Is Taekwondo A Respected Martial Art In Korea?

        We all know Taekwondo does not get much respected around the world, but what about inside Korea? Do Koreans themselves respect their country’s #1 martial art style? I just want to give some quick thoughts during my time in Korea and to update a bit on what I have been doing.

        The truth is Taekwondo is not really respected in Korea and 90% of Koreans do not take it seriously or think it i an effective fighting system. I have talked to many adult Koreans about this and they all think Taekwondo is pointless or unimportant. When Korea itself has a lack of love for their nations national fighting art we know Taekwondo is in bad shape. Most adults will take up boxing or Jiujitsu instead of Taekwondo. Heck, hardly any even do Hapkido either. Taekwondo is seen as a child’s exercise. It is something for the moms to drop their kids off after school between going to hagwons (private academies for extra studying). A large amount of Korean kids are pushed to study school subjects all day even to late hours in the night. This gives kids an hour or less basically to do some physical activity. Most Taekwondo classes consist of kids jumping rope to kpop, techno, and hip hop music for at least 15 minutes. This gives the sabum much time to waste in his or her office where he gets paid to not teach anything. After they waste time jumping rope they may go over some punches or blocks and a few kicks. After that they may play a game with a ball or sit around and waste time. Even the people who claim to be real true martial arts masters of the Kukkiwon seem to do this. They literally teach the children for about 20 minutes total each class. The rest is spent jumping rope, sitting around for a “break” (oh they must be soooooo tired after all that lazy rope skipping in the mirror and talking they just did) and playing games like soccer or something. It seems like a necessity for every Taekwondo master to own a bouncy castle which they set up from time to time on occasions. I saw this with my own eyes.

        There are hardly any adults who actually train in Taekwondo seriously. The rest just casually do it for working out and never want to make any kind of body contact. They do not want to one step spar, practice hoshinsool or do any kyureugi. The serious adults who like martial arts will end up training in something real like MMA. The most popular martial art in Korea by far right now is not Taekwondo. It is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After that comes MMA or boxing.

        There are teenagers and young adults who do Taekwondo as a demonstration for theatrical performance art. These black belts and masters specialize in acrobatics and dancing. They are not strong. There is an extreme lack of strong people in Taekwondo. People who have power and abilities for fighting. I talked to a Korean who practiced Kyokushin Karate and was a 2nd dan and he expressed a lot of anger about Taekwondo. There is a bitterness and frustration to many Koreans who like true martial arts about Taekwondo. He told me that the old masters of Taekwondo are very concerned that there are no longer any strong black belts in Taekwondo and they are all weak.

        Many older people I talked to about martial arts in my English classes were confused as to why I came to Korea to learn “real Taekwondo.” I now understand why as even I have become confused as to why I made this journey. Well I am not actually confused, I am just disappointed. Anything I came here to learn about “actual fighting” has never came about. I had to join MMA to actually learn combat. Anything I learned in Korea could have been learned in the United States. I could have found a Kukkiwon master who knows the current KTA standards in the USA instead of coming all the way to Korea. In Korea all that seems to be taught is poomsae half assed, and many repititions of moves in a mirror which I could have done by myself at home and not paid money for.

        Koreans know the truth. Taekwondo is not being taught for realistic fighting. The few masters who care about this have no power to change anything or simply do not care. The leaders of Taekwondo have no vision and are more concerned with money and spreading Korean culture worldwide and making Taekwondo into some corporate club for Korean nationalism that has nothing to do with fighting. In fact the culture of Korea you learn in Taekwondo or through dojangs and memberships or tournaments is not actual Korean culture. To really learn Korean culture you must live here for awhile and understand Korea is a cold and bitter place more often than not. If you want to learn Korean culture then learn Korean culture. If you want to learn martial arts you must study fighting. Taekwondo does not have enough fighting study in the dojangs around the world, especially in Korea. It is simply a way to make money for young masters who have dreams of running large Korean daycare centers that teach kids to kick things sometimes. This is really a shame.

        One that I feel sad about is the lack of Kukkiwon fighters. Where are our fighting champions who will prove this art is real? All we have are the latest Olympic champions of WTF sparring that absolutely nobody cares about outside of WTF Taekwondo. Ask people who Steven Lopez is. Nobody knows or gives a crap. And most certainly the average Korean has no clue who he is either. Korean kids and teenagers know who soccer players and baseball players are. Not who is a Taekwondo master who has accomplished anything.

