Taekwondo utilizes a skilled application of punches, kicks, blocks, and dodges using bare hands and feet. Known for its main focus on fast, powerful kicks and its use in self-defense, taekwondo is popular martial arts practiced in many countries and recognized as a combat sport in a number of local and international games and tournaments, including the Olympics.
The term taekwondo comes from the Korean words “tae” (meaning “foot” or “to strike with the feet”), “kwon” (meaning “hand,” “to intercept,” or “to strike with the hand”), and “do” (meaning “the way, discipline, or art”).
The ancient Korean martial arts called the “tae kyon” (also called “subak”) is considered as the earliest known form of taekwondo. Its records date back during 50 B.C., as seen in tombs with distinct wall paintings showing two unarmed men in fighting forms. Their positions look similar to the stances used in modern taekwondo.
During those times, ancient Korea was divided into three kingdoms known as the Koguryo, Paekje, and Silla. The early masters in Koguryo provided training for many Sillan warriors during those times. According to the World Taekwondo website, the people from the Koguryo Kingdom and the Silla warriors were credited in the promulgation of the martial arts in ancient Korea. Their fighting skills were mostly used to defend their kingdoms from Japanese pirates.
During the Japanese occupation in Korea from the early 1900s to the end of World War II, the Japanese karate had some influences in modern taekwondo.
While the Japanese tried to erase all traces of Korean culture during their occupation in the Korean peninsula, they were considerably unsuccessful in getting rid of Korean customs and traditions. Even with the infusion of movements that characterize the Japanese martial arts system of karate (particularly the Shotokan Karate), modern taekwondo successfuly developed as a distinctly Korean martial arts form.
Uniforms and Belts in Taekwondo
The taekwondo uniform consists of a plain white top and pants and a belt that indicates the skill level of the taekwondo student. Passing the examinations and winning competitions are two common ways to improve one’s skill level.
The taekwondo uniform is called “dobok” or “gi” in Korean. The top is a V-neck made of heavy cotton. The accompanying pants has an elastic waist and its loose design allows free movements to utilize the many taekwondo fighting stances.
There are 10 belt colors and colored combinations in taekwondo. The numerical equivalent of these belts are offered in descending order: starting from the 10th “geup” (meaning “degree”) for the novices to the first “geup” for the experts.
A novice initially wears white belt, then the color changes according to his/her improved skill level: white with yellow stripe; yellow; yellow with green stripe; green; green with blue stripe; blue; blue with red stripe; red; red with black stripe; and finally, black, the highest belt color.
Basic Taekwondo Techniques
Considered both a sport and an art form, taekwondo focuses on the following basic techniques: patterns (“pumsae, teul, and hyeong” in Korean); sparring (“gyeorugi or matseogi” in Korean) which may include 7-, 3-, 2- and 1-step sparring, arranged sparring, point sparring, free-style sparring, and other sparring forms; and breaking (“gyeokpa or weerok” in Korean) which involves the use of break boards for testing, training, and martial arts demonstrations. Such activities commonly use bricks, tiles, blocks of ice, and other materials for power breaking, speed breaking, and other special breaking techniques.
Benefits of Practicing Taekwondo
Other than competing in taekwondo matches, an individual who practices this Korean martial arts can also find it as a helpful self-defense skill. It improves the practitioner’s mental discipline and emotional equanimity as well.
For younger practitioners, the intense training helps develop their agility, flexibility, increased stamina, better body coordination and posture, muscle toning, increased confidence, leadership, and comradeship. For adult practitioners, taekwondo helps them gain the same physical and emotional benefits, while also contributing to the overall improvement of their health, increased self-control, self-assertiveness, positive attitude, and relief from stress.
“History,” World of Taekwondo.
“Taekwondo,” Learn Korean Language.
“Ancient History,” Martial Arts Resource.
“A Summary of Korean Terminology for TaeKwonDo,” Martial Arts Resource.
“Taekwondo: The Spirit of Korea,” Martial Arts Resource.
“Taekwondo Uniform and Belts,” Learn Korean Language.
“Benefits of Taekwondo,” Learn Korean Language.
“Belt Requirements and Origin,” Martial Arts Resource.