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Style vs system


Commonly, people think of a martial art style as a specific martial art that is unique from other martial arts, however, the dictionary definition of style is that it is "a way, manner, method, or way of doing something," it not necessarily unique. Therefore, a martial art style should correctly be viewed as an artistic expression of a particular martial art with characteristics particular to the martial artist's interpretation.


It would be more correct to classify a unique, individual martial art as a "system." A system is a set of separate, but related, elements that come together to form a complex orderly way of accomplishing something. Therefore, a collection of facts, principles, theories, or beliefs that make up a unique martial art should correctly be called a system.

Many times, martial artists use the terms "system" and "style" interchangeably, but they are not the same. A system is a collection of techniques, while a style is a variation of the way of performing techniques within the system. Therefore, a style is not a unique art; it is merely a variation of a system. It is a personal interpretation of one or more elements of the system by a martial artist from within a system. For example, karate is a system; kyokushinkai is a style within the system.

Taekwondo's development from a style into a system

From its history, we know that taekwondo began as a style of karate. During the years Japan occupied Korea (1910-1945), martial arts training was forbidden. Many Koreans were taken to Japan to serve the Japanese. While in Japan, some of these captives earned shotokan karate black belts. After WWII, the Japanese were driven out of Korea and these shotokan stylists returned to Korea and began teaching shotokan.

To show their national pride, they began incorporating ancient Korean taekkyeon into their training and emphasized kicking techniques more than the hand techniques that are emphasized in shotokan karate. Over the years, their new way of doing things morphed into a new Korean martial arts system that in 1955 was given the name taekwondo.


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