Anyone who’s been training in ITF style Taekwon-Do for more than a few years probably knows there are multiple ITF organizations out there. And even if you’ve been following things closely since General Choi, Hong Hi, the Founder of Taekwon-Do died in 2002, you know that there has been next to nothing done by any of the groups that have splintered to work together at the organizational level. And to the casual observer, what has been accomplished has been little more than a few meaningless handshake photo ops, some meetings, and an agreement to stop suing each other.
Without getting into too many details, many things came to a head at the ITF Congress meeting in Rimini, Italy during the World Championships in 2001. I was there competing for the U.S. Taekwon-Do Team and even as a competitor, you heard rumors about what was going on and the air was thick with drama going on behind the scenes. You could say that was when the s#!t figuratively hit the fan and the fight for control of the ITF was in full swing.
The next year, after the death of General Choi, and after all the dust settled from the fight for control of the ITF, there stood three organizations. Over the next 12 years at least three more ITF organizations would be formed (that I know of).
All six of these organizations laid claim to being the “real” or “authentic” ITF. They all clearly stated that they were the ones who were carrying out General Choi’s legacy and honoring his last wishes for the art of Taekwon-Do. As they trumpeted themselves they simultaneously made arguments that the other organizations were not operating with the same pure intentions. One group would claim that they have the “official” numbering system, others claim to have the legal authority to call themselves ITF and use the logos, and the list of accusations made towards rival organizations as each one tried to prove themselves to be THE ITF goes on and on.
So, to the casual observer-
It appears that with the death of General Choi, the ITF began a downward spiral, fracturing into three splinter groups all fighting to establish themselves as “the one” in the minds of the legal authorities and the minds of the existing ITF membership all around the world.
Then, within those organizations, there were even more splits leading to more groups. This second tier of organizations claimed to be much of what the first three claimed, however these groups also spoke of a desire to unite or unify ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners worldwide. But on the surface, it still looks suspect when you claim to be a unifying force and you create yet another organization.
These days, facebook seems to be the place where you can find post after post of people venting their frustrations, calling each other out, and saying how they think, feel and believe things should be with respect to ITF Taekwon-Do. They talk about how to fix things and what the leadership of all these organizations should be doing, but very little action is taken to back up the bloviating.
If you practiced another style of martial arts, or were new to Taekwon-Do and you got a look at the current state of affairs in the ITF Taekwon-Do community, it would seem that there are divisions that run deep, a never-ending stream of infighting and people popping up left and right, creating what they think an ITF organization should be.
At the very least it appears to be confusing… if not completely dysfunctional.
One could argue, that on this path the ITF is continuously imploding on itself and is dying a slow death.
I however, have a very different perspective on the direction of ITF Taekwon-Do and it’s future.
I have had the privilege of traveling, being apart of and earning medals at the ITF World Championships before General Choi’s death, and, of the four ITF organizations that have the ability to continue to host World Championships, I’ve been to and earned medals at three of them. Now, as the founder of 1 TKD, I am in constant communication with masters and instructors from ALL organizations which provides me with a very broad view of ITF Taekwon-Do as a whole, throughout the world, not influenced by any bias or favoritism towards any organization.
However, before we get to my views on the current state of the ITF, it’s future, and the reasons why I feel I’m right… we need to get a few things straight.
There will NEVER AGAIN be one ITF organization.
People all over the world are longing for “the good ole’ days” when everyone was under one ITF. But even when General Choi was alive, was everyone being a part of one ITF really all that great?
It was simpler, and thanks to General Choi’s leadership abilities he was able to keep the ITF together throughout his lifetime (even though the foundation was beginning to crack even before his death in 2002). For the most part, there was one national organization in every country, there was only one World Championships and on the surface there was a strict chain of command and things seemed to be running smoothly.
What you didn’t always hear about was what was lurking under the surface, eating away at the foundation of the ITF. You didn’t see the large number of instructors, who were fiercely loyal to General Choi and the ITF, but were unhappy with the leadership in their country or their region. For those instructors, they had no where to turn for help and no other options for training. If you had a problem you were told you had to either suck it up and deal with or leave the ITF. Many chose to leave, but those who didn’t, were holding a great deal of resentment and frustration. I know this from speaking to instructors around the world who were unhappy with their leadership and who had no recourse at the time. I also know this because my father and I experienced it first hand and actually left the ITF for a number of years.
