About Taekwondo

“Tae” means “foot,” “leg,” or “to step on”
“Kwon” means “fist,” or “fight”
“Do” means “the way” or “discipline”

Taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, and teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing one’s spirit and life through training the body and mind. Today, it has become a global sport that has gained an international reputation, and stands among the official sports included in the Olympic Games.

Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of the word “Tae” “Kwon” “Do“. It is composed of three parts in English spelling, though it is one word in Korean. “Tae” means “foot,” “leg,” or “to step on”; “Kwon” means “fist,” or “fight”; and “Do” means the “way” or “discipline”. If we put these three parts together, we can see two important concepts behind “Tae Kwon Do”.

First, Taekwondo is the ‘way’ of using Tae and Kwon ‘fists and feet,’ or all the parts of the body that are represented by fists and feet. Second, it is a way to control or calm down fights and keep the peace. This concept comes from the meaning of Tae Kwon ‘to put fists under control’ (or ‘to step on fists’). Thus Taekwondo means “the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world.

The Origin of Taekwondo

The origin of Taekwondo in Korea can be traced back to the Koguryo dynasty, founded 37B.C. since mural paintings foung in the ruins of the royal tombs built by that dynasty show scenes of Taekwondo practice. Taekwondo was also practiced during the Silla dynasty. Korean culture and martial arts of the period were strongly influenced and enriched by the Hwarangdo, a military, educational and social organization and noble youths of the Silla dynasty. The code of honor on which the Hwarang was based was loyalty to the nation, respect and obedience to one's 'parents, faithfulness to one's friends, courage in battle and avoidance of unnecessary violence and killing.

In the history of Koryo, Taekwondo which was then termed "Subak" was practiced not only as a skill to improve health and as a sport activity but it was also encouraged as a martial art of considerably high value. Subak is believed to have gained its highest popularity during the reign of King Uijong, between 1,147 and 1,170 A.D. This period roughly corresponds to the era that includes part of the Chinese Song and Ming dynasties, during which the Chinese "Kungfu" became widely popular. What is very important about Subak in the Yi dynasty is that there was a book published to teach the game as a martial art and that it became more popular among the general public.

Modern Taekwondo

On September 16, 1961, the Korea Taekwondo Association was established. On February 25, 1962, the Korea Taekwondo Association became the 27th affiliate to join the Korea Amateur Sports Association. On October 9, 1963, Taekwondo became an official event for the first time in the 44th National Athletic Meet. Its great leaps in the development of competition rules and protective equipment started with that meet.

Korean instructors began going abroad to teach Taekwondo in the 1960s, which marked a turning point in the history of Taekwondo. Taekwondo made its way to the world sport through the 1st World Taekwondo Championships held in Seoul, Korea in May 1973 with participation of 19 countries. At the Seoul meet held on May 28, 1973 on the occasion of the championships, representatives of those countries established the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).

In 1996, member countries of the WTF totaled 144 and the global Taekwondo population is estimated at 30 million people. Spurred by the recognition of Taekwondo by the IOC at its 83rd General Session in 1980, Taekwondo has been rapidly developing an international sport. It was adopted as a demonstration sport of the 24th Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the 25th Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Taekwondo was adopted as an official sport of 2000 Sydney Olympic Games at the 103rd Session of the IOC held in Paris, France on September 4, 1994. Taekwondo has consolidated its position in the world sport as fast as any other martial art. Continental championships are hosted by four member regional unions of the WTF. There is World and Women's World Championships, World Cup Taekwondo, CISM Taekwondo Championships and FISU World University Championships. Taekwondo is being played as an official sport in most international multi-sport games such as World Games, Pan American Games, All Africa Games, Southeast Asian Games and Cental American Games.

What makes Taekwondo different?

1 Taekwondo is a traditional Korean Martial Arts developed over 5,000 years. Taekwondo is similar in ways to other martial arts from across Asia, and shares some features with them. But in the course of evolution it has gained many different styles to set it apart from the martial arts surrounding countries such as Japan and China.

2 Taekwondo is systematic, educational and has a scientific approach. It is taught through curriculum. Because of the structure taekwondo has to offer it is now taught as a major in over 20 universities and colleges worldwide.

3 Taekwondo can be characterized by unity: the unity of body, mind, and life, and the unity of the pose [“poomsae”] and confrontation, and cracking down. When you study and practice Taekwondo, you should make your mind peaceful and synchronize your mind with your movements, and extend this harmony to your life and society. This is how in Taekwondo the principle of physical movements, the principle of mind training, and the principle of life become one and the same. On the other hand, the right poomsae lead to the right confrontation, which will eventually produce great destructive power.

4 Taekwondo is 1 of three martial arts Olympic sports. It was firstly a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, and became an official medal event in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In 2010 it was also accepted into the Commonwealth Games. Taekwondo successfully put its name on the map of international sports, particularly of those on the Olympic Program, and has become one of the most widely practiced sports in the world with 70 million practitioners from 200 member countries.

How come we reach such a unity in Taekwondo?

The Taekwondo spirit, which has been directly influenced by the national traditional thoughts, is infused with the national soul molded through common experiences of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure throughout the ages. It can be more easily identified by Silla's Hwarangdo spirit, which was based on the Korean people's basic thought of Seon philosophy as well as Buddhist thoughts of national safeguards, Confucian thoughts of loyalty and filial piety and taoistic thoughts of tacit performance. After all, the Hwarangdo spirit combined with Taekwondo spirit of martial art enabled Silla to unify the three kingdoms.

Therefore, the Korean's traditional martial art Taekwondo aims not only to acquire power and skill for self-defense but to perfect oneself with the character of devoting one's life to the safeguard of justice, of respecting the responsibilities and of embodying the thought of universal equality.

Now the Taekwondo spirit can be better summarized by the philosophy of Hongik-ingan, peace-loving spirit, spirit of integrity with which to protect righteousness and a strong sense of responsibility.

Taekwondo is a way of life. What makes Taekwondo different is that it is an activity for survival in extremely antagonistic situations. One must always overcome the enemy that is trying to cause harm. But simply winning a fight is not enough to guarantee one’s safety, because the enemy may recuperate and attack again. Moreover, there may be many other enemies than the one that was just defeated. One cannot ever feel safe unless one gains permanent peace. To attain this permanent or lasting peace, one needs unity. This is what Taekwondo aim for. Otherwise Taekwondo would be no different from any other street-fighting skills.

Taekwondo pursues harmonious growth and improvements of life through its unique activities. This is why one could say Taekwondo is a way of life. To ultimately enable ourselves to lead more valuable lives, we would do well by finding the guiding principles deeply hidden in Taekwondo.