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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Interview with Master Do Kihyun Part 1

Master Do Kihyun is the President of the Kyulyun Taekyun Association and a published author on taekyun.  He has trained in martial arts for over 40 years including taekwondo, kung fu, kendo, karate, aikido, hapkido, and others.  He started taekyun in 1982 and has trained in it continuously ever since.  He has a masters degree in Sports and Leisure and is working toward his PhD.  He now teaches taekyun in Seoul, Korea, at a small school where people (including myself) come from all over the world to train.

Despite his impressive resume, he insists that his most noteworthy accomplishment is having achieved confidence, happiness, and peace of mind through martial arts.  I sat down with Master Do to discuss taekyun and his experiences in the martial arts.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series, and will be continued next week.

Interviewer and interviewee.

Martial Journeys:  What is taekyun?

Master Do:  Taekyun is a traditional Korean martial art.  There are many martial arts in Korea but taekyun is the only one the Korean government recognizes as a Korean cultural treasure.  It is also recognized as a UNESCO world cultural heritage.  Other martial arts like Shaolin kung fu, tai chi and muay thai applied, but they were all rejected. Taekyun is the only one.

Martial Journeys:  Why do you think that is, that it's the only one?

Master Do:  This is just my opinion, but I think it's because taekyun has changed less than the other arts.  I think Shaolin kung fu is a very good martial art, but it might be too commercialized.  It is not an exact tradition because it has changed so much.  Tai chi was also changed by the Chinese government.  But taekyun never changed like that and still maintains its traditional form.  During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese government prohibited taekyun practice.  Only a few people continued to practice taekyun in secret.  After Korea gained its independence, Korean people weren't interested in taekyun.  Since there were so few taekyun practitioners, taekyun couldn't develop.  But it also couldn't change.

Martial Journeys:  Why should someone who practices another martial art be interested in taekyun?

Master Do:  Almost all East Asian martial arts like karate, kung fu, taekwondo and hapkido, are based on Chinese philosophy and Chinese traditional movement.  China is a big country and they have a long history so when cultures collided almost all East Asian martial arts were influenced by Chinese styles.  But taekyun is absolutely uniquely Korean.  It has no horse riding stance and no punches from the waist like most styles do, and taekyun moves according to a unique 3 beat rhythm.  The techniques have a very different flavor compared with other East Asian martial arts.  But it's more than that. Usually Chinese martial arts are very mysterious, Japanese martial arts are very serious, but the Korean martial art of taekyun is just fun.  When you attend my classes, it is not serious or mysterious.  My students are smiling and in good spirits.  That is why I think taekyun is a very good martial art system.  I hope in the future, all the other martial arts will want to change to foster a happy mind, to relax, help each other, and practice to enjoy themselves.

Taekyun students being neither serious nor mysterious.

Martial Journeys:  How old is taekyun?

Master Do:  Nobody knows.  There are historical records from the Joseon Dynasty that depict taekyun, but that's all we know.  Some martial arts have a single founder who created their style, but taekyun developed as a folk activity, so no one knows who originally invented it.  It's possible it didn't even have a founder, and developed as neighboring villages fought each other according to their folk fighting systems.

A historical depiction of traditional Korean martial arts.  

Martial Journeys:  Why is taekyun less popular than it used to be?

Master Do:  During the Japanese Occupation almost all of the taekyun masters died. After Independence Day, Korean people didn't want to learn traditional culture, which had gone out of style.  Major sports like judo and wrestling were popular.  Korea was very quickly modernized and nobody wanted to understand Korean traditional movement.

Martial Journeys:  Why does taekyun include elements of dance?

Master Do:  It's not dance.  Almost all martial arts--not just taekyun--reflect the dance of the culture that created them.  If you watch very carefully, Chinese martial arts are very similar to Chinese dance.  Japanese styles also have a relationship with their national dance system.  It's the same in Africa.  By the same token, taekyun has similarities with Korean mask dance.  The purpose of dance is to express beautiful form, and the purpose of martial arts is to kill.  They have different purposes but they have a similar movement because the people are the same.

Korean mask dance.  Thanks to koreanet for making the image available for reuse.

Martial Journeys:  Which is better for a beginning taekyun student, a dance background or martial arts background?

Master Do:  Either will be helpful but martial arts is better because all martial arts have a common philosophy.  Technique is not important.  The most important thing is to get a sense of how to avoid or how to hit.  It is very difficult.  If I am attacked, I need to be able to avoid the attacking technique, be able to block, and be able to hit.  If someone has a lot of taekwondo fighting experience, it's very helpful.  He already knows how to avoid and how to hit, so just learning taekyun technique is easy.  Of course if his taekwondo practice consists entirely of forms, he won't have that benefit.  But if he develops to a high level of skill in fighting technique and competition, how to avoid and how to hit, he can learn taekyun techniques very quickly.  It's just like if someone is very good at swordplay, he can learn another sword very quickly.

This interview will be concluded in Part 2.

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