Taekkyon 택견

Taekkyon is a Korean martial art with a strong influence from traditional Korean dance. It was popular during the Joseon Dynasty as a folk game, where competitors tried to kick the opponent in the head or throw them to the ground to win. It is probable that Taekkyon evolved out of an even older, now lost, style called Subak. Subak was the hand-to-hand combat method of the ancient Korean military. Taekkyon almost died out during the Japanese occupation of Korea, but was kept alive by one man, Song Duk-ki. He learnt the art at a young age, and continued his practice until the founding of the Republic of Korea, when he began to teach publicly, being designated as National Treasure of Korea in his later years. Today the art is making a big revival in South Korea, and Taekkyon battles are held in Seoul several times a year, and many schools have sprung up. A couple of good reads for some background on Taekkyon and Korean martial arts are Taekyon: The Korean Martial Art and 5,000 Years of Korean Martial Arts: The Heritage of the Hermit Kingdom Warriors.

The foundation of Taekkyon is it’s dance-like stepping pattern, known as Pumbalkki. Pumbalkki means to step in the shape of the Chinese character 品 (pum). Practitioners begin by learning this stepping method, often in rhythm to Korean folk music. Taekkyon training begins by learning the basic steps, along with variations. The steps must be light and relaxed. The next stage is to learn low kicks. These can be used as a sort of job to gauge the range, a defense against an attacking kick, or as a sweep. These are practiced with a partner where one attacks and the other avoids with certain steps. These steps later develop into counters, and so this develops a highly refined sense of timing.

The next level will be to learn throws, some of which are performed by combining a low kick together with a hand technique. Grappling is practiced at this level. After these are mastered, high kicks are finally introduced, which are aimed at the head or chest. High kicks are only taught when the student has sufficient skill in the low kicks and grappling, to ensure they have a solid base. Defense is also taught, and at this point the student has all the basic tools for Kyulyun, which is the Taekkyon match.

Advanced students learn more acrobatic moves such as flying kicks and cartwheels. Hand techniques are also only taught to advanced students and are not allowed in the Kyulyun match. The hand techniques, known as Yeonbop consist of deadly techniques used by the military in ancient time.

For more detailed information, check out my article for SMA on Taekkyon here and my interview with Master Do Ki Hyun.