ID:16015 Section: Sports

Updated:Monday 13th October 2014

Taekwondo Definition

(Wikipedia) - Taekwondo Taekwondo Focus Country of origin Creator Famous practitioners Parenthood Olympic sport Korean name Hangul Hanja Revised Romanization McCune–Reischauer
A World Taekwondo Federation sparring match
A collaborate effort by representatives from the nine, original kwans. The name taekwondo was suggested by Choi Hong Hi of Oh Do Kwan.
Hee Il Cho, Chang Keun Choi, Choi Hong Hi, Kwang Jo Choi, Young Il Kong, Han Cha Kyo, Nam Tae Hi, Jong Soo Park, Jung Tae Park, Yeon Hwan Park, Chong Chul Rhee, Steven López, Servet Tazegül, Jade Jones, Anthony Obame, Juan Antonio Ramos, Jhoon Rhee, Ki Ha Rhee, Tran Trieu Quan, S. Henry Cho, Bas Rutten, Chuck Norris, Dan Hardy, Mirko Filipović, Joe Rogan.
shotokan karate , Taekkyeon, Subak, Okinawan Karate
Since 2000 (WTF regulations)
This article contains Korean text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Hangul and hanja.

Taekwondo /ˌtaɪˌkwɒnˈdoʊ/ or /ˌteɪˌkwɒnˈdoʊ/ (Korean 태권도 (hangul) / 跆拳道 (hanja), ), also known as Taekwon-Do and Tae Kwon Do, is a Korean martial art. It combines combat and self-defense techniques with sport and exercise. Gyeorugi (pronounced ), a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000. Taekwondo was developed by a variety of Korean masters during the 1940s as combination of Okinawan karate, Chinese martial arts, and the ancient Korean traditions taekkyeon and gwonbeop.

  • 1 Modern History
  • 2 Etymology
  • 3 Features
    • 3.1 Theory of Power
    • 3.2 Typical Curriculum
  • 4 Main Techniques
    • 4.1 Foot Techniques
  • 5 Equipment and Facilities
  • 6 Styles and Organizations
    • 6.1 1946: Traditional Taekwondo
    • 6.2 1966: ITF-style Taekwondo
    • 6.3 1969: ATA/Songahm-style Taekwondo
    • 6.4 1970s: Jhoon Rhee-style Taekwondo
    • 6.5 1972: Kukkiwon/WTF-style Taekwondo
    • 6.6 Other Styles
  • 7 Ranks, belts, and promotion
  • 8 Historical Influences
  • 9 Philosophy
  • 10 Competition
    • 10.1 World Taekwondo Federation
    • 10.2 International Taekwon-Do Federation
    • 10.3 Other organizations
  • 11 Safety
  • 12 Korean commands
  • 13 See also
  • 14 References

Modern History

During the Japanese occupation of Korea the practice of traditional Korean martial arts was prohibited. Beginning in 1946, shortly after the conclusion of the occupation, new martial arts schools called kwans were opened in Seoul. These schools were established by Korean martial artists who had studied primarily in Okinawa and China during the Japanese occupation. Accordingly, the martial arts practiced in the kwans was heavily influenced by shotokan karate and Chinese martial arts, though elements of taekkyeon and gwonbeop were also incorporated. The umbrella term traditional taekwondo typically refers to the martial arts practiced by the kwans during the 1940s and 1950s, though in reality the term "taekwondo" had not yet been coined at that time, and indeed each kwan was practicing its own unique style of martial art. During this timeframe taekwondo was also adopted for use by the South Korean military, which only served to increase its popularity among civilian martial arts schools.

After witnessing a martial arts demonstration by the military in 1952, South Korea President Syngman Rhee urged that the martial arts styles of the kwans be merged. Beginning in 1955 the leaders of the kwans began discussing in earnest the possibility of creating a unified style of Korean martial art. The name Tae Soo Do was used to describe this notional unified style. In 1957, Choi Hong Hi advocated the use of the name Tae Kwon Do, though that name was slow to catch on among the leaders of the kwans. In 1959 the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) was established to facilitate the unification of Korean martial arts. Establishment of a unified style required several years of negotiation. Seven years later, in 1966, under the sponsorship of the KTA, the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) was established as the governing body for the first unified style of taekwondo.

