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DATE : 14-11-27 12:39
Tae Kwon Do and the American Way of Life
 WRITER : usmai
HIT : 968  
Sport and fitness are becoming important concerns for the average American. We now realize the role of exercise in preventive medicine as well as the self-satisfaction of striving for and achieving physical excellence. Sports are more than ever a continuing source of enjoyment for millions. A steadily growing emphasis on individual sports and exercise coincides with this more general interest. More and more Americans are leaving participant sports to professional athletes, opting instead for one-on-one competition or solo practice. Team ball sports are giving way to racquetball, squash and tennis. Jogging, snow skiing and swimming are national pastimes.

Americans' increased interest in Oriental martial arts is in some ways typical of this trend. The Oriental martial arts such as judo, tae kwon do, and aikido have become standard fare in the American sport and fitness diet. As Ken Min points out in his article, "Martial Arts in the American Educational Setting , Martial arts are very popular at the collegiate level and support a thriving private industry (Min, 1972, p. 97).

The American interest in Oriental martial arts began the twentieth century. Teddy Roosevelt practiced juijitsu. The west coast, with its natural geographic and trade ties with the Orient, had a small but loyal following of martial arts enthusiasts. Still, these arts did not have a great impact upon the average American until World War II. The U.S.A.'s involvement in the Pacific and resultant trade with Japan after the Korean war created a major source for the spread of martial arts to the West. G.I.s stationed in Korea became intrigued with and learned Tae Kwon Do from a Korean people happy to revive and spread their culture. In 1952, Masutatsu Oyama traveled to the U.S. as a personal Japanese missionary to spread knowledge of Japanese Karate. The more complex katas (forms) were not well received; however Americans were amazed by Master Oyama's ability to break bricks with his bare hands.

These feats of strength and the enthusiasm of returning G.I.s helped root these Oriental arts in the American psyche. Yet Master Oyama's demonstrations and a group of zealous veterans cannot be the sole reasons that Eastern martial arts have gained such popularity. In order to understand the growth of martial arts in the U.S. we must understand the features and benefits of these arts and how they fulfill modern American needs and desires.

The nature of the martial arts as individual sports makes them well suited to our modern lifestyle. Americans today are hurried. In spite of their desire for physical activity, they have little organized time for participant sports. Individual fitness programs and sports, which do not require team meetings or rigid schedules, mesh perfectly with the new lifestyle. One may work out when one wishes and how one wishes. The martial arts are not self-taught. They depend vitally on instruction. Yet they also depend on practice and practice is self-determined. In addition, most of the Oriental martial arts .ctivities do not require special equipment or field areas. One may even do basic skills exercises in the living room. Only arts like Kendo, which ar•e armed skills, require special equipment.

The one-on-one nature of martial arts competition emphasizes another modern trend in sports. Sports such as racquetball and squash are starting to replace golf as the traditional sport of business meetings. These sports give us the ability to share intense but friendly competition among business associates in an urban environment. Sports such as Tae Kwon Do can also serve such a function, perhaps without the stronger emphasis on winning which other sports might encourage. Since modern martial sports require precise control, they create a learning atmosphere, a gauging of one's trust in an opponent, a discovery of his style and emphasis. A Tae Kwon Do workout can provide some interesting insights for both of the participants. The martial arts are thus a source of both individual and competitive interaction. They pmvide a fine workout and can create positive social interactions and close friendships.

Of course, the martial arts also provide one with an excellent means of self- defense. In the modern, increasingly urban environment of man, we cannot help being exposed to violence in the streets. However, carrying a lethal weapon, such as a gun, itself invites danger. Such weapons, because they present an immediate threat, only escalate the potential for extreme violence. On the other hand, unarmed skills in martial arts, due to their emphasis on control and attention to dangerous situations, provide safer and ultimately less violent means of handling dangerous situations. The instructor's first rule of martial arts is "if you are presented with a dangerous situation, run if possible . The martial arts do not stress violence for the sake of violence. In fact, as much of the practice involves disarming or avoiding attacks as counterattacking. The martial arts train one in the skills of self-defense in order that one may avoid violence. This seemingly odd claim actually makes good sense. If one is unsure of oneself in a dangerous situation one may attempt extreme methods, opening both oneself and the attacker to unnecessary violence. Since arts like Tae Kwon Do train one to react to such violence with calm control, one is more capable of handing such situations without disasterous ends.

Up to this point, we have discussed the setting which makes martial arts of potential interest to modern Americans. There are other, psychological aspects, which have helped guarantee the martial arts a home in America. The martial arts are paternalistic and disciplined. The student places his trust in the instructor. The instructor has the final word concerning the techniques a student will learn. The teacher determines how hard and in what way the student will work out. On the surface it might appear that the dogmatic character of the Oriental martial arts would offend American students. Yet it has been argued that Americans, because of the relative freedom and lack of restraint, now realize the need for some form of self- discipline (Park, 1981). Also, the paternalism in martial arts is voluntary: the student agrees to let the instructor's experience guide his study.

