Taekwondo gives punch to all ages

BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
For the Daily
Published February 14, 2005

To a practitioner of Taekwondo, the sound of sharp kicks thwacking onto paddles is as distinctive and enticing as the crack of a bat is to a baseball fan. Every week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, these sounds emanate from the martial arts room in the CCRB, where the Michigan Taekwondo (UMTKD) club meets.

Taekwondo is an ancient Korean martial art, developed thousands of years ago as a method of self defense. The modern sport evolved more recently, with Taekwondo being designated as the national sport of South Korea in 1963. It became an Olympic medal sport at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“Taekwondo literally means ‘the way of kicking and punching,’ ” LSA senior Jae Lee, the president of UMTKD, explains. “Taekwondo distinguishes itself from other martial arts, such as karate and kung-fu, with its emphasis on agility and kicking.”

Lee, whose father is a martial arts master, has been personally involved with Taekwondo since he was a child. He has been involved with the on-campus club since enrolling at Michigan.

“At first, I kind of hated practicing because I had to,” Lee said. “But as I grew older, I developed a deeper appreciation for it.”

The Taekwondo club at Michigan was founded in 1963 by Grand Master Hwa Chong, the former president of the United States Taekwondo Union, Taekwondo’s governing body in the United States. Grand Master Chong continues to teach the class segment of Michigan Taekwondo.

UMTKD is made up of two parts. The class, taught by Grand Master Chong through U-Move, is geared more toward beginners and has a more formal atmosphere. Class attendance is recommended for those with no experience but is not mandatory in order to join the club. The class costs $120 per semester, but UMTKD is a real bargain — at a typical studio, one month costs about as much as a semester of class here. The club practice sessions are led by peer instructors and are more informal. While club sessions focus on Olympic-style sparring, class sessions put more emphasis on forms. Serious students attend class or club sessions two to three days a week.

In order to be a well-rounded Taekwondo athlete, a student must be good at both sparring and forms, called Poomse. A form is a specific series of movements, incorporating various kicks, punches and blocks.

“To be promoted, forms are mandatory as well as a certain degree of sparring knowledge,” Lee said.

The club does not participate as a team in competitions, since Taekwondo is an individual sport. They do attend various tournaments throughout the region, though not on any specific circuit. In March, the club will hold its annual scrimmage against Michigan State.

The UMTKD club includes a 50-year-old man, a professor and many women in its fluctuating 40- to 50-person membership.

“(Taekwondo is for) anybody, — all ages, any physical build, male or female,” Lee said. “The first thing people usually ask me when they ask about the club is, ‘Is any experience necessary?’ And I always say ‘No,’ because Taekwondo is unique, in that any person can utilize his or her strengths to their best advantage.”

UMTKD, unlike many Taekwondo schools, is not for a profit.

“The most important thing in learning Taekwondo, or any other martial art, is finding the right teacher,” Lee said. “I’ve seen a lot of schools that put profits first and quality of instruction second. True masters are hard to find these days. A true master is someone who not only possesses the physical skills for martial arts, but also doesn’t neglect the mental aspects when teaching his students.”

Taekwondo is first and foremost an art — with sport as an aspect of that art.

“The sport of Taekwondo is more like other sports — there are rules to ensure participants aren’t hurt,” Lee said. “The martial art of Taekwondo is for life and real-life situations.”