Cold War politics of the 1960s and 1970s complicated the adoption of ITF-style taekwondo as a unified style, however. The South Korean government wished to avoid North Korean influence on the martial art. Conversely, ITF president Choi Hong Hi sought support for the martial art from all quarters, including North Korea. In response, in 1973 the KTA withdrew its support for the ITF. The ITF continued to function as independent federation, then headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and Choi continued to develop the ITF-style, notably with the 1987 publication of his Encyclopedia of Taekwondo. After Choi''s retirement the ITF split in 2001 and then again in 2002 to create three separate federations each of which continues to operate today under the same name.

In 1973, after the withdrawal of KTA support of the ITF, the South Korean government''s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism established the Kukkiwon as the new national academy for taekwondo. Kukkiwon now served the function previously served by the ITF, in terms of defining a government-sponsored unified style of taekwondo. Kukkiwon-style taekwondo represents the second unified style of taekwondo. Kukkiwon-style taekwondo is less combat-oriented and more sport-oriented than either traditional taekwondo or ITF-style taekwondo. Indeed, in 1973 the KTA established the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) to promote taekwondo specifically as a sport. WTF competitions employ Kukkiwon-style taekwondo. For this reason, Kukkiwon-style taekwondo is often referred to as WTF-style taekwondo, though in reality the style is defined by the Kukkiwon, not the WTF.

Since 2000, taekwondo has been one of only two Asian martial arts (the other being judo) that are included in the Olympic Games. It became a demonstration event at the 1988 games in Seoul, and became an official medal event at the 2000 games in Sydney. In 2010, taekwondo was accepted as a Commonwealth Games sport.


The name taekwondo is generally credited to Choi Hong Hi. The World Taekwondo Federation claims that taekwondo development was a collaborative effort by a council consisting of members from the nine original kwans, while the International Taekwon-Do Federation credits Choi Hong Hi solely.

In Korean, tae (태, 跆) means "to stomp" or "to strike or break with the foot"; kwon (권, 拳) means "to strike or break with the fist"; and do (도, 道) means "way of life". Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as "the way of the foot and the hand." The name taekwondo is also written as taekwon-do, tae kwon-do, or tae kwon do by various organizations.

FeaturesFlying double side kickA jumping reverse hook kickSee also: List of Taekwondo techniques

Taekwondo is characterized by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. In fact, World Taekwondo Federation sparring competitions award additional points for strikes that incorporate jumping and spinning kicks. To facilitate fast, turning kicks, taekwondo generally adopts stances that are narrower and hence less-stable that the broader, wide stances used by martial arts such as karate. The tradeoff of decreased stability is believed to be worth the commensurate increase in agility.

Theory of Power

This emphasis on speed and agility is a defining characteristic of taekwondo and has its origins in analyses undertaken by Choi Hong Hi. The results of that analysis are known by ITF practitioners as Choi''s Theory of Power. Choi''s Theory of Power is based on biomechanics and Newtonian physics. For example, Choi observed that the power of a strike increases quadratically with the speed of the strike, but increases only linearly with the mass of the striking object. In other words, speed is more important than size in terms of generating power. This principle was incorporated into the early design of taekwondo and is still used.

Choi also advocated a relax / strike principle for taekwondo; in other words, between blocks, kicks, and strikes the practitioner should relax the body, then tense the muscles only while performing the technique. It is believed that this too increases the power of the technique, by conserving the body''s energy. He expanded on this principle with his advocacy of the sine wave technique. This involves raising one''s center of gravity between techniques, then lowering it as the technique is performed, producing the up-and-down movement from which the term "sine wave" is derived. The sine wave is generally practiced, however, only in some schools that follow ITF-style taekwondo. Kukkiwon-style taekwondo, for example, does not employ the sine wave and instead advocates a more uniform height during movements.

