There are physical gauges of Taekwondo players on the full-size screen.
/Extracted from Korea Taekwondo Association
Have you ever seen a Ssireum match with fans cheering their favorite athletes with handmade signs? What about a Taekwondo match which shows a physical gauge like fighting games? Korean traditional culture is changing so as not to be forgotten by the public. As the TV program “Into the World of Ssirruem” gained popularity and Taekwondo rules changed, Ssiireum and Taekwondo recently received a lot of attention again. Other various traditional cultures are also trying changes to continue with the spirit of Korea through small but impactful variations
The value of Traditional Culture
Traditional culture is an indigenous culture that has been passed down in a country. Choe Jong-ho, a professor of Korea National University of Cultural Heritage, said, “Traditional culture is based on cultural factors such as the circumstances of the time, regional characteristics, age, gender and social hierarchy as well as food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, religious faith and technology.” It plays a role as a bridge between people from the past, present and future. Also, it increases the value of the country and people, and protects the country’s economy by providing value-added cultural contents. Thus, it is extremely important to inherit and develop traditional culture. However, as time flows and civilization advances, people tend to forget the value of traditional culture. Accordingly, many traditional cultures of Korea are applying some variations adjusted to modern people’s preference to protect and develop our traditions. Professor Choe Jong-ho also added, “Efforts to protect, succeed and develop traditional culture are important not just for us, but for prosperous life of next generation.”
Ssireum is not old-fashioned anymore
Ssireum is a type of wrestling whereby two contestants grapple to topple each other. The key to winning the match is breaking the balance of opponent. Ssireum used to be held at sandy beaches, market places, or in the middle of the town during holidays like Dano and Hangawi. A cow was given to the winner as an award, and the winner circled the town riding the cow and enjoyed the rousing celebration.
In the past, people thought of Ssireum negatively as “a trial of strength and weight,” and said, “only the elder enjoy Ssireum.” However, the Korea Ssireum Association (KSA) introduced a weight gap which enabled technical Ssireum in 2009, and the “Into the World of Ssirruem” was broadcasted from the end of the 2019 to February 2020. This TV show is a sports reality entertainment show which shows how 16 ssireum wrestlers struggle to become the final winner. Then, Ssireum became so popular that the neologism “Ssireum-dol,” which is a compound word of ssireum and idol to call young ssireum players with affection, was made. There are four weight classes in Ssireum and this program only features two light weight classes which are Taebaek (under 80kg) and Geumgang (under 90kg). Therefore, viewers became able to watch breathtaking matches full of amazing skills and fast speed which are the strengths of light weight Ssireum wrestlers. People overcame their bias that “Ssireum is old-fashioned” after watching dynamic games presenting interesting techniques and players’ skills to read each other’s movements.
Passionate martial art Taekwondo became more powerful
Taekwondo is a traditional Korean martial art form with a history that goes back thousands of years. It entails the use of the hands, the feet, and the entire body. However, during the Japanese colonial era, as the oppression by Japan tightened up, martial training of the people was abandoned. After independence, however, those who were passionate about recovering Taekwondo established the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) in 1961. Later, Taekwondo became an official item of Olympic games at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Recently, the KTA held the “KTA Power Premium League” to rehearse new rules. Until now, Taekwondo has been described as “foot-fencing” and blamed for the rule that players win a score once they touch one’s counterpart regardless of the intensity. What is more, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) adopted Karate as an item of Olympics in 2016. This implies Taekwondo cannot be an Olympic sport anymore because Taekwondo and Karate are similar in terms of rules and sequences of the matches. Therefore, the KTA had to come up with new rules because of these several reasons.
In January in the KTA power Taekwondo premium League, there were physical gauges of Taekwondo players on the full-size screen like fighting games. Damage varies depending on the location and intensity of the hit. As a result, players attacked actively and daringly to do more damage. Watching this league, people could enjoy the game more and were fascinated by the new rules.
Traditional Music has been making innovative collaborations
Korea’s traditional music has collaborated several times to continue tradition. In March 2018, Korean Songs successfully collaborated with Spanish folk dance, Flamenco twice. Two Korean Songs were played along with Flamenco guitar melody and two Flamenco songs were sang by Korean Songs singers. Also, Pansori has been making various collaborations such as joining with modern dance, martial arts style group dance, and so on. For instance, In 2019, a Pansori musical was made. As the name suggests, the musical provided various collaborations such as Korean and Western musical instruments, Pansori and Jazz, wash drawing and 3D animation which presented fresh feelings to audiences.
People positively respond to these variations
Lee Jin-ju, the sophomore of the Department of Western Painting of Sungshin women’s University, said, “While most modern people regard tradition as something boring, the popularization of art contributes to developing traditional culture and passing it down to next generations. Also, changed tradition may attract foreigners interested in Korea.” She added, “Despite these advantages, still there are concerns of degeneration and abuse. In the process of making variations, some people might seek for money instead of our own spirits. However, tradition should vary based on positive aspects along with the technical advancement. If so, variated traditional culture could connect someone who reject tradition with someone who only seeks the original.”
Some people worry whether the original value of traditions might be lost through these kinds of variations. However, variations appear to be positive in that we can pass down our inherent values by adapting traditions in accordance with the times. Given this, it is important to study our traditional culture enough not to lose our history while modernizing traditional cultures. Professor Choe Jong-Ho emphasized that “Variations can be a driving force to the development of the traditional culture. Succeeding traditional cultures in a right way, and making them become globalized will secure their universality based on originality. Through reconciliating cultures, Korean tradition will become something truly Korean and at the same time the most globalized one.”
Lee Su-yeon email@example.com
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