What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific traditional Korean martial arts in the world.  “Tae” means foot or to strike with the foot. “Kwon” means fist or to strike with hand.  “Do” means art or way of life.  That is, Taekwondo literally means the art of kicking and punching. 

Dating back more than 2000 years, Taekwondo is a discipline that teaches ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our mind and body to be a good human being, as well as to build a more peaceful world. Today, Taekwondo has become a global sport that has gained international reputation and stands among the official games in the Olympics.

Taekwondo as a sport was displayed as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and finally accepted as an official sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. From an unknown martial art, Taekwondo has successfully transformed itself into an Olympic sport that is practiced by an estimated 80 million people in 210 countries, administered by five Continental Unions: Asian Taekwondo Union (43 members), European Taekwondo Union (51 members), Pan American Taekwondo Union (45 members), African Taekwondo Union (52 members), and Oceania Taekwondo Union (19 members).

World Taekwondo (WT) is the International Federation (IF) governing the sport of Taekwondo and is a member of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC). WT is an international regulating body for Taekwondo competitions, including the Olympics.  Athletes who hope to get to the Olympics must participate in the competitions for player selection conducted by WT to qualify.

Taekwondo as a martial art has a tremendous impact on the students with respect to life skills, such as respect, focus, goal setting, discipline, confidence, self-control, perseverance, indomitable spirit, etc.  The success of Taekwondo as compared to other martial arts can be credited to the teaching of life skills to the students while they are doing physical training during the classes.

What is the Difference between Taekwondo and Karate?

  • Taekwondo originated in Korea, whereas Karate originated in Japan.
  • Taekwondo emphasizes kicking techniques, while Karate focuses on hand techniques.
  • Taekwondo is an Olympic sport.


Teuk Gong Moo Sool

Teuk Gong Moo Sool (TGMS) is the official martial art practiced by the South Korean Special Forces, which literally means “Special Forces Martial Art.”  It is a combative method of fighting as opposed to a sport, which emphasizes the rapid interdiction and submission of an opponent. TGMS has become one of the most popular martial arts in Korea widely practiced by bodyguards, police and law enforcement personnel, as well as individuals interested in an effective method of self-defense.

TGMS incorporates the most effective features of eight different martial arts: Taekwondo, Hapkido, Judo, Kyuk Sool, Kumdo, Bong Sool, Boxing, and Kickboxing.  It is a form of self-defense that employs kicks, punches, blocks, falls, throws, escapes, joint locks, joint manipulations, restraints and immobilizations, pressure points, chokes, and escorting techniques. TGMS training also includes weapons training, such as nun chucks, knife, sword, long stick, short stick, double sticks, and firearm.   

Grandmaster No Won Park wrote the Teuk Gong Moo Sool Textbook in 1980 when he was assigned as the martial arts instructor by the 5th Brigade of the Special Army.  Grandmaster Park founded the International Teuk Gong Moo Sool Federation in 1996.  

In North America, TGMS is primarily represented by the International TGMS Federation led by Grandmaster Tiger Kim.  Grandmaster Kim trained TGMS under the guidance of Grandmaster No Won Park in Korea.   


Hapkido is a traditional Korean way of fighting system, which means the “art of coordinated power.”  It is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, joint manipulations, pressure points, circular motions, sweeps, take-downs, kicks, punches, hand and elbow strikes, as well as throwing techniques.   

Hapkido is a martial art that balances “hard” and “soft,” “linear” and “circular,” and “resistance and “acceptance.” For example, Taekwondo and Karate emphasize hard, linear, and forceful techniques, such as kicks, punches, and strikes.  Jujitsu and Judo emphasize soft, circular, and accepting techniques, such as spins and tosses that accept the weight and momentum of the opponent and use them against the opponent.  Hapkido employs both kinds of styles permitting a wide range of tactics for kicking, striking, joint manipulation, and throwing techniques. There are more than 5,000 different techniques that comprise the martial art of Hapkido. 

There are three basic principles to be learned in practicing Hapkido techniques: the principle of nonresistance, the circular principle, and the water/flexible principle.  It is ideal for those who want to learn only self-defense.


Karate is a traditional Japanese way of fighting system, which literally means “empty hand.”  It is a striking art using punches, kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes, and hand strikes.  Some styles of Karate also use grappling, joint locks, sweeps, take-downs, throws, and weapons.

