Ode to My Father (2014), better known in Korean as International Market portrays the life of Deoksu in Korean modern history. Deoksu returns to Korea after having gone to Germany to work as a miner. There, like a lot of other workers seeking jobs as miners, and unlike Deoksu, lots of them had to give up their work and open a taekwondo studio in order to make a living. Korean expats in Germany not only had the technical skills for taekwondo, they also left the spirit of taekwondo. Today, there are over 2000 Germans learning taekwondo. SMT reporters visited Master Ko Taekwondo studio, the largest taekwondo studio in Europe, located in Munich to investigate the passion for taekwondo outside of Korea and to prepare for a new era of taekwondo.
Over the Frontier, Beyond Limitation
After a fifteen-minute short walk from Ostbanhof metro station, reporters arrived at Master Ko Taekwondo studio, located on Rosenheimer Street, Munich. Immediately upon arrival, SMT reporters were welcomed by Ko Euimin, taekwondo master and World Taekwondo Association Chief, with a pleasant smile. He is the first taekwondo master to have received the medal of meritorious service. He has taught taekwondo in Germany since 1978. Throughout the one hour interview, although he boasted about taekwondo’s great potential, he often seemed remorseful about the lack of awareness towards taekwondo’s value by present-day young Koreans.
Reporters learnt that in Germany, community sports are highly valued, so everyone can do a sport as long as they have a club of at least seven members, regardless of type of sport. Surprisingly, taekwondo clubs are some of the most popular and encouraged ones. Germans are indirectly learning about Korean people, culture, and the country through taekwondo. Antony, a student of Master Ko Taekwondo, said, “I have learnt taekwondo since 1987 from Master Ko. At first, it was merely for fitness, but now I feel a strong attachment to the sport.” Indeed, the status of taekwondo was much higher in Germany than reporters’ imagined.
At the same time concern about today’s younger generation looking down on the value of taekwondo brought up fears that the future of taekwondo would become a blur. “True as it may be that there is an estimated 70-80 million taekwondo learners, most learners in Korea only partake in the sport as a child for a short period.” According to an online survey conducted by SMT from May 2nd to 20th on 157 university students, 85.4% said taekwondo is a sport for children and should be learnt by people before their 20s. Master Ko added, “The scale of taekwondo clubs at Korean universities is too small to have any significance, and since top priority is geared towards raising elite athletes in Korean society, few adults are willing to take up taekwondo. Considering taekwondo promotes a balance and harmonizes the mind and body, more and more students should learn it.” To truly globalize taekwondo then, Koreans themselves ought to be aware of its worth.
Bursting the Bud of Passion
Most Koreans learn taekwondo only for a short period, so young Koreans do not sincerely recognize the value of this sport. This phenomenon is clearly shown among university students. According to our survey, more than half of the students polled stopped learning taekwondo when they completed secondary school. Most participants in the survey said they gave up learning taekwondo as they aged: 42.3% learned taekwondo only up to the age of 10 and 40.8% quite after reaching the age of 20. Oh Nahyeon, Division of Education ’12, said, “I went to a taekwondo studio once I reached the age of 6, but as I grew older, I quit since I did not show any athletic talent in the sport and the gym was too far from my house.” Interestingly, 63.3% of respondents said they would learn taekwondo if they were given the opportunity. It is quite fortunate that many students today are still interested in taekwondo, Korea’s national sport.
For those students interested in learning taekwondo, Sookmyung offers its students several options. The first is the taekwondo club on campus operated by Sookmyungians. The club is called Sulhwayeon, and it boasts a bountiful number of programmes to meet all students’ needs, and the programmes are taught by well-trained senior club members. Sulhwayeon gathers three times a week and practices the sport for about 1.5 hours at each gathering. Senior club members teach newcomers basic taekwondo skills for one year and prepare them to show off their skills at the university festival in May. Park Gyuryang, the member of Sulhwayeon, said, “Every member endeavors to pass the black belt level test hosted by Kukkiwon. Achieving great results at Kukkiwon is the final goal for all members.”
There is also a taekwondo class offered on campus which runs for one semester. This course offers students detailed lessons and plenty of time to practice taekwondo with professional teachers. The students are required to take tests and learn our national sport comphrensively. Surprisingly, only international students may enroll in the course; that is, domestic Korean students are not permitted to register for the course. The course if offered only for international students to globalize taekwondo. Cho Namgi, professor at Department of Physical Education, said, “We teach foreign exchange students taekwondo with Korean spirit. Since taekwondo is an intangible cultural asset, we try to teach outsiders not only the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’.” Foreign exchange students at Sookmyung who enroll in the taekwondo class learn about Korean spirit and Korean manners. An exchange student from Japan, Kobaya Chihiro, said, "I could realize that learning taekwondo leads as to encounter with a new communication tool. It was more than a simple sport. I could share the spirit of Korea.”
Preparing for a New Era of Taekwondo
Taekwondo has and is still receiving great attention from peoples all over the world. Unfortunately, there are not many ways to learn taekwondo at school. Before worldwide recognition, Koreans should first be familiar with it. At Sookmyung, even though the campus hosts the taekwondo club Sulhwayeon, few Sookmyungians are familiar with or do the sport. Lee Jiseon, Division of Child Welfare and Studies ’13, said, “I didn’t know there was a taekwondo club at school. I once thought about learning taekwondo, but I couldn’t find any studio near campus. Also, there are few studios near my home.” Due to the interest by students, taekwondo should be more accessible on campus. For example, the university could open taekwondo clubs or other classes that host special taekwondo lectures or performances. Master Ko recommended, “If the taekwondo class or club members were to open their studios to both international students as local Koreans, both Koreans and foreigners would enjoy the sport.” Many students are unaware of the value of taekwondo so it is higher educational institutions that need to trigger students to be aware of.
Harmony of the Mind and Body
Taekwondo brightens our spirits. The sport differs from all others. Ko Euimin, taekwondo master, once said, “Taekwondo cannot be understood in a brief instant. Only by practicing numerous times throughout one’s life can one truthfully nurture her/his mind and body. As a student gets closer to becoming a taekwondo master, her/his spiritual energy becomes healthier and more powerful. This type of physical education is much more complicated than a simple athletic procedure.” Taekwondo offers valuable aspects for learners and enables them to mature mentally. Keeping in mind the tremendous enthusiasm for taekwondo in Germany, young Koreans should preserve their national sport by cultivating spiritual growth.