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What it is


Taekwondo is a modern Korean martial art, characterized by fast, high, jumping, spinning kicks, and quick footwork. It is an all-around program that offers self-defense training, physical exercise, and artistic expression; all taught by an experienced professional instructor.

Meaning of the term "taekwondo"

Literally translated, taekwondo breaks down to "tae" meaning to kick with the foot, "kwon" meaning to punch or strike with the hand, and "do" meaning art or way. Therefore, taekwondo translates to "the art of kicking and punching." Its physical aspects come from the kicking and punching, while its mental aspects come from the art.

Objectives of taekwondo

  • To develop an appreciation for taekwondo as a sport and as an art. 
  • To achieve physical fitness through positive participation. 
  • To improve mental discipline and emotional equanimity. 
  • To learn self-defense skills. 
  • To develop a sense of responsibility for oneself and others.

Introduction to taekwondo

Although taekwondo is modern martial art, its origins and evolution may be traced back through 2,000 years of Korean history (see History of taekwondo article for a detailed history). For centuries, martial arts have been an integral part of Korean culture and heritage; improved and passed down from teacher to student.

After the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea after the end of World War II, there was an insurgence of national pride that led Korean martial artists to renew their links to Korea's ancient martial arts. This led to the development of a new Korean martial art that, in 1955, was officially named taekwondo.

Today, Koreans practice taekwondo during military training, as well as in grade school, to build a strong sense of justice, fortitude, and humility using strict discipline, physical conditioning, and mental training. Taekwondo gradually spread to countries around the world where it is practiced as both a traditional self-defense system and as a competitive sport. Taekwondo is a way for people of any age to learn self-defense and increase their physical fitness while training with others who have similar interests.

Taekwondo not only develops the physical being; it also develops the moral being, which involves such things as character, integrity, and honor. These moral aspects develop unconsciously while students consciously train in the physical aspects of taekwondo.

What taekwondo is

  • Taekwondo is a combat art. It that uses only bare hands and feet, no weaponry, to fend off attackers. Due to its numerous unique kicks, each with many variations, many people call taekwondo the "kicking martial art." This is not to say that taekwondo does not use hand techniques; it uses the same basic hand techniques used in other martial arts, which makes it a well-rounded empty-hand martial art. Taekwondo techniques may be used with deadly effectiveness and, with training, students learn to tailor the power of their techniques to fit the situation. 
  • Taekwondo is a sport. Over the last few decades, sport taekwondo organizations have worked together to develop taekwondo into a modern international amateur and Olympic sport, while maintaining its proud tradition as a martial art spirit.
  • Taekwondo is a physical science. While training, individual movements of the body are perfected so they become as one. Taekwondo techniques are always evaluated and improved on the basis of their scientific applications. 
  • Taekwondo is a method of physical fitness. The training required to perfect each technique requires the muscular exercise of the whole body. 
  • Taekwondo is a discipline of both mind and body. Taekwondo techniques look easy but they take a lot of time to learn. It takes concentration and effort to attain perfection; the mind and body must work in concert for a technique to be effective.
  • Taekwondo is one of the most practiced martial arts in the world. Its popularity may be attributed to it being an official Pan-American sport, a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, and a full medal sport in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. However, its popularity is mainly due to its spectacular techniques and its being fun for all ages to learn and perform.

No first hand

"Karate ni sen te nashi" is a favorite saying of the great karate Master Gichin Funakoshi, the "father" of modern karate. It means, "In karate, there is no first hand."

Taekwondo is based on the same principle. Taekwondo is a defensive art. The taekwondo practitioner does not attack unless being attacked. If an opponent does not pose a threat, the practitioner does not attack, and, once a threat is neutralized, the attack stops. Most taekwondo blocking techniques may be used as attacks and vice versa. To reinforce the "no first hand" principle, most taekwondo patterns begin with a block.

Philosophy of taekwondo

Although the literal translation of taekwondo is the art of kicking and punching, it is only a superficial translation. "Do" in Korean implies a philosophical approach to life, a pathway to achieve enlightenment. Taekwondo is not only a method of self-defense; it is also a way of life. Students of taekwondo, through rigorous physical training, try to improve themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. True taekwondo practitioners extend the art to all aspects of their lives to achieve harmony with nature and a stable and peaceful existence.

"Do" or the "Way"

In the West, a person who is proficient in the techniques of a martial art is considered an expert or "master" of the art. However, in the East, a martial arts master must not only be proficient at the techniques of the art but also must integrate the art into his or her life and be "one" with the art.