This was the main reason why one of the selling points of the new organizations was that it was going to be a democratically run organization. That things would be transparent, instructors around the world would be represented and that everything would be decided on by a vote. To their credit, most of the new organizations have lived up to that promise.
But back to my original point, that there will NEVER AGAIN be one ITF organization… There are many reasons for this, but I’ll give you the three biggest:
At the time surrounding General Choi’s death, there were many people with great intentions and massive disagreements about how to move forward with the ITF. And the only reasons massive disagreements like this happen is because one or more of the parties involved is absolutely certain that they are right, that everyone else is wrong, and that it’s their way or the highway. I guess at that time in history there wound up being three highways.
To consolidate the current organizations, the heads of all of these organizations would have to get together, set all their differences aside, forgive the actions of the past and sit down to talk, with a commitment to creating a new, all inclusive organization. Sounds like an easy solution, and it’s possible, but is also highly, highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely. Not only because of the individual perspectives of how things went down in the past, but also because there is no incentive whatsoever to give up what they have spent the last 12 years building.
2. They’ve established themselves legally, financially and with infrastructure-
Each one of these organizations is a business, a legal entity, that has infrastructure such as offices and equipment, systems in place for collecting dues, processing certificates, and hosting large events such as instructor trainings and competitions. They have invested time, energy and money into new logos, uniform designs, and into their web presence with websites, facebook pages, and twitter feeds. They’ve developed relationships with vendors and sponsors around the world.
Each one of these organizations has established it’s own brand and has attracted a certain following who are with them for a reason.
If they were to combine, where would the headquarters be? Who’s offices would they use? Would you let all the national organizations remain? Even if there’s more than one in a country? Who would run nationals? Who’s certificates would they use? Who’s identification cards would they use? Who would process the certificates? Who would sign them? Where would the money go? Who would get it and what would it be used for? How would they determine the new president and vice presidents? Who would run the world championships? Who’s competition rules would we use? Whose breath on continuous motion would be used? What vendors would keep or lose their “ITF Approved” labels? Who would head up all the committees? What committees would they keep? Which ones would they drop? How would they consolidate the black belt numbering system? Who’s system would they use? Who would have to be reassigned new numbers? Would you be happy if you were told that your black belt certificate was going to be replaced?
As you can see from the list I just created off the top of my head, this would be an enormous undertaking and a logistical nightmare. Not to mention the time and cost involved with creating such a merger.
3. People have a choice-
My final reason for why there will never again be one ITF is that, right now, in this moment, people have a choice that never existed before.
The ITF community thought it was a big deal when the organizations committed themselves to being run democratically (which was an enormous step in the right direction). But one of the unintended consequences of all these organizations popping up over the last 12 years is that ITF Masters, instructors and school owners now have a choice of who they want to train with, who they want to get their certificates from and who they want to follow as they continue to dedicate their lives to Taekwon-Do.
Intentional or not, this creates competition between the organizations. In the past this was never an issue because there was never anywhere else to go. But now, the balance of power has shifted from the leaders of the organization to the instructors and students. If you are running an organization and you are not taking care of your people, if you are not hosting extraordinary events and keeping your membership happy then they can (and will) just leave. They have options now, they know it and they can also vote by taking their business elsewhere.
As for the current state of the ITF and it’s future…
I mentioned earlier that I have a unique perspective when it comes to ITF Taekwon-Do. I was around before General Choi’s passing, have been involved with four of the “new ITF’s” and as the founder of 1 TKD I am speaking to and working instructors in every organization. Given my broad vantage point of ITF Taekwon-Do…
I believe that right now, ITF Taekwon-Do is stronger than it has ever been before!
“Why?” you ask.
It’s very simple. ITF style Taekwon-Do is bigger and more far reaching than ever before. When the original split took place there was one massive organization that became three smaller organizations. However they did not all remain the same size for long. These organizations for the most part have grown and grown and grown as new instructors have come up through the ranks. New schools and clubs are all around us and instructors are finally the ones with the say when it comes to which organization they choose to participate with, leading the organizations to have to focus on taking care of the instructor and the school owner.
