In this message, I will continue to explore what it means to make
Taekwon-Do your way of life. You will recall that in my previous
message I described how living the ITF Taekwon-Do way has helped me to
survive the difficult times and to have a happier and more satisfying
life. We also saw that living the Taekwon-Do way of life applies to all
aspects of our lives.
In the present message, we will look at the importance of our
Taekwon-Do training and how learning about the Do and applying it in
our training will help us to become true martial artists for the 21st
I have invited Dr Janel Gauthier, Ph.D., who is a Professor of
Psychology at Laval University in Quebec City (Canada), to join me for
Dr Gauthier has been practicing ITF Taekwon-Do for almost twenty
years and will soon undergo testing for the 4th degree Black Belt. In
addition, he is the Chair of the ITF Ethics & Discipline Committee
and one of the developers and presenters of the first workshop on
Teaching the Do: Self-Control.
TTQ: Dr Gauthier, perhaps you could start by telling us how
your personal and professional experience has made you aware of the
value of living the Taekwon-Do way of life.
JG: I have been a practicing psychologist for the last 32
years and because of my interest in the application of behavioral
psychology in health and education, I am convinced of the importance of
solid moral values in achieving a happy and balanced life.
I was attracted to the practice of ITF Taekwon-Do as a martial
art but also because of the strong philosophical component. This
combination forms a foundation that we can build on to achieve our goal
of a healthy mind in a healthy body.
My work on the development and application of codes of ethics for
various professional organizations has reinforced my belief in the need
for ethical guidelines. This has carried over into my work for the ITF,
particularly as Chair of the ITF Committee on Ethics and Discipline
and, most recently, the development of a master teaching program for
TTQ: I thought we could discuss how the Taekwon-Do way of
life applies to our Taekwon-Do training by looking at certain aspects
of our training and how the Taekwon-Do way of life may influence them.
The aspects I would like to consider today are:
- fundamental exercises (basic movements) and patterns;
- prearranged ( step) sparring and free sparring;
ITF Training´s circle (composition and cliente)
JG: It is certainly worth taking the time to consider how
the ITF Taekwon-Do philosophy and moral values apply to these aspects
of our training. We will be able to benefit fully from the value of
Taekwon-Do only if we integrate the Do into our training – and into our
TTQ: I remember how proud General Choi was of the more than
three thousand fundamental exercises that he created for the ITF
Taekwon-Do system. He described these movements as a scientific,
rational, and natural use of the human body for effective combat
techniques. The movements were synthesized into logical sequences to
Practicing the 24 patterns as defined by General Choi helps us to
improve our level of technical skills: the quality of techniques and
stances, notably the power and beauty, sense of balance, flexibility,
rhythm, coordination, etc. In addition, when we realize how much there
is to learn, we begin to understand the value of perseverance.
General Choi gave a name to each of the 24 patterns. Most of the
patterns were named in honor of important figures in the history of
Korea, people who made a contribution to their country and their
JG: Looking at it in the historical context, we can
understand why General Choi chose these names. He was a military man
and he originally developed Taekwon-Do for the Korean military. Each of
the names refers to an important figure, a specific achievement or an
historical event well-known to Koreans.
TTQ: General Choi wanted to express his pride in his country
and its achievements, as well as his pain that Korea had been divided
into two countries.
JG: Today, our ultimate purpose is not the study of the
history of Korea. However, learning about the stories of these Korean
heroes can help us to understand more fully what we are trying to
achieve by practicing the twenty-four patterns. One of those lessons is
to show respect for the land of our birth and help to make it a better
place to live.
TTQ: Everyone will remember that the 24 patterns reflect the
24 hours in a day. General Choi said that the 24 patterns and 24 hours
remind us that to reach our goals we need to be devoted, work hard, and
not waste time. Time moves steadily on – no matter what we do – so it
is important to use our time wisely and work to make the world a better
place. Whether we work on the local level or on the international
scene, this is how we can leave a valuable legacy.
From General Choi, I learned an oriental proverb:
When an animal dies, it leaves behind its skin.
When a human dies, he leaves behind his name (his legacy).
The desire to leave a beneficial legacy is a potent motivator that
should inspire us to work hard and with conviction to make the world a
I would also like to point out that the composition of the ITF
patterns – including the number of patterns, the way to perform the
movements, and the diagrams – has evolved since General Choi first
introduced them on the international level in the early 1960s. He
continued to make adjustments until he felt the patterns were complete.