        I have since walked away from my dojang in Korea and dedicated the rest of my Korean training in MMA from my Korean MMA and Jijitsu instructor who actually teaches me how to fight. The rest of my Taekwondo time in Korea will be spent studying and learning in the Kukkiwon Foreign Instructor Course and watching the World Hanmadang. I could not compete in the Hanmadang because the website was too dang confusing and by the time I tried to sign up it was past the registration date. Oh well.

        Taekwondo is respected in Korea only as some cultural heritage Koreans do as kids, or to show off demonstrations and eventually become kpop dance stars. Other than that nobody cares. The martial arts enthusiasts here simply do not care about Taekwondo very much. The few who do, the fighters who do MMA, the old masters, simply do not have enough power or influence to change this or they are simply keeping their mouths shut and allowing all of this nonsense to happen because of some cultural reason westerners do not understand. Why would old masters not talk about the problems of Taekwondo today and why do they all all of the stupid things such as Taekwon-dancing, and Olympic leg fencing to go on? Do they not realize the loss of popularity Taekwondo has suffered and the authoritative influence of the Kukkiwon is waning in foreign lands? Even with these problems I still fully 100% support the Kukkiwon as the authoritative organization of Taekwondo, to give rank and the historic linage of Taekwondo unifying through it. It seems it may take foreigners like me to openly talk about this and try to influence Koreans to start making Taekwondo a respected self defense system that actually works, and a fighting system. I hope more people start talking which will influence Koreans to openly talk and make a change. There are far too many lazy instructors who don’t care and half ass teach their students, and many corporate white collar types trying to make money. They need new leadership.

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Comments
  1. G says:

    Yes I can empathize with you. It can be disheartening to come to certain realizations in life. It was tempting for me to try to educate you more or open your eyes further to other perspectives, but you do seem pretty set in your ways & fervent in what you believe. However some of what you have come to understand is just warped in some areas, as well as at times just incorrect on some details.

    You see it is not by chance that this is the current thought process in south Korea. The civilian side in their developmental process focused on creating a new and unique sport. This started in 1961 as Tae SOO Do, while TKD was the KMA for SD. Tang Su Do and Su Bak Do were also focused on SD. But we know legends like Gen. Choi, GM Hwang Ki and Dr. Yoon lost out to the civilian leadership. So eventually Gen. Choi fled to Canada to escape political persecution, moving the ITF there. GM Hwang Ki stayed in Korea and prevailed with his lawsuits in the courts of Korea. Dr. Yoon simply remained Karate.

    So after decades upon decades of making TKD into a sport, no wonder it is not taken seriously as a method of SD, as it abandoned those roots in Korea over 50 years ago! You were lucky to have first learned TKD in the USA. TKD and KMAs were taken to the USA by Koreans who trained for SD. They were hard core martial artists and tough guys. Today the universities In south Korea pump out Phy Ed teachers who specialize in TKD as a sport. As you have slowly and at times apparently painfully realized for yourself in Korea, the homeland of TKD, it is not a KMA based in SD. It hasn’t been for a long time. It was done on purpose, as the goal was to become a sport and enter the Olympics. They did so in record time! Dr. Kim Un-Yong, a non-TKD man, deserves great credit, as does his team, as they were very successful in their aim!

    However you must not forget, that yes Korea is the motherland of TKD. And yes TKD is still trained as a hard core KMA for SD in Korea. However it is mostly above the 38th dividing line. With the reintroduction of the Original TKD back into the southern half, and as further cooperation between the ITF and the WTF continues, we hopefully we see a more well rounded KMA for SD take hold. All is not lost, and visiting foreigners can and will make a difference. So please do not give up my friend!
    Good Luck, as your contribution is important for all TKD!

    • White Dragon says:

      Wow a lot of arrogance in your comment.

      First off Choi didn’t “move ITF” to Canada. He established it there. ITF wasn’t a thing yet unti he made it in Canada and left the KTA which means he left Taekwondo to make his own Taekwon-Do (yes the spelling matters to him).

      Kukkiwon did not completely abandon self defense as the KTA had various seminars I attended on it with all kinds of face punching and Kickboxing type of defense. Basically street fighting stuff.

      ITF has just as may sportists as any other martial art. ITF in fact has its own sport and their self defense in many cases is bogus and silly as any other mcdojang.

