The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong-chong, South Korea (also the home of the immense behemoth, the Tae Kwon Do Won) was the subject of intense curiosity and concern from the moment it was chosen to host the event. The threat was Korea’s shadowy neighbor to the north that not so many years ago was part of the same country. The rumors of terrorism or bomb threats flooded the international news. When news came that North Korea was not only NOT targeting the games, they were going to make a power team with South Korea for women’s ice hockey, people were stunned. To add to the shock factor both ITF Taekwon-Do and WTF Tae Kwon Do would showcased together as part of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
Not only was this a smart move on the North’s part reaching out the olive branch, but really both disciplines are suffering in the international arena. Outside the 2 Koreas, TKD is not quite as powerful as it once was. Especially with Japanese Karate being made front and center in the Tokyo Summer Olympics something had to be done to showcase the Korean fighting arts.
Before the opening ceremony on the 9th of February the two teams exploded onto the international stage.
The performances consisted of separate demonstrations by both teams with a joint demonstration at the end. The WTF part was an amazing artistic and acrobatic performance put to electrifying music. The aerial display made any carnival or circus pale in comparison. The speed, balance and coordination of the members was stunning. The ITF team did a simple yet powerful demonstration consisting of breaking, self-defense, simulated hard core sparring put to the sound of only their breathing and their ki-haps. The simplicity of their performance with the total lack of music drew the crowd more into witnessing the explosive power of North Korean Taekwon-Do. You could almost hear the crowd’s gasps.
The next day they did another showing in the city of Seok-cho (an east coast city). The two teams had little time to rest as they traveled to Seoul on Monday, February 12th to repeat their performance at Seoul City Hall. Finally, on the 14th the teams did a final performance for the major television network MBC.
Themes such as Öne World, One Taekwondo” and “Peace is More Precious than Triumph” were resonated through each performance. It will likely never be duplicated again.
The North Korean team went back to their nation on the 15th for a much-deserved rest. The visit has struck such a chord internationally, the Vatican has sent an invitation to both teams.
Is it worth the trouble to mix teams and 2 very different disciplines (although they have the same root)? That is a hard question to answer. Future can only tell. If this does continue maybe Taekwondo CAN break down the barriers between the two Koreas. Maybe unification isn’t possible, the two political systems are too extreme. An amiable and friendly relationship may be possible however. After decades of hostility and mistrust it’s about time. Perhaps then General Choi’s dream can be realized.
AUTHOR: Master Guy Edward Larke has spent most of his life enamored with the martial arts and Asian culture in general. He relocated in South Korea in 2000 and remains so till this day. He writes, teaches, studies and lectures about the martial arts out of his present home in Seongnam city. Master Larke started writing 13 years ago and has penned 450+ articles and translated 7 textbooks from Korean to English with his wife Gi-Ryung. He can be found on Facebook or Linkedin.