The components of the Theory of Power include:

  • Reaction Force - the principle that as the striking limb is brought forward, other parts of the body should be brought backward in order to provide more power to the striking limb. As an example, if the right leg is brought forward in a roundhouse kick, the right arm is brought backward to provide the reaction force.
  • Concentration - the principle of bringing as many muscles as possible to bear on a strike, concentrating the area of impact into as small an area as possible
  • Equilibrium - as previously mentioned, the relatively narrow stances of taekwondo require increased emphasis on maintaining a correct center-of-balance throughout a technique
  • Breath Control - the idea that during a strike one should exhale, with the exhalation concluding at the moment of impact
  • Mass - the principle of bringing as much of the body to bear on a strike as possible; again using the roundhouse kick as an example, the idea would be to rotate the hip as well as the leg during the kick in order to take advantage of the hip''s additional mass in terms of providing power to the kick
  • Speed - as previously mentioned however, speed is considered the most important component of developing power in taekwondo
Typical Curriculum

While organizations such as ITF or Kukkiwon define the general style of taekwondo, individual clubs and schools tend to the tailor their taekwondo practices. Although each taekwondo club or school is different, a student typically takes part in most or all of the following:

  • Patterns (also called forms, poomsae 품새/品勢 poom''-sy, teul 틀 toul, or hyeong 형/型 he-yung) - these serve the same function as kata in the study of karate, and indeed many of the early, traditional taekwondo forms are derived from Shotokan kata.
  • Sparring (called gyeorugi 겨루기 gyee-oh-roo''-gee, or matseogi 맞서기 mat-see-oh''-gee in the ITF) - sparring includes variations such as free-style sparring (in which competitors spar without interruption for several minutes); 7-, 3-, 2-, and 1-step sparring (in which students practiced pre-arranged sparring combinations); and point sparring (in which sparring is interrupted and then resumed after each point is scored)
  • Breaking (gyeokpa 격파 gyee-ohk''-pah or weerok) - the breaking of boards is used for testing, training, and martial arts demonstrations. Demonstrations often also incorporate bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice or other materials. These technique can be separated into three types:
    • Power breaking – using straightforward techniques to break as many boards as possible
    • Speed breaking – boards are held loosely by one edge, putting special focus on the speed required to perform the break
    • Special techniques – breaking fewer boards but using jumping or flying techniques to attain greater height, distance, or to clear obstacles
  • Self-defense techniques (hosinsool 호신술, hoh''-sin-sool)
  • Learning the fundamental techniques taekwondo; these generally include kicks, blocks, punches, and strikes, with somewhat less emphasis on grappling and holds
  • Throwing and/or falling techniques (deonjigi 던지기 dee-on-jee''-gee and ddeoreojigi 떨어지기 dee-oh-ree-oh-jee''-gee)
  • Both anaerobic and aerobic workout, including stretching
  • Relaxation and meditation exercises, as well as breathing control
  • A focus on mental and ethical discipline, etiquette, justice, respect, and self-confidence
  • Examinations to progress to the next rank
  • Development of personal success and leadership skills

Though weapons training is not a formal part of most taekwondo federation curriculums, individual schools will often incorporate additional training with staffs, knifes, sticks, etc.

Main Techniques Foot Techniques Name Type Of Movement Striking Surface
Ap chagi (앞차기) Direct (Front) Foot bowl
Yeop chagi (옆차기) Lateral Heel
Dolryeo chagi (돌려차기) Circular (Front) Foot bowl
Bandal chagi (반달차기) Semi-circular (Front) Foot bowl
Dui chagi (뒤차기) Direct (Back) Heel
Naeryeo chagi (내려차기) Hammer Movement Heel
Equipment and FacilitiesA WTF-style dobokAn example of a dojang

A taekwondo student typically wears a uniform (dobok 도복/道服, doh''-bok), often white but sometimes black (or other colors), with a belt (ddi 띠, dee) tied around the waist. White uniforms are considered the traditional color and are encouraged for use at formal ceremonies such as belt tests and promotions. Colored uniforms are often reserved for special teams (such as demonstration teams or leadership teams) or higher-level instructors. There are at least three major styles of dobok, with the most obvious differences being in the style of jacket: (1) the cross-over front jacket, (2) the V-neck jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by Kukkiwon/WTF practitioners, and (3) the vertical-closing front jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by ITF practitioners. White uniforms in the Kukkiwon/WTF tradition will typically be white throughout the jacket, while ITF-style uniforms are trimmed with a black border along the bottom of the jacket.

The belt color and any insignia thereon indicate the student''s rank. Different clubs and schools use different color schemes for belts. In general, the darker the color, the higher the rank. Taekwondo is traditionally performed in bare feet, although martial arts training shoes may sometimes be worn.