      The goal of the Kukkiwon was not to only be a sport and this is obvious but you ITF cultists will always claim Kukkiwon is a sport and WTF is our style like mindless zombies.

      Taekwondo was not re-introduced from North Korea as you seem to be claiming to South Korea. Taekwondo never left Korea and there has always been a core of Taekwondo masters teaching it as a fighting art.

      The Kukkiwon may have its problems and bad leadership but it does not mean they are fake Taekwondo and they are the only styles that suffer from bad decisions or lack of mudo.

      • hoarder says:

        Hey White Dragon. Just for the purposes of historical accuracy, the International Tae Kwon Do Federation was founded in Seoul Korea in 1966. The “move” to Canada happened in 1972. Now of course at this point the ITF ceased having any connection to the KTA and was at this point its own thing, but it is incorrect to say there was not an organization called the ITF, which General Choi as its president, before its re-establishment in Canada.

      • White Dragon says:

        It was established and founded in Canada and registered with the government. From my understanding it was not founded in Korea.

      • hoarder says:

        Hi Man, thanks for the reply.

        You got any sources or additional information on this? Most of the ITF-related sources (not the most objective of sources) give March 22nd 1966 as the date it was founded, and Seoul Korea as the location. I’ve also read in more than one place that Choi didn’t relocate himself to Canada until circa-1971, so I’m curious what was happening in the meantime.

        I found a scan of an early ITF instructors cert on one of the ITF websites, which gives a date of 1968, which would seem to confirm that the organization existed in some form before the 70s:

        Source: http://www.tkd-itf.org/educational-information/international-instructors-courses/

        Link above mentions a “Grandmaster Kim Soo-Yong would go onto become the Chief Instructor at the ITF Instructor Courses in Seoul. He was a key salaried staff member who assisted in the running of the ITF during General Choi’s numerous trips abroad. When General Choi was forced into political exile in 1972, he tried in vain to get permission for Grandmaster Kim to move abroad to teach. However Dr. Kim Un-Yong, the KTA President since 1971 and the founding WTF President in 1973 prevented this from happening. Grandmaster Kim would eventually support the Kukki Taekwondo movement, but he stayed loyal and appreciative of General Choi’s efforts and love for Taekwon-Do.”

        Again references to some of the ITF’s functions at the very least tangentially coming out of Seoul (and of course the obligatory jab at the Kukkiwon)
        Choi is last referenced as president of the KTA around 1965 in the Taekwondo he authored from the same period, so we know we stepped down around then. I recall reading in one of your earlier posts on the ITF that he was basically ousted from the position as everyone else in the organization was sick of him. The question is what happens between him stepping down in ’65, and him moving to Canada in ’71, and the WTF’s formation by the Kukki in 1973.

        Don’t take any of this as me trying to start an argument or anything. I’m really just curious if you have anything that can fill in the holes with a narrative other than the ITF one. I’ve always been pretty curious about TKD history since its such a political cluster-fuck.

      • White Dragon says:

        Hmmm interesting. I will have to look into this. Thanks for the information. I do not believe the ITF was registered with the Korean government and it must have existed unofficially and later it was registered in Canada.

      • White Dragon says:

        At the KKW FIC this week they never mentioned the date ITF was founded or where. They simply said Choi left the KTA and started his own thing. They said he tried to be a power man and the 4 other kwanjangnims of Chungdokwan, Moodukkwan, YMCA Kwanbupbu, and Choseon Yunmukwan bapbu did not respect him and that Choi did not officially even have a black belt in Karate. The ITF was created after Choi was forced to step down as 3rd president of the KTA. But I understand that it was formed in Canada and registered there as a foreign entity and not with the Korean government as Korea supported the KTA still and then Kukkiwon.

      • G says:

        Again some of the comments demonstrate a lack of rather basic understanding of historical facts. The ITF was indeed formed on March 22, 1966 in Seoul Korea. There were 9 initial member nations. (I can list them if you want). The first honorary president was Kim Jong-Pil, the one many think was the mastermind behind the May 16, 1961 military coup. He was a colonel at the time and the nephew-in-law of Gen. Park Chung-Hee. He founded the infamous KCIA and became the Prime Minister of the ROK. He challenged the dictator for the presidency of the ROK. Gen. Choi supported him and this was another major cause of problems between the 2 former generals.
        The inaugural ceremony and dinner was held in the Rose Room, a ballroom at the Chosun Hotel in Seoul. (Today it is the Westin Chosun Hotel – 106 Sogong-ro, Jung-gu Seoul, 04533 Korea (South)
        Phone: (82)(2) 771 0500). The present day building is in the same location, but it is a modern high rise and not the traditional Korean style building that was there in 1966.

