Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sanko Lewis and the Philosophy of Taekwondo

Sanko Lewis is an English literature professor who has a special passion for poetry. He writes, edits, is a martial arts instructor, and just recently, he got his PhD in the philosophy of martial arts. No, he did not have to spar physically to get the degree, just verbally.

His research centered around the East Asian philosophy of martial arts—Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Moism, Bushido (the Way of the Warrior aka the Samurai Code) — and his interest is in their philosophies, their morals, and how both of these might have influenced their individual development of martial arts. 

Sanko Lewis
While Sanko is familiar with tangsudu, Brazilian jiu jitsu (which by the way originated from Japanese jiu jitsu), and parkour or urban free-running, his primary focus and bulk of knowledge is on Korean martial arts. He has a fifth-dan in taekwondo, a third-dan in hapkido, practices taekyun, as well as does some yulsu (sp?) (a type of Korean wrestling). He says that martial arts aren't only about fighting but are also the embodiment of the culture. 

How do martial arts change a person physically?

  • taekwondo and other quick-moving martial arts are more for developing long, lean muscles that are very flexible for quick kicks
  • jiu jitsu and other grappling martial arts create a more bulky body with strong core muscles, bigger shoulders and arms, more back strength

How do martial arts change a person mentally (the more interesting question)?

According to Sanko, there are three words that translate to martial arts in Korea: 무술, 무예, and 무도, and each of these words functions as a paradigm of one's growth in the "arts." Basically, the stages of one's growth. (무 translates as "military")
  • 무술 — learning the "military skills/techniques" and this takes years
  • 무예 — when the movements become intuitive and the actions flow, the person is now achieving the level of "military art"
  • 무도 — when the military art has become a lifestyle and a symbol of life, it has become like "Dao", the Way. (도 stems from Dao)
Sanko was first introduced to taekwondo in South Africa. He and his brother watched a lot of kungfu movies as teenagers and wanted to learn, but there were no places to learn kungfu. However, they did come across a taekwondo school. Not knowing what it was, they found in the newspaper it was referred to as "the best of the best" which alluded to a movie that came out in the 1980s. It sounded good and they wanted to learn a martial arts so enrolled. 

The guy who ran the school was a South African who had learned from another South African. The latter South African had obtained a textbook on taekwondo from some unknown place and ended up, traveling to Singapore to learn the art. In Singapore he studied under Rhee Ki Ha, first Grand Master of taekwondo. (Most of the Grand Masters of taekwondo are still living, as is Rhee who currently lives in England.)

The student of Rhee Ki Ha returned to South Africa in 1976, bringing taekwondo skills with him, and the first taekwondo school in South Africa was opened. So basically, Sanko's taekwondo education is an inheritance of the Grand Masters. (Choi Hong-hee, who was a general in the Korean military, was the founder of taekwondo.)


This summary comes from his June 21, 2016 KBS radio interview.

Sanko Lewis also blogs on taekwondo under his Korean name, Soo Shim Kwan 水心館수심관.

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