The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Korean Name
Revised Romanization Taegwondo
McCune-Reischauer T'aegwŏndo
Hangul 태권도
Hanja 跆拳道
Armed Forces taekwondo

Taekwondo or Tae Kwon Do is the Korean national sport and martial art, and is also one of the world's most commonly practiced sports. In the Korean language, Tae (태, Hanja 跆) means "to kick or destroy with the foot", kwon (권, Hanja 拳) means "punch or smash with the hand or fist", and Do (도, Hanja 道) means "way or art". Hence, Taekwondo is taken to mean "art of hand and foot."

Taekwondo is popular throughout the world, and the Kukkiwon-World Taekwondo Federation's form of Taekwondo is currently an Olympic sport. Taekwondo has received criticism for not teaching enough street-effective techniques. However, because of great doctrinal and technical differences between tae kwon do styles, such criticism can only be leveled at individual schools. This criticism is rooted in Taekwondo's emphasis on high kicks, which some consider to be impractical when used against moving and defensive opponents. Alternatively, others consider tae kwon do's emphasis on high kicks with a small, mobile stance to be an advantage in combat. Tae kwon do is used in unarmed combat training in some armies (the French army, for instance).



Korea, as a peninsula buffer state between Manchuria, China and Japan, with incursions by the Mongols and Tatars, among other peoples, has quite a long history of unarmed and armed combat, absorbing various styles, like kung fu, and making them more suitable for their own rugged and mountainous terrain and indigenous combat styles.

However, the influence of Tang dynasty on the martial arts (as it was in almost every other cultural aspect throughout East Asia) was considerable both on Japan and Korea. In this same period, in the kingdom of Koguryo, various carvings into the towers at Kumkongryksa and Kakcjuchung, and the statues of Kumkang Kwon at the entrance of Sokkul-Am at Mt. Toham depict basic stances, such as the nalchigi, of what is now known as taekwondo, but the words subak, taekyon and kwonbeop to describe these traditions were not used until about the mid-Koryo period (about 990-1050 AD), and not standardized until King Injong.

Under various generals, kwonbeop began to be developed and made mandatory for training in the armed services. By the time of the Ming dynasty, various major schools of kwonbeop reigned -- the sorim temple school, and the songkae school. Sorim temple may have been influenced by the Northern Shaolin Temple, as it was practiced by monks who favored swift, evasive moves and jumping techniques; Songkae, may be related to Chang Songkae of the Ming Empire and could have been influenced by the Chinese, with techniques divided into three divisions: stun, knock out, and kill. Under the Choson dynasty, however, kwonbeop saw a major decline (as did other martial arts), as the official state policy was to discourage all manner of military affairs. Kwonbeop's center was moved northwest to central Korea and renamed taekwon, which continued in this form, probably largely as a sport or ceremonial art, or existed underground due to annexation, until Korea's independence from Japan in 1945.

Two other influential Korean unarmed arts are yusul (soft art) and Sireum, which are in part related to Chinese arts like shuai chiao and Mongolian wrestling. Yusul was popular between the Koryo and Choson dynasties. Striking arts such as keupso chirigi and pakchigi, which attack vital points, and headbutting, respectively, have been also popular in Korea. As the official state policy in Korea was to discourage all manners of military arts many martial arts masters dispersed to other regions/countries.

After the Choson dynasty, Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. As a result, young Koreans were exposed to Japanese version of these old sport arts such as jujitsu, kendo, judo, karate, sumo, et cetera. Then after 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II, there was clearly a concerted effort by martial arts masters to consolidate their resources and develop a uniquely Korean art once again.

General Choi Hong Hi started to learn Karate in Japan. and he absorbed the way of the skill of karate and the system of school of Shodokan karate by Funakoshi Gichin. Shodokan karate was developed as a marial art based on the hand and the fist art, so General Choi Hong Hi thought out the martial arts that are based on the foot art. That's the why taekwondo is similar to karate except for the foot art.

Taekwondo was officially formed on April 11, 1955, when most Korean martial arts masters tried to unite all the various fighting styles (such as Gong Soo , Taekyon, Kwon Beop Soo Bahk Do Tang Soo Do etc.) under the name "Tae Soo Do" . Although not every art joined in the resulting organization, an organization was created with a many of the participants and the backing of the government. Its name was suggested by 1957 9th degree black belt General Choi Hong Hi as Taekwondo.

The similarities between Taekyon and Taekwondo are the high flying kicks and various other foot actions, but this style wasn't completely unified until the 1960s. Taekwondo also integrated various aspects of karate. Choi Hong Hi was a 2nd degree black belt in karate (the Shotokan variety), so it was natural to utilize karate techniques in Taekwondo. However, many Koreans had an influence in the development of karate, an example from among them would be Choi Yong-I (Mas Oyama) who created Kyokushin Karate.

Taekwondo most likely came to America in much the same way that karate and kung fu came to the US, being carried there by Korean immigrants, who were not very populous in the US until the 1970s and 1980s, and by American military personnel, who most likely learned the art while stationed in Korea during and after the Korean War. Taekwondo is taught almost everywhere in the US, and may be the most popular martial art in the country.

It has been argued that Taekwondo originated from another Korean Martial art called Tang Soo Do. The main difference is in how the two are taught. Tang Soo Do focuses mainly on the traditional aspect, while Taekwondo focuses more on being a sport.

