Defining an Art

Taekwondo – the traditional martial art and Olympic sport of Korea; an Asian discipline with over ninety-million practitioners worldwide. What is it about this unique way of life targeted at cultivating the mind, body, and spirit that has captured the hearts and minds of so many?  Could it be that taekwondo contains over 3200 empty-hand combat techniques with proven effectiveness on the field of battle establishing it as an authentic means of self-defense? Or is it the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the art that attract those seeking more than a simple, physical workout. Perhaps, it is the fact that taekwondo shares the spotlight, along with judo, as being the only two martial arts in a constellation of many, recognized by the International Olympic Committee with the exclusive privilege of participating in the Olympic Games. Either way, it is clear that taekwondo has taken its place as the fastest growing, most popular martial art in the world today.

Without a doubt, the current popularity enjoyed by taekwondo, literally translated as “foot-fist-way”, or “the way of punching and kicking with hands and feet”, is largely due to the tireless efforts of a small group of international organizations in tandem with a handful of master instructors who have dedicated their lives to promoting the art around the globe. Furthermore, where many martial arts have attempted to attain Olympic recognition and failed, taekwondo has successfully managed to do so through an ingenious process of standardization introduced during its formative years by the Korea Taekwondo Association, and not long after, by the World Taekwondo Federation. This development required the core infrastructure of taekwondo to become unified and, therefore, transferable wherever it is taught. Likewise, mirroring its success as a competitive entity, the martial art of taekwondo, with roots that date back to antiquity, in contrast to the martial sport bearing the same name, has maintained its technical skills and combat integrity through the efforts of several institutions such as the Kukkiwon – the center of taekwondo operations worldwide – the United States Taekwondo Association, and similar organizations given to the perpetuation of taekwondo as a traditional method of self-defense.

Yet, it is important to note that taekwondo is not merely about kicking and punching. Rather, it is an action philosophy that seeks to enrich the lives of those who diligently apply its ethical principles to their daily routine. While on the surface it represents a system of self-defense coupled with a means of attaining physical fitness, the art rests on a virtuous foundation influenced by the three Asian philosophical paradigms of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. For the sincere martial artist, the doctrines borrowed from these systems act as a moral compass in pointing the way towards self-improvement.

Born in ancient times and nurtured through global conflict, it is commonly believed that the blocks, kicks, and strikes of taekwondo are strongly influenced by the circular techniques found in the Chinese martial arts, amplified by the powerful, linear strikes unique to many Japanese disciplines. Nevertheless, taekwondo claims a legacy all its own. This heritage can be traced to an era when scholar-warriors roamed the countryside defending against the onslaughts of imperialistic forces bent on regional domination. Consequently, their triumphs are in no small part responsible for the growth and permanence of traditional taekwondo and the nation we know today as Korea.