Posted : 2013-06-23 17:02
Updated : 2013-06-23 17:02

'Taekwondo will look more like UFC'

WTF chief advocates rule changes, new uniforms

By Kim Tong-hyung

WTF President
Choue Chung-won

It's probably not a good sign for taekwondo's health as a combat sport when detractors continue to compare it with ballet. World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) President Choue Chung-won vows to do something about it.

In a recent interview with The Korea Times, Choue shared some dramatic ideas aimed at rewiring the DNA of the sport, including rewriting the rules to give more points to punches and discarding the mat in favor of an octagon-shaped ring enclosed in a wire mesh cage.

If he has it his way, the new version of taekwondo will look a lot like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the planet's most popular mixed martial arts (MMA) competition, but without the grappling part.

Choue is even mulling retiring taekwondo's traditional ''dobok'' clothing and introduce innovative uniforms like the ones used in basketball or football, which promote a larger range of motions and reduce heat and moisture.

''Taekwondo has been all about tradition and pride, its heritage as a martial art deeply rooted in Korean culture and history. But for it to have staying power in the Olympics and reinvent itself as a spectator sport, it needs to make larger strides in its evolvement as a combat sport,'' Choue said.

''The ‘kwon' in taekwondo means the fist, but the fist has disappeared in the current form of competition because we reward more points to kicks. We need to narrow this gap to encourage hand-to-hand combat. I love how other sports are experimenting with octagon-shaped rings or round-shaped rings because they seem to give judges better views and allow them to make more accurate decisions on the hits that landed and didn't.''

At this point, Choue's suggestions are just that ― suggestions. The ideas will have to be run through the decision-making process at the WTF. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants its combat sports competitions to be more exciting but also safer to athletes.

There will also certainly be resistance from the purists of Korea's previously-homogenous taekwondo circle, who have been in a difficult relationship with Choue, criticizing him for removing taekwondo too far from its traditional form.

Choue has conviction about what he's trying to do. He takes the IOC executive board's decision earlier this year to keep taekwondo as an Olympic sport ― a vote of confidence it didn't give wrestling ― as an important victory in his ongoing efforts for change.

The IOC executive board decided on Feb. 12 to include taekwondo in the list of 25 ''core'' Olympic sports for the 2020 Summer Games. The final decision will be made at the IOC general assembly in September at Buenos Aires.

The process has fueled Choue's urgency to hasten the development of taekwondo as a 21st century spectator sport.

''My goal from the beginning was to fully integrate taekwondo as a global sport. The purists had criticized that the Korean dominance in taekwondo was slipping under my reign at the WTF, counting increasing number of the gold medals that went to other countries in recent Olympics. But I take that as the ultimate compliment,'' he said.

At the London Olympics, taekwondo athletes competed on a mat inside an eight-by-eight-meter zone, over three rounds of two minutes. The aim of the sport is to land accurate kicks and punches on the scoring area of their opponent.

A kick or punch to the torso is rewarded with one point. An additional point is awarded if the attacker has his back to his opponent at the point of contact, making the spinning kick the most important skill in the sport.

Choue considers the two-point spinning kick as a mistake that practically eliminated punches from the sport, which killed ebb and flow and frequently making matches look like badly choreographed puppet shows.

''Hand skills will continue to be irrelevant when spinning kicks continue to be everything, so we need a new point system to narrow the differences. Punches to the head have been illegal, despite that kicks landed there are awarded three points, and this difference has to be ironed out as well,'' Choue said.

''We used sensors in the head and torso gears of athletes, and to be valid, all shots must be of sufficient force. To fully integrate punches again, however, we will also need to reward weaker hits.''

Judging controversies had marred taekwondo in the Olympics since it became a medal competition in the 2000 Sydney Summer Games. However, the employment of an electronic scoring system — enabled by sensors embedded in the body pads, socks and helmets of the fighters — and instant video replay eliminated most of the problems in the London Games.

Taekwondo's lowest moment came in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Cuba's Angel Matos and his coach kicked Swedish referee Chakir Chelbat in the face over a disputed call in the men's 80-kilogram bronze medal match.

While the violent meltdown by a high-profile athlete may have dealt irrevocable damage to the public image of taekwondo at the time, the WTF managed to recover by being proactive in the acceptance of technology.

Taekwondo athletes now wear socks and clothing fitted with electronic sensors to accurately detect impact and instant video replay was introduced. The results have been positive. Bad decisions and scoring inconsistencies that were previously predictable were non-existent in last year's London Olympics.

Excitement seems to be the next quest for taekwondo and Choue seemed serious about hanging his legacy on it.

관련 한글 기사

'태권도 UFC처럼 바뀌나'

세계태권도연맹 '재미'위해 대대적인 룰개정 검토

태권도를 재미없게 생각하는 스포츠 팬들이 많다. 조정원 세계태권도연맹 총재는 더 이상 태권도가 발레에 비유되는 일은 없을 것이라 단언한다.

조총재는 코리아타임스와의 단독 인터뷰에서 태권도경기의 재미를 높이기 위해 대폭적인 경기규칙 개정을 검토하고 있다고 밝혔다.

현재의 태권도경기가 지나치게 발차기 위주여서 단조롭다는 비판을 감안 주먹타격의 점수를 높일 계획이며 매트 대신 팔각형의 “옥타곤” 링 경기장을 도입하는 방안까지 고려되는 중이다.

현재 태권도 룰은 몸통 유효타에 1점씩을 주어지며 가격포인트에서 공격하는 선수가 공격을 받는 선수와 등을 지고 있는 경우 1점을 추가하여 2점이 주어진다. 이 때문에 태권도에서 돌려차기가 주요기술로 자리잡아왔다.

조총재는 룰개정의 중심을 돌려차기와 주먹타격의 점수격차를 줄이거나 해소하는데 두고 있다. 조총재는 또한 전통적인 도복대신 축구와 농구 등에서 쓰이는 첨단 소재의 유니폼도입도 생각하고 있다고 밝혔다.

조총재의 생각대로 태권도가 개정될 경우 경기 내용이 “그래플링이 없는 UFC”와 유사한 모습으로 바뀔 전망이다.

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