In the early part of the 20th century, Gichin Funakoshi, who is known as “Father of Modern Karate,” introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan.  In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Funakoshi to Tokyo to give a demonstration during a time of cultural exchanges between the Japanese and the Okinawans.  In 1933, the Japanese Martial Arts Committee finally recognized the Okinawan art of Karate as a Japanese martial art.

Karate can be practiced as a martial art, sport, or self-defense training, which is commonly divided into 3 major parts: kihon (basics or fundamentals), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

Karate, as a martial art and sport, has a large following in Japan, Europe, North America, and South America.  The World Karate Federation (WKF) recognizes following styles: Shotokan-ryu, Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Wado-ryu.  The World Union of Karate-do Federation (WUKF) recognizes following styles: Shotokan-ryu, Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shorin-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Kyokushinkai, and Budokan.  Karate is considered as the most fragmented martial art even though there are several world-wide organizations.

Kyokushin Karate is one of the most powerful Karate styles founded in 1957 by Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama who was born a Korean under the name Choi Young-Eui.  In 1964, Oyama founded the International Karate Organization (IKO) in order to organize the member schools teaching his Karate style.  Kyokushinkai refers to “the society of the ultimate truth.”  It is a Karate style of stand-up, full contact, which is rooted in a philosophy of “self-improvement, discipline, and hard training.”  Several other Karate organizations and styles are heavily influenced by the Kyokushin curriculum.

The World Karate Federation is the largest organization and is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as being responsible for Karate competition in the Olympic Games. Karate, however, is not an official Olympic sport. WKF Karate competition has two disciplines: forms and sparring.


Jujitsu is a Japanese martial art that focuses on the philosophy of yielding to an opponent’s force rather than trying to oppose force with force.  That is, it uses an opponent’s movements and body weight to the fighter’s advantage.  Ju means “gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding.” Jitsu means “art” or “technique.” It is a martial art system developed among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon or only a short weapon. 

Jujitsu places strong emphasis on joint-locking, choking, strangling, immobilizing and pinning, and throwing techniques as compared with other Japanese martial arts systems such as Karate.  Jujitsu relies on balance, speed, and leverage rather than size and strength.  In this regard, it can be very useful for those who want to learn only self-defense.  

There are five main parts of Jujitsu training: the art of blocking, the art of the fulcrum throw, the art of the non-fulcrum throw, the art of escaping, and the art of striking.

The Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) has been recognized as an official sport of the World Games.  Some examples of martial arts that have developed from or have been influenced by Jujitsu are: Aikido, Judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, and Russian Sambo,


Judo is a modern Japanese martial art created in 1882 by Jigoro Kano.  Judo refers to “gentle way.”  Its most important object in competition is to either throw or takedown an opponent to the ground, immobilize or subdue an opponent with a grappling maneuver, or submit an opponent by joint locking or by executing a choke or strangle hold.  Strikes and thrusts by hands and feet are not allowed in Judo competition or free practice.

There are three basic categories of waza (techniques) in Judo: nage-waza (throwing techniques), katame-waza (grappling techniques), and atemi-waza (striking techniques).  Only throwing and grappling techniques are permitted in Judo competition.  Striking techniques are allowed only in pre-arranged forms.

Judo became an Olympic sport in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The International Judo Federation (IJF), founded in 1951, is the international governing body for the sport of Judo.  Members of the IJF include the African Judo Union (AJU), the European Judo Union (EJU), the Judo Union of Asia (JUA), the Pan-American Judo Confederation (PJC), and the Oceania Judo Union (OJU). The IJF is responsible for organizing international competitions, including the Olympic Judo events.


Wushu, also known as Kung Fu, is a traditional Chinese way of fighting system, which means the art of war or fighting.  It was created in China after 1949, in an attempt to nationalize the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts.  The goal of Wushu is to develop the skills to stop aggression.  Hollywood superstar Jet Li believes that Wushu, especially Tai Chi, can boost one’s health, family and social relationships, and bring peace and harmony.  It can also improve people’s work life.  

Wushu as a sport is composed of two disciplines: taolu (forms) and sanda (sparring).  Taolu (forms) includes barehanded (e.g., long fist, Southern fist, and Tai Chi), short weapons (e.g., knife, Southern style knife, double-edged sword, and Tai Chi double-edged sword), and long weapons (e.g., staff, Southern cudgel, and spear).  

Sanda (sparring) is a modern fighting method and a full-contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts, such as Chinese boxing, Shuai Jiao, and Chin Na.  Sanda is similar to Kickboxing, but includes many more grappling techniques.   