        The ITF was registered as a social organization #27 with the ROK Ministry of Education on 27 October 1967
        The ITF was registered as a private organization for international goodwill #60 with the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs 5 November 1968
        This marked the first time ever Korea was home to an international headquarters.

        Gen. Choi fled for his safety in 1972 to Canada, as the dictator he oppossed declared martial law, disbanded the National Assembly, changed the consitutuon and made himself president for life. He only left office when he was shot and killed at point blank range by his own KCIA Director on 26 October 1979.
        http://m.koreatimes.co.kr/phone/news/view.jsp?req_newsidx=75537

  2. Jason says:

    None of this is new and I am therefore bewildered why this post indicates some sort of epiphany. WTF TKD/Kukkikwon is a brand name much like Nike, Wal-Mart, Pepsi, etc. There’s no intrinsic value to the brand and in this case the Kukkikwon has been a fancy brand which has done little for TKD besides making TKD a good marketing gimmick. I quit studying TKD years ago and acquaintances that I used to study with have largely dropped out of Kukkikwon. I think the problem with this post and much of the perspective of this author, with all due respect, is that there is a mistaken notion that TKD and Kukkikwon are synonymous. That’s an obvious untruth and their are much better TKD fighters outside of the Kukkikwon.

    • White Dragon says:

      You must be an ITF sympathizer.

      Actually this post does bring cultural insights to people who do not know what is going on in Korea or how the culture of Korea views its own martial art. A lot of people actually do not know all of this and I certainly know more about it than you unless you have lived here for awhile like me in Korea. Also ITF is not at all respected in Korea and most Koreans think it is ot true Taekwondo.

      Actually the Kukkiwon and Taekwondo are synonymous…but that doesn’t mean we have to support everything they do.

  3. tkdmarine says:

    I apologize for the long reply, but this post moved me deeply, given how much I love TKD and KMA.

    This post makes me sorrowful. I love TKD and KMA. I literally have it tattooed on my body. I’ve studied other arts and fought people in other styles during my time in the Marine Corps. I have yet to practice an art that I love as much as TKD.

    That being said, I was one of the fortunate ones. My little, unaffiliated, Midwestern dojang taught me real TKD, or at least a portion of it. Reflecting, I think that we didn’t emphasive the hands as much as we should have, because taekwondo is not just taedo.

    The more I think about it–and I put some time thinking about it before I made this reply–the more I realize that taekwondo as a whole will never come back to the way it was.

    But I am strangely okay with that. I think that having little pockets of true TKD here and there is more like martial arts used to be back in the day. You couldn’t just walk down the street to learn how to fight. So while it makes me sad to see an 8-year-old black belt, I also relish every time I’m about to spar another Marine and they ask the inevitable question: “So, uh, what martial arts have you done?”
    “Oh, I have my black belt in taekwondo, so you should probably watch out.”
    *laughter*

    Afterwards I usually receive some variation of “what the hell kind of taekwondo was that, man?”

    “Real taekwondo.”

    And maybe it should stay something of a public secret. Conor McGregor uses taekwondo and I seem to be the only one who knows that. Cung Le used taekwondo and he just never made it big. GSP has openly stated that he thinks TKD is effective. But we will not see effective taekwondo being taught widely.

    For that to happen even in just America, some very, very difficult things have to happen. First, all the head instructors at every American dojang have to realize the error of their ways. This in and of itself is not that difficult. I’m pretty sure that most McDojang leaders have at one point or another thought about the crap they are doing. The issue is getting them to change. You see, for them to change, they have to have people who want real taekwondo. And until there is someone with a very, very big platform(I’m looking at you, Conor), openly saying: “Do taekwondo, it’s the bee’s knees, but not that bullcrap most dojangs teach, find a real one where you can actually lose a tooth if you forget your mouthpiece.”

    Until that happens there will be no change. The other option would be to infiltrate the WTF/ATA/ITF, rise all the way through the ranks, take over the organization and enact change from there, but I could not stomach doing that, and I feel any real martial artist could not either. Maybe with the WTF, but as a foreigner that would be exceedingly difficult.

