When Taekwondo debuted as an official medal event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the world was ecstatic! Taekwondo was known for its lightning fast kicks, powerful knockouts and excitement from bell-to-bell. Highlight reels from 2000, 2004 and 2008 flooded the internet, with my favorite still being the +80kg gold medal match between South Korea's Moon Dae-Sung and Greece's Alexandros Nikolaidis in Athens 2004. But in 2012, there were very few notable moments and I think I speak for all us when I say that these Olympics in Rio are best to be forgotten. But what happened? How did Taekwondo become the laughing stock of martial arts?
However, for multiple reasons Taekwondo has become the butt of nearly every McDojo joke. Organizations like the ATA are known throughout the martial arts community for producing less-than-skilled black belts. Now, I have met some excellent ATA practitioners who are great martial artists, but even they have to admit they're not the norm. Yet, every four years we could at least sit back and watch the most refined Taekwondo practitioners demonstrate the best that the art had to offer and feel rejuvenated. In spite of all the jokes and insults, at the Olympics we could truly see the power and skill of true Taekwondo. No, it's not the most self defense applicable art in its current state (however, with the right training methods every art can be combat efficient) but the Olympics was the one place that Taekwondo truly shined.
But as is the natural progression, when competition is your only focus your training shifts from the art to the sport. You disregard everything the art has to offer to focusing only on ways to win, much like school teachers teaching only for the standardized tests and not exploring the depth of what education can offer. That was never more evident than this year's competition.
According to www.Taekwondo-Information.org, "To score a point your punch or kick has to be accurate and powerful. Light tapping kicks do not score. In major competitions, chest protectors have electronic scoring systems in them. These are adjusted to take into account the weight category of the competitors. (Heavier players have to kick harder to score a point.) For head kicks and if non-electronic hogus are used then at least 3 judges have to see the point and score it at the same time. The judges push a button when they see a point."
US Olympic Taekwondo coach Jean Lopez stated "I don't like teaching these techniques, but that's the sport." No! That is not the answer! The only way to fix it is if the art's leaders boycott the new rules and competition, but we know they won't. The allure of Olympic gold is too strong, yet after this pathetic display I wouldn't be surprised if the IOC kicked out Taekwondo for good. In only sixteen years, a martial art that produced some solid fighters has degraded into a slumber party pillow fight. And there are actually people who celebrate Karate's inclusion next time around?