed for training hand techniques. Beginners learn both hand and foot techniques, but kicking is stressed more than hands. Once a student is skilled at defending and attacking with primarily the legs, then the hand techniques are honed.

Advanced taekwondo stylists are skilled with both hands and feet. Traditional taekwondo stylists use their hands as much as they do their feet. Sport taekwondo has evolved until its practitioners rarely use their hands.

Taekwondo is best suited for the young

It is true some of the taekwondo kicks are difficult to master for older persons, but that does not mean they cannot be proficient in taekwondo. Taekwondo is not just about kicks; a proficient puncher is highly effective at blocking kicks and counterattacking with hand and foot techniques. Flashy kicks are fine for those who can perform them and have already perfected the basic power kicks, but they are not required for rank advancement.

Practitioners need to have knowledge of each technique and be able to perform the movements properly. One person may perform a perfect side kick to the head while another person’s perfect side kick is to the knee, both but can advance in rank since both kicks were technically perfect and both were at the limits of the person's physical capabilities. Taekwondo recognizes and rewards effort and inner spirit, not just physical ability.

All taekwondo training is the same

This is no truer of taekwondo than of any other martial art. Although all taekwondo schools may operate under the banner of taekwondo, there are different styles of taekwondo that differ in key ways, such as the way they perform the hallmark of taekwondo, the side thrust kick.

Also, each instructor is different in his or her way of performing the kick, depending on his or her background and experience. I most recently trained and taught within the Taekwondo America organization. Most taekwondo America instructors have studied taekwondo from a young age and have not been exposed to other styles. Many of them studied under the same masters during their early years. Therefore, their training techniques and philosophies are similar. However, some of them have been exposed to different styles of taekwondo and other martial arts. Although they conform to Taekwondo America standards when they instruct, their backgrounds and experience still come through in their instructing. This is true of all instructors.

Taekwondo is not effective for self-defense

Some say that taekwondo's high, jumping, spinning kicks have little self-defense value. Most taekwondo practitioners agree, so they would not use them or recommend their use under those circumstances.

All sports have their stunts and tricks that are performed for fun and to break the monotony of practicing the same thing day-after-day, taekwondo is no exception. But, when it comes to competition or a self-defense situation, taekwondo stylists know it is time for business, not play.

All practitioners think their style is the best, but some like to put down other styles. Some people like to play flag football, while others think it is whippy and that the only real football is full-contact football. Some people like to play football; others like to play baseball or basketball. All the games are team sports that use a ball, one is not "better" than the other, just different.

Due to physical size, strength, age, etc. differences, people are more suited to certain martial art styles. Since most people will never need to defend themselves, the question as to which art is more effective is moot. The key factors are: does the style suit you, can you perform it well, and do enjoy it.

Taekwondo takes decades to master

Master Funakoshi, the founder of modern karate, is said to have stated: "I have practiced reverse punch for over forty years, and I think that I am just beginning to understand it."

If it takes you this long to understand such a minor concept as a punch, then you have a learning disability. It takes less time than this to become a world-renowned brain surgeon. You may wait 40 years before you start to think about what makes a reverse punch work, but once you start, if you concentrate on it, you may understand and perfect it in a few days. Contrary to what many "masters" would like you to think, the martial arts only involve simple body movements and the brain's conscious and unconscious control of those movements.

In the USA, taekwondo is controlled by a small group of Korean-Americans

At its beginning in the United States, taekwondo was taught by mostly Korean immigrants. Therefore, the first taekwondo organizations were founded and managed by Korean Americans. As in any new business endeavor, there were power struggles as school owners and practitioners differed as to how taekwondo would be practiced and controlled. Many times, the Korean American masters prevailed. Many non-Korean instructors have not forgotten these struggles and have passed their prejudices on to their students who perpetuate them.

Taekwondo is a national art in Korean, taught in the schools, in the military, and as a college degree. As taekwondo gained in popularity in the United States, many Korean masters came to America, not as a part of some conspiracy to control taekwondo in the United States, but because they, like immigrants from other countries, saw an opportunity to better their lives. As the art has grown in popularity, there are now numerous taekwondo organizations, controlled by masters of many national origins.

Conclusions

These are only a few of the misconceptions people have about taekwondo. Taekwondo is not the only martial art that suffers from widespread misinformation. As martial artists, we need to accept that there are different ways to accomplish the same thing. One way is not necessarily better than the other ways.

However, contrary to the current philosophy of accepting diversity and not being judgmental, there is a right and wrong way to do things. If something is wrong, it is wrong, no matter who supports it. However, one must be careful in making judgments. You must be able to justify your judgments with facts, not with only opinions or prejudices.

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