Tae Kwon Do came to Canada with General Choi who moved to the Moncton New Brunswick area who passed on his teachings to Dave Murray who made drastic changes to the system and founded the Maratime Martial Arts academy( And has been teaching it for over 30 years in Fredericition New Brunswick , Canada


The International Taekwondo Federation currently use a system of 10 or more gups and 8 (although some consider there to be 10) degrees (dans). The gups start at 10 and go down to 1, from which Degrees are then achieved, and go 1 through 9. (Ex. Someone who just promoted from 2nd gup to 1st gup is now eligible to promote for 1st degree.) The degrees 1-3 are associated with an Assistant Instructor, degrees 4-6 are associated with an Instructor, 7-8 with Master, and 9th degree is held as the rank of Grand Master. Degree grades are usually denoted by roman numerals e.g. VII, VIII, IX representing 7, 8, 9.

Even though different Taekwondo styles, associations or schools may make adjustments or additions, traditionally there are ten color belt levels ("gup," "kup," or "keub.") and ten black belt levels (Dan or Poom-under 15 years age black belt, 1-3 Poom levels in Kukkiwon style). Tenth Dan had historically been reserved as a posthumous award, but in recent years has seen presentation to a few living recipients. The original colors are white, yellow, green, blue and red. Between solid colors a crossbar / stripe of the next full color is added to the belt indicating the awarded gup level. Some groups use a solid color alternative instead of stripes (camo, orange, etc.) For example, a common belt scheme assigns the following keubs: white (13), yellow (12), purple (11), orange (10), green (9), senior green (8), blue (7), senior blue (6), brown (5), senior brown (4) red (3), senior red (2), red-black/danbo (1). The wide variety of belt levels is an American phenomenon rooted in an effort by schools to provide the appearance of rapid advancement to appease children. Under such a system, the earlier belts can be earned in as few as eight weeks. Schools with a deliberately serious focus tend to use around threekeub belts: white, green, and red. Gup belt records are kept by the school of origin and Dan/Poom ranks are recorded at the style headquarters registry.


Although there are many different federations and associations, Taekwondo can be broadly divided into two schools: International Taekwondo Federation (ITF, founded 1966), and Kukkiwon-World Taekwondo Federation (Kukkiwon-WTF, founded 1973). Kukkiwon-WTF was created in Korea when General Choi Hong Hi left Korea for Canada, moving the headquarters of ITF in 1972. The WTF is recognized as the international governing body for the sport of taekwondo by the International Olympic Committee.

Apart from its history, one difference between ITF Taekwondo and Kukkiwon-WTF Taekwondo is the patterns (the pre-set, formal sequences of movements students learn). ITF has 24 patterns (called tuls) which represent the 24 hours in a day, or the whole of a person's life, while Kukkiwon-WTF uses the Taegeuk forms (which originate from the Chinese book, I_Ching). The main difference between these two styles of pattern is that ITF patterns use a "stepping motion" (known as the "sine wave") -- drawing on Newtonian physics -- for hand techniques and some kicking techniques, which include moving the body in a sinusoidal motion in order to use bodyweight to increase the effectiveness of the techniques. Many people consider the Kukkiwon-WTF style to be more of a sport, focussing on competition sparring, while ITF is considered a true martial art which includes competition-style sparring. In practice, however, it is the instructor that will have the most influence on what and how a student practices. The ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation) had considerable success in bringing its art to the world through the '60s and early '70s. They currently maintain millions of members in 120+ countries worldwide. Beginning in 1972-73, Kukkiwon and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) became the first (1980) Tae Kwon Do organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Kukkiwon-WTF is the only Taekwondo body recognized by the South Korean government and its rules have been adopted by the International Olympic Committee. Only students whose training is recognised by the Kukkiwon-WTF can take part in the Olympic games, highlighting the consideration of the Kukkiwon-WTF form as a sport.

In addition to the forms recognized for modern competition, there are also a large number of traditional forms, associated with a rich lore and history. These are becoming relatively rare in competition yet are being kept alive by some traditional masters and their students. Students trained in these traditional forms, which emphasise powerful kicks, punches, and blocks, pacing appropriate to the form, fierce concentration upon imaginary opponents, and accurate and stable stances, can do quite well when bringing these skills to their performances of the poomse style forms.

Since the death of Choi Hong Hi, the International Taekwon-Do Federation has splintered into three major groups and several smaller ones. Choi's son, Choi Jung Hwa, is head of one headquartered in Canada; a second is headquartered in Austria; the third has its headquarters in North Korea. All three groups claim to be the legitimate successor to Gen. Choi. Various court actions are now in process.

Preparing to break a block
Preparing to break a block


List of Taekwondo Techniques by Belt

Taekwondo is famed for its employment of leg and jumping techniques, which many believe distinguishes it from martial arts such as Karate or certain, southern styles of Kung Fu. The rationale behind this is that the leg is the longest and strongest weapon a martial artist has, and kicks thus have the greatest potential to strike without retaliation.

Taekwondo is popular with people of both sexes and of many ages. The five tenets of Taekwondo (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit) show that, like all martial arts, Taekwondo is a mental discipline as well as a physical one. An example of the union of mental and physical discipline is the breaking of boards, which requires both physical mastery of the technique and the concentration to focus one's strength.

Although each Taekwondo club or school will be different, a Taekwondo student can typically expect to take part in most or all of the following:

  • Learning the techniques and curriculum of Taekwondo
  • An aerobic workout, including stretching
  • Self-defence techniques
  • Free-style sparring
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Breaking (using the techniques to break boards for martial arts demonstrations)
  • Regular gradings (tests to progress to the next grade/belt)
  • A focus on discipline, honor, protocol, and self-confidence.

2004 Summer Olympics in Athens

Main article: Taekwondo at the 2004 Summer Olympics

External links

Last updated: 05-17-2005 23:39:39