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Taekwondo or Taegwondo (태권도; 跆拳道) is the Korean national sport martial art, and is also one of the world's most commonly-practiced sports. In the Korean language, Tae (跆) means "foot", Kwon (拳) means "hand" or "fist", and Do (道) means "way". Hence, Taekwondo is taken to mean "the way of the hand and the foot."

Currently, Tae Kwon Do is an Olympic sport, and highly popular even in America. While it has received some criticism for not teaching enough street-effective techniques, this has more to do with the widespread commercialization of the art than with any inherent flaw in the art itself.

Photo: Scott Feldstein

Table of contents
1 History
2 Organizations
3 Features
4 External links


Korea, as a peninsula buffer state between the Empires of China and Japan, with incursions by the Mongols and Tartars, among other peoples, has quite a long history of unarmed and armed combat, absorbing various styles and making them more suitable for their own rugged and mountainous terrain and indigenous combat styles.

Probably the most influential period of development was during the Three Kingdom period (Koguryo, Paekche, Shilla). Shilla is believed to established diplomatic relations with the Tang Empire in the 7th century, which led to military training of a class of tribal warriors known famously as the hwarang, whose strength crumbled in the next century.

However, the influence of Tang dynasty on the martial arts (as it was in almost every other cultural aspect throughout East Asia) was considerable both on Japan and Korea, which also called their art tangsu, or Tang-hand, the exact same name as used in Okinawa. In this same period, in the kingdom of Koguryo, various carvings into the towers at Kumkongryksa and Kakcjuchung, and the statues of Kumkang Kwon at the entrance of Sokkul-Am at Mt. Toham depict basic stances, such as the nalchigi, of what is now known as taekwondo, but the words subak and kwonbeop to describe these traditions were not used until about the mid-Koryo period (about 990-1050 AD), and not standardized until King Injong.

Under various generals, kwonbeop began to be developed and made mandatory for training in the armed services. By the time of the Ming dynasty, two major schools of kwonbeop reigned -- the sorim temple school, and the songkae school. Sorim temple may have been influenced by the Northern Shaolin Temple, as it was practiced by monks who favored swift, evasive moves and jumping techniques; Songkae, attributed to Chang Songkae of the Ming Empire was clearly Chinese, with techniques divided into three divisions: stun, knock out, and kill. Under the Yi period, however, kwonbeop (as did other martial arts) saw a major decline as the official state policy was to discourage all manner of military affairs. Kwonbeop's center was moved northwest to central Korea and renamed taekwon, which continued in this form, probably largely as a sport or ceremonial art, or existed underground due to Occupation, until Korea's independence from Japan in 1945.

Two other influential Korean unarmed arts are yusul (soft art) and cireum, which either are in part or whole derived from Chinese arts like shuai chiao and Mongolian wrestling. Yusul was popular between the Koryo and Yi dynasties, when it declined and became extinct, to be replaced by arts like judo in the 20th century, under Japanese occupation; cireum is like sumo, and like all things, was heavily influenced under occupation. Finally, also striking arts such as keupso chirigi and pakchigi, which attack vital points, and headbutting, respectively, have been popular in Korea.

Korea adopted the Japanese educational curriculum in 1905, and exposed young Koreans to sport arts such as jujutsu and kendo. Between 1910 and 1945 Korea was occupied by Japan, which attempted to systematically stamp out Korean culture and assimilate Koreans to all things Japanese; this colonization and deliberate policy of assimilation had far reaching effects in Korean martial arts, although after 1945, clearly there was a concerted effort by martial arts masters to consolidate their resources and develop a uniquely Korean art.

Taekwondo was officially formed on April 11, 1955, when most Korean martial arts masters tried to unite all the various fighting styles (such as Gong Soo, Taekyeon, Kwon Beop Soo Bahk Do Tang Soo Do etc.) under the name "Tae Soo Do" . Though not every art joined in the resulting organization, an organization was created with a many of the participants and the backing of the government. Its name was changed in 1957 by General Choi Hong Hi to Taekwondo.

Taekwondo most likely came to America in much the same way that karate and kung fu came to the US, by Korean immigrants, who were not as populous in the US until the 1970s and 1980s, and by American military personnel, who most likely learned the art stationed in Korea after the Korean War. Taekwondo is taught almost everywhere in the US and can be considered one of the most popular martial arts in America, if not the most popular.


Although there are many different federations and associations, Taekwondo can be broadly divided into two schools: International Taekwondo Federation (ITF, founded 1966), and World Taekwondo Federation (WTF, founded 1973). Again, broadly speaking, the difference between ITF Taekwondo and WTF Taekwondo is the patterns (the pre-set, formal sequences of movements students learn). ITF has 24 patterns (which represent the 24 hours in a day, or the whole of a person's life), whilst WTF uses the Poomses form of patterns (which originate from the Chinese book, I Ching). The main difference between these two styles of pattern is that ITF patterns use a "stepping motion" for hand techniques, which include moving the body in a sinusoidal motion in order to use bodyweight to increase the effectiveness of the techniques. WTF is the only taekwondo body recognised by the South Korean government and it's rules have been adopted by the International Olympic Committee. Only students whose training is recognised by the WTF can take part in the Olympic games.


Taekwondo is famed for its employment of leg techniques, which many believe distinguishes it from martial arts such as Karate or Kung Fu. The rationale behind this is that the leg is the longest and strongest weapon available a martial artist has, and kicks thus have the greatest potential to strike without retaliation. Despite this, hand techniques, and at the higher levels, some grappling and anti-weapon techniques are taught and emphasized. Taekwondo was designed to be effectively employed by people regardless of their sex, height, weight or age, and so Taekwondo is popular with people of both sexes and of all ages.

Although each Taekwondo club or school will be different in some ways, a Taekwondo student can typically expect to take part in most or all of the following:

External links