History > Hall of Fame > Masters > Interview with I.T.F. Vicepresident Senior Master Pablo Trajtenberg

Interview with I.T.F. Vicepresident Senior Master Pablo Trajtenberg

Interview made by Mr. Tadeusz Loboda and Mr Jerzy Jedut, 24 October 2004
Jerzy Jedut: Can you tell us what kind of position you hold now in ITF and ITF-Argentina?
Master Pablo Trajtenberg: Well, in Argentina -because this is my country- I'm the Secretary General of the Argentinean Federation, but really I can't devote all my energy to my local group as I work a lot, overseeing a lot of instructors. I travel a great deal, I don't teach colour belts any more, only for degrees. So my main work is to supervise my instructors not only in Buenos Aires but also in the provinces. Over the last years I have also taken over the position of Senior Vice-president of the ITF and I have duties as a member of the Technical Committee as well.
JJ: Do you have your own office and staff that work for you or as the Secretary General are you responsible for all duties?
PT: We have administrative staff who work for us in the office and that office is meant to receive people of the Taekwon-do world, instructors from AA Associations where we have some internal work to do, arrange meetings with those people, but normally we give the work for the administrative people to take care, so that it does not take me too long, only sometimes when we plan the organization of the national instructors' course, or we make a national tournament or a selection, then we begin office work in order to plan those events. We try to limit ourselves in order to save resources, to prevent power struggles, also we try to limit our work to avoid bureaucracy, thus each group does its own work.
JJ: Can you tell us, what is the structure of Taekwon-do in Argentina?
PT: The local structure in Argentina has gone through a lot of modifications. That is the reason why I try to pass on my experience to the ITF, because in the beginning we wanted to control everything from only one place and this was a very demanding role, there were problems about disagreements over money matters but now we give more autonomy to each group. Each 4th degree has his own group, he has a possibility to test, to move, to get his own application form and all those things. When resolving important issues we charge very little money, so the people do not complain about that, therefore we get together only for national Degree register, for relating with the ITF and for the national championships or for the selection. We play an important role when we have visitors from abroad, if the independent groups make some agreement to invite some instructors, we don't want to be invaded by foreign instructors as happened in the past with the Koreans. Therefore, we try to get involved only in very specific matters which concern the future of Argentine Taekwon-Do. Only in those cases.
JJ: Sir, when I asked about the structure, can you tell me more about the National Association.
PT: We have a Federation. That Federation is represented by associations or by individuals. We have this kind of structure. The association has to be conducted by a 4th degree and above and maybe this association has only one group or maybe it has a lot of clubs but it has to be conducted at least by a 4th degree and we don't recognise an association conducted by any lower degree.
Does it mean that instructors teaching in the schools should hold 4th degree and above?
PT: They may be 1st degree and teach as long as they follow a high rank instructor.
JJ: So in this case coloured belts are not allowed to conduct classes?
PT: No, never. And neither can a 3rd degree or below conduct a test.
JJ: We know very well that there are many Taekwon-do practitioners in Argentina (about 50 thousand people). Are there any special reasons why Taekwon-do is so popular among martial arts?
PT: Recently, the government made a survey to find out how many people practice each sport here. They noticed that the most popular sport in the ranking was football and that the second most popular sport was martial arts and among martial arts Taekwon-Do came first. As to the explanations for this, I think that they are of a social nature because the people have a lot of problems with violence, problems in the family. So many people go to the psychologist and they usually recommend to come to us, because intuitively our system relaxes people, gives the people much calm to their lives.

Doctors recommend them to come to the gym and practice Taekwon-Do. So it's popular. You are in the street and you see the kids going with an ITF dobok (WTF is very small in Argentina), we benefit from this kind of advertising. Regrettably, in these last years we have had more violence in our society, so our organisation has started to talk and prepare the structure and our members to deal with this new situation, because in the past we received the people and that was it.

Now, when we test for degrees we ask the black belts to have a folder where they have a speech, so they know exactly how to offer Taekwon-Do and how to convey the benefits of Taekwon-Do to the public, so we encourage instructors to go to schools, or some other places and explain and propose that our art should be taught in that place. Schools open their doors to us, because they have a problem of violence and they need some extra help to cope. A few months ago we had a very big problem in an Argentine province, when one secondary student came in with a pistol and killed three of his own fellow students there, in his own class-room. Next week another student may have tried to do the same, he didn't kill anyone but that was lucky, so the schools don't know how to solve the violence problem. So at least they know that practicing Taekwon-Do they may have a chance to solve these problems and we aim our speech at that and it really works because we start teaching them how to control negative energy. So we are -I think- on the right path to impart the values of Taekwon-do to our society.

