JITF, Japan International Taekwon-Do Federation was established in November 1982. It is the seventy sixth federation, one of the newest ITF branch in the world. In spite of the short history, they achieved many satisfactory results in international tournaments, and are also renowned for their high standards.
In this essay, I'll describe its background history, how they manage the organisation, promote the art, and then, introduce their training style. At the same time, I am going to point out some of the different aspects from ITFNZ.
Japan has always been a nation of martial arts, where great numbers of different arts have existed since the ancient times. As a cultural heritage, Budo-seishin, the spirit and the notion of martial arts, has also been commonly accepted by the ordinary people. In other words, people usually have understanding in martial arts. In most schools, they learn martial arts such as Judo, Kendo, and kyudo in their physical education. Under such circumstances, however, it is difficult for any foreign martial arts to be introduced to and widely accepted by the people.
Taekwon-Do was, without exception, facing the same difficulty when General Choi was seeking for the way to establish ITF branch in Japan. As well as North Korea, Japan was the place to which he was eager to introduce Taekwon-Do, where he had spent his youth as a soldier and as a prisoner. In spite of his frequent visit in 1960's and 70's to negotiate with Karate instructors in Japan, he actually failed to reach agreement to open up a Taekwon-Do gym over there.
It was 1982 when General Choi met a patriot Chon Jin Shik, one of the early Korean immigrants(=Korean-Japanese) who succeeded in business, and also known as a former vice president of ITF. At the time, Mr. Chon was grieving about the separation of mother land, and he had a common desire with General Choi, TONG IL, or the unification of Korea as described in the twenty-fourth pattern. With his wholehearted support, General Choi was 'finally able to realise his long anticipated dream(since 1967) when a Taekwon-Do gym opened for the first time in Japan'(Choi, 1995, p.756).
However, Taekwon-Do, the foreign martial arts was still not something acceptable for many Japanese. Instead, it was Korean-Japanese who found Taekwon-Do attractive. Although their ancestors had been forced to come to Japan during the Korea-Japan merger, they were still considered to be foreign in the Japanese society. In fact, only a small number out of several hundred thousand of Korean-Japanese can obtain Japanese citizenship. Also they were(and are still now) discriminated by many Japanese people. For instance, many Korean-Japanese found hard to find a job unless they change their Korean name to the one in Japanese. On the other hand, they were no longer able to go back to Korea, because of the political reason, and of the fact that many of them lost Korean language.
Therefore, introduction of Taekwon-Do was a very significant event for many of these who had been discriminated in the society. It became the way to ease their agony of being unattached to any nationalities. According to one of the Korean-Japanese student, 'it threw a light on me when I heard about Taekwon-Do'(Hwang, 1992, p.119). As a result, many of them gradually joined JITF and became current instructors.
Since then, the name of Taekwon-Do has slowly spread among Japanese. Currently, many people have heard the name of Taekwon-Do, and most of them can recognised it as the Korean martial arts which attains proficiency in leg technique. By the end of 1995, there were 3,000~4,000 active members throughout the country, consisting of some Japanese and many Korean-Japanese. By the end of 1994, there were 17 official clubs and 17 other unofficial clubs widely spread in Japan. Many of the these official clubs are situated in Tokyo area where the headquarters were established, while other clubs are widely spread in the outer region.
For those Korean-Japanese students who wished to compete in tournaments not as Japanese but as Korean, General Choi specially permitted to form KTFJ, Korean Taekwon-Do Federation Japan. For this reason, there are always two teams from Japan entering in international tournaments, one the JITF team, another the KTFJ team.
As compared to ITFNZ, JITF is a very hierarchical organisation. Although there are not many managerial positions like NZ, president Nishi and the head instructor Hwang Jin, instructors of the early years, run the organisation from the headquarters in Tokyo. Unlike NZ, they are not elected by other instructors, therefore usually remain in positions.