When sparring, padded equipment is worn. In the ITF tradition, typically only the hands and feet are padded. For this reason, ITF sparring often employes only light-contact sparring. In the Kukkiwon/WTF tradition, full-contact sparring is facilitated by the employment of more extensive equipment: padded helmets called homyun are always worn, as are padded torso protectors called hogu; feet, shins, groins, hands, and forearms protectors are also worn.

The school or place where instruction is given is called the dojang (도장, doh''-jang). Specifically, the term dojang refers to the area within the school in which martial arts instruction takes place; the word dojang is sometimes translated as gymnasium. In common usage the term dojang is often used to refer to the school as a whole. Modern dojangs often incorporate padded flooring, often incorporating red-and-blue patterns in the flooring to reflect the colors of the taegeuk symbol. Some dojangs have wooden flooring instead. The dojang is usually decorated with items such as flags, banners, belts, instructional materials, and traditional Korean calligraphy.

The grandmaster of the dojang is called a gwanjangnim (관장님, gwon''-jong-nim); the master (senior instructor or head of dojang) is called sabeomnim (사범님, sah''-bum-nim); the instructor is called gyosannim (교사님, gyoh''-sah-nim); and the assistant instructor is called jogyonim (조교님, joh''-gyoh-nim).

Styles and Organizations

There are a number of major taekwondo styles as well as a few niche styles. Most styles are associated with a governing body or federation that defines the style. The major technical differences among taekwondo styles and organizations generally revolve around:

  • the patterns practiced by each style (called hyeong 형, poomsae 품새, or teul 틀, depending on the style); these are sets of prescribed formal sequences of movements that demonstrate mastery of posture, positioning, and technique
  • differences in the sparring rules for competition; specifically, WTF-style competition (the style used in the Olympics) is generally more sport-oriented and less combat-oriented than other styles
  • martial arts philosophy.
1946: Traditional Taekwondo

The term traditional taekwondo typically refers to martial arts practiced in Korea during the 1940s and 1950s by the nine original kwans after the conclusion of the Japanese occupation of Korea at the end of World War II. The term taekwondo had not yet been coined. In reality, each of the nine kwans practiced its own style of martial arts, so the term traditional taekwondo serves as an umbrella term for these various styles. Many of the founders of the nine kwans had studied Shotokan karate, so traditional taekwondo shares many of the same techniques, forms (hyeong), and names as Shotokan. Traditional taekwondo is still studied today in martial arts styles such as Tang Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do, and Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo.

The original schools (kwans) that formed the organization that would eventually become Kukkiwon continue to exist as independent fraternal membership organizations that support the World Taekwondo Federation and Kukkiwon. The official curriculum of the kwans is that of Kukkiwon. The kwans also function as a channel for the issuing of Kukkiwon dan and poom certification (black belt ranks) for their members.

1966: ITF-style Taekwondo

International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF)-style taekwondo is defined by Choi Hong Hi''s Encyclopedia of Taekwon-do published in 1987. This is the first unified style of taekwondo, developed by incorporating martial arts elements from the original kwans under the sponsorship of the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) in 1966.

In 1990, the Global Taekwondo Federation (GTF) split from the ITF due to the political controversies surrounding the ITF; the GTF continues to practice ITF-style taekwondo, however, with additional elements incorporated into the style. Likewise, the ITF itself split in 2001 and again in 2002 into three separate federations, headquartered in Austria, the United Kingdom, and Spain respectively.

The GTF and all three ITFs practice Choi''s ITF-style taekwondo. In ITF-style taekwondo, the word used for "forms" is teul; the specific set of teul used by the ITF is called Chang Hon. Choi defined 24 Chang Hon teul. The names and symbolism of the Chang Hon teul refer to elements of Korean history, culture and religious philosophy. The GTF-variant of ITF practices an additional six teul.

Within the ITF taekwondo tradition there are two sub-styles:

  • The style of taekwondo practiced by the ITF before its 1973 split with the KTA is sometimes called by ITF practitioners "traditional taekwondo", though a more accurate term would be traditional ITF taekwondo.
  • After the 1973 split, Choi Hong Hi continued to develop and refine the style, ultimately publishing his work in his 1987 Encyclopedia of Taekwondo. Among the refinements incorporated into this new sub-style is the "sine wave"; one of Choi Hong Hi''s later principles of taekwondo is that the body''s center of gravity should be raised-and-lowered throughout a movement.