These sports an.d skills depend upon discipline to survive. A disorganized and badly run practice hall only increases the danger to students and the teacher. Without discipline the class does not exist. Martial arts also require discipline because they take years to learn. One does not become a black belt overnight. Only those willing to put forth continuous effort over a long period of time will stay with a program. Given that one develops slowly in the Eastern martial arts, it is no wonder that students respect and follow their superiors. The student recognizes the labor which brought an instructor his high rank and defers to the instructor's greater knowledge and experience.

Americans also value the confidence building power of the Eastern martial arts. As in other sports, excellence in endeavor has its own reward. Yet in arts such as Tae Kwon ~o one also receives tangible marks of achievement. Belt ranks are accurate, visible determinations: rewards for ability. Receiving a belt rank informs the student and his peers of a proud achievement, worthy of respect. In America, where commodities give one a false sense of achievement, the belt rank marks a success deserved rather than bought. This emblem of ability and proper attitude gives one self-confidence, not only to cope with dangerous situations, but also to value one's personal effort. The Eastern martial arts have become popular at a time when it is important for Americans to have confidence in themselves and feel that respect for others is deserved.

The martial arts also provide an excellent physical exercise. Tae Kwon Do ranks with serious cross-country skiing and running as the best exercise for cardiovascular system (Kim: 5). The martial arts do not focus on any one muscular group. Tae Kwon Do develops muscles in the legs, arms, hands, feet, neck and trunk. It does not favor one side of the body as ball sports often do. It does not favor upper or lower body as jogging or sinillar activities might. The martial arts also provide no inherent advantage to a given body type. Unlike weight lifting or long distance running which demand either short bursts of maximum strength or prolonged endurance, a martial art's variety of techniques support virtually any body type. As physics dictates, a light but quick attack carries as much momentum as a slow strong attack (Kim & Goldgar. 1981, p. 6). Not only can everyone participate, but each has the capability, in principle, of being an excellent practitioner of his or her chosen martial art.

As we have seen the Oriental martial arts have many obvious positive characteristics which appeal to Americans and the West in general. The arts also possess further, less tangible benefits, sometimes misunderstood but often sought after in the West. Today, because of their original continuing ties with Buddhism and their fascination with complexity and precision, the Eastern martial arts encourage spiritual and aesthetic attitudes. At the core of most martial arts practice are the forms.

A form is an intricate sequence of techniques practiced by each practitioner individually. Almost all of the martial arts have groups of these complex sets of techniques. By practicing a form, the martial artist learns to make proper execution and smooth transitions intuitively. The forms possess a flowing quality, a beauty similar to other ritual dance arts. Higher level forms require very precise timing and coordination. One's actions might be likened to those of a concert pianist who takes a piece of traditional music and breathes individual life into it. The Eastermm martial arts do not merely happen to give one an occasional aesthetic experience. Part of their essence consists in training one to recognize and emphasize flowing, precise, beautiful techniques (Goldgar, 1980, p. 50).

Even closer to the heart of the martial arts is Zen Buddhism, so much so that Masutatsu Oyama has said that "Karate is Zen . Zen is sometimes called the religion of immediate reality. Through Zen practice one may achieve an altered state of consciousness and heightened awareness. The martial arts, with their origins rooted in Zen exercises and meditation, guide one toward this state of "samadhi . Zen claims to be an irrational philosophy. More precisely, Zen is arational. It requires a change of state rather than a change of viewpoint. The martial arts ties with Zen show in their emphasis on the lack of duality of mind and body, a oneness of spirit and flesh.

The notion that a sport can alter one's consciousness and provide one with an aesthetic experience may strike some Americans as odd. Yet for many, these possibilities are exactly what brought them to the Eastern martial arts. Some unfairly call it Eastern occultism. Actually it involves the recognition that these arts offer more than exercise and a good time. There is something consistently beautiful and intriguing in watching a master perform his art. There is something spiritually rewarding in excelling in a practice such as Tae Kwon Do. It consists in what Paul Weiss has termed becoming "bodily relevant or a "vector and something more (Weiss, 1969, p. 40). Perhaps our best athletes achieve that union of body and mind, making action synonymous with will. The Eastern martial arts train one toward this goal.

As we have seen, the American interest in Oriental martial arts results from complex circumstances. The modern interest in healthy exercise and individual sports, a desire for adequate methods of self-defense and a forum for healthy controlled competition make these martial arts a likely choice for Americans. The psychological, aesthetic and spiritual aspects of these disciplines set them apart. In a world increasingly individualistic and hurried the Eastern martial arts economically fulfill a need to combine pleasure with education, relaxation with discipline. They provide us with a microcosm of order and personal achievement, a confidence in action we can apply to a busy modern world.

This article was published in the US. Tae Kwon Do Jo.Journal and Martial Arts Research Quarterly authored by Dr. Daeshik Kim, and Co-authored with Richard Goldgar.