Wushu events are performed using compulsory or individual routines in competition.  Compulsory routines can be referred to as “traditional forms” in which competitors perform the same form and are judged and given points according to specific rules.  Individual routines can be referred to as “creative forms” in which each competitor creates his/her own form with the aid of his/her coach, while following certain rules for difficulty.  Some Wushu competitions also include dual and group events.  Modern Wushu competitors train extensively in aerial techniques such as 360, 540, 720, and even 900 degree jumps and kicks to add more difficulty and style to their forms.

Wushu has become an international sport through the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), which holds the World Wushu Championships every two years.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed China to organize an event called the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Wushu Tournament.  However, it is neither one of the 28 official Olympic sports nor a demonstration event.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi Chuan, simply known as Tai Chi, is a type of internal Chinese martial art practiced by millions of people for its health benefits. It literally means “supreme ultimate fist.”  The concept of Tai Chi appears in both Taoist and Confucian philosophy, where it represents the harmony of opposites, Yin and Yang, into a single Ultimate.

There are five major styles of Tai Chi, each named after the Chinese family from which it originated: Chen-style, Yang-style, Wu/Hao-style, Wu-style, and Sun-style.

The practice of Tai Chi has three major benefits: health, meditation, and self-defense. Tai Chi can be practiced by people of all ages to enhance one’s health. Medical studies of Tai Chi support its benefits as an “alternative exercise” and a form of “martial arts therapy.”

The focus, relaxation, and calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of Tai Chi are considered necessary in maintaining optimum health.  Many people who find sitting meditation to be difficult and bored have been impressed by the effectiveness of Tai Chi as a form of moving meditation. 

Another important benefit of Tai Chi is the ability to use it as a form of self-defense in combat situations. The fighting effectiveness of Tai Chi is demonstrated by stories of Tai Chi practitioners overcoming various challenges. Other supporting arguments include the positive comments from other martial artists, such as Masutatsu Oyama (founder of Kyokushinkai Karate) and Bruce Lee (Jeet Kung Do).  However, opponents point to the lack of success of Tai Chi in the current competitive arena of mixed martial arts.

The History of Taekwondo

In ancient times people had only the bare hands and body to defend themselves. So they naturally had to develop their fighting techniques to defend themselves against enemies, including wild animals. Even at the times when weapons were developed as the defensive or offensive means, people continued to enjoy the barehand and barefoot fighting techniques to promote the development of their bodies and minds by practicing various games at festivals.

The earliest records of Taekwondo practice trace back to three kingdoms: Koguryo, Paekjae, and Silla.  Silla was a kingdom founded in 57 B.C. on the southeastern part of the Korean peninsula; Koguryo on the northern part founded along the Yalu River Valley in 37 B.C.; and Paekje on the southwestern part founded in 18 B.C.  Evidence of the practice of Taekwondo has been found on the mural painting of an old Warrior’s Tomb from the Koguryo dynasty.

Although Taekwondo first appeared in the Koguryo Kingdom, it is Silla’s warrior nobility known as “Hwarang,” who systematically developed the ancient fighting techniques into the art of Taekwondo by around 200 A.D. Notable among them were Kim Yu-Sin and Kim Chun-Chu who made a great contribution to the unification of those three kingdoms.

Hwarangs, who were selected through contest, adopted Takkyon (the earliest known form of Taekwondo) as a part of their basic military training program.  These young men were educated in many disciplines, including Taekkyon, history, poetry, singing and dancing, archery, fencing and horse-riding, Confucian philosophy, Buddhist morality, military tactics, and various games such as Ssirum (the Korean wrestling). In peace time, “hwarangs served for the benefits of communities, working on emergency aids and construction of fortresses and roads, and they were always ready to sacrifice their lives at the time of war.”

During the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), Taekkyon became known as Subak and it changed from a “system that promotes physical fitness into a fighting art.” In the early period of Koryo Dynasty, “martial art abilities were the only required qualifications to become military personnel because the kingdom utterly needed the national defense capabilities after the conquer of the Peninsula.”  However, the Koryo Dynasty in its latest years had “gunpower and new types of weapons available at hand, thus slowing down its support of martial arts training.” Thus, the subakhui (taekkyon contest) remained as the folk games. 

The Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) was founded on the ideology of Confucianism, “which resulted in rejecting all Buddhistic festivals and giving more importance on literary art than marital art.”  However, King Jungjo after the invasion of Korea by the Japanese in 1592 revived “strong defense measures by strengthening military training and martial arts practice.”  During this period, there was a publication of the so-called Muyedobo-tongji which contained the general illustrations of 38 techniques, resembling today’s Taekwondo poomsae and basic movements.  However, those motions cannot be compared with today’s Taekwondo poomsae “which has been modernized through scientific studies.”

