There are two major types of Tae Kwon-Do being practiced today; Olympic (or sport) Tae Kwon-Do and the Traditional (Martial Art) Tae Kwon-Do. My First Degree Black Belt is in the Olympic version of Tae Kwon-Do and awarded to me by the Kukkiwon and the World Tae Kwon-Do Federation (WTF) in South Korea. My Second and Third Dans (Degrees) were sanctioned by the International Tae Kwon-Do Federation (ITF) when I trained under Robert Summers and Jong Soo Park. My Fourth was earned under the RSA and my Fifth and Sixth are sanctioned by both the RSA and USTW (United States Taekwondo Won).
Although what I am about to say can cause a firestorm of arguments, it is true. Additionally with my background, I feel more than qualified to say it. Olympic Tae Kwon-Do is not by definition a martial art. It is a sport. Traditional Tae Kwon-Do (developed by General Choi) is a martial art and was taught to the Korean army. It is still taught to special forces around the world and is an amazing form of hand-to-hand combat. When I trained under the WTF, my friends and I could only do well at WTF tournaments, and got “crushed” at open or traditional events. In addition, I didn’t feel as prepared to deal with real, “street” situations. My “traditional” training helped me to do well at all tournaments and and gave me the necessary tools to deal with real life threats. Having Tae Kwon-Do become a sport and entering the Olympics gave it a bad name in the martial arts world, and deservedly so. I was wary of it’s Olympic status and am still saddened by all of the politics and “baggage” that has come with this status. When you say you practice Tae Kwon-Do, many people think “sport” and other martial artists may look down their noses. However if you say you train in “traditional” or ITF style Tae Kwon-Do, people know you are a true martial artist. Be proud of this! It is up to us, and schools like us, to carry the torch (the torch of TKD as a martial art) into the future. It is our hard training that will ensure that our great martial art will continue to be the best available!
Lastly, let me make this clear. I am not “putting down” any martial art. I am just putting things in the proper perspective and putting things in their proper place. Good martial arts is good martial arts. I respect anyone, who does what they do, with passion and commitment, whether it is sports, music, academics or martial arts. Their commitment to the art will give them discipline and confidence plus a great deal of satisfaction and happiness. Those who do not train or do not commit will never feel the full force of which I speak. Pil-Sung!