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.”