Some ITF schools adopt the sine wave style, while others do not. Essentially all ITF schools do, however, use the patterns (teul) defined in the Encyclopedia, with some exceptions related to the forms Juche and Ko-Dang.

1969: ATA/Songahm-style Taekwondo

In 1969, Haeng Ung Lee, a former taekwondo instructor in the South Korean military, relocated to Omaha, Nebraska and established a chain of martial arts schools in the United States under the banner of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). Like Jhoon Rhee taekwondo, ATA taekwondo has its roots in traditional taekwondo. The style of taekwondo practiced by the ATA is called Songahm taekwondo. The ATA went on to become one of the largest chains of taekwondo schools in the United States.

The ATA has established international spin-offs called the Songahm Taekwondo Federation (STF) and the World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU) to promote the practice of Songahm-style taekwondo internationally.

1970s: Jhoon Rhee-style Taekwondo

In 1962 Jhoon Rhee relocated to the United States and established a chain of martial arts schools primarily in the Washington, D.C. area that practiced traditional taekwondo. In the 1970s, at the urging of Choi Hong Hi, Rhee adopted ITF-style taekwondo within his chain of schools, but like the GTF later departed from the ITF due to the political controversies surrounding Choi and the ITF. Rhee went on to develop his own style of taekwondo called Jhoon Rhee-style taekwondo, incorporating elements of both traditional and ITF-style taekwondo as well as original elements. (Note that Jhoon Rhee-style taekwondo is distinct from the similarly named Rhee Taekwon-Do.)

Jhoon Rhee-style taekwondo is still practiced primarily in the United States and eastern Europe.

1972: Kukkiwon/WTF-style Taekwondo

In 1972 the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) Central Dojang opened in Seoul in 1972; in 1973 the name was changed to Kukkiwon. Under the sponsorship of the South Korean government''s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism the Kukkiwon became the new national academy for taekwondo, thereby establishing a second "unified" style of taekwondo. This style being less combat-oriented and more sports-oriented than the first unified style, ITF-style taekwondo. In 1973 the KTA established the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) to promote taekwondo as a sport. The International Olympic Committee recognized the WTF and taekwondo sparring in 1980. For this reason, Kukkiwon-style taekwondo is sometimes referred to as Sport-style taekwondo, Olympic-style taekwondo, or WTF-style taekwondo, though technically the style itself is defined by the Kukkiwon, not the WTF.

In Kukkiwon/WTF-style taekwondo, the word used for "forms" is poomsae. In 1967 the KTA established a new set of forms called the Palgwae poomse, named after the eight trigrams of the I Ching. In 1971 however the KTA and Kukkiwon adopted a new set of color-belt forms instead, called the Taegeuk poomsae. Black belt forms are called yudanja poomsae. While ITF-style forms refer to key elements of Korean history, Kukkwon/WTF-style forms refer instead to elements of sino-Korean philosophy such as the I Ching and the taegeuk.

WTF-sanctioned tournaments allow any person, regardless of school affiliation or martial arts style, to compete in WTF events as long as he or she is a member of the WTF Member National Association in his or her nation; this allows essentially anyone to compete in WTF-sanctioned competitions.

Other Styles

As previously mentioned, in 1990 the Global Taekwondo Federation (GTF) split from the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) to form its own style of taekwondo based on ITF-style. Essentially this can be considered a variation of ITF-style.

Also in 1990, martial artist and actor Chuck Norris established a hybrid variant of traditional taekwondo called Chun Kuk Do. Chun Kuk Do shares many techniques, forms and names with Tang Soo Do and Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, and so can be considered a variation of traditional taekwondo.

Ranks, belts, and promotionExhibition of taekwondo students at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City.

Taekwondo ranks are typically separated into "junior" and "senior," or "student" and "instructor," sections. The junior section typically consists of ten ranks indicated by the Korean word geup 급 (also Romanized as gup or kup). The junior ranks are usually identified by belts of various colors, depending on the school, so these ranks are sometimes called "color belts". Geup rank may be indicated by stripes on belts rather than by colored belts. Students begin at tenth geup (often indicated by a white belt) and advance toward first geup (often indicated by a red belt with a white or black stripe).