The word technique derives from both the Greek word "technnikos," that means of art or skillful, and the sanskrit word "taksati" that means forms or constructs. "Art" derives from the Latin "ars" that means skill or arm, and the Greek words "harmos" that means join and "arariskein" that means to fit. Thus, the Western word "art" means joining or fitting, while the Korean word "do" (do in Japanese and tao in Chinese) means "Way" as in a way of life.

Value of taekwondo

Taekwondo has practical value as a martial art, a self-defense system, and as a competitive sport. It also has ideological value, based upon its technical, artistic, and philosophic ideals. The technical ideal is derived from taekwondo’s stress on performing techniques with technical perfection. The artistic ideal derives from personal expression while performing taekwondo techniques. The philosophic ideal is attained when the technical and artistic aspects of taekwondo bring balance and harmony to one’s daily life. The ultimate value of taekwondo is attained when the practitioner becomes aware of changes or threats in his or her environment and can react to them effortlessly and properly. This state of mind becomes possible through the mastery of a broad range of offensive and defensive taekwondo skills.

Taekwondo as life leveler

Taekwondo is a life leveler. It evens out attitudes, emotions, and actions. If you are short-tempered, it makes you more tolerant. If you are aggressive, it makes you calmer. If you are meek, it makes you more assertive. If you are anti-social, it makes you friendlier. If you are weak, it makes you stronger. If you are impulsive, it makes you more restrained. These changes will occur slowly, so you may not notice them, but your friends and family will notice the changes.

Basic taekwondo training

Taekwondo training begins with basic stances, blocks, kicks, and punches. Beginning students then use these techniques in predetermined block/attack/counterattack movements in response to prearranged attacks (step-sparring). Students learn to perform these techniques deliberately and precisely by practicing patterns. Students then put all these skills together and learn to free-spar against opponents of lesser, equal, or greater skills. Students also learn self-defense techniques to allow them to respond to real life "street" situations.

Modern taekwondo

Taekwondo has evolved into four distinct entities:
  • Taekwondo for children. Taekwondo has no age limits and is a very good sport for children. Taekwondo for children is a watered-down version of traditional taekwondo that removes the stress on realistic self-defense. Usually, no mention is made of the brutal aspects of taekwondo techniques. 
Taekwondo for children is a pure sport. The stress is on helping children build themselves physically, and on instilling character, self-esteem, effort, concentration, sincerity, respect, self-control, and etiquette. It is a fun, safe system of self-improvement and personal development that is highly recommended by parents, physicians, and educators. Competition for children is basically the same as it is for adults; both wear protective equipment and use only light contact. 
Although people of all ages practice taekwondo, many call it "the children's martial art" because it is so popular with, and beneficial to children. For commercial schools, children are where the money is; they build the base for school income. Without all the children, most schools could not afford to stay open. Like any other sport, children are the future champions and instructors of taekwondo. 
  • Taekwondo for fitness. Taekwondo for fitness is an extension of the aerobics craze of recent years. Just like the different styles of karate, there are different styles of aerobic taekwondo, such as Taebo, BodyCombat, etc. Students go through the motions of kicking and punching, but there is no stress on technique or power, only on continuous motion. Although men and women practice aerobic taekwondo, it was designed to attract women. 
Since aerobic taekwondo is just the latest exercise fad and does not have the discipline required of taekwondo, its various styles gradually lose their appeal, and new one spring up to replace them. To cash in on the latest craze, most dojangs teach classes in aerobic taekwondo as a part of their curriculum. One advantage of teaching it in a dojang is that students may develop an interest in taekwondo and decide to study the art itself.
  • Taekwondo for sport. Sport taekwondo is discussed in more detail in other topics, but it is basically a watered-down sport for the masses. It deemphasizes the "way" and the martial aspects of the art and makes taekwondo just another sport in which ordinary people may participate.
  • Taekwondo for defense. Taekwondo for defense is for men and women who want to learn taekwondo for self-defense, fitness, or weight control. This is the traditional taekwondo that stresses discipline, speed, power, and combat techniques. It includes free-sparring techniques as well as combat techniques for real-life self-defense situations. 
To effectively defend yourself, you must learn the skills needed, train until you can perform those skills instinctively, and, most importantly, when required, you must be willing to use those skills without hesitation or mercy; this is what traditional taekwondo teaches. Traditional taekwondo delves more into the “Way” than do the other three types. 

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