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What is Taekwon-do?

Why is it called "Taekwon-do"?

The name Taekwon-do is derived from the Korean word "Tae" meaning 'foot', "Kwon" meaning 'fist' and "Do" meaning 'a way of doing things.' So, taken literally "Taekwon–do" means 'the way of the foot and the fist.'

What is Taekwon-do? Taekwon-do is a Korean unarmed art of self-defense that is similar to Karate. Taekwon-do is more than just kicking and punching. It is about self-improvement. The core principles of Taekwondo stress self-discipline and a high code of personal conduct. Practitioners of Taekwon-do are empowered by mastering self-defense and protection skills, including blocking, kicking, and striking techniques, as well as releases from a variety of grabs and holds. While there is a sport/competition aspect to Taekwon-do, this makes up only part of the entire curriculum.

Although its roots reach back over 2,000 years, what we know today as Taekwon-do was developed only after World War II. Prior to the end of that war, Korea suffered for many decades under occupation by Imperial Japan. During this occuptaion, the teaching of traditional Korean martial arts was not allowed, although some were still taught in secret. With the surrender of Japan at the end of Word World II, versions of Korean martial arts – mixed with other Asian martial arts – began to be taught in the open. While each Korean martial art may have been similar and each used techniques that could be traced to earlier centuries, there was no single Korean martial art – even if the martial arts were known under the same name.

Who were the founders of Taekwon-do?

General Choi Hong Hi is widely acknowledged as the founder of Taekwon-do and he is credited as the individual who named the martial art. Although General Choi's contributions were significant, he did not work alone. Noteworthy pioneers of Taekwon-do include Nam Tae Hi, Han Cha Kyo, Woo Jong Lim, Kim Bok Man, Ko Jae Chon, Paik Joon Ki, Rhee Ki Ha, Woo Jae Lim, Lee Yoo Sun, and Kim Jong Chan.

There was an effort to unify the various Korean martial arts and, in this effort, make improvements to these arts. The Founders of Taekwon-do used their understanding of biomechanics and physics to decide what should be kept, what should be discarded, and what should be modified.

For example, the mechanics of the human body told them that the legs contain the longest and strongest muscles so they should be able to generate the most power. The laws of Physics tell us that power is a based upon both speed and mass but that speed is more important than size in terms of generating power. Putting these ideas together, the Founders placed an emphasis on kicking and to facilitate fast kicks, used shorter, narrower stances compared to other martial arts such as karate.

Another principle to generate more power includes ways one moves the body. For example, when turning to the opposite direction, Taekwon-do generates more power by moving the lead leg first so the body swings towards the opponents as the direction changes. Also, there is the “sine wave.” This involves rising up prior to executing some techniques so that, as the technique is performed, there is a downward motion thus gaining more power with the help of gravity. The Founders also advocated a principle the conserving the body's energy by tensing muscles only while performing a technique.

Taelwon Do appeared as a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and became a full medal sport competition beginning in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics. Today, Taekwon-do is one of the most popular martial arts in the United States with more than 40 million people practice the discipline world-wide in more than 100 countries.


To learn more about Taekwon-do and its history, take a look at our Recommended Books page for some recommendations.



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