Korean Martial Arts: Taekwondo (태권도)

Written by on September 5, 2013 in Lifestyle

Korea’s rich culture embraces modern and traditional art, music – and of course sports.
The Korean sports tradition Taekwondo (태권도, T’aekwŏndo, Tae-Kwon-Do or Taekwon-Do) is a representative of Korea’s diverse culture and an ancient martial art, almost reaching back 2000 years.

The word Taekwondo is based on the sino-korean syllables:

Tae: Feet (for all feet techniques)
Kwon: Fist (for teniques using hand and arm)
Do: Way, doctrine (it comes from the chinese “Dao”)

The word “Taekwondo” is first being heared in 1955, but it built itself upon other great traditional Korean martial arts, such as Subak or Taekkyeon.


Some people compare Taekwondo with calligraphy because there is no second chance after starting a movement and every movement (in calligraphy the stroke) has to be fluent and elegant.
There are no “dirty” tactics in Taekwondo, no sparring and unfair grabbing – Taekwondo is the sole execution of an unfractured movement.
In Taekwondo we have a few set movements based on chinese characters, during the first stage of the black belt the sign for “scholar” is being performed stroke by stroke.
In the third stage (black belt) the sign for “built” and in a different movement you can see the sign for “eternity” being completed.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-08-12 um 19.04.42

But as you can see in the pictures,Taekwondo is also a very artistic martial art form, requiring highest skills.
It displays the control of the body and mind.
While learning the martial art Taekwondo, pupils are required to study five principles and ethics of Taekwondo, depending on the school he or she is attending the focus might differ.

  1. Ye-Ui : Courtesy
  2. Yom-Chi : Integrity
  3. In-Nae : Endurance and Patience
  4. Guk-Gi: Self Discipline
  5. Beakjul-bool-gul: Being invincible

The color belt the pupil (or the master) wears shows the rank within the Taekwondo universe, the numbers below are taken from the german ranking system:
10. White
09. White-Yellow (transition, some schools don’t have this belt)
08. Yellow
07. Yellow-Green (transition)
06. Green
05. Green-Blue (transition)
04. Blue
03. Blue-Red (transition)
02. Red
01. Red-Black

The numbers 10. to 01. are being called Kup, after receiving the black belt, the ranking within the black belt is called Dan.
There are 10 ranks for Dan, the highest Dan, the number 10 is an honorary title, presented by the Kukkiwon (국기원), known as World Taekwondo Headquarters in Korea.
So basically the 9. Dan is the highest archiveable rank within the black belts.

The curriculum of Taekwondo:

– Gymnastics and Stretching, a workout to loosen up muscles
– Self-defense (hosinsool 호신술)
– Set motivs/forms and patterns (poomsae 품새/品勢, teul 틀, hyeong 형/型)
– Sparring with partners (should have the same rank and height, gyeorugi 겨루기, or matseogi 맞서기), which may include 7-, 3-, 2- and 1-step sparring, free-style sparring, arranged sparring
– Breath control, Relaxation, a time to reflect and meditate
– Ethnics and Philosophy of Taekwondo, building up respect and self-confidence
– Breaking techniques (gyeokpa 격파 or weerok), this is mostly for ranking tests and demonstrations.
Boards, sometimes also bricks, tiles and other materials are used and we have three categories:
1. Power – break as many boards as possible
2. Speed – loosely held boards are broken through a special focus (speed)
3. Specialities – breaking boards using jumping or pattern movements or a combination of kicks with both feet and hands.
Most black belt exams require such performance.

There are two popular Taekwondo schools and two respective organizsations: WTF (World Taekwondo Federation, founded 1973) and ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation).
But only the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) is recognized by the South Korean Government and IOC (Olympic Committee).

In 1988 during the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea Taekwondo was first demonstrated within the Olympic Games and in 2000 practised in the Sydney Summer Olympics and it is still an official category in the Olympic Games.
The Olympic medal ranking is of course being led by South Korea with 9 Gold Medals, followed by China (4 Gold Medals) and the USA (2 Gold Medals).

In Europe Taekwondo spread through the help of skilled Taekwondo trainers, who were sent from Korea to teach and demonstrate the martial art.
Many of those teachers built their own dojang (도장, training hall) and today Taekwondo is a well known sports, also taught for self-defense, special women courses, university classes and everyday sports to keep good health and even for weight loss courses!

Today, Taekwondo is being practised all over the world and getting praise for providing a great workout.

Taekwondo is a combination of gymnastics (stretching first) and fast patterns, so your endurance and fitness will be trained as well as healthy blood circulation.
It is said that through Taekwondo concentration and reaction rate will speed up, which is helpful for daily life too.

To conclude my blog entry, here are the common commands used during lessons and performances (European pupils learn those korean commands and korean numbers during their training too):

Attention (차렷 – Charyeot)
Bow (
경례 – Gyeongnye)
Return (바로 – Baro)
Relax (쉬어 – Shwieo)
Break (휴식 – Hyushik)
Shout (기합 – Gihap)
Ready (준비 – Junbi)
Start (시작 – Shijak)
Break (갈려 – Gallyeo, seperate – in sparring fights)
Continue (계속 – Gyesok)
Finish (그만 – Geuman)
Turn around (뒤로 돌아 – Dwiro dora)
Dismiss (해고하다 – Haego hada)

I hope I could give you a good insight into Taekwondo and my blog entry made you curious to try it out yourself!

About the Author

Dorothea Suh

Dorothea Suh is a PhD student in ethnomusicology and wayfarer. She researches oral traditions of East Asia, loves her violin, Korea and good coffee. You can find her on Twitter as @Novemberbeetle