Sunday, October 20, 2013

The First Korea Wave-- Korean Martial Arts

First presented on Friday October 18, as a keynote speech at the 2013 Taekwondo Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. I should note that the audience was very international and impressive in the number of attendees from around the world.

Following my keynote and to my surprise I was also made a Hall of Fame Inductee. The event honors top competitors and Olympic winners-- past and present.  I was an active competitor in the 1975-1980. 

Korean Martial Arts: The First Korea Wave 
By Don Southerton

In my role as CEO of Bridging Culture Worldwide, much of my professional work is providing strategy and consulting to the top Korean brands globally. This includes working with non-Korean firms, leadership and audiences to explain the cross-cultural nuances in Korean business. During a long day that often extends into the night, I tackle client issues in the auto industry, retail golf, forward leaning City of the Future new urbanism, edgy digital media and even some amazing food brands

My global business experiences are actually rooted in Korean martial arts. I began martial arts in the early 1970s, tested for Cho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt) in late 1974, opened my first school in 1976 and tested for Sabom Master Instructor in 1987.

In mid 1970s as a Black Belt competitor in my 20s, I woke early on Saturday mornings and traveled to gymnasiums across the East Coast. I was fortunate to often end up in the Finals and on occasion returned home with a Grand Champion trophy.

Don Southerton 1980s*
So what does this all have to do with the Korea Wave?
During this same time South Korea as a nation was just beginning to build an export-driven economy. In fact, it would not be until the late 1980s and into the 1990s and 2000s before consumers outside Korea would begin to buy Hyundai cars, LG appliances and Samsung LCD TVs.

What is amazing is that today Hyundai and Kia are two of the top car brands worldwide and Samsung is the world leader in smart phones. 

Beyond the success of Korean consumer products is another phenomenon—the Korea Wave or Hallyu, First driven by the spread of K-dramas, such as Winter Sonata and Jewel of the Palace, televised across Asia Pacific, the Korean Wave evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon due to the proliferation of Korean pop (K-Pop) music videos on YouTube. 

The American political economist Joseph Nye interprets the Korean Wave as "the growing popularity of all things Korean, from fashion and film to music and cuisine.”

Today we also see Korean food, or “K-food,” following K-pop in chalking up global popularity similar to Japanese and Thai dishes spreading into the international scene.  

In part, this includes the export of Korean traditional foods, such as kimchi and red pepper paste. More so, even mainstream restaurants, California Pizza Kitchen for example, are including Korean BBQ tacos in their menus.

So what does all this have to do with Korean martial arts? 
In particular, I would argue that before Hyundai cars, Samsung Galaxy phones, LG washer and dryers, and shopping at Forever 21 (yes, a Korea-based retailer) Korean martial arts were the First Korea Wave.

Beginning in the 1960s in Tae Kwon Do or Tang Soo Do or Hapkido schools, Korean culture and language was an integral part of what made our arts unique and engaging.  I recall learning to count in Korean (hana, dool, set, net) and tasting kimchi for the first time at an after tournament dinner, not to mention my first adventure with soju.

It is these “soft” cultural aspects that today define Korean Wave, although we experienced this in dojangs in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and worldwide decades before the Korea Wave became the phenomenon it is today.

To conclude, looking back I feel we need to recognize the influence of Korean martial arts as part of greater movement that is now seen as the Korea Wave. And more significantly, the martial arts have been and are truly part of the global exchange of culture and ideas between nations with the hopes of bring better understanding among people worldwide.

* photo credit Alan Caponigro


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