Learning modesty and courtesy from martial arts

This South Korean martial art may look gentle — but there’s much more to it.

To the untrained eye, Taekkyeon — one of South Korea’s oldest martial arts — looks similar to dancing. The practitioner moves in Pum sae, the basic posture of Taekkyeon that involves bouncing on one’s feet while swaying right and left.

Although the exact origin of Taekkyeon is unknown, the earliest record of it is in the wall paintings of the Goguryeo era from over 1,000 years ago. Taekkyeon was very popular amongst the Korean people as well as the ruling class until the early Joseon dynasty — even the King practiced it.

However, as society evolved, education and literary ventures were privileged over military pursuits, and Taekkyeon’s popularity declined. By the mid-20th century, only one Taekkyeon practitioner was left: Song Deok-gi. With his student Shin Han-seung, the pair revived Taekkyeon in South Korea.

In 1983, the Korean government designated the martial art as ‘Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 76’. Today, there are 85 Taekkyeon regional training centres around the country.

Behind Taekkyeon’s fluid, rhythmic appearance is a holistic fighting method and a deeply thoughtful philosophy. The dance-like movements involve constantly changing one’s stance to avoid leg attacks, while raising the arms to readily guard any attacks. Taekkyeon differs from other martial arts. Rather than focussing on the feet or on offence, it uses the whole body to defend against attacks.

Taekkyeon is guided by principles of modesty and courtesy. Competitors are taught to consider the opponent over themselves, and the group over the individual. In competitions, purposefully injuring the opponent is prohibited. Practitioners learn to match their response to an attack in order to avoid unnecessarily harming their opponent.

These principles are drawn from Korean culture, combining the culture of the warlike northern horse-riders and the cooperative southern agricultural people. Taekkyeon’s philosophy is one of harmonious living and prosperity, so that the art can be beneficial to the welfare of the human race.

Like with many others, some things like Taekkyeon or investments shouldn't be taken at face value. There's a lot of history to understand, so you can make a better decision. Learn more with Eastspring Investments.

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