Taekwondo; Korean pronunciation: [tʰɛɡwʌndo]; /taɪ.kwɒn.doʊ/) is a martial art that originates from Korea. It combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and in some cases meditation and philosophy. In 1989, taekwondo was the world's most popular martial art in terms of number of practitioners. Gyeorugi (pronounced [kjʌɾuɡi]), a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000.
"Traditional taekwondo" typically refers to the martial art as it was established in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Korean military, and in various civilian organizations, including schools and universities. In particular, the names and symbolism of the traditional patterns often refer to elements of Korean history, culture and religious philosophy. Today, the Kukkiwon, or World Taekwondo Headquarters is the traditional center for taekwondo in Korea.
"Sport taekwondo" has developed in the decades since the 1950s and may have a somewhat different focus, especially in terms of its emphasis on speed and competition (as in Olympic sparring). Sport taekwondo is in turn subdivided into two main styles; one derives from Kukkiwon, the source of the sparring system sihap gyeorugi which is now an event at the summer Olympic Games and which is governed by the World Taekwondo Federation. The other comes from the International Taekwon-Do Federation
Although there are doctrinal and technical differences between the two main styles and among the various organizations, the art in general emphasizes kicks thrown from a mobile stance, employing the leg's greater reach and power (compared to the arm). Taekwondo training generally includes a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks. Some taekwondo instructors also incorporate the use of pressure points, known as jiapsul, as well as grabbing self-defense techniques borrowed from other martial arts, such as hapkido and judo.
In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path". Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as "the way of the hand and the foot."
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910–1945), all facets of ethnic Korean identity were banned or suppressed. Traditional Korean martial arts such as taekkyeon or subak were banned during this time. During the occupation, Koreans who were able to study and receive rankings in Japan were exposed to Japanese martial arts. Others were exposed to martial arts in China and Manchuria.
When the occupation ended in 1945, Korean martial arts schools (kwans) began to open in Korea under various influences. There are differing views on the origins of the arts taught in these schools. Some believe that they taught martial arts that were based primarily upon the traditional Korean martial arts taekkyon and subak, or that taekwondo was derived from native Korean martial arts with influences from neighboring countries. Still others believe that these schools taught arts that were almost entirely based upon karate.
In 1952, at the height of the Korean War, there was a martial arts exhibition in which the kwans displayed their skills. In one demonstration, Nam Tae Hi smashed 13 roof tiles with a punch. Following this demonstration, South Korean President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi Hong Hi to introduce the martial arts to the Korean army. By the mid-1950s, nine kwans had emerged. Syngman Rhee ordered that the various schools unify under a single system. The name "taekwondo" was submitted by either Choi Hong Hi (of the Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk Son (of the Chung Do Kwan), and was accepted on April 11, 1955. As it stands today, the nine kwans are the founders of taekwondo, though not all the kwans used the name. The Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959/1961 to facilitate the unification.
Taekwondo as a martial art is popular with people of both genders and of many ages. Physically, taekwondo develops strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina. An example of the union of mental and physical discipline is the breaking of wooden boards, bricks or tiles, which requires both physical mastery of the technique and the concentration to focus one's power.
A taekwondo student typically wears a uniform (dobok, often white but sometimes black (or other colors), with a belt tied around the waist. There are at least three major styles of do-bok, with the most obvious differences being in the style of jacket: the cross-over front jacket that resembles traditional Asian clothing, the V-neck jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by WTF practitioners, and the vertical-closing front jacket (no cross-over) typically worn by ITF practitioners. The belt color and any insignia thereon indicate the student's rank. In general, the darker the color, the higher the rank. The school or place where instruction is given is called the do-jang. The grandmaster of the do-jang is called a gwan-jang-nim; Master (senior instructor or head of do-jang) is called sa-beom-nim; Instructor is called gyo-san-nim; Assistant Instructor is called jo-gyo-nim
Although each taekwondo club or school will be different, a student typically takes part in most or all of the following:
Learning the techniques and curriculum of taekwondo
Both anaerobic and aerobic workout, including stretching
Self-defense techniques (hosinsool)
Patterns (also called forms, poomsae, teul, hyeong)
Sparring (called gyeorugi, or matseogi in the ITF), which may include 1-step sparring, free-style sparring, arranged sparring, point sparring, and other types
Relaxation and meditation exercises; breathing control
Throwing and/or falling techniques (deonjigi and ddeoreojigi)
A focus on mental and ethical discipline, etiquette, justice, respect, and self-confidence
Breaking (gyeokpa or weerok), using techniques to break boards for testing, training and martial arts demonstrations. Demonstrations often also incorporate bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice or other materials. 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 heights, distances, or to clear obstacles
Exams to progress to the next rank
Some schools teach the "sine wave" technique when performing patterns. 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. Other schools teach that one's center of gravity should remain generally constant throughout the performance of a pattern except where the pattern's description states otherwise.
There are many other private organizations, such as the World Traditional Taekwondo Union and American Taekwondo Association promoting the Songahm style of taekwondo and Rhee Taekwon-Do teaching the military style of taekwondo.
The major technical differences among these many organizations revolve around the patterns, called hyeong ,poomsae, or teul, sets of prescribed formal sequences of movements that demonstrate mastery of posture, positioning, and technique, sparring rules for competition, and philosophy.
Ranks, belts, and promotion
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 (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 black stripe).
The senior section is typically made up of nine ranks. These ranks are called dan, also referred to as "black belts" or "degrees" (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 a panel of judges or their teacher. 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; 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.
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