Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means “to strike or break with foot”; kwon means “to strike or break with fist”; and do means “way”, “method”, or “art”. Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as “the art of the foot and fist” or “the art of kicking and punching.”
It combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and in some cases meditation and philosophy. In 1989, Taekwondo was claimed as the world’s most popular martial art in terms of number of practitioners. Gyeorugi (pronounced [ɡjʌɾuɡi]), a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000.
There are two branches of taekwondo development:
- “Traditional taekwondo” typically refers to the martial art as it was established in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Korean military;in particular, the names and symbolism of the traditional patterns often refer to elements of Korean history.
- “Sport taekwondo” has evolved in the decades since then and has 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 (WTF). The other comes from the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF).
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 (another Korean martial art) and judo (a Japanese martial art).