What is Taekwondo?
Taekwondo is a modern Korean martial art, characterized by fast, high, jumping, spinning kicks and extensive footwork. It is an all-around program that offers self-defense training, physical exercise, and artistic expression; all taught by an experienced professional instructor. For more information, click here.
What is the difference between Taekwondo, Tae-Kwon-Do, Taekwon-do, T'aegwondo, Tang-soo-do, Tae-soo-do, Kong-soo-do, Soo-bahk-do, and Korean karate?
Not much. The differences are basically in what set of patterns are required and what rules of sparring are used. All these arts have the same background. Koreans who had studied Japanese/Okinawan karate during the Japanese occupation of Korea opened schools (kwans) after the liberation of Korea after World War II. Each kwan had its own style of a new Korean martial art based on a mixture of what the founders had learned from Karate and what they knew of the ancient Korean martial arts of Taekkyon and Subak.
The 5 original kwans were:
Chung Do Kwan. Founded in 1944 by Won Kyuk Lee who had studied Shotokan karate. He called his art Tang-soo-do.
Moo Duk Kwan. Founded in 1945 by Hwang Kee who had studied Tai Chi and some types of kung-fu with Kuk Jin Yang in China. Kee often met with Won Kyuk Lee and frequently visited the Chung Do Kwon. Lee claims Kee was his student but Kee says no, that he learned the Shotokan patterns from Gichin Funakoshi's books. Kee was obviously influenced by Japanese karate. Kee originally called his art Hwa-soo-do, then Tang-soo-do, then Soo-bakh-do.
Song Moo Kwan. Founded in 1946 by Byung Jick Ro who had studied Shotokan karate. He called his art Tang-soo-do.
Kwon Bop Bu/Chang Moo Kwan. Founded in 1947 by Byung in Yoon who had studied kung-fu in China and Shudokan karate with Kanken Toyama in Japan. He called his art Won-bop-kong-soo-do. Yoon disappeared during the Korean War, but his teachings were carried on by his top student Nam Suk Lee, who changed the name of the school to Chang Moo Kwan.
Yun Moo Kwan. Founded in 1946 by Kyung Suk Lee who had studied Judo and by Sang Sup Chun who had studied karate. Originally called Choson-yun-moo-kwan, after Lee became missing and Chun died, and the kwan essentially became the Ji-do-kwan.
Variations in the spelling style of Taekwondo is due to conflicts between the kwans. Each kwan wanted its version of Taekwondo to be the "official" Korean style of Taekwondo, so to differentiate themselves, they changed its spelling style. The "Taekwondo" version is used by the World Taekwondo Federation. The "TaeKwon-do" version is used by the International Taekwondo Federation. The "Tae-Kwon-Do" version is used by smaller federations that consider themselves to be more "traditional." Also see are: "Tae Kwon Do," "Taekwon-do," and "Tae-Kwon-Do"
All these arts place more emphasis on the kicking aspects than did their forebears. How much emphasis is placed upon competition, sparring, forms, etc in a particular school varies depending on the organization to which the school is affiliated, and on the particular teaching style of the head instructor. For more information, see Taekwondo History.
Does this mean that Taekwondo is not an ancient martial art?
Yes, it is not an ancient martial art. Taekwondo only came into being in 1955 although it is based on other older Korean martial arts, such as "Sobak." Sobak was practiced by the Hwarang, a group of young Silla noblemen of the 3 kingdoms (Koguro, Paekje, and Silla) period of Korean history, which was well before the legendary trip in 520 AD of the famous Buddhist monk Bodhidharma from India to the Shaolin temple. Every founder of the original kwans had studied or had been heavily influenced by some sort of karate. It is no disservice to Taekwondo to admit that it is not over 2000 years old and that it was based on Karate. Karate came from Kung-fu and Kung-fu came from whatever Indian martial art Bodhidharma studied before traveling to the Shaolin temple. All these styles developed into something quite different from their origins. For more information, see Taekwondo History.
Who founded Taekwondo?
Actually, there is probably no one person who deserves credit as the founder. General Hong Hi Choi claimed to be the founder since he suggested the name Taekwondo be used for the unified Korean martial art. However, even this is a point of contention in the Taekwondo community. Members of the International Taekwondo Federation, and other organizations based on the Changhon style of Taekwondo, accept Choi as the founder of Taekwondo, but the World Taekwondo Federation does not.
Taekwondo was actually the result of many people working together to resolve their differences and develop a unified Korean martial art. For more information, see Taekwondo History.
What is a sine wave?
It is a type of up and down body motion that the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) uses in their patterns to allegedly add power to punches. The downward motion of the sine wave is similar to the "sinking" technique many Chinese styles use to let gravity help add power to a technique. The motion is seldom seen in ITF sparring since it slows the technique and telegraphs the attack.
Why do students yell in class?
The yell is called a "kiai" or "kiyup." It is used to:
- Show fighting spirit
- Focus total concentration into the attack
- Focus timing, breathing, movement, and power
- Increase the power of an attack Ensure the breath is not held during exertion
- Force oxygen into bloodstream Help absorb an attack.
- Surprise an opponent
- Create an opening
- Boost the overall spirit of the class
Am I too old to start Taekwondo?
Not unless you want to be! I have known many students who did not start Taekwondo until after age 60. Young people have the advantage of youth when performing Taekwondo, while older people have the wisdom of motion. As older Taekwondo practitioners, we do not move just because we can, we move when it is advantageous. Many times, you will see a 20-year-old sparring a 50-year-old and the younger person gets frustrated because he or she cannot get any techniques through the older person's defenses. The younger person tries harder and harder while the older person "reads" the younger person's intentions and stays one step ahead. When the opportunity arises, the older person attacks, which further frustrates the younger person. As in many other aspects of life, you can make up for a lack of youth using your experience and wisdom.
