Sundays in Pyongyang:
The 20th Taekwon-do
World Championship

Attending the opening ceremony

Today marked the opening ceremony of the 20th Taekwon-do World Championship (제20차 태권도세계선수권대회)in Pyongyang. The event is being held at the Taekwon-do Arena in the city’s Sports Village. According to the Korean Central News Agency, the event is associated with the International Taekwon-do Federation (ITF) and includes teams from over 25 countries, including the United Kingdom (below).

Taekwondoists and competitions in North Korea adhere to ITF rules, rather than those of the rival World Taekwondo (WT), formally known as the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) dominant in South Korea. The rivalry between the ITF and WTF is worthy of any martial arts drama and steeped in controversy: disputes about authenticity and the role of Taekwondo in the world, personal vendettas, and divided loyalties all amidst the backdrop of Cold War politics. Search ITF vs WTF online and you’ll find plenty of interesting (and extremely biased) accounts of this martial schism.

There is an old idiom that goes ‘same bed, different dreams’ (동상이몽, 同床异梦). Today in the world of Taekwondo, we could perhaps say ‘two rules, same dream’. Despite their differences, both the WTF and ITF have had enormous success introducing and popularising the Taekwondo across the world.

Alex Wong on Youtube, herself trained in WT rules, gives an introductory and unbiased overview of the technical differences between the two.

This afternoon one of our tour groups viewed the opening ceremony for the of the Pyongyang event at the newly refurbished Taekwondo Arena on a hill above Chongchun Street. A large group of women in Korean traditional dress greeted ceremony participants and spectators, both local and foreign, before they entered the arena’s large marble entrance hall with a bronze statue of a Taekwondo fighter.

Sales booths in the concourse sold assorted snacks, hamburgers, hotdogs, and Taekwondo uniforms as spectators prepared to take their seats on either side of the arena.

The ceremony opened with about 20 minutes of speeches, followed by 15 minute intermission, before a mass demonstration of martial prowess: dance performances, breaking wood blocks, technical demonstrations, and women fighters fighting of groups of male attackers. Some sections of the display were reminiscent of the Taekwondo section of the former Arirang Mass Games.

At the end of the performance, participants and spectators exited the arena though the same gate, giving an opportunity for photos and conversation (below). For more photos of the event, check our our tour leader Rich's Instagram account (ID: adventurerich) and the Russian Embassy in the DPRK's Facebook page.

Below a short North Korean documentary on Taekwondo.

'Sundays in Pyongyang' is an offshoot of our regular 'Sundays in Peking' blog posting.

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