What Is Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is a modern martial art, characterized by its fast, high and spinning kicks. There are multiple interpretations of the name Tae Kwon Do. Tae Kwon Do is often translated as “The Way of Hand and Foot.” My definition of the name Tae kwon do is

  • Tae = “to strike or block with the foot” or “to kick”, it also means “jump”
  • Kwon = “fist”, “to strike or block with hand”
  • Do = “The way of” or “art”

Put this together and Tae Kwon Do means: “The Art of Kicking and Punching” or “The Art of Unarmed Combat”. The sport has been founded in Korea and is one of the most popular modern martial arts today.

Tae Kwon Do is primarily a fighting art that uses most parts of the body for defensive and offensive moves.  Techniques consist of many different moves that are practiced and joined together for maximum efficiency in fighting.  These different moves include: basic stances, kicking, punching, striking, blocking and combinations of these moves form prearranged attacks and counter attacks.  Some of the moves are to develop basic speed and coordination, and others apply to actual fighting.

Modern Tae Kwon Do is a physical science in which different moves are perfected and joined together as one to form a systematic procedure.  The techniques are always competitive.  There are rules and regulations of control, and a point system for free fighting was devised for limited areas of striking in order to measure ones skill.  The training requires the muscular exercise of the whole body and provides the best means of physical fitness.  The art as a self-defense has a powerful effectiveness and each body movement is designed for combat readiness.  Mental discipline, self-confidence and self control give the trainees the best in determination and stability of both mind and body.  The principles of Tae Kwon Do have been accepted throughout the world and support will continue to grow because the essentials and traditional philosophy have provided the foundation for it to flourish.

The History of Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do originated in Korea during the 1st century BC.  Korean Tae Kwon Do can be traced to Tae Kyon, a form of kicking and leg maneuvering exercise in Korean history.  Some historians state that Tae Kyon was taught and practiced amongst the Hwarang-do over 1,000 years ago.  The Hwarang-do was started as a group of noble youths and was hand picked for training in swordsmanship and archery.  This select group was also to become the military leaders of the Silla Kingdom, which was one of the three ruling kingdoms of Korea until Silla unified all in the 7th century.

The oldest evidence of martial arts in Korea is that of two tombs in the province of Tunsko, the Muyong-Chong and the Kakjo-Chong.  On the walls and ceilings were painted murals depicting the lives of Koguryo people and also of two men wrestling and on the other of two men fighting, which appear to be similar to Tae Kwon Do.

The political system of Koguryo (37 B.C. ~ 668 A.D.) rewarded the best fighters and the most physically fit with high-ranking positions.  The best fighters were believed to have had super-natural powers and were called “Sun Bae.”  The “Sun Bae” were given tasks by the King.  In peace times they were to guard the kingdom and to maintain roads and structures.  If conflicts started they were to defend the kingdom with bravery.  They were to keep their hair cut short and wore a belt made of the finest silk.  From the “Sun Bae” were chosen the most skilled and they were called “Masters.”  The Masters were to teach.  They did not have to cut their hair and they wore clothes made of the finest silk.  The highest skilled Master was called “Doo Dae Hyung” and in times of conflict he would assemble the “Sun Bae” and give them orders to carry out.

Silla (57 A.D. ~ 935 A.D.) had a political system called “Hwa Rang Do” and followed five principals: loyalty to the nation, respect and obedience to parents, courage, and using discretion in violence and taking of life.  They practiced many martial arts including “Soo Bak.”  They played a major role in unification of the provinces during this era.  The main goal was to develop strong minds and bodies.

Tae Kyon was not nationally recognized during the period of Koryu Kingdom of Korea (A.D. 918 to 1392).  Koryu experienced a growing Buddhist culture, and became known throughout the world as Korea.  The King required his soldiers to practice “Soo Bak” and promoted the most skilled ones to high positions in the political system.