During the Japanese colonial period (1910-45), the Japanese totally banned all folkloric games including Taekwondo in the process of suppressing the Korean people.  Ironically, this very act only renewed the interest in Taekwondo among the Koreans. Many formed underground groups and started practicing Taekwondo in hidden places until the liberation of Korea in 1945.  Some even moved to neighboring countries like China and Japan to learn other martial arts as well.  

Upon Korea’s liberation, many martial arts experts began opening their Taekwondo schools.  Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, and Yun Moo Kwan were opened in 1945.  Many different schools were opened from 1945 through the early 1960s.  Even though each school claimed to teach the traditional Korean martial art, each one emphasized a different aspect of Taekkyon/Subak, which resulted in the creation of various names of the martial art, including Soo Bahk Do, Kong Soo Do, Tae Soo Do, and Dang Soo Do. 

The greatest turning point for the Korean martial arts started in 1952.  During the peak of the Korean War, Master Song Duk-Ki presented a demonstration of Taekkyondo before President Syngman Rhee on the occasion of the latter’s birthday anniversary.  Being impressed with this, President Rhee ordered his military chiefs of staff to require all Korean soldiers to receive training in the martial arts.  This act caused a profound effect on the Korean martial arts.  During the Korean War (1950-53), special commando groups of martial arts-trained soldiers were formed to fight against the communist forces of North Korea.

Following the nomination of Taekwondo as a national martial art in 1971, Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters) was founded in 1972.  On May 28, 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was formed, which is the only official organization recognized by the Korean government as an international regulating body for Taekwondo.  In 1973, the first biennial World Taekwondo Championships were held in Seoul as a prelude to the inauguration of WTF.  WTF became an IOC-recognized sports federation at the 83rd IOC Session held in Moscow in 1980 and Taekwondo was adopted as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Taekwondo was accepted as an official sport at the Asian Games in 1974, the World Games in 1981, the Pan-American Games in 1986, and the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Since the birth of  WTF in 1973, Taekwondo has grown rapidly as a global sport. Today, more than 70 million people practice the art of Taekwondo in over 200 countries. Taekwondo has truly become the most widely practiced martial art in the world. 

The Philosophy of Taekwondo

The philosophy of Taekwondo is to build a more peaceful world. Taekwondo is not only “training in kicking, punching and self-defense” but also the development of a Taekwondo spirit which carries over into “all aspects of life.” The Taekwondo spirit has been derived from the traditional “seon” (impeccable virtuousness) philosophy and the warriors accepted it as a martial spirit.  It can be more easily identified by Silla’s hwarando spirit which was based upon the Korean people’s basic thought of seon philosophy, Buddhist thought of national safeguards, Confucian thought of loyalty and filial piety and Taoist thought of tacit performance.

The philosophy of Taekwondo can be achieved through the cultivation and maturity of all three aspects of the art: physical, mental, and spiritual.  Once these three aspects have been instilled in a person, the total maturation of the person will have a chain-reaction effect that will eventually lead to a more peaceful world. 

Taekwondo exists not only as a “mental and physical training culture for people all around the world, but has also given meaning and value to the spiritual world of innumerable people” since becoming a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.  Poomsae (form) provides the “spiritual culture” and the “philosophical base” of Taekwondo.  Philosophically, “Tae” refers to the earth, “Kwon” means human, and “Do” means heaven, which is consistent with the “goals of attack and defense techniques” of Taekwondo.  That is, Taekwon refers to “physical gestures,” whereas Do refers to “metaphysical gestures.”  Taken together, Taekwondo is regarded as the “philosophical behavior of gestures.” 

In the Orient, explanations of the human body are based on “unity,” i.e., the mind and the body are same.  In this regard, physical training in the martial arts also means mental training.  Training of the “mind” and “body” is the essence of Taekwondo.  The virtues of the Taekwondo spirit are “humanity (peace), self-control (spirit), etiquette (harmony) intelligence (disposition) and trust (tradition).”

Many Taekwondo schools adopt the Tenets of Taekwondo as their philosophical guidelines to instruct students, which include: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit.

Based on the Five Codes of  Human Conduct established by the Buddhist Won Gwang, the Ten Commandments of Taekwondo are used to conduct the moral development of students of Taekwondo in modern days.  They are loyalty, obedience, love, cooperation, faith, respect, honesty, compassion, mercy, and persistence.