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Iran's Taekwondo Rises to the Top Updated: 2011-08-04 00:00:00 KST

Taekwondo, Korea's traditional martial art, has become a sport enjoyed by people all over the world.

Taekwondo is a sport infused with philosophy. It emphasizes the harmony between a strong body and control over the mind.

Today, 200 countries are part of the World Taekwondo Federation. Taekwondo, filled with the spirit of Korea, is being learned and developed all over the world.

Of all these countries, one in particular has shown a special strength in Korea's traditional martial art. The Iranian national team has been whirling through international competitions, taking top prizes everywhere they go. The top master in five of the eight weight classes ranked by the WTF are Iranians. Iran is now the top taekwondo nation in the world.

This is Tehran, the center of Iran and the Iranian taekwondo scene!

This so-called "Taekwondo House" is the Iranian counterpart to Korea's Kukkiwon[국기원]. It is the training center for Iran's top national taekwondo masters.

There are about 1.8 million people learning taekwondo in Iran, with over 7,000 dojang or taekwondo studios in the nation. The popularity of taekwondo in Iran is beyond imagination.

[Interview : Mr. Zahedi, Coach
] "Iranians began to learn taekwondo because of the similarities they found between their culture and that of Korea. Iranians have always been very active and interested in individual sports more than in team sports. Since taekwondo is an individual sport, Iranians picked it up very quickly. When Iran saw excellent results at the Asian Games and the Olympics, it created even more interest within the country."

The Iranian taekwondo masters have now surpassed their Korean counterparts to become the top masters in the world.

At the center of Iran's rise as a taekwondo superpower is one master, who is famous among Korean athletes for his amazing techniques. This is Yousef Karami, the face of Iranian taekwondo.

He is a three-time gold medalist.

For Karami, who has conquered international competitions, Korea represents something special.

[Interview : Yousef Karami, Taekwondo master
] "I was very happy. Not only because I won the gold medal, but also because I had succeeded after all the practice I had gone through. In the past, coaches were always trained by Master Kang Shin-chul. His hard work is the reason that taekwondo was able to reach this point in Iran. We feel that today's World Championships partially belongs to him, because he worked so hard to help taekwondo students in Iran. The coaches who taught me have always been trained by him."

Next, we headed to a dojang in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

This is where Kang Shin-chul[강신철], a legend in the Iranian taekwondo community, runs the Namchang[남창] Dojang. He is still active as the chairman of the Iran Taekwondo Federation's Technical Committee.

After being dispatched by in 1985 by the Korea Taekwondo Association, master Kang spent 10 years in Tehran teaching taekwondo.

[Interview : Kang Shin-chul, Chairman of Technical Committee
Iran Taekwondo Federation
] "I'm Korean, but when I am teaching the Iranian national team, I become Iranian. Being able to develop taekwondo in another country to the level it is practiced in its country of origin was a way to raise awareness about the greatness of taekwondo. I believe that the true role of a teacher is to teach his students to become even greater than himself."

Kang Shin-chul, who never stopped teaching taekwondo, says that there is a reason Iran has grown to become such a strong taekwondo country.

[Interview : Kang Shin-chul, Chairman of Technical Committee
Iran Taekwondo Federation
] "Iran's competition structure is superior to what we have in Korea. Iran has been utilizing a league format for the past 15 years. The league tournaments continue to produce excellent masters, and when Iranian masters are competing against Korean masters, I sometimes feel that the Korean masters are lacking in skill. Iran's league tournaments ensure that the national athletes do not let their guard down even for a moment."

Why are Iranians so passionate about Korea's traditional taekwondo[Interview : Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar, President
Iran Tae Kwon Do Federation
] "Taekwondo is more than just a sport to the Iranians. During the war, a lot of young people went to defend their country. Many young Iranians actually began practicing taekwondo after coming back from war, because they saw a connection between their characters and the philosophy of taekwondo."

[Interview : Kang Shin-chul, Chairman of Technical Committee
Iran Taekwondo Federation
] "I don't think that Korea's stature is threatened just because it lost the number one spot. I focus more on the fact that taekwondo has been spread and developed well in other countries. For that to happen, there were so many people like me who went out to more than 100 other countries to teach taekwondo. If you consider teaching excellent disciples to be a legitimate objective, it is not such a negative thing that Korea has given up the top spot momentarily. That's not what's important."

[Interview : Seyed Mohammad Pouladgar, President
Iran Tae Kwon Do Federation
] "The roots of taekwondo run deep in this society. Koreans still show a lot of creativity in taekwondo. Honestly, I don't think that Korean taekwondo has grown weaker. It's the rest of the world that has grown stronger. Many countries are investing money to advance the technical level of their countries' taekwondo. That is what we are seeing today."

[Interview : Kang Shin-chul, Chairman of Technical Committee
Iran Taekwondo Federation
] "A few days ago, the World Taekwondo Federation welcomed its 200th member nation. My wish is that Korea will become a good model that will be able to spread the taekwondo philosophy to each country in a way that is customized to each country's culture."


200 member nations. That's almost every country in the world.
The United Nations I believe has only 192 countries.
Talk about real diplomacy.
Taekwondo having more members than the UN.
Well we talked about another form of soft diplomacy yesterday the arts and more specifically theater arts.
Today we're going to go back to Japan where we visited a theater festival for youth.
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