During the Chosun Dynasty (1392 A.D. ~ 1910 A.D.) the King replaced Buddhism with Confucianism.  Clerics received more attention than military leaders and martial arts were not encouraged.  However many of the people continued to practice “Soo Bak” and “Tae Kyon,” but the government did hold competitions to chosen soldiers.  Some records make references to “Su Sul” (Tae Kyon of those days).  It was an art where the use of legs and kicks were emphasized.  There were three levels: expert, if one could execute a flying kick higher than the opponents head, intermediate, when one could only kick at shoulder level, and beginner, if one could only kick as high as hip level.

After the Chosun Dynasty end in 1909 with the forced occupation of the Japanese in Korea, they set up a regime headed by generals not only to rule the people but to undermine and erase the identity and heritage of the Korean people by requiring them to take on new Japanese names and outlawed the local language of the Korean people.  The martial arts that the people had practiced for thousands of years were banned and would have been lost, if not for the will and determination of such men as Master Song Duk Ki, who in secrecy continued to instruct in traditional arts like that of Tae Kyon and what was to later become Tae Kwon Do.  This continued until Koreans fought and regained their sovereignty in 1945.  In an effort to revitalize Tae Kwon Do and their culture, the social activities returned to normal.  Many people thought that the arts were too similar, so in 1958 a demonstration was held to show the difference between Korea’s Tae Kwon Do and Japan’s Karate and they were convinced.  A few Masters wanted to purify Tae
Kwon Do and so in 1961 they formed an association called Tae Soo Do, which by 1965 was changed to the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association.

In 1971, Tae Kwon Do was declared a national martial art and the present-day Kukkiwon, the official center of Tae Kwon Do competition, was established in 1972.  In the following year, the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) was founded and as many as 164 countries, still counting, have become members of the Federation since its inception.  In 1974, Tae kwon Do became an official martial art event in the Asian Games and in 1975 it joined the United States Amateur Athletic Union as an official sport.  The GAISF and CISM are organizations that soon after acknowledged the sport officially as well.  In 1980, the World Tae Kwon Do Federation became an IOC-recognized organization and Tae Kwon Do eventually found its place as an event in the World Games (1986), the Pan-American Games (1986), and finally the Olympics (Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004).

So, while the official sport of Tae Kwon Do is no more than 60 years old, its roots are very old, spanning a vast pair of millennia.  The martial art has, like its native country, experienced an abundance of change and an extreme struggle to define itself as its own entity.  Through that struggle, it has established itself as one of the most popular martial arts in the world today and has provided thousands of its subscribers and students with strength, discipline, and confidence.

The Philosophy of Tae Kwon Do

There is significantly more to Tae Kwon Do than merely keeping fit and learning offensive and defensive techniques.  One who concentrates solely on the technical aspects may become quite proficient in Tae Kwon Do, but never reach the stature of a true martial artist.  To become a martial artist, it is necessary to recognize and practice the more profound philosophical aspects of Tae Kwon Do.  Only those who consider its philosophical character can hope to elevate themselves to the Mastery that makes Tae Kwon Do an art rather than a mere assortment of physical techniques.

The trinity of Tae Kwon Do consists of the three major aspects of Tae Kwon Do: the Body, the Mind, and the Spirit.  In order for an individual to develop into a complete and well-rounded person, they must cultivate each aspect of Tae Kwon Do.  If only one or two of the aspects are developed, then a person, no matter how hard he/she trains, may never become a true Master of the art – Tae Kwon Do.

“If I could have only one wish it would be for my students to truly understand what a gift Tae Kwon Do can be.  It has made me who I am and influences everything I do every day of my life” – Master Hyun J. Kim

Objectives of Tae Kwon Do:

  1. To develop an appreciation for Tae Kwon Do as a sport and an art.
  2. To achieve physical fitness through positive participation.
  3. To improve mental discipline and emotional equanimity.
  4. To learn self-defense skills.
  5. To develop a sense of responsibility for oneself and others.