The senior section is typically made up of nine ranks. Each rank is called a dan 단, also referred to as "black belt" or "degree" (as in "third dan" or "third-degree black belt"). Black belts begin at first degree and advance to second, third, and so on. The degree is often indicated on the belt itself with stripes, Roman numerals, or other methods, but sometimes black belts are plain and unadorned regardless of rank.

To advance from one rank to the next, students typically complete promotion tests in which they demonstrate their proficiency in the various aspects of the art before their teacher or a panel of judges. Promotion tests vary from school to school, but may include such elements as the execution of patterns, which combine various techniques in specific sequences; the breaking of boards to demonstrate the ability to use techniques with both power and control; sparring and self-defense to demonstrate the practical application and control of techniques; physical fitness usually with push-ups and sit-ups; and answering questions on terminology, concepts, and history to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the art. For higher dan tests, students are sometimes required to take a written test or submit a research paper in addition to taking the practical test.

Promotion from one geup to the next can proceed rapidly in some schools, since schools often allow geup promotions every two, three, or four months. Students of geup rank learn the most basic techniques first, and then move on to more advanced techniques as they approach first dan. Many of the older and more traditional schools often take longer to allow students to test for higher ranks than newer, more contemporary schools, as they may not have the required testing intervals.

In contrast, promotion from one dan to the next can take years. The general rule is that a black belt may advance from one rank to the next only after the number of years equivalent to their current rank. For example, a newly promoted third-degree black belt may not be allowed to advance to fourth-degree until three years have passed. Some organizations also have age requirements related to dan promotions, and may grant younger students poom 품 (junior black belt) ranks rather than dan ranks until they reach a certain age.

Black belt ranks may have titles associated with them, such as "master" and "instructor", but taekwondo organizations vary widely in rules and standards when it comes to ranks and titles. What holds true in one organization may not hold true in another, as is the case in many martial art systems. For example, achieving first dan ranking with three years'' training might be typical in one organization, but considered too quick in another organization, and likewise for other ranks. Similarly, the title for a given dan rank in one organization might not be the same as the title for that dan rank in another organization.

In the International Taekwon-Do Federation, instructors holding 1st to 3rd dan are called Boosabum (assistant instructor), those holding 4th to 6th dan are called Sabum (instructor), those holding 7th to 8th dan are called Sahyun (master), and those holding 9th dan are called Saseong (grandmaster). This system does not, however, necessarily apply to other taekwondo organizations.

In the World Taekwondo Federation, Students holding 1st-3rd dan are considered an Instructor, but generally have much to learn. Students who hold a 4th - 6th dan are considered Masters and must be at least 18 years old. Masters who hold a 7th - 9th dan are considered a Grand-Master. This rank also holds an age requirement of 40+ (age requirement for this belt is not 100% certain).

Historical Influences See also: Korean martial arts

The oldest Korean martial arts were an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, where young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was ssireum and subak, with taekkyeon being the most popular of the components of subak. The Northern Goguryeo kingdom was a dominant force in Northern Korea and North Eastern China prior to the 1st century CE, and again from the 3rd century to the 6th century. Before the fall of the Goguryeo Dynasty in the 6th century, the Shilla Kingdom asked for help in training its people for defense against pirate invasions. During this time a few select Silla warriors were given training in taekkyeon by the early masters from Goguryeo. These Shilla warriors then became known as the Hwarang. The Hwarang set up a military academy for the sons of royalty in Silla called Hwarang-do, which means "the way of flowering manhood." The Hwarang studied taekkyeon, history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, social skills, and military tactics. The guiding principles of the Hwarang warriors were based on Won Gwang''s five codes of human conduct and included loyalty, filial duty, trustworthiness, valor, and justice.

In spite of Korea''s rich history of ancient and martial arts, Korean martial arts faded during the late Joseon Dynasty. Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism, and martial arts were poorly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings. Formal practices of traditional martial arts such as subak and taekkyeon were reserved for sanctioned military uses. However, taekkyeon persisted into the 19th century as a folk game during the May-Dano festival, and was still taught as the formal military martial art throughout the Joseon Dynasty.

Early progenitors of taekwondo - the founders of the nine original kwans - who were able to study in Japan were exposed to Japanese martial arts, including karate, judo, and kendo, while others were exposed to the martial arts of China and Manchuria, as well as to the indigenous Korean martial art of taekkyeon. Hwang Kee founder of Moo Duk Kwan, further incorporated elements of Korean Gwonbeop from the Muye Dobo Tongji into the style that eventually became Tang Soo Do.


