Monday, July 8, 2013

Power versus Grace

Tonight, 관장님 said in passing that I was doing "power taekgyeon". I had just thrown my wrestling (대결) partner to the ground rather forcefully. At first, I thought he was just commenting on how much stronger I've become over the past few months, but then I wondered if "power taekgyeon" might not be such a good thing. It's not like power yoga, for starters.

Here, look at this short video of various taekgyeon demonstrations set to dramatic music. (It was filmed at the taekgyeon training center that I visited a few weeks ago during the tournament.)

What I get from this video, as well as from this longer, documentary-style video created by the Korean Cultural Heritage Adminstration, is that taekgyeon gives off the illusion of being soft and gentle while being powerful in reality. Hands and feet move quickly and quietly. "It may look soft, but it is a martial art with strong force," says the taekgyeon master in an interview.

This is what distinguishes taekgyeon from taekwondo*. TKD is a fighter's martial art, developed during and after the Korean War specifically for training soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. Taekgyeon, on the other hand, is about fluidity and grace. You don't break things, only subdue. You need to employ power, but you don't overpower. And that's where I think I'm doing it wrong.

I'm still just a clumsy guy trying to stay on two feet while my opponent grapples with me. When he attempts to swing me to one side, 관장님 tells me to use it and trip him using his own attack. I don't know how to do this, so we struggle in a mutual hold for a few awkward moments. What I end up doing is kicking his knee joint inward and pushing down as hard as I can. It's not the slightest bit graceful, but at least my opponent goes down, right? (관장님: "Andrew, no!") Well, I don't think the result is the most important thing in this circumstance. So, I'm going to work on the "soft and gentle" part of this discipline. Only a few more days before I'm off for summer vacation, so I'll also have to find a way to continue training while I'm in Taiwan and at home. (My next tournament is in September!)

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*This and one other big thing: taekgyeon is centuries old, much more historical than TKD. It is believed to have been popular during the Three Kingdoms Period (1st-7th C). Following Korean independence, it almost went extinct, but when the last surviving taekgyeon master, Song Duk Ki, taught all he knew to a few dedicated pupils, it was revived and is now an "intangible cultural heritage" of Korea.

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