South and North Korea to integrate respective branches of taekwondo

Posted on : 2018-11-03 15:18 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
World Taekwondo and International Taekwondo Federation sign historic agreement in Pyongyang
South Korea’s World Taekwondo (WT) President Choue Chung-won and and North Korea’s International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) President Ri Yong-son pose for a commemorative photograph after signing an agreement to integrate their two branches of taekwondo in Pyongyang on Nov. 2. (photo pool)
South Korea’s World Taekwondo (WT) President Choue Chung-won and and North Korea’s International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) President Ri Yong-son pose for a commemorative photograph after signing an agreement to integrate their two branches of taekwondo in Pyongyang on Nov. 2. (photo pool)

The South and North Korean versions of the martial art known as taekwondo –which branched off from the same roots – will be integrated at last.

World Taekwondo (WT), which took shape in South Korea, and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), which developed in North Korea, signed an agreement for the growth and integration of taekwondo at the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang on the morning of Nov. 2. The integration of the two organizations, if it takes place this year, would come 45 years after WT was established as the World Taekwondo Federation in 1973 to serve as an alternative to the ITF, which was founded in 1966.

The signing ceremony was attended by executive delegations from the two organizations, including WT President Choue Chung-won and ITF President Ri Yong-son. Choue had been in Pyongyang since Oct. 30 with a WT demonstration team at the invitation of the ITF. After the two organizations reached a general agreement during working-level negotiations the previous day, a cheerful mood prevailed during a 50-minute event on Friday that included the signing of the agreement and commemorative photos.

Hosting joint demonstration performances and intl. competitions

To begin with, the organizations agreed to set up a joint body to work toward the integration of taekwondo. The two sides are planning to decide on the name of the organization, its character and the content of its activity by this coming December.

The two organizations also agreed to engage in activities to promote the integration of taekwondo. They’re planning to push for joint demonstration performances in China, Russia, Switzerland, the US and Japan, including at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The joint body is slated to deliberate the establishment of a joint training center so that the combined demonstration performances can gradually lead to a unified demonstration team.

The WT and the ITF also agreed to hold joint international competitions on a trial basis that will be held under their respective playing rules. The two sides plan to recognize each other’s belt titles and judge licenses so that taekwondo athletes who belong to the two organizations can participate in international competitions hosted by both sides, including continental and global tournaments.

Differences between South Korean and North Korean taekwondo

Whereas the South Korean WT has more of a focus on sports, the North Korean ITF emphasizes its traditional martial arts aspects. WT practitioners study basic moves, forms, sparring, breaking boards and self-defense, with WT sparring becoming an official Olympic event during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The areas studied in the ITF are basic moves, forms, sparring, power breaking and special techniques. South Korean taekwondo athletes wear protective gear on the head and body, but North Korean taekwondo is more violent, with athletes landing punches to the face while wearing a mouthpiece, gloves and soft shoes without soles.

On Friday, the two organizations also decided to seriously discuss the idea of submitting a joint petition to UNESCO to register taekwondo as an intangible cultural heritage. They will also be holding working-level deliberations once a month at an agreed-upon location to ensure the continuing implementation of the agreements reached on Friday.

The ITF was founded in Seoul in 1966 by Choi Hong-hi, the first chairman of the Korea Taekwondo Association. Because of friction with the government of South Korean President Park Chung-hee, Choi sought asylum in Canada in 1972 and then established his version of taekwondo in North Korea during a visit to Pyongyang in 1979. In 1973, shortly after Choi left the country, Kim Un-yong, then a councilor at the South Korean embassy to the US, established the WT on the orders of the Park administration. The two organizations have been at odds for more than 40 years while competing to increase the number of their respective member countries.

On Friday, WT President Choue Chung-won pointed out that next year marked the 25th year since taekwondo was adopted as an official Olympic event during the 1994 meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Paris and proposed that the two sides hold a joint performance to mark the occasion in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC headquarters is located. ITF President Ri Yong-son gladly accepted the proposal and said he would definitely be there.

But the IFT did not accept a proposal by the WT to set up an ITF national association in Pyongyang to help North Korean athletes take part in the Olympics. Perhaps in reference to this proposal, Ri Yong-son commented that “if you gulp down water too fast, you can choke on it.”

Inter-Korean sports committee meets regarding joint bid for 2032 Olympics

In related news, South and North Korea convened a meeting of the sports subcommittee at the Inter-Korean Liaison Office in Kaesong on Friday, with their teams of negotiators headed by South Korean Second Vice Minister of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Roh Tae-kang and North Korean Deputy Minister Ministry of Sports Won Kil-u. During the meeting, the two sides agreed to send a letter to the IOC expressing their desire to host the 2032 Summer Olympics together.

Furthermore, South and North Korea agreed in principle to send unified teams to international sporting events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and to deliberate this issue with the IOC and with international athletic organizations representing each event. Accordingly, they will be sending a combined team to the handball world championship that will be held in Germany and Denmark in January 2019.

By Kim Dong-hoon, staff reporter

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