Taekwondo /ˌtaɪˌkwɒnˈdoʊ/ (Korean 태권도 (跆拳道) [tʰɛk͈wʌndo]) is a martial art originating in Korea. It combines combat and self-defense techniques with sport and exercise. In 1989, taekwondo was the world's most popular martial art. Gyeorugi (pronounced [kjʌɾuɡi]), a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000.
Taekwondo was developed by major general Choi Hong Hi in Korea during the 1940s as partial combination of Taekkyeon and Okinawan Karate. There are two main branches of taekwondo development, although they are not mutually exclusive. Traditional taekwondo typically refers to the martial art as it was established in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Korean military, and in various civilian organisations, including schools and universities. In particular, the names and symbolism of the traditional patterns often refer to elements of Korean history, culture and religious philosophy. Traditional Taekwon-Do may refer to ITF Taekwon-Do. Sport taekwondo has developed in the decades since the 1950s and may have a somewhat different focus, especially in terms of its emphasis on speed and competition (as in Olympic sparring). Sport taekwondo is in turn subdivided into two main styles. One style is practiced by International Taekwon-Do adherents and was created in 1955 by General Choi Hong Hi. The other style derives from Kukkiwon, the source of the sparring system sihap gyeorugi. This style is now an event at the summer Olympic Games and is governed by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The Kukkiwon - or World Taekwondo Headquarters - is the traditional center for WTF taekwondo and was founded in 1973 by Dr. Kim Un Yong.
Although there are doctrinal and technical differences between sparring in the two main styles and among the various organizations, the art in general emphasizes kicks and punches thrown from a mobile stance. Taekwondo training generally includes a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks. Pressure points, known as jiapsul, are used as well as grabbing self-defense techniques borrowed from other martial arts, such as Japanese Judo, or Korean hapkido, or Korean wrestling or ssireum.
In Korean, tae (태, 跆) means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon (권, 拳) means "to strike or break with fist"; and do (도, 道) means "way", "method", or "path". Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as "the way of the foot and the hand." The name taekwondo is also written as taekwon-do, tae kwon-do or tae kwon do by various organizations.
The oldest Korean martial art was an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, where young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was ssireum and subak with taekkyeon being the most popular of the segments of subak. The Northern Goguryeo kingdom was a dominant force in Northern Korea and North Eastern China prior to common era and again from the 3rd century to the 6th century CE. Before the fall of Goguryeo Dynasty 6th century CE, the Shilla Kingdom asked for help in training its people for defence against pirate invasions. During this time a few select Silla warriors were given training in taekkyeon by the early masters from Koguryo. These Shilla warriors then became known as the Hwarang. The Hwarang set up a military academy for the sons of royalty in Silla called Hwarang-do, which means "the way of flowering manhood." The Hwarang studied taekkyeon, history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, social skills and military tactics. The guiding principles of the Hwarang warriors were based on Won Gwang's five codes of human conduct and included loyalty, filial duty, trustworthiness, valor and justice. Taekkyeon was spread throughout Korea because the Hwarang traveled all around the peninsula to learn about the other regions and people.
In spite of Korea's rich history of ancient and martial arts, Korean martial arts faded into obscurity during the late Joseon Dynasty. Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism and martial arts were poorly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings. Formal practices of traditional martial arts such as subak and taekkyeon were reserved for sanctioned military uses. However, taekkyeon persisted into the 19th century as a folk game during the May-Dano festival and was still taught as the formal military martial art throughout the Joseon Dynasty.
Early progenitors of Taekwondo who were able to study in Japan were exposed to the Japanese martial arts, of karate, Judo and Kendo, while others were exposed to the martial arts of China and Manchuria as well as to the indigenous Korean martial art of taekkyeon.
When the occupation ended in 1945, Korean martial arts schools (kwans) began to open in Korea. There are differing views on the origins of the arts taught in these schools. Some believe that they taught martial arts that were based primarily upon the traditional Korean martial arts taekkyeon and subak, or that taekwondo was derived from native Korean martial arts with influences from neighboring countries. Still others believe that these schools taught arts that were almost entirely based upon karate.
In 1952, at the height of the Korean War, there was a martial arts exhibition in which the kwans displayed their skills. In one demonstration, Nam Tae Hi smashed 13 roof tiles with a punch. Following this demonstration, South Korean President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi Hong Hi to introduce the martial arts to the Korean army. By the mid-1950s, nine kwans had emerged. Syngman Rhee ordered that the various schools unify under a single system. The name "taekwondo" was submitted by either Choi Hong Hi (of the Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk Son (of the Chung Do Kwan), and was accepted on April 11, 1955. As it stands today, the nine kwans are the founders of taekwondo, though not all the kwans used the name. The Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959/1961 to facilitate the unification.
In the early 1960s, taekwondo made its début worldwide with assignment of the original masters of taekwondo to various countries. Standardization efforts in South Korea stalled, as the kwans continued to teach differing styles. Another request from the Korean government for unification resulted in the formation of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association, which changed its name back to the Korea Taekwondo Association in 1965 following a change of leadership. The International Taekwon-Do Federation was founded in 1966, followed by World Taekwondo Federation in 1973.
Since 2000, taekwondo has been one of only two Asian martial arts (the other being judo) that are included in the Olympic Games; it became a demonstration event starting with the 1988 games in Seoul, and became an official medal event starting with the 2000 games in Sydney. In 2010, taekwondo was accepted as a Commonwealth Games sport.
