This Time It’s Taekwondo, ‘K-Tigers’
Martial arts meet performance. A gravity-defying team of dancers show off dazzling jump kicks in the air. Breaking layers of wooden boards is done in a rhythmic fashion. We’re talking about taekwondo demo performance clips by K-Tigers that are creating a buzz on YouTube.
Taekwondo, a Korean martial art created in the modern era, is characterized by its emphasis on hand and foot movements for unarmed attack and defense. According to the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Taekwondo, the global membership of the World Taekwondo Federation stands at 210 national associations as of 2017, and the total number of trainees reach 150 million. This figure, larger than the entire Korean population, proves that taekwondo is an internationally-recognized martial sport.
Being a late starter in the global martial arts scene than kung fu of China or karate of Japan, taekwondo is still able to gain popularity thanks to the enthusiastic promotion by Korean immigrants who set up taekwondo schools(dojang) in various parts of the world. More recently, elements of taekwondo are found in many other seemingly-unrelated fields as a form of fusion sport, naturally expanding the market for the Korean martial art. 

The YouTube algorithm on shows and performances somehow led us to a video clip featuring a taekwondo demo show. It was an entirely different category than the other taekwondo performances we were used to. Dynamic movements and group dance in perfect sync played to the beat of K-pop songs were spellbinding. What could have been the ordinary poomsae performance by a taekwondo demo team was turned into a mesmerizing show of master-level martial arts that remind us of b-boying or krumping.

Beginning of Korean Tigers
Those featured in the clip were K-Tigers, initially launched as ‘Korean Tigers Taekwondo Demonstration Team.’
In 1990, taekwondo Grand Master An Haksun initiated a demo team for overseas promotion of the sport, and the team has since evolved into the present-day K-Tigers. The first international show was in the United States for an event dubbed ‘Taekwondo Demo American Regional Tour.’ In the beginning days, the team focused on performances such as breaking(gyeokpa), sparring(gyeorugi), and group form. As most of the action starts with a foot movement, fast, powerful kicks captivated the Western audience who were strangers to Korean martial arts. The show became a hit, and gradually more and more invitations were sent from European and African countries.

Through domestic and international promotions, taekwondo has achieved popularity and recognition as a professional sport and martial art, and even became a full-medal Olympic sport in 2000. To An Haksun, simply promoting taekwondo seemed no longer meaningful. He thought that going forward, he would present taekwondo as a form of performing arts by combining his demo show know-how and stage performance experience with various genres. His son, An Chang-bum, who is also a taekwondo master, took over the team’s new mission.
In 2010, under director An Chang-bum, the demo team changed its official title to ‘K-Tigers’ and started staging more public-friendly performances including non-verbal shows and festivals, widening the fandom of taekwondo and K-Tigers. A series of taekwondo forms choreographed to b-boying or K-pop music is now considered to be not just a well-coordinated martial art but a riveting performance.

Taekwondo Featuring BTS Music
The indisputable trend of marketing is using video. K-Tigers are making sure they use the media platform aggressively. They appear on TV survival shows and upload video clips of their taekwondo dance routines for top K-pop music including EXO, Taeyang, and BTS. Their popular feeds on YouTube easily get over a million views. The one featuring ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ of BTS recorded 15 million view counts, and received numerous comments saying “fantastic and wonderful” in many languages.
With the growing popularity of K-Tigers, their members also are in the spotlight. K-Tigers has branched into the entertainment field through diverse activities. For example, Tae-mi, known as ‘Taekwon Sonyeo’ and Na Tae-joo, who appeared on TV talent show are members of K-Tigers. They are also active members of ‘K-TIGERS ZERO,’ a K-pop group launched by K-Tigers.

Other taekwondo organizations that once found K-Tigers’ business strategy to be risky and disagreeable have recently joined the bandwagon. Kukkiwon’s taekwondo demo team generated lots of buzz with their stellar performance on an American TV talent show. These days, any kind of taekwondo demonstration accompanies some sort of performance, regardless of who is involved.
There has been a continuing discussion on the authenticity of gukak, Korean traditional classical music, since a few years ago. Meanwhile, young gukak musicians have figured out a way to approach the public through collaboration with various genres while preserving the gukak spirit. Their attempt paid off as more gukak content is accessible now.

‘SsingSsing,’ a band described as a fusion between Korean folk music and glam rock, performed a ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ on the state-funded NPR station, bringing down the house. The Korea Tourism Organization gained global attention with its city PR advertisement featuring alternative pop band ‘Leenalchi.’ To sum up, the music industry is shifting toward offering more diverse content to the public with an emphasis on entertainment through innovative collaboration projects while keeping the essence of music as a genre intact.
K-Tigers is well-aware of such trends. Sometimes they are misunderstood as a K-pop cover dance team as they release an increasing number of content relying on the collaboration with K-pop groups. Nevertheless, they know very well that they are based in taekwondo, and their task is to promote taekwondo to more people. If the global community gets to take interest in the Korean martial art and understand the greatness of it through videos or performances, we’ve got K-Tigers to thank for.

© K-Tigers

February 2021 Editor:Jung Jaewook

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  • February 2021
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
  • Cooperation: K-Tigers
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