“Traditional Taekwondo: Core Techniques, History, and Philosophy” by Doug Cook is a book that all Taekwondo practitioners will want on their book shelf. It’s also a book that will appeal to other Korean martial artists and even those who don’t practice Korean arts but would like to understand more about the “foot, hand, Way” from the land of the morning calm.
The book is divided into three parts, the first is History and Culture, the second is Philosophy, and the final section focuses on Technique. The first two sections were excellent and will help all those who practice the art of Taekwondo better understand the history, culture, and philosophy found within the art. These are the sections that will also appeal to other Korean martial artists and even other arts. The third part, Technique, did an alright job of showing a few techniques from the Taekwondo curriculum, but was not as strong or as interesting as the first two parts.
It is extremely difficult to boil a country’s history, especially a country like Korea that has a long and interesting history, into a few short chapters. I think Cook did a very good job of narrowing the history down to a few of the most relevant and interesting historical references, starting with the legend of Tan-gun. He briefly covers the Three Kingdoms and some of the key players in Korea’s history. He has a bit on the Japanese Occupation from 1910 to 1945 which is important regarding Taekwodo’s development. The next chapter on the Formative Years of Taekwondo is very interesting and will be valuable for all those that want to know more history of the art.
The Philosophy part had chapters on the role of meditation in traditional taekwondo, the development and use of combat ki, and the relevance of poom-se in traditional taekwondo. These chapters, again, were interesting and educational. I do think they provide the reader with a more in depth look at taekwondo than just the popular sport sparring.
The third, and longest part, focuses on technique. It is the longest because it is primarily pictures, illustrating the techniques chosen for the text. The chapters cover conditioning exercises first, and then a chapter describing training methods. While I agree with most of what was written, there were a few things that I would have written differently, especially the description of ho shin sool, or self-defense techniques. It is correct, that ho shin sool techniques provide solutions to grabs as written, but ho shin sool techniques also include defenses to strikes, kicks, and initiating moves.
I liked the guidelines regarding training, especially the emphasis on respect and safety. Then, for the techniques actually demonstrated with pictures, there are 18 Il Su Sik (One-Step Sparring) combinations, 8 Sam Su Sik (Three-Step Sparring) combinations, 18 Ho Shin Sool (self-defense techniques), and 16 defenses for women. You can look at this a couple ways. First, just look at this section as a small sampling of techniques you find in the taekwondo curriculum. That’s what it is. And as a small sampling, Cook did a good job of adding it. However, to learn the techniques from the book would be extremely difficult, just as learning any martial art from a book is not recommended, you need a live instructor and a partner to train with. I did have a fundamental disagreement with the way some of the ho shin sool techniques were demonstrated because correct body positions, movement, and weight placement were not illustrated, and I also have difficulties with a couple of the techniques entirely. (i.e. blocking a pipe with your forearm) However, it is not the purpose of this review to engage in practicality of techniques and so forth. So enough said.
There is a short conclusion, and then the appendix sections. Appendix A was extremely interesting. It told of a training experience with Grandmaster Gyoo Hyun Lee in Korea. I found it interesting and it also made me homesick to go back and train in Korea. It really made me yearn for my next trip over there to train. There were also some Korean/English terms and few martial arts organizations listed. Nice additions to the book, especially the training experience with Grandmaster Lee.
For the History and Philosophy sections, I rate this book a 5, and for the Techniques section a 3. Therefore, the book is a 4 overall and a book I recommend all taekwondo stylists read and learn from. I also recommend it to any others who want to better understand the history, philosophy, and techniques of traditional taekwondo.