    So I think that for those of us who are real taekwondo fighters, who legitimately understand the idea of TKD being a ‘hard style’, who have actually bled from this art, who love nothing more than training late into the night until your feet are red from kicking the bag… I think we should treat this like it’s an underground art.

    It isn’t really, but we are far from being in the public eye. My dojang, which I will return to after my tour, is bigger than most legitimate dojangs, but it’s still located in Middle-of-Nowhere, USA. Nobody even knows that my home state has more in it than corn and cows.

    Personally, I like this. We should strive to improve ourselves. Perhaps even make a new taekwondo organization. One that only had a few schools. I think in the USA you could find a dozen or so dojangs who taught true TKD and wanted nothing to do with the WTF, ATA, ITF, or ITA. Drop ourselves off the taekwondo grid so to speak. Encourage our students to compete in kickboxing instead of Olympic style tourneys. Maybe hire a jiu-jitsu instructor to teach grappling and start pumping out some MMA fighters.

    This is all out there and is merely my response to this report. Part of me hopes taekwondo can be revived. In all honesty, I do not think traditional martial arts period will ever be revived to what they once were. But maybe that’s for the best. Maybe real martial arts is taught the best away from the public eye.

    • White Dragon says:

      I get what you are saying. You don’t have to lose hope about Taekwondo itself, but just be aware of the way Koreans view it and any notion of coming here or having a fantasy met will not really happen. I met a British guy who had this happen with the instructor I came to Korea to train with. A lot of people become disillusioned with Taekwondo.

      Taekwondo has a lot to offer people, even fighters who think they don’t need it.

      There are still Koreans who want the real Taekwondo and are excited about my vision of Taekwondo and how I do Kukkiwon style. They respect that a lot here.

      I think the truth is for Taekwondo to change it will have to be foreigners who will change it. Korea’s culture has way too many problems for Taekwondo to be changed. Korea’s culture is one reason why it had so many problems in the early days and why people fraught all the time and could not agree on stuff.

  4. Christian Orderud says:

    Did anything happen between you and Master Jeong, since you don’t train with him anymore? Or is you leaving your training with him mostly a case of disagreement of how you view the art? Or perhaps something entirely different? I’m very curious, as you seemed quite happy with your training there in an earlier blog post.

  5. zainibnamin says:

    Correct your grammar, this looks so unprofessional 😭

  6. Al says:

    Hi WhiteDragon,

    Thanks for posting this article. I found it very informative. I’m 18 years old and have been looking into starting TKD for self-defense purposes. After reading your article and seeing some of this “Korean Tigers” nonsense, it looks like I’m going to go with a combination of either Muay Thai and BJJ or MMA/Boxing and BJJ to obtain the skills I’m looking for. I’d gone to a Kung Fu class during Saturday school when I was younger and I definitely learned almost nothing other than choreography. If you have any suggestions you’d like to throw my way with your extensive knowledge on my decision I welcome them – you seem quite smart.

    Good day, and I wish you luck on your journey in the martial arts.

    • White Dragon says:

      Thanks for readng and do whatever you feel you need to do.

      But I will say there are still a lot of good Taekwondo teachers who do teach good things. This article was not written to deter you away from training in Taekwondo. I still recommend you check out the nearest Kukkiwon certified Taekwondo gyms near you and see if they offer something better. It really depends on the teacher. A lot of important things are learned through traditional martial arts training that many people who only trained at an MMA gym do not learn.

      • Al says:

        Hi WhiteDragon,

        Thank you, I appreciate the tips. Since I’d called a couple places over the weekend before I came across your article, I already set up appointments for a few trial lessons. One WTF TKD place 10 minutes from me charges $150 per month and they don’t even have a website. However, the instructor is authentically Korean, at least. Another place offers $150 for Muay Thai and BJJ, and I plan on checking them out tomorrow. I’ll have to see how it goes. More than likely I’ll probably end up going with the MT/BJJ classes as they seem the most no-nonsense at the moment.

        Anyways, take care.

  7. Jackie says:

    I didn’t realize that people didn’t take it as seriously as I thought they did! Wow, interesting read!

    • White Dragon says:

      Yes it is pretty sad or disappointing. People were shocked I got a job in Korea to learn Taekwondo better. They thought it was pointless and made no sense to come to Korea. Like “Why? Why would you do that?? Huh???”

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