Taekkyeon is one of Korea’s traditional martial arts. It is a mix of rhythm and martial arts with natural and curvy movements. After being forgotten for a long time, Taekkyeon is slowly regaining its popularity. The Hanyang Journal had the opportunity to meet the Secretary General ofthe Korean Martial Arts Federation, Lee Hyunki, and talk about her journey as the first official female Taekkyeon master.
Q. Before jumping into Taekkyeon, what was your childhood like? What kind of a child were you when you were growing up?
A. As a child, I grew up in the countryside. Our family operated a rice mill at the time and there was a lot of work to do, so it was very natural for me to help the family business by carrying heavy packages and bringing water from long distances. All of this worked to help me strengthen my muscles. I remember that even as a child, I was very interested in exercising. I actually wanted to learn Taekwondo but at the time, it was very rare for young girls to learn martial arts. Thus, I used to always run up the mountains and practice Taekwondo moves with a training book. Also, since the rice mill in the village was a place where everyone came and went, I was used to meeting and greeting new people which is how I formed the part of my personality that loves everyone without discrimination.
Q. You said that you enjoyed working out since you were young. What triggered you to choose Taekkyeon out of all the different types of sports?
A. Surprisingly, I started Taekkyeon after I was married. Just like everyone, after I got married and gave birth, my body was not in its best state. To get healthier, I visited a Taekkyeon training center near my house and during one of the practices I went to, my teacher suggested that I should become a Taekkyeon master. In other words, my teacher wanted me to learn the master course of Taekkyeon. So, I tried as much as I could, and I slowly started to fall in love with the beautiful power of Taekkyeon.
Q. Taekkyeon is one of Korea’s traditional martial arts but there are still a lot of people who are not familiar with it. As a Taekkyeon master, how would you explain Taekkyeon?
A. The reason why Taekkyeon is not well known is because during Japanese colonialism, the Japanese banned Taekkyeon from Korean culture and it was forgotten. In 1983, Taekkyeonwas specified as Korea’s cultural property. And in 2011, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially registered Taekkyeon as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It might look similar to Taekwondo or Hapkido. However, while players in those two martial arts move in very straight lines, Taekkyeon contains very curvy movements.Additionally, different from other Korean traditional martial arts, Taekkyeon does not need any protection gears because the fight is finished quickly with a minimal amount of hitting involved.
Representative of Taekkyeon
Q. Since you have lived as a Taekkyeon professional for a long time, you have also participated in many tournaments. Is there one that you remember the most and why is that particular event special to you?
A. I have attended many tournaments but among all of them, my very first one, which was the very first Taekkyeon Competition, was very special to me. As I mentioned before, I started at a comparably old age but, out of all my competitors who were very young, I won as a champion. This experience increased my confidence and made me proud to show that when it comes to winning, age and gender does not matter.
Q. I heard that as one of the representatives of Taekkyeon, you have visited to many places. How were those experiences and are there any memorable moments?
A. I have traveled to Indonesia, the Netherlands, China, Japan, and Brazil to promote Taekkyeon and attend contests. The world is gradually noticing the existence of Taekkyeon and many foreigners are learning its movements. Additionally, traveling to Indonesia was very inspiring. In Indonesia, many people enjoy their traditional martial art and it represents the nation. This was a wake-up call for me to work harder to promote Taekkyeon to Koreans as well as foreigners.
Q. You are the first ever official female Taekkyeon master. Were there any struggles on the journey of earning this position?
A. There of course is a basic physical difference between males and females. However, this did not really interfere with my training process to become a master of Taekkyeon. I love to compete and work hard to present perfect moves of Taekkyeon. Also, in the Taekkyeon community, there is not much gender discrimination. Therefore, it was a great environment for me to grow as the first official female Taekkyeon master.
Q. Usually everyone goes through a ‘slump’ period. And especially for athletes, I heard the pressure of this slump period can be very heavy. Have you ever experienced this and if there was any, how did you overcome it?
A. In my memory, there is not a moment that I recall which I would call a slump. However, since I am also human, there were times when I felt lazy to work out. Every time I would feel that, I would always tell myself that I am going to have to do it anyways, and that I should not feel stressed about it. And remembering this, I pulled myself up to practice and after everything was done, I felt much happier. Thus, these moments that try to drag me down were actually opportunities that I can really push myself to the limit and become more successful.
Future of Taekkyeon
Q. As a representative of Taekkyeon, do you have any future plans to promote the martial art?
A. This is something that I have been wondering about and am still trying to answer. At this point, I think the most important thing is to train and create more Taekkyeon masters. These masters will be the ones who have the responsibility to teach more people about Taekkyeon and I hope that it will naturally spread and become a wellknown culture. Adding to this, I think more Taekkyeon groups should be made in order to do this.
Q. In Hanyang University, students have different interests and personalities. What kind of a person do you recommend Taekkyeon the most to and could you explain the reason as well?
A. I cannot really point out a single group of people for this question because I think Taekkyeon is an activity that everyone, male, female, young, and old, can enjoy. Taekkyeon is based on rhythm and martial arts, and it will help people who want to build muscles and be in a healthy mental state. It can also improve concentration.
Q. A half of 2019 has passed. What are your goals and future plans for the remainder of 2019?
A. I was appointed as the Secretary General of the Korean Martial Arts Federation this year and we are launching the second World Martial Arts Mastership Contest this year in Chungju. Thus, it is my goal to successfully finish this contest and hopefully through this, many will become interested in Taekkyeon again. Personally, I just want to be one of those cool old people who work for a long time.
Q. After reading this interview column, I believe that most of our readers now would have a good
grasp of Taekkyeon. Lastly, for our readers and the athletes who are working hard to achieve their goals, could you give any advice?
A. I would like to say this: do something you like and do it well. It is hard to find something that you are really into. Therefore, if you have something in your head that you know you like and are interested in, just go for it. Try your best to become a professional in that area. And I also hope everyone does not just crave for a job for money. Money should be the price that is given to you after doing something you like, but it should not be the final goal. Last but not least, luck is always there for those who try their best. Thus, try your best and luck will naturally come to help you.