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Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

General Choi Wasn’t Very Good at Taekwon-Do

Well, not at performing it anyway. The man was huge in the development of Taekwon-Do (although there were many others who don’t get the credit they deserve). And right up until his death he communicated exactly how he wanted Taekwon-Do to be performed. So I have to give him tons of respect for that.

I never got to see General Choi in person. But I was searching through YouTube one day and came across some videos of him teaching at seminars in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. For example:

In his broken English, he gives students some fantastic advice. But when he performs the moves himself, they’re sloppy and sometimes incorrect.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s kind of surprising. I’ve met more than one instructor who wasn’t exactly stellar at performing TKD, but knew the art inside and out and had a gift for teaching it to others.

But in the Taekwon-Do community, General Choi has been lionized, canonized, deified. He’s the self-proclaimed founder of the art. You would think he would be pretty good at doing the thing he helped create.

Granted, he isn’t a young man in these videos. He’s at least in his late 70s. There are even videos of him teaching at seminars the year he died at 83 years old. Any body will have begun to deteriorate when it’s that old. But he’d been doing martial arts since he was a kid. He started developing an early version of Taekwon-Do in 1945. In many of these videos he was still years away from his battle with cancer. You would think there would be some muscle memory there.

Then again, Choi was never known for performing the techniques of Taekwon-Do. He was known for his grand visions for his art. As Alex Gillis says in his book A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do, “Very few of Choi’s men saw Choi do much martial arts during the fifty years in which they worked with him. He did not have to; he was a two-star general. He gave the orders to lower-ranking athletes, such as Nam (Tae-hi) who brought the art to life.” By the way, if you’re interested in TKD history at all, pick up that book. It’s a really interesting story of the development of the art.

Anyway, it all serves as a reminder that even legends are just as human as the rest of us.

Bonus: according to the comments on this video, the student in it might be a young Jaroslaw Suska (a bit of a TKD celebrity in his own right).