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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Taekyun as a Combat Sport

Taekyun has been practiced as a sport in Korea since at least the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when its popularity soared and taekyun matches were first depicted in books. Taekyun is still practiced as a sport to this day, with the most prestigious event being the Taekyun Battle.

Teams of taekyun players gather from all over Korea to compete in the championship, which begins in May and ends in October every year.  I was lucky enough to be in Korea for the finals.

Taekyun Battle 2015 officials, demonstrators, and teams competing for 1st through 4th place.

How The Game is Played

Matches are full contact.  The only protective equipment is a mouth guard and a groin cup, although taekyun shoes have a minimal layer of padding built into the top of them. Beyond that, the players are completely unprotected.

There is no scoring in a taekyun match.  There are two ways to win--either by a successful kick to the face or by throwing the opponent on the ground.  Even though low kicks aren't tracked by the judges, they are still a major part of the game since they are used to weaken the opponent.

Low kicks are used to weaken the opponent.

A kick to the face will end the match.

A good throw will end the match.

At the Taekyun Battle, there are five players to a team.  Two players face off and have five minutes to win by head kick or throw.  At the end of the five minutes, if neither has achieved a victory condition, both players are eliminated.  If one does manage to decisively end the match, only the opponent is disqualified.  The winner stays to fight the next opponent from the other team.  In fact it's possible for one player to defeat an entire team single-handedly.

The game ends when one team's players have all been eliminated.

Taekyun Battle 2015 Finals

The opening ceremony for the finals included speeches by dignitaries and an explanation of the rules.  There were also demonstrations highlighting the aspects of taekyun that aren't immediately apparent from watching a taekyun competition.  One performance showed taekyun as a basics demonstration to live music and one showed taekyun as a practical martial art--both of which were fascinating, but will have to wait for another blog post.

The final match of 2015 took place between Sungju Taekyun Academy and a team of graduate students from Sungkyunkwan University.  Sungju, wearing muted red and green, had to travel about four hours to compete in Seoul.  Sungkyunkwan, wearing bright green, were much closer since their school is in Seoul.  These two teams had to eliminate ten others on their way to face each other in the finals. 

Sportsmanship:  Before the final match, Sungju surprises their opponents with fruit gift boxes.

Here is part of one of the match-ups, to give you an idea of how the game is played.  The nice folks at Kyulyun Taekyun provided this video and uploaded a longer version that shows all of the matches.

The judges confer about whether a high kick was blocked or not.

Kick blocked!  The match continues.

It ended up being a very close contest.  Two matches ended by kicks, two by throws, and two more ended with the clock eliminating both players.  Both teams were down to a single remaining fighter, and it all came down to the match up between Park Hyeonsu of Sungkyunkwan and Son Byungjun of Sungju.  Since it's determined by elimination instead of score, matches can be cruelly short.  Here is the final match-up in its entirety.

Taekyun Battle is finished until 2016.  Congratulations to the top four teams!

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