One source has estimated that as of 2009, taekwondo was practiced in 123 countries, with over 30 million practitioners and 3 million individuals with black belts throughout the world. The South Korean government in the same year published an estimate of 70 million practitioners in 190 countries.
Taekwondo is known for its emphasis on high kicking and fast hand techniques, which distinguishes it from other popular martial arts and combat sports such as karate. However, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) believes that because the leg is the longest and strongest limb a martial artist has, kicks thus have the greatest potential to execute powerful strikes without successful retaliation.
Taekwondo as a martial art is popular with people of both genders and of many ages. Physically, taekwondo develops strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina. An example of the union of mental and physical discipline is the breaking of wooden boards, bricks or tiles, which requires both physical mastery of the technique and the concentration to focus one's power.
A taekwondo student typically wears a uniform (dobok 도복/道服), often white but sometimes black (or other colours), with a belt (ddi 띠) tied around the waist. There are at least three major styles of dobok, with the most obvious differences being in the style of jacket: (1) the cross-over front jacket that resembles traditional Asian clothing, (2) the V-neck jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by WTF practitioners, and (3) the vertical-closing front jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by ITF practitioners. The belt colour and any insignia thereon indicate the student's rank. In general, the darker the colour, the higher the rank. The school or place where instruction is given is called the dojang (도장). The grandmaster of the dojang is called a gwanjangnim (관장님); Master (senior instructor or head of dojang) is called sabeomnim (사범님); Instructor is calledgyosannim (교사님); Assistant Instructor is called jogyonim (조교님)
Taekwondo is traditionally performed in bare feet, though there are specialist training shoes that can sometimes be worn.
Although each taekwondo club or school will be different, a student typically takes part in most or all of the following:
- Learning the techniques and curriculum of taekwondo
- Both anaerobic and aerobic workout, including stretching
- Self-defense techniques (hosinsool 호신술)
- Patterns (also called forms, poomsae 품새/品勢, teul 틀, hyeong 형/型)
- Sparring (called gyeorugi 겨루기, or matseogi 맞서기 in the ITF), which may include 7-, 3-, 2- and 1-step sparring, free-style sparring, arranged sparring, point sparring, and other types
- Relaxation and meditation exercises; breathing control
- Throwing and/or falling techniques (deonjigi 던지기 and ddeoreojigi 떨어지기)
- A focus on mental and ethical discipline, etiquette, justice, respect, and self-confidence
- Breaking (gyeokpa 격파 or weerok), using techniques to break boards for testing, training and martial arts demonstrations. Demonstrations often also incorporate bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice or other materials. Can be separated into three types:
- Power breaking – using straightforward techniques to break as many boards as possible
- Speed breaking – boards are held loosely by one edge, putting special focus on the speed required to perform the break
- Special techniques – breaking fewer boards but using jumping or flying techniques to attain greater heights, distances, or to clear obstacles
- Exams to progress to the next rank
Some schools teach the "sine wave" technique when performing patterns. This involves raising one's center of gravity between techniques, then lowering it as the technique is performed, producing the up-and-down movement from which the term "sine wave" is derived. Other schools teach that one's center of gravity should remain generally constant throughout the performance of a pattern except where the pattern's description states otherwise
Two of the most popular systems of taekwondo are named solely after their respective organizations: the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and theInternational Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF).
The WTF was founded in 1973, with roots in the KTA. The KTA Central Dojang had been opened in South Korea in 1972, and a few months later, the name was changed to the Kukkiwon. The following year, the WTF was formed. The International Olympic Committee recognized the WTF and taekwondo sparring in 1980.
Although the terms "WTF" and "Kukkiwon" are often mistakenly used interchangeably, the Kukkiwon is a completely different organization which trains and certifies instructors and issues official dan and poom certificates worldwide. The Kukkiwon has its own unique physical building that contains the administrative offices of Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters) in Seoul, South Korea and is the system of taekwondo. The WTF is a tournament committee and is not technically a style or a system.
The ITF was founded in 1966 by Choi Hong Hi as a splinter group from the KTA. After Choi's death in 2002, a number of succession disputes splintered the ITF into three different groups, all claiming to be the original. These three bodies are all private organizations. Two are located in Austria and one in Canada. The unofficial training headquarters of the ITF is located at the Taekwondo Palace in Pyongyang, North Korea, and was founded in the mid-1990s. There are many other private organizations, such as the World Traditional Taekwondo Union and American Taekwondo Association promoting the Songahm style of taekwondo and Rhee Taekwon-Do teaching the military style of taekwondo. Events and competitions held by private organizations are mostly closed to other taekwondo students. However, the WTF-sanctioned events allow any person, regardless of school affiliation or martial arts style, to compete in WTF events as long as he or she is a member of the WTF Member National Association in his or her nation, which is open to anyone to join. The major technical differences among these many organizations revolve around the patterns, called hyeong 형, poomsae 품새, or teul 틀, sets of prescribed formal sequences of movements that demonstrate mastery of posture, positioning, and technique, sparring rules for competition, and philosophy.
In addition to these private organizations, the original schools (kwans) that formed the organization that would eventually become the Kukkiwon continue to exist as independent fraternal membership organizations that support the WTF and the Kukkiwon. The official curriculum of the kwans is that of the Kukkiwon. The kwans also function as a channel for the issuing of Kukkiwondan and poom certification (black belt ranks) for their members.