Different styles of taekwondo adopt different philosophical underpinnings. Many of these underpinnings however refer back of the Five Commandments of the Hwarang as a historical referent. For example, Choi Hong Hi expressed his philosophical basis for taekwondo as the Five Tenets of Taekwondo:

  • Ye-Ui, courtesy
  • Yom-Chi, integrity
  • In-Nae, perseverance, patience
  • Guk-Gi, self-discipline
  • Beakjul-bool-gul, invincibility

These tenets are further articulated in a taekwondo oath, also authored by Choi:

  • I undertake to comply with the principles of Taekwondo
  • I undertake to respect my coaches and all superiors
  • I undertake to abuse Taekwondo never
  • I pledge to stand up for freedom and justice
  • I undertake to cooperate in the creation of a more peaceful world

Modern ITF organizations have continued to update and expand upon this philosophy.

The World Taekwondo Federation also refers to the commandments of the Hwarang in the articulation of its taekwondo philosophy. Like the ITF philosophy, it centers on the development of a peaceful society as one of the overarching goals for the practice of taekwondo. The WTF''s stated philosophy is that this goal can be furthered by adoption of the Hwarang spirit, by behaving rationally ("education in accordance with the reason of heaven"), and by recognition of the philosophies embodied in the taegeuk (the yin and the yang, i.e., "the unity of opposites") and the sam taegeuk (understanding change in the world as the interactions of the heavens, the Earth, and Man). The philosophical position articulated by the Kukkiwon is likewise based on the Hwarang tradition.

CompetitionSparring in a taekwondo class

Taekwondo competition typically involves sparring, breaking, patterns, and self-defense (hosinsul). In Olympic taekwondo competition, however, only sparring (using WTF competition rules) is performed.

There are two kinds of competition sparring: point sparring, in which all strikes are light contact and the clock is stopped when a point is scored; and Olympic sparring, where all strikes are full contact and the clock continues when points are scored.

World Taekwondo FederationOfficial WTF trunk protector (hogu), forearm guards and shin guards

Under World Taekwondo Federation and Olympic rules, sparring is a full-contact event and takes place between two competitors in an area measuring 8 meters square. A win can occur by points, or if one competitor is unable to continue (knockout) the other competitor wins. Each match consists of three semi-continuous rounds of contact, with one minute''s rest between rounds. There are two age categories: 14–17 years and 18 years and older. Depending on the type of tournament and club, competitors may also wear fist protectors, foot protectors, instep guards, helmets, or mouth guards.

Points are awarded for permitted, accurate, and powerful techniques delivered to the legal scoring areas; light contact does not score any points. The only techniques allowed are kicks (delivering a strike using an area of the foot below the ankle) and punches (delivering a strike using the closed fist). In most competitions, points are awarded by three corner judges using electronic scoring tallies. Several A-Class tournaments, however, are now experimenting with electronic scoring equipment contained within the competitors'' body protectors. This limits corner judges to scoring only attacks to the head. Some believe that the new electronic scoring system will help to reduce controversy concerning judging decisions, but this technology is still not universally accepted.

Beginning in 2009, a kick or punch that makes contact with the opponent''s hogu (the body guard that functions as a scoring target) scores one point. (The trunk protector is referred to as a momtong pohodae 몸통 보호대 or trunk guard in the WTF rules.) If a kick to the hogu involves a technique that includes fully turning the attacking competitor''s body, so that the back is fully exposed to the targeted competitor during execution of the technique (spinning kick), an additional point is awarded. A kick to the head scores three points; as of October 2010 an additional point is awarded if a turning kick was used to execute this attack. Punches to the head are not allowed. As of March 2010, no additional points are awarded for knocking down an opponent (beyond the normal points awarded for legal strikes).

The referee can give penalties at any time for rule-breaking, such as hitting an area not recognized as a target, usually the legs or neck. Penalties are divided into "Kyong-go" (warning penalty) and "Gam-jeom" (deduction penalty). Two "Kyong-go" are counted as an addition of one point for the opposing contestant. However, the final odd-numbered "Kyong-go" is not counted in the grand total.