Now there are six or so ITF style organizations that stretch across the globe who are all committed to carrying on General Choi’s legacy!
Earlier I spoke about unintended consequences, and another unintended consequence of having multiple ITF style organizations is that new leaders have had the opportunity to rise to the surface and make their impact on Taekwon-Do in a variety of different ways. With the new heads of organizations and committee chairmen, I am constantly seeing innovation all around. I’m always finding and hearing about new ways, and more effective ways of teaching classes, coaching competitors and running schools.
This type of activity and progress can only happen in an environment that allows those in it, the freedom to experiment and try new techniques, new methods and new strategies for achieving their goals.
So what about the future?
You may be thinking that what I said above sounded great, but can’t help but mention that as an ITF family, we are still divided… and you are right.
Allow me to share with you my vision for the future.
I share this with you not as a pipe dream or some fantasy where we are all best friends and all the Grand Masters are sitting around a campfire singing kumbaya, but as something that I truly believe can be accomplished in the near future.
For starters, we absolutely must let all the organizations just be. Allow them develop themselves in whatever way they see fit. Allow them to continue making their own certificates, conducting their instructor training, and hosting international competitions. Allow them the freedom to serve their members the best way they see fit. EVEN IF YOU DON’T AGREE! If an organization is being run poorly, neglecting their members or being dishonest in any way they will lose members to another organization that provides a better service.
At the heart of every one of the ITF organizations out there is a commitment to fulfill the legacy of General Choi. Some may disagree about how that should be done, but who cares! If you don’t like it, leave and join an organization that you are more comfortable with… because you can.
Allow cross-contamination at the local and national level.
When you host a tournament, seminar or special training, don’t exclude anyone who wants to attend because they’re not in your ITF. If they want to compete and test their skills… let them in. If they want to attend your instructor training to improve themselves… let them in.
Who cares where they are from? If they want to pay the entry fee and attend, let them in. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe they’ll learn something. Either way everyone will be better off for it.
There must be meeting of the minds. The heads of the organizations, or someone who can represent the the heads of the organizations must come together to sit down and discuss ways of working together that will be beneficial to everyone participating, allow the organizations to be recognized and allow them to keep their organization’s individuality
For example there could be a All ITF Open World Championships where everyone is invited from all organizations. Or you could make it an invitational tournament where the only competitors are the medalists from each organizations’ previous World Championships. It would forever put an end to the complaining and back and forth about who’s World’s are better. Finding a way to bring everyone to one place will make everyone better.
“But what about all the rule changes and differences in patterns?” I hear you asking…
That would be decided by the tournament host and I can tell you from experience, the changes from organization to organization are subtle and can easily be handled.
I see a future where there are many organizations. Organizations that are free to operate however they choose while simultaneously working with the heads of the other organizations for the betterment, for the advancement and for the expansion of Taekwon-Do throughout the world.
I see a future where the term “ITF” may go from being a noun to a verb. There once was an ITF, but now there are many organizations that use the name and practice ITF style Taekwon-Do.
I see a future where schools near each other and around the world work together to produce better instructors, better competitors, better students and better people.
I see a family of ITF style Taekwon-Do Grandmasters, Masters, instructors and students that commit to build themselves physically and mentally based on the Taekwon-Do Spirit, to keep friendship with one another and to build a strong group, and to never fight to achieve selfish ends.
I see many organizations, but 1 TKD.
About the Author:
Senior Instructor – Karstadt Taekwon-Do
Mr. Karstadt is the founder of 1 TKD Consulting and owns the longest running ITF Taekwon-Do school in Arizona, Karstadt Taekwon-Do in Phoenix, AZ with his father Master David Karstadt. He has been training since 1984, earned his Black Belt at the age of 8 and is currently an internationally renown intstructor teaching the culture, discipline, leadership and business skills of Taekwon-Do in classes and seminars to Instructors around the world. He has been a member of eight U.S. Taekwon-Do Teams and has traveled to 14 different countries competing in Taekwon-Do. He has won numerous medals at the World Championships and in international competition, most notably winning the 2004 World Championships in South Korea with two gold medals and the Men’s Team All Around Trophy. Mr. Karstadt currently resides in uptown Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and three children. Mr. Karstadt can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com