Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea and one of the most popular martial arts in the world. The words 'tae', 'kwon' and 'do' meaning foot, fist and way respectively gave birth to the word 'Tae-kwon-do'. Taekwondo is one of the means of self-defense and is used by the military of South Korea as a part of hand-to-hand combat training. It is a combination of exercise, sport and meditation. Taekwondo forms comprise self-defense techniques and nurture traditional martial art forms.
Taekwondo exists in two different forms. One has been derived from Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Headquarters that serves as an issuing body for the taekwondo black belt degree. Kukkiwon has served as the source of the sparring system that is now one of the events at the Summer Olympic Games. The other taekwondo style has originated from the International Taekwondo Federation, which promotes martial art in Korea by organizing training seminars and tournaments. There are certain differences in the two taekwondo techniques but in general, the training for taekwondo includes kicks, punches and open-handed strikes. The art emphasizes on the leg's reach and power, which are comparatively greater than those of the hand.
The kicking techniques, which are a part of taekwondo, are its true differentiators from other martial arts like karate and kung fu. Typically, a taekwondo student receives training in the techniques and curriculum of taekwondo. Taekwondo students are trained in taekwondo patterns, sparring, throwing and falling techniques and also the breaking techniques. Emphasis on mental health through relaxation and meditation exercises, inculcation of discipline, confidence and strong ethical values are a part of the taekwondo training.
There are 3200 techniques in taekwondo. They comprise stances, hand attacks and kicks. Depending on the relative positions of the shoulders and the legs, the stances have been named as sitting stance, walking stance, parallel stance, rear foot stance, L stance, closed stance and attention stance. Apart from these basic stances, there is a fighting stance that is used in sparring and combat. The hand attacks are in the form of punches or open hand techniques. Punches, as most of us know are thrusting blows given with one's fists. Open hand techniques include strikes, which are attacks with a weapon or a part of the human body. Kicks are an essential component of taekwondo. They are executed as jump kicks; spin kicks or multirotational spin kicks.
Taekwondo ranks are categorized as junior and senior ranks. The junior section consists of ten ranks known as geups. They are identified by belts of specific colors. Students commence their taekwondo training from the tenth rank and advance towards the first one. Each color bears significance with respect to the proficiency levels of the trainees. The ranking starts with a white belt symbolizing innocence. The yellow belt that comes next signifies the foundation of taekwondo being laid. Next is the green belt that stands for the development of taekwondo skills in the students. The blue belt indicates the towering of a student's skills in taekwondo. The red belt indicates a caution to the students or a warning about the opponents. The first ranked black belt signifies the proficiency of the student and is representative of the student's mastery over taekwondo.
It is officially stated that taekwondo originated from the Korean martial arts of the earlier days. Some believe that the neighboring countries have influenced the taekwondo forms to a certain extent. It is also said that taekwondo evolved from karate. When Japan occupied Korea, the Japanese impacted the Korean culture and their way of living. The Korean art forms were banned and many of the Korean customs were prohibited. Those in Japan during that time were exposed to the Japanese martial arts. After the long years of Japanese occupation, there was a desire to create a national sport that was entirely Korean. This gave rise to a uniquely Korean sport called taekwondo. Eventually it gained popularity worldwide and came to be included in the Olympic Games.
Today, taekwondo is popular with both genders of different age groups. It is one of the most popular Asian martial arts. It is a sport and exercise that develops strength, flexibility and stamina. It develops the ability to concentrate and focus on one's strengths to achieve the desired goals. Thus, taekwondo is a sport that contributes to the overall development of an individual. This 'way of fist and foot', as it is loosely translated, remains to be one of the most appreciated martial arts in the world.