At the end of three rounds, the competitor with most points wins the match. In the event of a tie, a fourth "sudden death" overtime round, sometimes called a "Golden Point", is held to determine the winner after a one-minute rest period. In this round, the first competitor to score a point wins the match. If there is no score in the additional round, the winner is decided by superiority, as determined by the refereeing officials.

Until 2008, if one competitor gained a 7 point lead over the other, or if one competitor reached a total of 12 points, then that competitor was immediately declared the winner and the match ended. These rules were abolished by the WTF at the start of 2009. In October 2010 the WTF reintroduced a point-gap rule, stating that if a competitor has a 12-point lead at the end of the second round or achieves a 12-point lead at any point in the third round, then the match is over and that competitor is declared the winner.

International Taekwon-Do FederationCommon styles of ITF point sparring equipment

The International Taekwon-Do Federation''s sparring rules are similar to the WTF''s rules, but differ in several aspects.

  • Hand and foot attacks to the head are allowed.
  • The scoring system is:
    • 1 point for: Punch to the body or head.
    • 2 points for: Jumping kick to the body or kick to the head
    • 3 points for: Jumping kick to the head
  • The competition area may vary between 10×10 meters and 20×20 meters in international championships.

Competitors do not wear the hogu (although they are required to wear approved foot and hand protection equipment, as well as optional head guards). This scoring system varies between individual organisations within the ITF; for example, in the TAGB, punches to the head or body score 1 point, kicks to the body score 2 points, and kicks to the head score 3 points.

A continuous point system is utilized in ITF competition, where the fighters are allowed to continue after scoring a technique. Full-force blows are allowed, but judges penalize any competitor with disqualification if they injure their opponent and he can no longer continue (although these rules vary between ITF organizations). At the end of two minutes (or some other specified time), the competitor with more scoring techniques wins.

Fouls in ITF sparring include: attacking a fallen opponent, leg sweeping, holding/grabbing, or intentional attack to a target other than the opponent.

ITF competitions also feature performances of patterns, breaking, and ''special techniques'' (where competitors perform prescribed board breaks at great heights).

Other organizations

American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) competitions are very similar, except that different styles of pads and gear are allowed.

Apart from WTF and ITF tournaments, major taekwondo competitions (all featuring WTF taekwondo only) include:

  • Olympic Games
  • Universiade
  • Asian Games
  • South East Asian Games
  • South Asian Games

WTF taekwondo features in all multi-sport games except the Small Island Games. It was accepted as a Commonwealth Games sport in June 2010.


Although taekwondo competitors have an apparently substantial risk of injury, most injuries are minor. A 2009 meta-analysis reported that an average of about 8% of competitors are injured per exposure to competition. Age, gender, and level of play did not significantly affect the injury rate. The legs are the most common location for injuries, and bruising is the most common injury type.

Injuries may occur if students are taught to block punches in a formal manner (chamber position, perfect angles, etc.) even when sparring. When comparing the speed of a punch and the reaction time taken to block effectively, it is difficult to block a punch. Many taekwondo schools teach students blocking for grading and classwork, and dodging or parrying for sparring.

Korean commands

In taekwondo, Korean language commands are often used. Korean numerals may be used as prompts or commands, or for counting repetition exercises. Often, students count in Korean during their class, and during tests they are usually asked what certain Korean words mean. These words are fairly common amongst taekwondo dojos, but accuracy of pronunciation can vary widely.

Romanization Hangeul Hanja English
Charyeot (chah-ryuht'') 차렷 Come to attention
Gyeongnye (kyuhng-nyeh) 경례 敬禮 Bow
Baro (bah''-roh or pah''-roh) 바로 Return
Shwieo (shwee-uh) 쉬어 At ease (relax)
Hyushik (hyoo''-sheek) 휴식 休息 Rest period (break)
Gihap (kee''-hahp) 기합 氣合 Yell (shout)
Junbi (joon''-bee) 준비 準備 Ready
Shijak (shee-jahk'') 시작 始作 Begin (start)
Gallyeo (kahl''-lyuh) 갈려 Break (separate)
Gyesok (kyeh''-sohk) 계속 繼續 Continue
Geuman (geuh''-mahn) 그만 Finish (stop)
Dwiro dora (dwee''roh doh''-rah) 뒤로 돌아 About face (180 degrees)
Haesan (heh''-sahn) 해산 解散 Dismissed

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