It has always been Mr. Hwang(VI dan) who decides and approves who to be an instructor. As he mentioned, 'only those people who have right attitude towards Taekwon-Do and reached high standard can become an official instructor'. This is very important that any clubs where instructors' skill is poor cannot survive in the competitive society like Japan. Instructors are basically in charge for all the club activity except financial matter. In other seventeen unofficial clubs throughout Japan, however, instructors are not appointed by Mr. Hwang. As he says, 'Although I always tell them not to open a club until they reach the required standards, they are usually too enthusiastic to start a club'. Therefore, he occasionally have to send qualified instructors such as Mr. Yanagi(V dan) to conduct a training.
Instructors are also entitled to grade their own students up to the first cup. Besides patterns, step sparring, free-sparring, self-defence, adult students (the sixth cup and above) are asked to break a board using forefist punch, knife hand strike, side kick, and jumping over side kick. In a black belt grading, the number of boards increases that for the first dan grading, they are required to break four boards by forefist punch, four boards by knife hand strike, five boards by side piercing kick, one board by flying turning kick, one board by flying reverse turning kick, one board by 360' flying reverse turning kick, and one board by flying side kick over five people. As it gets to the higher dans, the number of boards increases that for the third dan grading, for example, they are required to break three boards by reverse turning kick, seven boards by side piercing kick.
Since 1995, JITF also has started a correspondence course in Taekwon-Do. This fairly new experiment is designed to encourage students living in distant cities from the headquarters, where no Taekwon-Do dojang is established. Two third dan instructors, both experienced and renowned, are chosen to be in charge for this course. Although video tapes and texts books are the main teaching materials, these instructors often travel all around the country to conduct a practical training for these students learning correspondently .
Utilising the media including TV advertisement, magazines, they seem to promote Taekwon-Do in larger scale than what we do in New Zealand. As far as the promotion is concerned, they regard their National tournament as the largest event; every year there are approximately 7.000 spectators to watch the tournaments. They also film the tournament and professionally edit it as an entertainment video. Moreover, up to the present, they have produced a series of Taekwon-Do videos as a training manual for those people who are interested in martial arts.
The most important thing for the organisation, according to Mr. Hwang, is not the promotion or any other advertisements, but to keep up the standards of the art. Instructors are required to have high standards; he and other senior instructors conduct a regular training only for instructors. In the headquarters, they even conduct the instructors' training everyday throughout the year. Also Mr. Hwang conducts a seminar for all the instructors in Japan once in two months to check their standards and attitude. Those instructors who can afford such dedication to the art are often professionals and financially supported by the organisation.
To encourage some other talented and motivated students, they also has an unique system of resident apprentices in the headquarters. For one year, they are intensively trained everyday, helping to instruct junior classes, accompanying with instructors to visit other clubs, and cleaning the headquarters. Following is one of the students' day plan which I fortunately could obtain.
In case of Mr. Masato Tomioka(I dan/22 year's old)
AM 9:00~12:00 4km running, practicing tuls
weight training and other private training menu
PM 3:00~4:00 normal training in a class
PM 5:00~6:00 assisting instructors in junior classes
PM 7:00~8:30 normal training in a class
~10:00 special training for them
They also keep a close relationship with other martial arts including Seido Karate, Shotoukan Karate. For instance, they occasionally hold a seminar for other styles to introduce Taekwon-Do. In 1994, JITF invited ITF master Park Do Song to conduct a special seminar for high rank instructors of Karate. They also allow other styles to participate in their national tournaments so that JITF and other styles can learn different technique from each other.
As compared to ITFNZ, evident difference can be found in dojang. In all four clubs I personally visited in the past, there was always an atmosphere I hardly ever seen in New Zealand. It was a very tensed atmosphere in which everybody including colour belts, was all training seriously. They hardly talked each other, but rather engrossed in their exercise. They were usually motivated themselves to kihap in the class even without instructions. Moreover, they never wasted their time by acting leisurely, but actively kept moving throughout the training.
The length of training time was one and a half hours, however, training itself was much harder than those in New Zealand. They barely had a break during the session, and students were required to move continuously. As far as adult class is concerned, the training always finished with non-stop free sparring for approximately 15 minutes, with everybody wearing protective gear.
