Taekkyon, Tightrope-Walking to Be Listed as World Cultural Heritage

The traditional Korean martial art of taekkyon has remained hidden from the outside world for centuries while Chinese kung fu has risen to international prominence. But all this may be set to change.

DreamWorks' Animation's recent hit "Kung Fu Panda" and its sequel highlight the enduring appeal of Asian martial arts in the West. But while over 20 movie titles on the U.S. Internet Movie Data Base's website contain the word "kung fu," none make reference to taekkyon.

However, the acrobatic fighting form, which more closely resembles kung fu than its better-known siblings taekwondo and hapkido, is attracting more publicity as it looks set to be registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Cultural Heritage Administration said during a meeting of UNESCO delegates in Bali, Indonesia, that taekkyon and Korean tightrope walking were both recommended for registration by a UNESCO subcommittee, and were set to be included on the official list on Monday.

This would make taekkyon the first martial art to join the coveted list. Resembling the fluid movements of dancing, it involves kicks and other moves to knock down the opponent. There are around 50 official masters of the martial art, which is governed by the Korea Taekkyon Federation.
Just prior to the UNESCO meeting on Sunday, China voluntarily withdrew Shaolin kung fu from the list of candidates seeking to be registered. China has tried for years to list the martial art as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity but has come unstuck for failing to provide sufficient information to support its bid. The country needs to submit more specific data about the standards and procedures taken to register it as a piece of cultural heritage, according to UNESCO's preliminary report.

"It looks like China will try to apply again next year after it provides additional information, as it will not be able to seek registration for another four years if it fails the main round of evaluations," said a CHA spokesperson.

Korea has 13 items on the UNESCO list, starting with the Royal Ancestral Ritual at the Jongmyo Shrine and its Music, which was registered in 2001. This was followed by the Pansori Epic Chant (2003) and the Gangneung Danoje Festival (2005).

In 2009, it added its Ganggangsullae Dance, Namsadang Nori Performance, Yeongsanjae Buddhist Ritual, Jeju Chilmeoridang Yeongdeunggut Shaman Ritual, and Cheoyongmu Dance to the list.

Korean traditional wooden architectural craftsmanship (daemokjang), songs based on traditional poetry from the Chosun era (gagok) and falcon hunting have also been included.

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