Recently on Dojo Rat I took another look at my experience in Tae Kwon Do, which began around 1979. "The Long and Short of Tae Kwon Do" detailed how I witnessed combat TKD degrade into a sport with a rule set that makes it only marginally useful in a serious fight.
I remember one of my instructors, who rescued a woman from being raped in downtown Portland say that without western boxing skills he could never have saved the woman from the two attackers.
There is a long, sordid history of the development of modern Tae Kwon Do, but here's the nickel tour: It originally started out as Shotokan Karate under the Japanese occupation of Korea. Many Koreans took Japanese names and were educated under the Japanese school system.
During the Korean war Korean fighters made their fame killing Chinese soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. These guys were tough, and soon caught the attention of the U.S. military. Decisions were made to categorize various schools of Korean fighters, and "Tang Soo Do" (way of the Chinese hand) became the most recognized system. By that time, the Koreans had distanced themselves from their Shotokan roots by adding spectacular high jumping kicks. These were performed at military and government demonstrations to awe the crowd, and were almost useless in actual combat.
None-the-less, lessons learned in hand-to-hand fighting were taught to Korean and U.S. military units as well as the secret service of both countries.
My instructor, the late Master Tae Hong Choi taught these techniques to Special Forces in Vietnam as well as the U.S. CIA.
Master Tae Hong Choi
Political rivalries that labored under the Korean dictatorship were mirrored in it's agents that were sent out around the world. Eventually, the disparate schools of Korean Martial arts became united under the name "Tae Kwon Do" (foot-fist way).
Originally, our TKD school practiced Korean Judo and Hapkido techniques that reflected the experience of soldiers in the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as powerful kicks and strikes. One-step fighting patterns, called "Kibone" were practiced using chops, sweeps, elbows and knees.
But with the largely political push to get Tae Kwon Do into the Olympics, the fighting system was watered down to sport level, focusing on highly gymnastic jumping and spinning kicks. TKD fighters were vulnerable to systems that grappled or used fast repetitive hand strikes. The politics were insufferable.
Now it seems that "Olympic" Tae Kwon Do has run it's course. The sport limitations have shown through, and it appears that Koreans are seeking to return to more effective fighting techniques. The video above is of "Taekkyeon", the name hearkening back to an ancient Korean fighting style. While largely ceremonial and dance-like, Taekkyeon competition resembles Capoeria in some ways. The players dance about, switching feet while attempting sweeps and head kicks.
However, as demonstrated in the video above, there is an effort to put serious fighting techniques back into Korean Martial Arts.
And this is a very good sign, as in this era of cross-training with MMA and other systems, the Koreans may once again find their true fighting roots.