After the introduction of the sine wave theory, he believed he had
found the right balance.
The shape of the diagram for each pattern also has a specific
meaning. For example: A diagram shaped like the capital letter “I”
resembles the Chinese or Korean character meaning “student” or
In ancient civilizations, scholars were part of the elite of
society. They enjoyed the privileges of their status, but they had to
earn that status. The scholars also had a greater responsibility to
make a contribution to their society and their country. In addition,
they were expected to demonstrate exemplary behavior at all times, just
as the ITF expects its grand masters, masters, instructors, and all
other black belts to set a good example for their juniors.
Another example is the Po Eun pattern. The diagram is simply a
straight line: ―. Po Eun was a brave individual who proved his loyalty
by refusing to leave his master for another, even though his loyalty
cost him his life. The straight line of the diagram represents his
There is a story behind the name and the shape of the diagram of
each of the 24 patterns, and we can all benefit from learning more
Now let’s move to the second aspect: prearranged sparring and free sparring.
JG: Could you describe how training with step sparring can
be complementary to free sparring and the benefits from using both
types of training?
TTQ: The program and methods of teaching ITF Taekwon-Do are based on progressive learning.
Because practicing the patterns is in effect sparring without a real
opponent, General Choi introduced prearranged (step) sparring with an
opponent as a method of training to prepare for free sparring. The two
participants agree on the movements to be used and work together to
improve their sparring. The goal is to understand the purpose of the
movements, to master interaction with the opponent (stances and
distances), and to develop faster reflexes, particularly an
instantaneous response in self-defense.
By training with three-step sparring, the student can master
the effective application of the techniques and develop his ability to
judge distance, a key element for success in free sparring.
Two-step sparring introduces the spirit of sparring and gives
the student the opportunity to practice attack, defense, and
counter-attack techniques with combinations consisting of one hand
technique and one foot technique.
The purpose of one-step sparring, used for more advanced training, is to be prepared for any kind of attack at any time with a single effective technique.
Step sparring is a very effective methods of training and can be
particularly useful for older people. This is another example of how
Taekwon-Do can be accessible and adjusted to the practitioner’s
During my visits to ITF organizations around the world I have
observed that many of our members do not train enough on step sparring.
As a result, they may find it difficult to perform with proper
techniques, distance, and timing when they practice free sparring.
It is like someone who is learning to play the piano but who doesn’t
want to practice scales. After all, it is much more fun to play real
music than to run your fingers up and down the keyboard repeatedly! But
experience has shown that by practicing scales the student learns
techniques that serve him well when, eventually, he plays more
complicated pieces of music.
General Choi always stressed that step sparring must be an integral
part of our training. When I was younger, I was more interested in free
sparring. I wanted to progress and to do so quickly and I thought free
sparring was the best way. However, as I grew older and gained
experience and maturity I understood that General Choi was right. Step
sparring is essential and should have an important place in everyone’s
JG: Yes, practicing with step sparring is an important
tool that we can use to improve our free sparring, but I would add that
we have here an excellent opportunity to apply the tenet of perseverance, exercising patience as we persevere in our training.
TTQ: That is very true. As Confucius said, One who is impatient in trivial matters can seldom achieve success in matters of great importance.
Free sparring is also a valuable training technique. It is
good for improving physical condition and for mental conditioning. It
also helps us prepare for the challenges we face in life.
I recommend the following approach to successful training with free sparring:
- train using the proper techniques,
- use your mind (your brain) to analyze each situation rapidly;
- make a quick decision about what your reaction should be and
execute the technique with confidence, determination, and positive
emotion from the heart.
Developing a strong mind is particularly important. Good techniques
are important but having a strong mind allows you to use those
techniques to best advantage.
After a free sparring match, it is really important to analyze how you performed:
- Identify your strong and weak points and those of your opponent.
- Were you able to take advantage of his weak points?
- Did you stop him from taking advantage of your weak points?
- Did you use an appropriate strategy?
- What could you have done better?
This type of honest self-evaluation, combined with the approach
proposed above, will help you to apply appropriate strategies in
sparring – and in life.
JG: I would add that in free sparring, as in life, it is
essential to show courtesy and respect for one’s opponent. This is a
basic principle of the martial arts.
