Expats in Busan are getting a lesson in Korean culture unlike any other. Led by Argentinian native Santiago Pinto, these waegookin are learning to kick, punch and defend themselves in the way of ITF taekwondo.
Pinto, who has been practicing the sport for 17 years and instructing in Busan for three, teaches the Korean martial art three times a week. In Korea, to think of taekwondo conjures up images of children running around, releasing their day’s pent-up energy. However, Pinto’s classes are only offered to adults, and are taught entirely in English.
It has been said that there are as many histories of taekwondo as there are people to tell them. Disputes of style and leadership has caused various discrepancies. The sport’s origins date back to taekkyeon, a martial art that began in the Shilla empire. The suppression of Korean identity during the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945 meant that Koreans were only permitted to Japanese martial arts. A man who would later be promoted to general of the Korean army, Choi Hong-hi, blended the styles of taekkyeon and shotokan karate to form taekwondo, and began teaching it to soldiers.
Taekwondo, literally the way of the hand and foot, was first officially named and established in 1955. Discord would ultimately mean a split into the two branches of taekwondo that exist today. The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) was established in 1966, and the World Taekwondo Federation (unfortunately abbreviated to WTF) was established in 1973. ITF taekwondo maintained the original style begun by General Choi Hong-hi, while WTF taekwondo has evolved into the sport seen in the Olympics.
Since its origins as hand-to-hand combat training for the Korean army, the practice has evolved to encompass students from all over the world seeking knowledge in the areas of discipline, strength and self-defense. The skill is still used as training for the North Korean army.
Pinto’s class teaches physical training, strength conditioning, flexibility, sparring and self-defense. The training is intense, but he personalizes the class on an individual basis, making sure everyone gets a good sweat, but isn’t so worn out they won’t come back again.
I try to push everyone’s limits and I am very happy when I see the personal growth of each person in the class, he said. I have had people who couldn’t do a single push up at first and now are very strong and can do things they didn’t think they would be able to before.
Bill Sheridan, an English teacher in Busan, has been coming to Pinto’s classes for two years. He said that he initially was looking for a way to lose weight after an unhealthy summer, and thought learning a martial art would be a fun way to do it.
I find it a much more fun way to exercise than just going to the gym, he said. It’s a really varied workout, and I’ve seen improvement in a lot areas since I began.
Over the years, the class has changed to fit people’s needs. Pinto said that when he first started, people were more focused on general fitness, but lately there has been a steady group of people who focus on belt progression and sparring.
Pinto said martial arts have changed his life physically, mentally and spiritually in profound ways.
Among other things, he explained, martial artists who follow the physical path and the philosophical side of martial arts, the latter being the most important, develop a higher sense of self-worth, greater physical and mental strength, higher self-confidence, a more peaceful mind and a sense of belonging to something.
Classes are Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings near Kyungsung University at Sure Jazz dance studio, and in the evenings at Stallion Gym in Suan-dong in Dongnae. The Suan site is a fully equipped martial arts and crossfit gym that also has classes in shinkyokushin karate and daido juku. The gym is run by Asian shinkyokushin champion and Korea’s shinkyokushin president, Master Kim Il-nam. For more information, contact Santiago Pinto at email@example.com
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
In ITF, one spars only in gloves and foot guards, whereas WTF students wear full body armor and headgear, and punches are not allowed to the face. The patterns in ITF, called teul, are meant to teach the history of Korea through their names and diagrams; WTF patterns lack that, and are called poomsae. There are no musical dance patterns in ITF, and breaking techniques are mostly based on power and strength, while WTF uses a lot of acrobatic breaking. ITF also trains boxing and kicking equally, whereas WTF primarily focuses on kicking. Additionally, some of the terminology is different, ITF using older Korean terminology.