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The oldest Korean martial art was an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean Kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje, where young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was ssireum and subak with being the most popular of the segments of subak.
The Northern Goguryeo kingdom was a dominant force in Northern Korea and North Eastern China prior to common era and again from the 3rd century to the 6th century CE.
Before the fall of Goguryeo Dynasty 6th century CE, the Shilla Kingdom asked for help in training its people for defence against pirate invasions. During this time a few select Silla warriors were given training in taekkyeon by the early masters from Koguryo. These Shilla warriors then became known as the Hwarang. The Hwarang set up a military academy for the sons of royalty in Silla called Hwarang-do, which means “the way of flowering manhood.
The Hwarang studied taekkyeon, history, philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, social skills and military tactics. The guiding principles of the Hwarang warriors were based on Won Gwang’s five codes of human conduct and included loyalty, filial duty, trustworthiness, valor and justice. Taekkyeon was spread throughout Korea because the Hwarang traveled all around the peninsula to learn about the other regions and people. In spite of Korea’s rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, Korean martial arts faded into obscurity during the late Joseon Dynasty.
Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism and martial arts were poorly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings. Formal practices of traditional martial arts such as subak and taekkyeon were reserved for sanctioned military uses. However, taekkyeon persisted into the 19th century as a folk game during the May-Dano festival and was still taught as the Military Martial Art under the last emperor of the Choson Dynasty.
During the occupation, Koreans who were able to study in Japan were exposed to Japanese martial arts. Others were exposed to martial arts in China and Manchuria. When the occupation ended in 1945, Korean martial arts schools (kwans) began to open in Korea under various influences.There are differing views on the origins of the arts taught in these schools. Some believe that they taught martial arts that were based primarily upon the traditional Korean martial arts taekkyon and subak, or that taekwondo was derived from native Korean martial arts with influences from neighboring countries. Still others believe that these schools taught arts that were almost entirely based upon karate.
In 1952, at the height of the Korean War, there was a martial arts exhibition in which the kwans displayed their skills. In one demonstration, Nam Tae Hi smashed 13 roof tiles with a punch. Following this demonstration, South Korean President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi Hong Hi to introduce the martial arts to the Korean army. By the mid-1950s, nine kwans had emerged. Syngman Rhee ordered that the various schools unify under a single system. The name “taekwondo” was submitted by either Choi Hong Hi (of the Oh Do Kwan) or Song Duk Son (of the Chung Do Kwan), and was accepted on April 11, 1955. As it stands today, the nine kwans are the founders of taekwondo,though not all the kwans used the name. The Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959/1961 to facilitate the unification.
In the early 1960s, taekwondo made its début worldwide with assignment of the original masters of taekwondo to various countries. Standardization efforts in South Korea stalled, as the kwans continued to teach differing styles. Another request from the Korean government for unification resulted in the formation of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association, which changed its name back to the Korea Taekwondo Association in 1965 following a change of leadership. The International Taekwon-Do Federation was founded in 1966, followed by World Taekwondo Federation in 1973.
Since 2000, taekwondo has been one of only two Asian martial arts (the other being judo) that are included in the Olympic Games; it became a demonstration event starting with the 1988 games in Seoul, and became an official medal event starting with the 2000 games in Sydney. In 2010, taekwondo was accepted as a Commonwealth Games sport.
One source has estimated that as of 2009, taekwondo was practiced in 123 countries, with over 30 million practitioners and 3 million individuals with black belts throughout the world. The South Korean government in the same year published an estimate of 70 million practitioners in 190 countries.
Taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, that teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind. Today, it has become a global sport that has gained an international reputation, and stands among the official games in the Olympics.Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of the word “Tae” “Kwon” “Do.” It is composed of three parts as shown in the English spelling, though it is one word in Korean. “Tae” means “foot,” “leg,” or “to step on”; “Kwon” means “fist,” or “fight”; and “Do” means the “way” or “discipline.” If we put these three parts together, we can see two important concepts behind “Tae Kwon Do”.
First, Taekwondo is the right way of using Tae and Kwon ‘fists and feet,’ or all the parts of the body that are represented by fists and feet. Second, it is a way to control or calm down fights and keep the peace. This concept comes from the meaning of Tae Kwon ‘to put fists under control’ [or ‘to step on fists’]. Thus Taekwondo means “the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world.”
Taekwondo has been developing with the 5000-year long history of Korea, being called by several different names in the course. In Korea, Taekwondo began as a defense martial art called “Subak” or “Taekkyon,” and developed as a way of training body and mind in the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, under the name of “Sunbae.” In the Shilla period, it had become the backbone of Hwarangdo that aimed at producing leaders of the country.
Taekwondo today is similar to the martial arts in other Oriental countries and shares some features with them, because in the course of its evolution it has gained many different styles that existed in the martial arts of the countries surrounding Korea, like Japan and China. Taekwondo is very different from many such oriental martial arts. First, physically it is very dynamic with active movements that include a mirage of foot skills. Second, the principle physical movements are in simpatico with that of the mind and life as a whole. Third, it possesses dynamic poses from another perspective.
Taekwondo can be characterized by unity: the unity of body, mind, and life, and the unity of the pose [“poomsae”] and confrontation, and cracking down. When you do Taekwondo, you should make your mind peaceful and synchronize your mind with your movements, and extend this harmony to your life and society. This is how in Taekwondo the principle of physical movements, the principle of mind training, and the principle of life become one and the same. On the other hand, the right poomsae lead to the right confrontation, which will eventually produce great destructive power.
How come we reach such a unity in Taekwondo? Taekwondo is a way of life, much like having a job, raising a family, fighting for a cause, or any one of numerous raison d’etre. What makes Taekwondo different from these is that it is an activity for survival in extremely antagonistic situations. One must always overcome the enemy that is trying to cause harm. But simply winning a fight is not enough to guarantee one’s safety, because the enemy may recuperate and attack again. Moreover, there may be many other enemies than the one that was just defeated. One cannot ever feel safe unless one gains permanent peace. To attain this permanent or lasting peace, one needs unity. This is what Taekwondo aim for. Otherwise Taekwondo would be no different from any other street-fighting skills.
Taekwondo pursues harmonious growth and improvements of life through its unique activities. This is why one could say Taekwondo is a way of life. To ultimately enable ourselves to lead more valuable lives, we would do well by finding the guiding principles deeply hidden in Taekwondo.
Tae Kwon Do competitions can be very exciting to watch, as they can get very competitive. Contrary to what many may think, the competitions aren’t deadly, nor are they anywhere close to being as dangerous as Muay Thai fights. Competitors will wear full protection, including head gear.
The competitions however, are a bit different for children than they are for the adults. Even though the participants will wear full body protection, children can only kick and punch to the body, as no shots to the head are allowed. For adults, kicks to the head are allowed, although a majority of stylists can block them before they make impact. The competitions in Tae Kwon Do is what makes the art so very dominating. A majority of students that practice this martial art do so because of the competitions.
In order to participate in the competitions, stylists will need to have a certain level of experience. It can take years to become good enough, especially for those who win. Competitions are a great way to learn, especially if there are participating fighters from other areas of the world. The skill of a stylist is a very important factor with the competitions and tournaments. If you have a black belt fighter going against a white belt – the results will normally be quite obvious.
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