Another significant difference was the time they spent for stretching and their enormous flexibility. In any JITF clubs, instructors spent at least thirty minutes on stretching, including dynamic and static stretching. Using a partner stretching, they put great emphasis on stretching hip joint. According to Mr. Hayami(III dan), 'partner stretching is the most important part because a student stretching by him/herself consciously or unconsciously save the pressure, therefore he/she cannot expect the maximum result'(1996, Matsui, p.126). Beginners also learn series of partner stretching when they first joined, so that instructors can reduce the time to explain students what and how they should be stretching. Students are always simply given about 15 minutes on stretching with partners while instructors just walk around and check whether students are stretching proper part of the body. There are also many motivated students who keep stretching before, during and after the class. As a result, students of JITF are more flexible than many students in New Zealand. For instance, most black belts are able to split their legs quite easily.
As compared to students in New Zealand (especially those students in the Central District), students of JITF seem to enjoy Taekwon-Do more in competitions. This can be proved by the fact that they hold at least one tournament every month throughout the country. As Mr. Hwang mentioned that 'participation ratio in tournaments is very high' that for instance, there were forty-three junior and one hundred and five adult participants in the 1995 Eastern Tokyo tournament, one of the regional tournaments in Tokyo. This is probably because of their nature that many Asians are grown up to be competitive, they are fond of the fighting aspect, and of the fact that they practice free-sparring often in the training. Also many of the students who join the club are usually those who want to be physically strong. Mr. Hwang also mentioned that 'junior members seem to enjoy competing in free-sparring, whereas senior members who are over the age of 30's prefer competing in patters'.
Among many tournaments, Moranbon Cup, named after the official sponsor of JITF, is the largest tournament in JITF. Approximately eighty black belts who all have to be experienced in many tournaments, participate in this event, while no cup grades are eligible to compete. In short, they have to have reasonably good standards to compete in this national tournament. As I mentioned, they are expecting over 7.000 spectators to watch this tournament every year. In 1993, they also opened up to the other martial arts so that people from other style such as Karate and World Taekwondo could compete in sparring under the ITF rule. According to the president Nishi, 'this open tournament is to stimulate and encourage all the students, and to give them a changce to exchange some of the technique between different styles(1994, p.4)'. In 1994, they also started inviting ITF members all around the world, including some ITF world champions in sparring to match against members of JITF.
In conclusion, JITF has succeeded in promoting Taekwon-Do in Japan within such a short period of time. Although Taekwon-Do is a foreign martial arts, it has established immovable position as a martial art in Japan, and has been accepted by martial artists as well as in the public. They also manage to keep a close relationship with other styles such as Karate so that they can enhance their techniques, art, and the attitude each other.
As far as training is concerned, they exercise very hard in any dojang. Instructors are, nevertheless to say, training very seriously that many of them exercise everyday. General atmosphere in their dojang is totally different from many of the dojang in New Zealand that students are often engrossed in the training, barely acting sluggishly. Moreover, their flexibility is so good that many of them can fully utilise their body to execute many high kicks. They also seem to put emphasis on free-sparring that they practice every night. As a result, many students are motivated to participate in many tournaments.
JITF tournaments are also widely opened to other arts that many other styles can challenge Taekwon-Do under Taekwon-Do rule. Inviting overseas renowned practitioners to the tournaments, they also managed to hold an advanced level tournament.
Hwang, Jin, Taekwon-Do, Fukushodou(publisher) Tokyo, 1992.
Nishi, Naoki, Taekwon-Do monthly May No.31, Tokyo, 1994.
Hwang, Jin, Taekwon-Do monthly Jan. No.39, Tokyo, 1995.
Choi, Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do, International Taekwon-Do Federation, New Zealand, 1995.
Matsui, 'ITF Taekwon-Do', Kakutougi-tsuushin, p126.
Most of what Mr. Hwang Jin mentioned in this essay are extracts from the interview I held with him on 9/1/96.
Some other information such as the number of participants in tournaments are accurate that they were given from the actual tournaments' Programme.