Of course we always want to win a free sparring match, but
winning isn’t everything. The real value of free sparring is what we
learn from it. This is an opportunity to put into practice the
principles of the Taekwon-Do philosophy and clearly demonstrate that we
are living the Taekwon-Do way of life.
For example: I might be tempted to resort to “dirty fighting” to
win a sparring match. Would that be acting with courtesy and respect
toward my opponent? Would I be showing that I have self-respect? No. I
would be cheating my opponent and cheating myself. Even if I did win,
how could I be proud of such a victory?
I am sorry to say that in the past I have seen some students
attempt to intimidate their opponents who are smaller or weaker. Some
are not satisfied with winning easily and will attempt to “demolish” a
weaker opponent. I have noticed that very often these same students
prefer not to face a larger, stronger opponent. They will find an
excuse to avoid fighting a more skilled opponent and may even pretend
to be injured in order to stop a match. It is very clear that
individuals who act like bullies are not applying the Taekwon-Do tenets.
Free sparring requires the application of all five of the Taekwon-Do tenets:
- The rules require opponents to show courtesy and respect to each other;
- The opponents show integrity by not indulging in “dirty fighting” tactics;
- Perseverance will help the participants to train effectively and not give up;
- Self-control is essential in Taekwon-Do sparring, step and free.
Each movement must be purposeful and controlled. Emotions must be kept
- Cultivating an indomitable spirit helps the participants to be
motivated to train well and do their best in sparring matches. An
indomitable spirit means not becoming discouraged and quitting because
you are not winning.
TTQ: Indeed, living the Taekwon-Do way of life means applying the Taekwon-Do tenets in sparring... and in life.
At this point I would like to mention the need for safety in free
sparring. By using the appropriate equipment, following the rules, and
fighting with respect we can avoid unnecessary injuries.
Now let’s move to the next aspect of training: breaking.
JG: People who do not practice a martial art are usually
very impressed by breaking. They think it is amazing, but at the same
time they wonder why anyone would want to learn to break boards!
TTQ: There are good reasons why breaking is a part of
Taekwon-Do training, and the purpose is certainly not just to impress
Breaking is a visible demonstration of good training. You cannot be
successful at breaking if you have not trained well, mastered the
techniques to produce maximum power, and developed your mental strength.
Breaking teaches the student the importance of cultivating perseverance, self-control, and an indomitable spirit.
JG: I would add that a student’s first success at breaking
is an important step in his progress in Taekwon-Do. Mastering the
breaking techniques gives an enormous boost to a student’s
Many students start out believing that it will be impossible for
them to learn breaking, but with proper training and preparation they
can do it. And being successful teaches a valuable lesson: By training
well and persevering you can achieve your goals.
The student who applies this lesson in his life as well as in
Taekwon-Do training will be more motivated to continue to progress and
to work toward the goal of a happier, more balanced life.
TTQ: Another aspect of training is participation in competitions.
I encourage students to participate in competitions because it is
good preparation for life. Preparing properly for a competition
requires that the participant set goals and make plans to reach those
goals. This is also how we can achieve success in life, at school and
As in free sparring, participants in ITF Taekwon-Do competitions
must demonstrate all five ITF Taekwon-Do tenets: courtesy, integrity,
perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. We should also
mention the broader purpose of our competitions, which is to improve
the overall quality of Taekwon-Do practiced in the ITF.
Preparing for a competition is hard work, and participating in a
competition can be stressful. It is not like sparring with other
students at your Taekwon-Do school. There is more pressure to perform
and more pressure to win.
Of course we all want to win. But we mustn’t forget that every time
one competitor wins, another competitor loses. Yes, it is important to
learn to be a “good” winner, but it is equally important to learn to be
a “good” loser.
A “good” winner is humble in victory and shows respect for
his opponent. He realizes that each match gives him the opportunity to
learn something about himself – his weaknesses and strengths – and his
use of Taekwon-Do techniques. He is grateful to his opponent for
participating in this learning process.
A “good” loser is humble in defeat and shows respect for the
umpire’s decision and for his opponent. He too uses the opportunity to
identify his weaknesses and strengths and how he can improve his
techniques. Like the “good” winner, the “good” loser is grateful to his
opponent for participating in this learning process.
As we can see, although one is a winner and one is a loser, the
outcome for each of the opponents is a better knowledge of his
strengths and weaknesses. They will both be motivated to continue their
JG: We can see that humility and respect for others must define the moral character of all competitors.
