The word taek­wondo was to­tally un­fa­mil­iar to the peo­ple of Bangladesh when the Ko­rean mar­tial art started its jour­ney in this South Asian coun­try a lit­tle more than 10 years ago. By 2017, how­ever, its pop­u­lar­ity had sur­passed that of all other mar­tial art


A man in South Asia would like to in­form the world of the progress his coun­try is mak­ing in the mar­tial arts. To that end, he wrote ´Bat­tle in Bangladesh: Taek­wondo Takes on Tra­di­tion” for this is­sue of Black Belt.

As a mar­tial art, taek­wondo tends to be viewed neg­a­tively in Bangladesh. We of­ten hear of fam­i­lies re­fus­ing to let chil­dren learn it be­cause of mis­con­cep­tions about the art. Part of the rea­son for this re­luc­tance is that a high per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion of Bangladesh is Mus­lim, and many of them be­lieve that mar­tial arts should be pro­hib­ited be­cause train­ing in­volves hit­ting the face.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford Cen­tre for Is­lamic Stud­ies, how­ever, Is­lam gen­er­ally re­gards sports as per­mis­si­ble be­cause they help pre­pare be­liev­ers to strive for right­eous­ness by mak­ing them strong and by giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in re­fresh­ing play. To a cer­tain ex­tent, that solves part of the prob­lem with taek­wondo.

THE OTHER PART of the prob­lem, how­ever, is more dif­fi­cult to rem­edy be­cause it is re­lated to gen­der. In Bangladesh, girls are un­der­rep­re­sented in ath­let­ics, from school all the way up to am­a­teur sports, be­cause of so­ci­etal be­liefs. It seems that even though many are try­ing to dis­cour­age young women from par­tic­i­pat­ing in taek­wondo, they refuse to sub­mit. In fact, they have learned not to care about

com­ments from those out­siders who raise their eye­brows.

Bangladeshi girls pre­fer to fo­cus on their dreams. Yes, they live in a so­ci­ety where they are not al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in male-dom­i­nated sports, but they per­se­vere. They are pow­ered, in large part, by their de­ter­mi­na­tion and their first­hand knowl­edge of the ben­e­fits that mar­tial arts train­ing brings.

I asked one fe­male Bangladeshi prac­ti­tioner why she and her taek­wondo peers are not bow­ing to so­ci­etal pres­sure. “It is not al­ways about the medals,” she said re­gard­ing taek­wondo. “A sport teaches you about hard work, ded­i­ca­tion, team­work and dis­ci­pline. It is not just giv­ing a girl a kick; it means more than that. It is about giv­ing a girl the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate and to dream.”

Most stu­dents in Bangladesh who par­tic­i­pate in taek­wondo do so in their leisure time, but it is more than a form of recre­ation for them, a re­cent study re­vealed. It in­di­cated that the stu­dents re­gard taek­wondo as a se­ri­ous phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity that con­trib­utes to sat­is­fac­tion, as well as to health and well-be­ing.

Within their busy sched­ules filled with school­work, they make time to prac­tice taek­wondo, and in this way, they are trans­form­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion in Bangladesh. We are start­ing to see the re­sults of their ef­fort. Taek­wondo has be­come the main sport­ing ac­tiv­ity of many of them, whereas in the past they would have looked to cricket or foot­ball. Nowa­days, evening taek­wondo prac­tice ses­sions are the norm for the fam­i­lies of many up-and-com­ing ath­letes.

THIS EX­PAN­SION of taek­wondo has been made pos­si­ble by the grow­ing net­work of clubs in Bangladesh, which now to­tals about 75 fa­cil­i­ties. Those train­ing cen­ters ser­vice the needs of the ap­prox­i­mately 8,000 taek­wondo prac­ti­tion­ers in the na­tion. In charge of ev­ery­thing is the Bangladesh Taek­wondo Fed­er­a­tion, which came into ex­is­tence in 1997. Af­fil­i­ated with the Na­tional Sports Coun­cil, the BTF works re­lent­lessly to make this Ko­rean mar­tial art flour­ish here.

To that end, Lee Ju-sang of the Repub­lic of Korea serves as head coach of Bangladesh’s taek­wondo pro­gram. Hav­ing held this po­si­tion for 15 years, he has pro­vided top-notch train­ing to thou­sands of Bangladeshi boys and girls. He also has trained a small group of male and fe­male in­struc­tors who ad­min­is­ter to the stu­dents’ ev­ery­day needs un­der his su­per­vi­sion. To­gether, they are guid­ing these young stu­dents to­ward a bet­ter fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion to teach­ing young stu­dents, the BTF pro­vides taek­wondo train­ing to the Bangladesh army, the Bor­der Guard Bangladesh, the Bangladesh An­sar and the Bangladesh Crime Depart­ment. Prac­ti­tion­ers from these gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions reg­u­larly com­pete in na­tional sport­ing events in which taek­wondo is in­cluded.

When it is not send­ing ath­letes to na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, the BTF likes to or­ga­nize its own events. They in­clude the Na­tional Cham­pi­onships, School Cham­pi­onships, Club Cham­pi­onships, Fed­er­a­tion Cup Cham­pi­onships, Ser­vices Team Cham­pi­onships and Ko­rean Am­bas­sador’s Cup Tour­na­ment.

BANGLADESH MAY BE new to taek­wondo, but the na­tion is al­ready leav­ing its mark on the world stage and build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for win­ning. In 1999 taek­wondo be­came the third mar­tial arts dis­ci­pline to be in­cluded in the South Asian Games, and since then, Bangladesh hasn’t re­turned empty- handed from a com­pe­ti­tion. The coun­try won four bronze medals at the 1999 Kath­mandu Games, fol­lowed by a bronze in the 2004 Is­lam­abad Games. In the next two it­er­a­tions of the South Asian Games, Bangladesh claimed three gold medals. In fact, over the past decade, the na­tion’s taek­wondo play­ers have won a to­tal of 41 medals at re­gional and in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

With this kind of track record, it’s no sur­prise that the BTF is get­ting full sup­port and pa­tron­age from the Bangladesh Min­istry of Youth and Sports, the Na­tional Sports Coun­cil and the Bangladesh Olympic As­so­ci­a­tion. Ohee­duz­za­man Mazumder, vice pres­i­dent of the BTF, said he wishes to thank these or­ga­ni­za­tions for in­vest­ing in the dreams of the youth of Bangladesh. He added that he sin­cerely hopes that the ad­vance­ment of taek­wondo in Bangladesh will con­tinue — and be more or­ga­nized in the com­ing years.

Mah­mudul Is­lam Rana, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Bangladesh Taek­wondo Fed­er­a­tion, is op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of the Ko­rean mar­tial art in this coun­try. “Bangladeshi taek­wondo play­ers have proved their skill and ef­fi­ciency in re­gional games like the South Asian Games and in­ter­na­tional games like the Com­mon­wealth Taek­wondo com­pe­ti­tion and many oth­ers dur­ing the last decade,” he said. “Now our tar­get is to play in the Asian Games, the Com­mon­wealth Games and fi­nally in the Olympic Games, and we are pre­par­ing our play­ers ac­cord­ingly.”

ABOUT THE AU­THOR: Talha Mah­mood lives in Bangladesh.

“It is not just giv­ing a girl a kick; it means more than that. It is about giv­ing a girl the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate and to dream.”

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