Taekwondo is a modern martial art with a long historical tradition that originates in Korea.
Taekwondo is known for its enphasis in the kicking techniques. This aspect of the art diffirenciate Taekwondo from other well known martial arts, such as Karate, a Japanese martial art.
The word, Taekwondo, consists of three components. "Tae" means foot, "Kwon" means fist, and "Do" means "the way of." It loosely translates to "the way of defending self using feet and fists."
It is very popular martial art style throughout the world. The popularity of Taekwondo has helped it to become an official event at the Summer Olympics.
To understand Taekwondo as a modern art, one must understand the history of the Korean peninsula.
Most historians date the origins of formal fighting arts in Korea to the 6th century A.D. At that time, the Korean peninsula was divided into three kingdoms Koguryo, Paekje and Silla Eeach at war with the others. Silla, smallest in size and militarily weak, was in serious danger of being overwhelmed by its larger neighbors. In response to this threat, the king of Silla formed a group of elite warriors called HwaRang. These warriors studied a form of unarmed combat called TaeKyon (sometimes also called Subak), which may be considered the ancestor of the modern martial art of Taekwondo. It is largely agreed that the HwaRang's fighting skill and bravery were the key elements in aiding Silla's victory over Koguryo and Paekje. Following this victory, the Korean peninsula was unified into a single kingdom called Koryo.
Over the next several centuries, TaeKyon evolved to become both a military fighting art and a popular sport in the Koryo Dynasty. Several alternative styles also appeared in response to the growing popularity of combat arts. TaeKyon, as well as other styles of fighting art, began to spread throughout the kingdom and even into China.
Toward the end of the 14th century, Korea (then in the Joseon Dynasty, also called Yi-shi-Choson) started to experience the influence of Chinese culture. As the predominate religion moved towards Confucianism, military leaders gradually began to lose the power and influence they previously enjoyed. Interest in martial arts waned, and such arts were eventually permitted only for the military. However, some practitioners did remain to help keep TaeKyon and other martial arts alive through the end of the Joseon Dynasty.
In 1910, the Joseon Dynasty ended when Japan conquered the Korea. During the Japanese occupation, much of Korean culture, including Korean martial arts, was harshly suppressed. Practice of martial arts was strictly forbidden outside the military, which was controlled by Japan. Japanese fighting arts, such as Karate, saw their introduction. While the occupation created much cultural animosity, Japanese martial arts appear to have been taken up with some enthusiasm, and their influence on modern Taekwondo is undeniable. This state of affairs lasted until the Japanese occupation ended in 1945 with the end of World War II.
Within a year after the war's end, the first of many Kwans (martial arts schools) was founded. Additional Kwans soon followed. Each Kwan had a different objective and teaching style depending on its founders. It was quickly recognized that having many schools with differing curriculums and agendas would hinder the growth of martial arts in Korea. While there were a number of attempts to unify the Kwans, they met with no success for over a decade. During the Korean War, American GIs were first introduced to Korean martial arts. Many of these soldiers brought what they learned back with them to the U.S. after the war. This started the spread of Korean martial arts far outside the country for the first time.
Though there is a long historical tradition behind Taekwondo, the art, as we know it today, is a modern creation. In fact, the word Taekwondo did not even exist until 1950s. Taekwondo became an official Korean martial art during a meeting between the various Kwans in April 1955 Ethe official name was not yet decided at this point. Only in 1955, the term "Taekwondo" was at last officially accepted to call the Korean martial art with deep history.
It took even longer for the Kwans to finally work out their differences in their objectives and teaching styles. In 1961, a governmental decree ordered the Kwans to unify into a single organization, and 1962 saw the creation of the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA), recognized by the Korean Amateur Sports Association as the governing body for sport Taekwondo in Korea.
The KTA eventually formed the basis for the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), which was formed in 1973 to serve as the worldwide governing body for Taekwondo. The WTF, headquartered at the Kukkiwon in Seoul, South Korea, is the largest martial arts organization in the world today. It is the governing body for Taekwondo in the Olympic games, and also the only governing body for Taekwondo officially recognized by the Korean government. The United States Taekwondo Union (USTU) has been the governing body for Taekwondo in the United States under the WTF until the early 2000's.
The founding of the WTF lead to notable progression of Taekwondo as a sport. Taekwondo was chosen as the demonstration sport of the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and again in 1992. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Taekwondo attained full medal status. With over 5 million Taekwondo practitioners in the United States alone, Taekwondo's long and proud history shows promise for a bright future.