What to Know About Taekwondo

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 12, 2022
5 min read

Taekwondo is one of the most popular Korean martial arts practices. With a focus on physical fighting skills, Taekwondo also teaches discipline and, in doing so, allows us to train our bodies and minds in order to improve our spirit and life. 

Before we get into the history of Taekwondo, we should first look more into what it is. The word Taekwondo consists of three parts: “Tae” which can mean foot, leg, or to step on, “Kwon” which means fists or fight, and “Do” which means way or discipline. Together, these words signify the reality of Taekwondo. This reality includes free-fighting combat and the use of both bare hands and feet to fend off opponents. 

However, training with Taekwondo requires you to use more than just physical techniques and coordination: It also requires significant mental concentration as well. 

Though Taekwondo originated in Korea, today’s version shares many similarities to martial art practices from other Asian countries. As it has evolved, it has borrowed from several different styles practiced throughout neighboring countries such as China and Japan.

While its name is fairly new, coined 55 years ago, Taekwondo itself has been around since at least 57 B.C.

Ancient Korea was established in 2332 B.C. During this time, the Korean people had to fight to defend their freedom and independence from neighboring countries, such as China, Japan, and Mongolia. Since they had to fight to protect their freedom, they developed a systematic technique of self-defense. At this time, Taekwondo was known as Soo Bak, or Punching and Butting.

Silla, the smallest of three Kingdoms developed on the Korean Peninsula during the Sixth Century A.D., was a disorganized and fragile kingdom that was often attacked by the larger two kingdoms and Japan. However, the Hwa Rang, a group of warriors established underneath the 24th King of Silla, Chin Heung, were trained in discipline at an early age and were made to complete various types of challenges. They were also trained in swordsmanship and taught how to use bows and spears. 

The Hwa Rang fighters were a legend among Silla and worked to improve the Soo Bak technique by introducing hand combat and kicks, as well as mental discipline and principles. This new combative art became known as Tae Kyon and eventually led to the Hwa Rang, and Silla, becoming victorious over the larger kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula.  

At this point, the now-unified kingdom on the Korean Peninsula became known as Koryo and allowed Tae Kyon to prosper for an additional 500 years. When the Yi Dynasty began, a new policy was formed, outlawing practices relating to the military or military training. This wasn’t the end of Tae Kyon, though, and it was then practiced in secret and handed down from generation to generation. 

Martial arts as a whole were banned during the Japanese military occupation of Korea, which occurred after Japan conquered the Yi Dynasty. The occupation lasted throughout World War II. However, during the occupation, Tae Kyon was taught and practiced at secret locations and schools. In 1945, when the Japanese occupation ended, Koreans who had been exiled returned to their homeland with the knowledge of other martial arts forms.

At this time, the original Kwans, or individual schools, were founded in Korea. Some of the first Masters and Grand Masters of these schools came to the United States and, with them, they brought their teachings and started their own schools. In 1955, Taekwondo was officially established in Korea and was then used as a term to more broadly describe Korean martial arts.

To practice Taekwondo, you must apply traditional Korean martial arts values and practices. These practices include.

  • Loyalty to your country
  • Obeying your parents
  • Honoring your friends
  • Perseverance
  • Integrity 

You must also practice courtesy, wisdom, and the concepts of goodness, which include mercy, virtue, and compassion. To be a true master of Taekwondo, it’s important to aim to be the best version of yourself. 

In general, Taekwondo training will consist of practicing offensive and defensive forms in order to harden the body. This can involve forms of kicking, punching, jumping, blocking, dodging, and sparring practices. Another important factor involved in Taekwondo is mastering your breathing and developing jiptjung, or power gathering.

In Taekwondo, there are a total of eight belts with various levels attached to each. The Taekwondo belts are as follows: 

  • White belt 
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Red/black 
  • Cho Dan Bo
  • Black/white
  • Black

You receive the white belt when you begin training and the black belt when you have advanced. However, even if you have received a black belt, your training isn’t over. Each belt color, including black, comes with stripes – green stripes for children under 15 and white stripes for those who are older – that signify the level of your belt. 

There are nine black belt Taekwondo levels, known as Dan’s, that take several years to earn. From a beginner black belt to a master level, it can take a student 10 years to achieve. 

The equipment you need for Taekwondo will depend on the type of Taekwondo you’re doing and if you’re performing in a competition. It’s important to note that no tape is allowed on any part of the Taekwondo uniform. 

Sparring contestants must wear a white Taekwondo V-neck uniform approved by WTF (the World Taekwondo Federation) and in good condition. Black belts are required to wear uniforms sporting black collars. 

Poomsae contestants must wear Y-neck competition Poomsae uniforms that are designated by WTF. These uniforms must comply with the guidelines set forth by the WTF, including rank designations. 

In addition, Taekwondo contestants must wear protective gear such as: 

  • Approved trunk protector
  • Headgear 
  • Groin guard 
  • Gloves
  • Forearm protectors
  • Shin protectors
  • Sensing socks
  • Mouth guard 

Besides the obvious self-defense benefits that Taekwondo teaches its students, there are also several health benefits for those practicing this martial arts form. Taekwondo: 

  • Improves flexibility, balance, posture, strength, and stamina 
  • Improves mental health by increasing self-esteem, focus, confidence, concentration, and self-discipline
  • Improves muscle tone and physical condition 
  • Improves agility and reflexes
  • Reduces stress

Taekwondo is a way of life. As such, it’s important that all students of Taekwondo practice unity of the mind, body, and life. When practicing Taekwondo, you should ensure that your mind is at peace and in sync with your movements. Remember, winning a fight is not enough – your enemy can always recover and fight again. 

Instead, to become a master in Taekwondo, you need to achieve permanent peace by practicing the way of unity, which includes well-balanced growth and self-improvement.