TTQ: Actually, those who win all the time, or most of the
time, are more at risk of losing their self-confidence when they
experience a string of defeats, whereas those who view their defeats as
an opportunity to learn will become more resilient. When faced with
failure or defeat in patterns, free sparring, breaking or other
obstacles in their lives, resilient people will bounce back more
effectively and efficiently than others. They see challenges instead of
obstacles, and that helps them to keep a positive attitude and
motivates them to work even harder.
Indeed, when examining the value of competing we must consider the
mental, moral, and social aspects in addition to physical condition and
the performance itself.In training, we frequently compare our
performance to our own past performance, trying to do better. But by
participating in competitions we have the opportunity to measure our
performance in comparison to others.
To make competition a valuable experience, it is essential that we
learn how to analyze our performance and determine how we can improve.
This analysis must be carried out in a spirit of humility and for the
purpose of self-improvement, not in a spirit of self-promotion or
JG: As you mentioned, it is essential to understand that
there is much more to competition than just performance. To benefit
fully from participating in a competition, students should use it as an
opportunity for self-examination and self-evaluation as well as an
opportunity to apply the tenets of Taekwon-Do.
Whether you win or lose, there are valuable lessons to be learned from participating in competitions.
TTQ: I am pleased to say that in the past couple of years I
have noticed that there is a very good spirit among the participants in
our ITF competitions.
We have made changes to improve the quality of ITF competitions,
particularly the rules and the work of the umpires. When competitors
and their coaches respect the rules and accept the decisions of the
umpires, the result is better quality competitions.
Now I see competitors who fight each other but are still able to
enjoy fellowship together. This is living the Taekwon-Do way of life.
JG: I certainly agree that the psychological aspect is as
important as the actual combat. It is important to learn how to lose
and how to win.
Imagine that you are a young person who excels in competition.
Perhaps you win almost all the time. Eventually you come to see
yourself as a successful person simply because you are a winning
competitor. However, the process of aging will catch up with you (as it
does for everyone) and eventually you will no longer be able to win all
the time. Where will your sense of self-worth and your self-confidence
come from then?
On the other hand, if you make it your goal to become a good
person with a balanced life, if you work hard to apply the tenets of
Taekwon-Do, if you strive to reach what General Choi called “the
perfection of moral behavior”, you will have the inner strength and the
ability to believe in yourself, no matter whether you win or lose in
competition. That is why Taekwon-Do is for life.
TTQ: Striving to reach “the perfection of moral behavior” is
certainly a noble goal, but it can seem rather overwhelming. As I have
said before, we have to take it one step at a time.
Finally, I would like to talk about the dangers of over-training.
We who practice ITF Taekwon-Do have a passion for our martial art.
This passion is a wonderful thing: It enables us to make progress in
our training by doing something that we love to do. But we must be
aware of the danger that this passion could push us to go beyond what
is reasonable in training.
There is a misconception that training must be “hard” or even
painful to be effective. But successful training is not measured by how
many times you have repeated a certain movement or sequence. In fact,
by setting unrealistically high goals for your training, you risk
injury and discouragement.
It is important to have a realistic plan for your training, one that
is adapted to your physical condition and your training goals.
Certainly you should push yourself to do your best, but make sure your
goals are realistic.
JG: I would add that if training results in unnecessary
pain and injuries, it is not in harmony with Taekwon-Do principles. In
training – as in life – perseverance and indomitable spirit (which some
may cite to justify “hard” training) must be moderated by self-control
Many martial artists believe in “hard” training. According to
their way of thinking, the goal of extreme training is that the mind
should dominate the body and, as much as possible, the body should be
trained not to feel pain under any circumstances.
We have to remember that General Choi first developed Taekwon-Do
as a martial art for the members of the Korean armed forces. They were
healthy young men in top physical condition, so the training was
rigorous. However, Our Founder later realized that Taekwon-Do training
could be beneficial for everyone, and he modified Taekwon-Do to make it
accessible to all.
This shows us that Taekwon-Do training does not have to be “hard”
to be effective and is another example of how ITF Taekwon-Do has
continued to evolve.
TTQ: And ITF Taekwon-Do continues to evolve, because we are always working to make it better.
For example, we now put more emphasis on controlled breathing to
ensure better oxygenation of the body, which has been shown to be
beneficial and can result in increased life expectancy.
