What is Taekwondo?

Image source: Republic of Korea on flickr


Taekwondo (also Taekwon-Do or Tae Kwon Do) is a Korean martial art developed during the 1940s and 1950s. It combines elements of Shotokan karate and the indigenous traditions of taekkyeon, gwonbeop, and subak.

The oldest governing body for Taekwondo is the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA), which was formed in 1959 by representatives from the nine original kwans, or martial arts schools, in Korea. The main international organizational bodies for Taekwondo today are the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), founded by General Choi Hong Hi in 1966, and the World TaeKwonDo Federation (WTF), founded in 1973 by the KTA. The body known for Taekwondo in the Olympics is the WTF.

Editor’s note: Most of the content on this site is specific to the ITF style of Taekwondo. (It’s what I do.)


Taekwondo is characterized by its emphasis on head-height kicks, jumping and spinning kicks, and fast kicking techniques. To facilitate fast turning kicks, Taekwondo generally adopts stances that are narrower and hence less-stable than the broader, wide stances used by martial arts such as karate. The tradeoff of decreased stability is believed to be worth the commensurate increase in agility.

Typical Curriculum

Although each Taekwondo club or school is different, a student typically takes part in most, or all, of the following:

  • Patterns – Taekwondo patterns, or forms, are used to practice certain techniques (e.g. kicking combinations) as well for conditioning purposes, muscle memory, focus/concentration, etc., and involves performing a series of choreographed movements. Each rank in Taekwondo has a corresponding pattern associated with it. When a student has shown sufficient skill in performing the pattern for their belt level, they may be considered for testing to attain the next rank.
  • Sparring – Sparring is essentially a mock fight. It includes variations such as free-style sparring (in which competitors spar without interruption for several minutes), and point sparring (in which sparring is interrupted and then resumed after each point is scored).

Students sparring in full contact gear

  • Step fighting (or step sparring) – Students practice pre-arranged sparring combinations.
  • Breaking – The breaking of boards is used for testing, training, and martial arts demonstrations. Demonstrations can also incorporate bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice or other materials.
  • Self-defense techniques- These vary widely from close range grabs and throws, to kicks and strikes to debilitate an opponent. These are taught to defend against specific attacks. Most schools require students to be past the beginning levels before they allow them to learn self-defense techniques.
  • Learning the fundamental techniques of Taekwondo; these generally include kicks, blocks, punches, and strikes, with some emphasis on grappling and holds.
  • Throwing and/or falling techniques.
  • Both anaerobic and aerobic workout, including stretching.
  • Relaxation and meditation exercises, as well as breathing control.
  • A focus on mental and ethical discipline, etiquette, justice, respect, and self-confidence.
  • Examinations to progress to the next rank.
  • Development of personal success and leadership skills.

Though weapons training is not a formal part of most Taekwondo curriculums, individual schools will often incorporate additional training with staffs, knives, canes, and other weapons.

Ranks and progression

The ITF ranking system consists of six solid color belts: white, yellow, green, blue, red (or brown), and black. Progressing to each rank requires attending a minimum number of classes within a predetermined period of time. Progression beyond black is measured in degrees (or dans), and is represented by colored stripes on the student’s belt.


The philosophy of Taekwondo is summarized in its tenets:


A student must show courtesy and respect to everyone, as well as maintain the appropriate etiquette at all times, both within and outside the dojang (designated training area).


Generally speaking, is honesty, straight dealing, purity, moral soundness, and uprightness. To have integrity means to be honest with everyone, and with yourself, at all times.


Persistence. A steadfast pursuit of, and an understanding of, the aim, continuation in the practice of Taekwondo regardless of the amount of obstacles, hindering circumstances, difficulties, or occasional disappointments, which are only temporary situations. The strong will to hold on, regardless of obstacles.


This means to not only have control over one’s physical acts, but also their mental thoughts and actions.

Indomitable spirit

To have indomitable spirit means to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what odds you are up against. And to always give 100% effort in whatever you do.

Source: Wikipedia