JJ: In your opinion, is Taekwon-Do developing in Argentina or is it staying at the same level?
PT: Last week I received some excellent results because in the school where my son studies, which is far away from the city, I provided references for an instructor who was looking for work and the school hired him as an extra curricular activity, which is the ordinary status of our discipline . And later the director of the school called this instructor and told him "next year we really want to do it, not as an extra subject but to include it as part of the school syllabus". So for us that means that we should encourage all instructors to pay attention to schools, concentrate all information about places of teaching, so that it may be used for a presentation or proposal, something which has not been exploited yet, so I think that in this way we are going to develop Taekwon-Do even further.
JJ: What is your opinion about women practicing Taekwon-Do?
PT: When we began to teach in Argentina, it was not allowed for women to join, because in that moment a part of the male society was prejudiced towards women. That meant they didn't have the same access to things as men did. But luckily, the social situation began to change and women now enjoy their full rights. In the past, the World Championships didn't have female competitors and once we received a petition signed by a lot of female practitioners who made a complaint about this difference in treating men and women. Therefore, we allowed them to enter the championships. Since then, they have begun to increase in number, perhaps because as we men are physically stronger than they are, women are not content with this. So they want to become stronger not only in a physical way, they want to be fit for a job and so on. So in Taekwon-Do the "Do" gives what's going on a sense of purpose, and now when a woman goes into the gym, she faces you with a "Do you want to fight with me?" look. We had a situation once, when my son recommended one male friend to come to my gym and in the gym there was Carolina Menegaso, the World Champion. The boy was a red belt and the instructor put him to spar with that girl and the girl dealt him so many punches and kicks that he gave up practicing in my gym. That means that there have been plenty of changes concerning the status of women. They are now on the same level with men.
JJ: Some people do not like watching girls fight. What do you think, should women practice Taekwon-Do? How many women are currently practicing Taekwon-Do in Argentina?
PT: The figure is getting higher. Among girls probably a little bit more, I'd say. Among youngsters we reckon around 45% are girls. Among adults- a bit less, 30% or 35% are women, that is the percentage of female practitioners but it is rising. I understand that society imposes upon women to be polite, not aggressive. Man is given a chance to be aggressive, so Taekwon-Do gives the possibility to get the aggression out, for them it's excellent. Many psychologists say one should take up Taekwon-Do and they send us students.
JJ: Would you encourage people, parents or kids, to start Taekwon-do very early?
PT: Of course, when I started Taekwon-Do and I began to teach, we didn't allow kids to join. You had to be over 14 or 15, but time passed and the age began to get lower and lower each year, but I have always recommended to be at least 10 years old. I still think the same. But some parents say that if you do not accept my child I will send them somewhere else. So I have to accept. And the age begins to go down, and we get some examinations where we find kids of four years old. We have to accept them because if not, the parents will send those children to another place. The thing is to develop a specific system for the children themselves instead of the same program as adults have, so that kids will feel comfortable and improve both their physical and mental skills.

JJ: What do you think about awarding the kids with a black belt?
PT: This is the same problem. I would like to give them the black belt when they are a little older, yet you need to stimulate them and at some stage you have to give them a black belt.
JJ: But is there some kind of limitation or regulation?
PT: No, there isn't. We only put black and white in the belt so that you can recognise that the child is under aged. Because if some kid begins to train and trains over 4 years, you have to give them a black belt. If you draw some line to arrive to the black belt, you lose a lot of child practitioners.
JJ: Does the government of your country support your organisation in any way or does it give any specific support to instructors?
PT: Nothing, we prefer to do it by ourselves.
JJ: Does that mean that the government does not support any kind of non-Olympic sport or just Taekwon-Do?
PT: The government does not support any kind of non-Olympic sport, including Taekwon-Do. Soccer gets a lot of support because football is a big organisation, but also because it has political implications. If you are the president of one of the top teams in Argentina, you may jump into the political scene. But we do not want to be very close to politics because the best way is to survive alone. The only ones for whom we receive some kind of support is for our instructors. If an instructor wants to travel to some international championship, maybe the province or the municipality where they live can give them the money, but not to our federation.
JJ: If you look at quite popular sports such as kick-boxing and some other systems, do you think they have any influence on Taekwon-Do or could be seen as a reason for losing students?
PT: When you watch the television in Argentina, you can hardly ever see that kind of show. In Europe we may see a lot of martial arts shows. We were surprised and we really liked them. But still I think that they don`t compete with us because parents will never send their children to participate in these horrible and crazy ways of destroying their bodies. Taekwon-do is a safe way to get mental and physical power and to learn how to fight without getting injured. It's totally different from the martial arts that you mention. They will never compete with us in the gym, they are just a show. So in that respect, I don't think we lose students.
JJ: What do you think about the direction in which Taekwon-do will develop in the future?
PT: For me it is very clear. It is a social direction.