This would be a good time to mention the work of the ITF Technique
& Instruction Committee whose mandate includes improving the
quality of ITF instructors and ensuring the uniformity of teaching
standards around the world. The Committee is always interested in
receiving questions and suggestions from Taekwon-Do practitioners.
JG: Because Taekwon-Do is accessible to everyone, it is
essential that the intensity and duration of training sessions be
adapted to the physical condition and the needs of each practitioner.
The human body has been described as “the best machine in the
world”, but it does have limitations. Your body will let you know when
you have pushed it too far, but you have to pay attention and recognize
any signs that your training regimen is not realistic.
TTQ: Here again, there is an abundance of information
available in magazines, books, and on the Web. Learn as much as you can
about how to train properly and seek guidance from those who have more
Think about your physical safety and your physical and mental
health. If you try to train too hard, you could reach a point where you
lack the physical and mental energy to keep up.
Even if you do train for three hours a day, it is possible to avoid
the negative effects of overtraining by making sure to give yourself
time to recuperate. We lead busy lives, but it is important to get
enough sleep and to include some time for relaxation. By making sure
your body has an opportunity to recuperate, you will be ready and
motivated to continue training. Make it your goal to have a balanced
JG: Overtraining can lead to physical and mental
exhaustion and, eventually, to discouragement. “Hard” training is
promoted as an example of supreme self-control but, if taken to
extremes, it can actually become an example of a lack of self-control.
In any case, although you may train for two, three, or more
hours, there are still all the other hours in the day. What you do with
those hours is very important, because how you act when you are not
training shows how well you apply what you have learned. That is when
you demonstrate that you are truly living the Taekwon-Do way of life.
TTQ: It is also very important to set realistic training
goals so that students will not become discouraged and lack motivation.
It would be a pity if a student stopped practicing Taekwon-Do because
he was unable to achieve success in “hard” training, when a more
realistic approach to training would have allowed him to continue to
improve and enjoy the benefits of ITF Taekwon-Do.
To help students stay motivated, I recommend that ITF teachers
encourage them to compare their performance to their own past
performances, rather than comparing themselves to others.
For example: A student could evaluate his progress every month by
seeing how many pushups he can do in 30 seconds. By setting realistic
goals and tracking the results, the student will see that he is making
progress and will find the motivation to continue to train.
JG: To sum up our discussion, we have seen the importance
of applying the Do, cultivating the tenets of Taekwon-Do, and living
the Taekwon-Do way of life in all aspects of our training – and of our
TTQ: In conclusion, I want to emphasize that to benefit fully
from Taekwon-Do, it is essential to integrate the Do into your training
and your life.
As we have seen above, when General Choi was creating and developing
Taekwon-Do he gave a lot of thought to the philosophical concepts
underlying the physical training. He chose the names and diagrams for
the patterns in his 24-pattern system to tell a story and teach the Do.
Our Founder shared with us his secrets of Taekwon-Do training and
introduced speed-motions (particularly the natural, slow, continuous
and connecting movements: soft motions), breathing control, and the
implementation of the well-known “sine wave”. After mature reflection,
he made major changes to the ITF system to achieve a balance between
the hard and soft styles. This modernization made the ITF technical
system coherent with his philosophy and his objective of promoting a
harmonious society with peace, justice, and freedom. As I mentioned at
the beginning of this message, General Choi made it possible for all
ITF practitioners to adopt Taekwon-Do as their way of life and enjoy a
An obvious example of his attention to detail is the name our
Founder gave to this martial art and even the way he chose to write
that name. We all know that “taekwon” means “hands and feet” and “Do”
means “the way”. Notice that they are joined by a hyphen to form
“Taekwon-Do”; this reminds us of the importance of developing the
physical and the philosophical in harmony.
When you reach a certain level of knowledge and understanding of
Taekwon-Do, you are able to integrate the Do seamlessly into your life.
You live your life according to the values of the Do. Some would say
that you eat, drink, think, and breathe Taekwon-Do. The Do truly
becomes a part of you, and you become a true martial artist.
This is a worthy goal for all Taekwon-Do practitioners.
The XVIth Congress of the ITF is scheduled for June 1st of this year
in Quebec City (Canada), so for my next message I am preparing a
summary of what your ITF team has accomplished over the last four years.
However, because I am sure you agree that living the Taekwon-Do way
of life is a very interesting and important subject, I intend to
continue to explore additional aspects in future messages.
I trust you have found this message both interesting and instructive.