Save Olympic Tae Kwon Do—from what? From losing its status as an ; Olympic event, that’s what! The 2004 Summer Olympics are history and Tae Kwon Do didn’t get a lot of play…and except for Steven Lopez, I thought Olympic Tae Kwon Do was pretty boring. Even the referees were getting adamant, banging their fists together trying to get the competitors to mix it up. Other than the Korean team members, it is kind of a worldwide malaise where the competitors seem anxious to survive rather than to win. There are exceptions and the Lopez family is a good example of the exceptions.
Hopping around then finally a step and a skip and a roundhouse to the vest—backing off and starting again or holding on, is the expected competitor routine. Any point fighter or barroom brawler watching an Olympic Tae Kwon Do match know that a good punch in the nose would stop all the skipping around. Yet, Olympic Tae Kwon Do allows no face punching. It’s unrealistic, short and simple, and not too believable. Sure, a swift kick to the head can knock out an opponent but you won’t see that swift kick to the head too readily applied when the kicker knows he may get hammered by a couple of good meat hooks!
Over the years, the unflattering publicity involving the World Taekwondo Federation and the United States Taekwondo Union has not helped the reputation of the Korean martial art. A number of USTU competitors believe that I have not been a friend of WTF-style Tae Kwon Do. True, I was never enthused about it but then I never went out of my way to disparage it either…not the sport, that is. What I did dislike was the attitude of a great number of USTU competitors who would sit on the sidelines wearing caps weighted down with pins while they screamed out such phrases as: Kill him, knock his block off or other such niceties while participating in an activity I always believed to be a humbling and a courteous undertaking. I’ve watched skilled fighters cruelly demolish opponents who never should have been allowed in the ring with them. One match was so bad that I did an unheard of thing: I went to the corner of the skilled fighter and asked to back off beating the young man with whom he was matched.
No doubt about it: Today’s Olympic hopefuls have honed basic Tae Kwon D fighting skills to near perfection. Gone, however, are the beautiful and artistic techniques once so admired…movements and techniques that made matches so very interesting. Jumping-back-kicks, jumping-reverses, aerial front-kicks, and roundhouses are seldom seen in Olympic Tae Kwon Do. Olympic fighters will probably tell you those techniques are not realistic in their sport—well, holding with your arms when there is a no-holding rule is unrealistic too. But nothing is an unrealistic as not allowing head punching in a full contact sport. Ever watch Chinese San Shou kickboxing? It’s full contact fighting with both hands and feet.
If Tae Kwon Do ever gets tossed out on its ear from the Olympics, San Shou fighting will probably be a top contender to be its successor.
So, how can Olympic Tae Kwon Do be saved? Should be fairly obvious by now—allow head punching! There is already sufficient equipment in the martial arts field that well protects a fighter’s head. The word was out a few years ago that Korean fighters were experimenting with head punching—hoping to get a head start, no doubt. Head punching will not only add some realism to Olympic-type matches but it will make them much more exciting.
I suggest that the WTF and the USTU (Editor’s Note: now renamed USA Taekwondo) not wait much longer. Spend some of their money and buy headgear and start practicing getting some zing back into what they do. Further, referees should start deducting points for every twenty seconds with no contact; minus three points should disqualify both fighters. Winning is an important factor in any sport and Olympic style Tae Kwon Do is a sport. Competing and surviving are not enough. If winning is not important, why do they keep score? Bring back the head punch and save the sport.