Society is only now beginning to understand how Taekwon-Do may benefit individual harmony. Governments have problems with wars, with drugs, with so many issues. So everywhere civilization has the same problems. We have a key to do something to solve these problems. Our future is involved with helping our society to solve all these matters.

Taekwon-do is so powerful that it can change your whole life. And I need only refer to my own experience. When I was 17 I was always playing hard in the street, doing naughty things, quarreling, etc, I had problems with women, I was totally out of harmony.

Then I started to train in Taekwon-Do and from that moment I was able to relax and calm myself and get normal again. So that taught me what TKD can do for one and how it works.

I`m sure I know how to help people through Taekwon-Do. It is a social tool to help people to get over hard problems and this sooner or later leads to a better society.

JJ: You are the Senior Vice-president. What kind of advantages has ITF as an organization?
PT: First of all, we know exactly where we are going to. As I have told you, Master Tran, our President also knows perfectly that we have a social tool to develop. On the other hand, this is the first time that we have a democratic organization, because in the past we were involved in problems with the Koreans. That means that we used a lot of energy to fight between ourselves or in conflicts that weren`t ours.

Now we don't have any enemy, we have a job to do in order to develop one project, to arrive to one place. So that is the most important benefit, because all the others entities are involved in some kind of war. We don't have any war nor want any. We are only trying to put Taekwon-Do in its rightful place. Of course, we have certain things to solve. We know well enough. Our mind is clear, we will resort to the social tool in order to spread the spirit of Taekwon-do, making the best World Championships, offering the most qualified instructors, going to the top and forgetting about the conflict with Korea, without forgetting where TaeKwon-Do was born and keeping alive the memory of our beloved founder, General Choi Hong Hi.

I think this is the total benefit that we have: our genuine past and promising future.

JJ: Did you expect that after Gen. Choi passed away Taekwon-do would become divided?
PT: I did expect a division, yes, because we knew that not everyone would accept democratic procedures. Together the ITF has made a legitimate system, we are safe in this kind of democracy, even in the technical places, because everyone may be replaced, even the president of the ITF. If necessary even the Technical Committee may be replaced. And in our organization we understand each other better every day, as there is fluent communication and identical goals. Of course, I knew that the Koreans would be on one side and Gen Choi's son would be on the other side. But each one will follow his own way. But the support we received from members was so good that we were able to reach a very positive understanding among ourselves.
JJ: What is the most important task or goal for ITF to achieve at present?
PT: We don't have a single one. Giving service to the instructors is one of our main goals.
JJ: Do you have a guideline, which you follow, something you believe in?
PT: I think that one of the most important things is to picture yourself in the place of your fellow being, which is called "empathy". That is the notion that I always repeat to myself. That applies to my family, to my friends, to all important things. Put yourself in the other person's position.
JJ: Can you tell us about your family?
PT: Now I feel a little bit guilty, because with all my duties and my traveling I often have to stay away from them. But I'm glad to see how healthy they are. I have 3 children, three boys aged 25, 23 and 12 who are working and studying. I really love my wife. My marriage has lasted nearly 30 years. So I'm really happy.
JJ: What are your plans for the near future?
PT: I try to live the moment. I don't do to much planning because now my life is going so fast. As regards the traveling, I'm trying to think: we are here, where will we be tomorrow?. If we make so many plans that means today is tomorrow. I try to hold back and tell myself today is today.
JJ: How do you rate Europe?
PT: In the beginning of my life in Taekwon-do we looked at Europe with a "we have no people there" approach. The Argentineans were rebels and the Europeans too, because at the time I met Master Bos and Luis Baguena we were sharing a big fight with the ITF. I saw good techniques in the World Championships, I wanted to learn about that, but also they were rebels in the organization, like us. We felt something in common. As time passed we began to find a harmony because we felt that we also wanted to be with honest people. European people have their rules and you have to follow those rules. Now I understand it's the only way to do things. So I'm trying to tell all our people, we have to imitate Europe, because they have a set of rules and they are qualified people. Our people are like that, we have a set of rules, but when there is a consensus to change them slightly there is no problem and we are perfecting the procedures for this. So I'm happy about the importance of Taekwon-Do in Europe, and I meet friends there. Also because the best practitioners have a very good knowledge of the art, a very good standard, reflecting that fine work.
JJ: When did you meet Gen. Choi for the first time?
In 1968. I was a yellow belt in Argentina then. The moment when I was really proud was when Gen Choi gave me the loyalty award. That was really something. Many times I went to see him in Canada and stayed at his daughter's home. Sometimes I argued with him when I thought that he may have been mistaken. Because being straight-forward was the way to be true to him and to his teachings.

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