Taekwondo teaches more than physical fighting skills and is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind.

The word “Tae” “Kwon” “Do” have meaning in Korean language, though shown as a single word in English. “Tae” means “foot”, “leg”, or “to step on”; “Kwon” means “fist” or “fight”; and “Do” means the “way” or “discipline”. Important concepts can be seen if these three parts are put together.

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Thus, firstly, Taekwondo is a way of using Tae and Kwon ‘fists and feet’.  And secondly it is a way to keep peace and to control or calm down fights. This concept comes from the meaning of Tae Kwon ‘to put fists under control’ [or ‘to step on fists’]. Therefore, Taekwondo means “the right way to help build a better and more peaceful world and using all parts of the body to stop fights”.

History of Taekwondo

Taekwondo has been called by several different names during its development with the 5000-year long history of Korea. Under the name of “Sunbae”, Taekwondo developed as a way of training body and mind in the ancient kingdom of Koguryo. In fact it had begun as a defense martial art called “Subak” or “Taekkyon”. In the Shilla period, it had become the backbone of Hwarangdo that aimed at producing leaders of the country.

Korea was liberated in 1945. In the last few years before liberation, there were many different variations of Subak / TaekKyon in Korea. This was due to the influence of all other martial arts. The first Taekwondo school (Kwan) was started in Yong Chun, Seoul, Korea in 1945.

Gen. Chong Hong Hi is widely regarded as the creator of what we know today as Taekwondo during the 1940’s. He combined the Korean form, Taekkyon, and the Japanese discipline Karate. It is a method of unarmed combat intended for self-defense that engages the mind and the body.

Taekwondo characteristics

Today’s form of Taekwondo is very similar to the martial arts in other Oriental countries as it shares some features with them. This is because in the course of its evolution it has gained many different styles that existed in the martial arts of the countries surrounding Korea, like Japan and China.

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But Taekwondo has lot of differences compared to such oriental martial arts. First, it includes a mirage of foot skills as it is physically very dynamic with active movements. Second, the principle physical movements are in compatibility with that of the mind and life as a whole. And lastly, it possesses dynamic poses from another perspective.
This martial art can be characterized by unity: the unity of body, mind and life, and the unity of the pose (“poomsae”) and confrontation, and cracking down. One should make oneself’s mind peaceful and synchronize the mind with the movements, and extend this to the life and society, when one is doing this martial art. This is how in Taekwondo the principles of physical movements, mind training, and of life become one and the same. On the other hand, the right poomsae leads to the right confrontation, thereby eventually producing great destructive power.

How come such a unity is reached in Taekwondo? Very much like having a job, raising a family, fighting for a cause, or any one of numerous raison d’etre, this martial art is a way of life. It is an activity for survival in extremely antagonistic situations. Thus making it different from the activities mentioned above. One must always overcome the enemy that is trying to cause harm. Since the enemy may recuperate and attack again, simply winning a fight is not enough to guarantee the safety of oneself. There may be many other enemies than the one that was just defeated. Unless one gains permanent peace one cannot ever feel safe. One needs unity to attain this permanent or lasting peace. This is what the aim of Taekwondo is! Otherwise this martial art would be no different from any other street-fighting skill.

Thus we can say that this martial art pursues harmonious growth and improvements of life through its unique activities. Thus due to this it can be said that Taekwondo is a way of life. To ultimately enable oneself to lead more valuable life, it would do well by finding the guiding principles deeply hidden in Taekwondo.


Taekwondo puts more emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. In fact in the sparring competitions organized by World Taekwondo Federation, additional points are awarded for strikes that incorporate spinning kicks. Taekwondo adopts stances that are narrower and thereby less-stable than the broader, wide stances used by other martial arts such as Karate to facilitate fast, turning kicks. Particularly in Kukkiwon-style, the trade-off of decreased stability is believed to be worth the commensurate increase in agility.

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Theory of power

Taekwondo has its defining characteristic in the emphasis of speed and agility, which has its origins in the analyses undertaken by Choi Hong Hi. The ITF practitioners know the results of these analyses as Choi’s Theory of Power. The understanding of power was based on biomechanics and Newtonian physics as well as Chinese martial arts by Choi. For example, it was observed by Choi that the power of a strike is increased by the power of two with the speed of the strike, but is increased only linearly with the mass of the striking object. Thus it can be said that more important than size in terms of generating power is the speed. This principle was incorporated into the early design of this martial art and is still used.

Also a relax / strike principle for taekwondo was advocated by Choi. Thus it can be said that the body should be relaxed by the practitioner between blocks, kicks and strikes. And then only while performing the technique should be muscles be tensed. Thus by conserving the energy of the body, it is believed that the relax / strike principle increases the power of technique. Choi expanded on this principle with his advocacy of the sine wave technique. Between techniques this involves raising one’s center of gravity. As this technique is performed the center of gravity is lowered. This produces the up-and-down movement from which the term “sine wave” is derived. However, only in schools that follow ITF-style this sine wave is generally practiced. For example, Kukkiwon-style advocates a more uniform height during movements and does not follow the sine wave. This style draws power mainly from the rotation of the hip.

The components of the theory of power include:

  • Reaction force – the principle that in order to provide more power to the striking limb, other parts of the body should be brought backward as the striking limb is brought forward. As an example, the right arm is brought backward to provide the reaction force if the right leg is brought forward in a roundhouse kick.
  • Breath control – it is an idea that exhalation should conclude at the moment of impact as one exhales during a strike.
  • Concentration – it is a principle of concentrating the area of impact into as small an area as possible by bringing as many muscles as possible to bear on strike.
  • Equilibrium – throughout a technique maintaining a correct center-of-balance.
  • Mass – The principle here is that of bringing as much of the body to bear on a strike as possible. Again consider the example of using the turning kick. In order to take advantage of the hip’s additional mass with respect to provide power to the kick, the idea would be to rotate the hip as well as the leg during the kick.
  • Speed – Compared to the mass in terms of providing power the speed of execution of a technique is deemed more important.

Typical curriculum followed in Taekwondo schools

Individual clubs and schools tend to tailor their taekwondo practices for themselves particularly, even though the organizations such as ITF or Kukkiwon have defined a general style of this martial art. Even though a club or school have their own individual styles, a student typically takes part in most or all of the following:

  • Forms (Pumsae, hyeong or teul) – As kata in Karate, these serve the same function
  • Sparring (Gyeorugi or matseogi) –
    • Variations such as free-style sparring are included (the competitors spar without interruption for several minutes )
    • 7-, 3-, 2-, and 1-step sparring (students practice pre-arranged sparring combinations), and
    • point sparring (sparring is resumed after each point is scored once it is interrupted)
  • Breaking (Gyeokpa or weerok) – For testing, training, and martial arts demonstration the breaking of boards is used. Materials such as bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice or other materials are often incorporated into the demonstrations. These techniques can be separated into three types:
    • Power breaking – using straightforward techniques to break as many boards as possible
    • Speed breaking – putting special focus on the speed required to perform the break, boards are held loosely by one edge
    • Special techniques –using jumping or flying techniques to attain greater height, distance, or to clear obstacles but fewer boards are broken
  • Self-defense techniques (Hosinsul)
  • Learning the fundamental techniques that includes kicks, blocks, punches and strikes. There is a little less emphasis on grappling and holds.

Addendum – Taekwondo in Modern Events and Games

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Taekwondo has been one of only two martial arts from Asia to be in included in the Olympic Games since 2000. The other being Judo. In Seoul 1988 games, it was a demonstration event and became an official medal event at the 2000 games in Sydney. Taekwondo has been accepted a Commonwealth Games sport since 2010.

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