Taekwondo is the SAME as Karate

In an informal discussion over the weekend an ITF guy (of all people) said, "Taekwondo is the same as Karate." It was his unspoken idea that Taekwondo began with instructors that were trained in Shotokan, amongst other things, 'repackaged' Karate and started on a major rebranding exercise.

But listen, Karate as practiced in Tokyo in the 1920s was very different to how karate is practiced nowadays. Master Funakoshi, Father of Modern Karate, was highly opposed to jiyu kumite or free sparring, and even more opposed to the idea of competitions. Shotokan Karate then was kata, kata, and kata. It was Hironori Ohtsuka (Funakoshi's assistant) who pushed for the inclusion of kumite from 1920 to 1930. Only in the 1930s and beyond, with the publication of Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan is there the introduction of 'kihon, kata, and kumite'. The 'Golden Age' of karate started in the 1940s and beyond.

Funakoshi Sensei was for Kata but against Free Sparring

So we have Korean masters who were trained in the original kata, kata, kata (in addition kihon and makiwara) looking at the applicability of this system for their own usage. I think it was brilliant that they recognised that this early system was too rigid for them, and innovated footwork and movement when they were freed from wartime Japan and Korea. Did they draw from Taekyon? Taekyon was a street game, 'played' amongst children everywhere. Their awareness that Taekyon could introduce lighter footwork and more dynamic, long-range kicks was all that was needed to start repurposing techniques for their use.

The General was looking to keep core value but wanted marketing differentiation - okay, that's  not correct. He wanted to lose the rigidity and incorporate longer range versatile kicks into his arsenal

I trained in two very different systems early on - one focused on long-range fast kicks, and then when I entered traditional taekwondo, it was all about kime, focus, deceleration. Imagine that. Those early masters would have continued the practice of 'kime' to preserve the power of their strikes at close range (anyone who practices this kind of focused power knows how addictive it is), but would be enjoying the longer range and the relaxedness of their new kicks. It was a juxtoposition of power and speed that was not present in pre-1930s karate.

I think Taekwondo finds great value in the source material of Karate linked to Okinawan systems, but beyond that I think we need to give credit to the brilliant innovation from those early Korean instructors.


Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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supergroup7 said…
I guess if you want to think in an all inclusive manner then all Martial Arts are the same as Karate. Aren't we all trying to stop an opponent from hurting us by hurting them in the most efficient manner in agreement with our Art's philosophy?
Ørjan said…
The founders of Taekwondo seemed to be using Taekwondo as a Korean term for all hard style martial arts. In Choi Hong Hi`s 1965 book he goes on to say that there are three kinds of forms where some have been developed by Taekwondo masters for several houndred years (paraphrasing). He lists them as the korean pronounciation of Shorin and Shurei forms and Chang Hon Ryu forms. As Chang Hon forms where made in the 1950s onward the only "Taekwondo masters" that developed forms for houndreds of years has to be "Karate" masters..

In early Chung Do Kwan books you get the same idea as Kwanjangnim Son writes that Karate is the same as Taekwondo (paraphrasing) as well as Henry Cho in his 1968 book says basicly the same thing.

That being said you are right in that they tried to improve upon the system they got. The kicks they developed got so popular that they actually influenced many Karate styles to incorporate high kicks too(!). Other important additions to the system are:
-Choi Hong Hi`s theory of power
-more realistic footwork (the idea of a lighter footwork may have come from Taek Kyon, but the actual footwork seems to have been incorporated from Western Boxing?)
-continuous sparring system
-The adition of both breaking and self defense techniques as part of training (the original system was basics and forms or basics, forms and sparring depending on when the founder of a Kwan studied in Japan).

I am gratefull for the Pioneers of Taekwondo and their quest for improvement as well as their respect for what they had. Yes they made a new form of martial art with a new name and new forms, but they kept many things from the older system that they thought was good too. They inspire me every day and they also inspire my view on "Traditional Taekwondo". For some it means to preserve a "time capsule syllabus" from a certain timeframe, or more poetic: To keep the ashes of old in a neat box to preserve it. For me it means not to go on an identical path but rather seek what they sought, or more poetic: instead of keeping and preserving the ashes, I want to keep the fire burning:)
Colin Wee said…
Mir - yes, if you want to be really top level, all of us have arms and legs and move in a certain way ...and thus all martial arts are pretty similar. But what this post was focusing on was a throwaway comment made by an ITF black belt which I thought was a little uneducated. Ørjan's response is the kind of deliberated response which I think represents TKD better. :-) Colin
Colin Wee said…

RE "The kicks they developed got so popular that they actually influenced many Karate styles to incorporate high kicks too(!)." I don't think people exactly appreciate this, nor think about the effect Taekwondo has had on modern karate. There is much to say about innovating and owning mid to long range techniques.

Re: "Choi Hong Hi`s theory of power." I'm actually not a big fan of this particular aspect of Taekwondo. I'm not totally against it as it does promote one aspect of natural movement and power generation, but I think this has negatively influenced daily practice. You can read up on my thoughts at http://www.joongdokwan.com/2008/11/only-true-taekwondo-practices-sine-wave.html

Thank you for putting in the additional aspects that TKD has promoted. Spot on!


OwlMatt said…
Really enjoyed this post. We can acknowledge the Japanese and Okinawan roots of taekwondo and still celebrate it as a uniquely Korean art.
Excellently amazing and exciting too. Can you please mention me the source of your reference... I am happy that at least somebody gave this subject an attention.
Colin Wee said…
Hapkido Santa Monica - my huge apologies for not getting a reply out to you sooner. My source? That would be Master Peter Wong. :-) I was shocked too. :-) Colin
Excellent Job! Thanks for creating a sensible topic that suits the taste of your readers. Keep up the good Work.Muay Thai in Connecticut

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