Is Taekwondo dangerous?
Like basketball, football, and soccer, Taekwondo is a contact sport. It is possible to become injured, but debilitating injures are rare since all training is constantly supervised with safety in mind. Training areas are well equipped (absorbing mats, wall padding, etc.) and protective gear is required to be worn by all students during partner drills, which further reduces the chances of injury.
Some Taekwondo organizations allow full-contact, some use semi-contact, and others use no-contact. Students should choose a dojang that practices with the level of contact with which they are most comfortable. If the proper protective equipment is worn and fighters exhibit control of their techniques, then injuries are minor and infrequent. The number and severity of injuries are much less than for other contact sports.
There are two major worldwide Taekwondo associations, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). Each uses different types of patterns and different types of sparring. Dojangs associated with the WTF use Olympic style sparring. They use full-contact sparring and allow kicks to the head. To avoid head injuries, one is not allowed to participate in a competition for three months if knocked out by a blow to the head. If another knock out occurs after these three months, one is not allowed to participate for six months. Another KO on the head after this half-year period will result in a permanent exclusion from competitions. Dojangs associated with the ITF use semi-contact sparring. Light contact to the body is permitted. Attacks to the head are permitted but not with a force that may result in a knock out.
Does Taekwondo foster aggression?
A common concern is that Taekwondo may foster aggression and lead to the misuse of Taekwondo techniques. Taekwondo training and philosophy stress non-aggression. Students learn their capabilities and have the opportunity to prove their capabilities in class in a controlled environment. Taekwondo teaches that aggression should be channeled into assertiveness, to increase self-esteem and build discipline and character.
Since Taekwondo practitioners do not have the desire to prove themselves outside class, they learn to resist challenges to their abilities. The self-confidence instilled by Taekwondo makes people generous and modest in their attitudes toward others. Taekwondo practitioners can stand equally against any opponent, but their code of conduct forbids unfair assaults or unnecessary use of force. Instructors stress non-aggression, and students who exhibit aggressive behavior are banned from classes.
Is Taekwondo a religion?
Because of the bowing and other formal rituals of Taekwondo, some may believe it is some form of religion. Taekwondo is a martial art; it does not involve any religious beliefs. The rituals only show respect for the oriental roots of Taekwondo. The bow is a symbol of respect in Eastern cultures, similar to a western handshake. Sometimes classes begin and/or end with a short period of silent meditation. The meditation is used to clear the mind of distractions; it has no religious significance.
Although Taekwondo is not religiously oriented, individual Taekwondo instructors may be religiously oriented and may teach religious beliefs in class. Some martial arts may have the appearance of a cult and some individual instructors may operate their schools like a cult. This may be true of any type of instruction, not just the martial arts. Each student or potential student must be aware of this potential and act accordingly. If you properly researched your Taekwondo school before joining, and you closely monitor its instructors and practices, this should not be a problem.
How long does it take to become proficient in Taekwondo and how long does it take to attain black belt?
The time it takes to become proficient at Taekwondo varies depending upon the ability and dedication of each student. In most cases, students should feel that they could defend themselves adequately after six months. Many variables that affect the time it takes to reach the black belt level (time available to train, age, health, etc.), but the time is usually from two to five years.
Will there be other beginners in my class?
Usually, beginners train in classes with colored belts. Having other students with more experience to watch as they perform techniques helps beginners learn faster. Sometimes, there are many other beginners, sometimes only a few. When there are many beginners, many dojangs will have separate classes for them. In either case, beginners are only expected to perform techniques that are required for beginners.
Is sparring necessary to learn Taekwondo?
Some martial arts such as Tai-chi-chuan and Aikido do not require sparring, but most martial arts do require it. Since Taekwondo involves self-defense, it is necessary to practice in conditions similar to an actual confrontation, so sparring is required. However, participation in competitions is usually not required. Sparring helps students learn about the reactions, timing, speed, and physical conditioning required for an actual self-defense situation.
Should I take group or private lessons?
Private lessons will increase your technical progression two to three times faster than by taking group lessons alone. The personalized attention and energy of an instructor is a tremendous advantage but private lessons are expensive. Group lessons are good because they allow you to see how different people react to situations and techniques, you get to spar with a variety of belt ranks, you will get to meet new people and make new friends, and they cost much less than private lessons. A group less with a small class size may have most of the same benefits of a private lesson.
With so many organizations claiming to be the official representative of Taekwondo, which one should I choose?
There are many organizations which claim to "officially"; represent Taekwondo; some local, some national, and some international in scope. The two largest organizations are the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).
When the South Korean government decided to establish a national martial art, the various Taekwondo schools were combined under the banner of the ITF, and General Hong Hi Choi was named head of the organization. A few years later, Choi angered South Koreans when he made an unauthorized trip to meet martial arts leaders in North Korea. Both Choi and the ITF were subsequently shunned by the South Korean government, and Dr. Un Yong Kim filled the resulting vacuum by creating the WTF. Under Kim's leadership, the sport aspect of taekwondo has been greatly emphasized—to the point that it is now an official Olympic sport.
Because the ITF was created first and was only discredited for political reasons, many people believe it is the "official" Taekwondo organization. However, because the WTF is the only organization sanctioned by the South Korean government (and recognized by the International Olympic Committee), many people feel it is the "true" representative of Taekwondo. There are also many smaller Taekwondo organizations which are not affiliated with either the ITF or the WTF although they may use the same patterns and techniques of one or both of the organizations.
It is possible to learn and practice quality Taekwondo without joining any parent organization. Joining a large organization means only that your certificate of rank may be more widely recognized. Do your research; visit numerous schools and watch numerous instructors, and then choose an organization, school, and instructor that best fit you and your needs.