Nov 28, 2005
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Home > Korean Wave > Taekwondo

Taekwondo – a Modern Martial Art
Taekwondo is a unique martial art. With its roots in traditional Korean rituals and fighting styles going back over 2000 years it could be called one of the oldest martial arts, and with its modern reorganization and revamp it could also be called one of the youngest.

In 1961, the Korean Taekwondo Association formed to unite the various styles of Korean martial art into what is now known as Taekwondo, and to move this art away from the influence of Japanese Karate.

However, in the early 1970s, Taekwondo split into two competing styles – the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), which focuses on traditional aspects of the martial art, and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), which also focuses on sport applications.

This sport focus has allowed evolution into the otherwise somewhat static world of martial arts: new techniques are continually being developed in sport Taekwondo, as well as new variations on old methods. This is evolution is shaped by Taekwondo¡¯s traditional focus on kicking techniques and its modern desire to be a contact sport in which anyone can participate.

This evolution has pushed Taekwondo to be the most popular martial art in the world and a medal sport at the Olympics. It also has some of the most popular demonstration techniques – the Korean Flying Tigers are world famous. This is at least partially because of Taekwondo masters who work hard to maintain this martial art¡¯s ties to its roots (so it doesn¡¯t end up as Ultimate Fighting or Mixed Martial Arts) while not stifling modern evolution.

One of these masters is Bill Pottle, 27, of Aurora, Colorado. Part of a new generation of Taekwondo enthusiasts, Master Pottle has a rich martial arts and career history. After a Masters degree in Biological Engineering from Cornell University and a brief stint as a researcher for the University of Pennsylvania, he decided his calling was in the Dojang, not the science lab. Though Taekwondo is his passion and his day job, Master Pottle also practices Judo, Kendo, Hapkido, and Submission Grappling, is a published author (he has written a book on Taekwondo and a fantasy novel for young adults, both available on, and still remains a scientist as well.

This varied background helps him think about Taekwondo from a progressive viewpoint. He is like any traditional master in his emphasis on forms, basic techniques, discipline, and philosophy; he is also an active competitor, coach, and demonstration team leader. And when training for a tournament or a demo, he does whatever works the best, traditional or not. Master Pottle tells students that scoring is the point of sparring techniques and looking cool is the point of demonstration techniques – so if they can think of a better way to do that, he wants to hear it.

This kind of attitude is increasingly common in Taekwondo schools around the country, as martial artists push to develop new techniques, better variations, and new training methods. The newest Taekwondo schools are now equipped with digital recording and video equipment, projection screens, and other technology to help students see exactly what they need to do.

This is, in part, because of a push by the Lopez family, modern Taekwondo¡¯s royal family; oldest brother Jean is the Olympic coach, middle brother Steven is a two time Olympic Gold Medalist, and younger siblings Mark and Diana are both World Champions. A strong evolutionary force, they want to push sport Taekwondo into the new millennium by increasing competitors¡¯ use of scientific training methods – like professional athletes in other sports have been doing for years. To do this, they recently started the Worldwide Taekwondo Institute (, which offers schools access to the latest training technology, methods, drills, and techniques.

Master Pottle, with his Bioengineering Masters, couldn¡¯t agree with this progressive sentiment more. That is why he recently began teaching his students more than traditional and sport Taekwondo – he now teaches them a little bit of physics too. His elite competition and demo team, of all ages, learn about momentum, moment of inertia, rotational velocity, force, and most importantly energy transference.

(To see what the demo team learned, check out their promo video at
For a quick physics lesson, click on ¡®Taekwondo¡¯ then Biomechanical Research)

That means Master Pottle¡¯s students can tell you exactly what angle they need their bodies at and why, when they jump, kick, and spin to achieve whatever he asks of them – whether it¡¯s a in traditional form, in a sparring ring, or on a demo stage.

By Evan B. Delahanty

¡ã Collegiate TaeKwonDo – East Coast All-Stars
¡á Taekwondo – a Modern Martial Art
¡å Interview with American Sabunims at the Korean Academy of Taekwondo