This is widely hailed as the worst Taekwondo belt test of all time. A little history may shed some light on what went so terribly wrong.
Taekwondo was formed in April of 1955, from a number of striking oriented martial arts in practice in Korea at the time. One of those groups was Chung Do Kwan ("Blue Wave School"), a style founded in 1944 by Won Kuk Lee.
Lee had studied a variety of martial arts including indigenous Korean approaches, and Shotokan karate with founder Gichin Funakoshi himself in Okinawa. Funakoshi awarded Lee a black belt, and the Shotokan Heian/Pinan (the terms are Japanese/Okinawan, respectively) forms became the basis for Chung Do Kwan's Pyong-Ahn forms.
Lee was succeeded by Duk Sung Son in 1959. However, in April 1963 Son moved to New York City and set up the World Martial Arts Association. Among his students was Michael T. Dealy, who began training under him in the 1960s. Dealy eventually assumed leadership of the World Martial Arts Association.
Mr. Son passed away on 29 March 2011, in Newport, Rhode Island. He was 88 years old, and a tremendous martial artist, by every account.
Unfortunately, something, somewhere went profoundly wrong, at least this once. Perhaps the techniques in the beginning were not very evolved from a technical perspective, but were executed and practiced with great vigor. When standards loosened, perhaps to appeal to a wider market, what was left was .. this.
The 5th Degree Black Belt Test
The video was reportedly a 5th-degree black belt test under Dealy. This was not an accident, an errant kick during a breaking demo for example, that one can enjoy a slightly mean-spirited chuckle over. This was a demonstration of these unfortunate individuals at the peak of their ability.
One needn't be charitable to believe that they are decent, well-meaning people. They certainly appear to be. Thus it is a little difficult to speak so frankly of their efforts. However, martial arts is a serious pursuit; speaking positively about this test would be disrespectful of the efforts of so many millions worldwide who practice martial arts seriously, and reap the positive results.
It is difficult to understand how a martial art could devolve into the absurdity seen in the video. After years or even decades of practice, nearly all of the black belts appear to possess less actual fighting ability than does the average athletic person. They are inept, comically awkward, uncoordinated, and do not, several of them, appear to be in even reasonable physical condition.
The student's study may have developed their manners, focus, and humility. However, given that the interconnectedness between mind, body, and spirit is central to the practice of martial arts, it is difficult to imagine a process that ably elevates the character while producing the physical fiasco that was on such full display.
While the Chung Do Kwan in Korea now adheres to the curriculum of the Kukkiwon, the Pyong-Ahn forms survive in pockets, including this Brooklyn, NY test. The test also demonstrates a farcical version of point sparring, entirely devoid of technique, power, or anything whatsoever that would hurt. After watching it, one wonders, a little baffled, how anyone gets that bad at anything.
It Gets Worse
Adding injury to insult, the fees for this fiasco are reportedly extreme:
Fees for Testing
From: World Martial Arts Association (email@example.com)
Sent: Sat 5/01/10 6:26 PM
$60 White through Purple Belts (all ages)
$80 Brown belts age 15 and younger (child)
$100 Brown belts ages 16 and above (adult)
1st Degree Test Ages 15 & under (child) $600 Ages 16 & above (adult) $800
2nd Degree Test Ages 15 & under (child) $800 Ages 16 & above (adult) $950
3rd Degree Test $1,100
4th Degree Test $1,300
These figures are not confirmed, but if they are legitimate, the 5th degree test likely cost the student around $1,500.
What were these students told that led to them being so utterly inept? Maybe something like:
•Don't make any contact during sparring, the techniques are potentially lethal.
•Always stay sideways so there isn't much of you to hit.
•The front leg side kick is the only attack you really need; don't hit with your back leg unless you spin.
The Last Word
It is not fair to condemn a group based on short videos from a single day (would you want to be judged by your worst 200 seconds of athletic performance?) Perhaps other belt tests from their group show the characteristically impressive speed, strength, agility, and ability that qualifies a person to wear a black belt.
Unfortunately, all videos were removed from public viewing on their YouTube channel. So for now, all we know is that on that day, the individuals involved achieved a dubious distinction - the worst Taekwondo belt test of all time.