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Taekwondo (pronounced /’tai’kw?n’do?/, or Korean [t??k?w?ndo]) is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. It is the world’s most popular martial art in terms of number of practitioners. and Gyeorugi, one type of sparring, is an Olympic event.
In Korean, tae (Hangul: ?, hanja: ?) means “to strike or break with foot”; kwon (Hangul: ?, hanja: ?) means “to strike or break with fist”; and do (Hangul: ?, hanja: ?) means “way”/”art”/”method”; so Taekwondo is loosely translated as “the way of the foot and fist” but some translate it as, “the art of kicking and punching,” although the meaning of the Korean word “do” does not correspond to the meaning of the English word “art”.
Taekwondo’s popularity has resulted in the varied evolution of the martial art into several domains: as with many other arts, it combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, meditation and philosophy. Taekwondo is also used by the South Korean military as part of its training.
Traditional Taekwondo is typically not competition-oriented but stems from military roots with great emphasis on offense. Modern Taekwondo, on the other hand, tends to emphasize control and self-defense. Formally, there are two main styles of Taekwondo. One comes from the Kukkiwon, the source of the sparring system sihap gyeorugi which is now an event at the summer Olympic Games and which is governed by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The other comes from the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). There is also a more recent form called Songham Taekwondo or the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) and other variations of it such as STF (Songham Taekwondo federation) and WTTU (World Traditional Taekwondo Union).
Although there are doctrinal and technical differences between the two main styles and among the various organizations, the art in general emphasizes kicks thrown from a mobile stance, employing the leg’s greater reach and power (compared to the arm). Taekwondo training generally includes a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks.Some taekwondo instructors also incorporate the use of pressure points, known as jiapsul, as well as grabbing self-defense techniques borrowed from other martial arts, such as Hapkido and Judo.
The history of Taekwondo has been a matter of contention. Taekwondo organizations officially state that Taekwondo was derived from earlier Korean martial arts. Others state that Taekwondo is derived from native Korean martial arts with influences from neighboring countries or that it was primarily derived from karate learned by Koreans during the Japanese occupation.
The oldest Korean martial art was an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was subak, with taekkyeon being the most popular of the segments of subak.
Those who demonstrated strong natural aptitude were selected as trainees in the new special warrior corps, called the Hwarang. It was believed that young men with a talent for the liberal arts may have the grace to become competent warriors. These warriors were instructed in academics as well as martial arts, learning philosophy, history, a code of ethics, and equestrian sports. Their military training included an extensive weapons program involving swordsmanship and archery, both on horseback and on foot, as well as lessons in military tactics and unarmed combat using subak. Although subak was a leg-oriented art in Goguryeo, Silla’s influence added hand techniques to the practice of subak.
During this time a few select Sillan warriors were given training in taekkyeon by the early masters from Koguryo. These 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, Confucian 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 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 folks practice of taekkyeon as a kicking game still persisted into the 19th century.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea, all facets of Korean identity including folk culture, language and history were banned in an attempt to erase Korean culture. Koreans were forced to take Japanese names and to worship at Shinto shrines; Korean-language newspapers and magazines were banned; and during the war, hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced into service to support Japanese war efforts. Martial arts such as taekkyeon (or subak) were also prohibited during this time; however, taekkyeon survived through underground teaching and folk custom. During the occupation the few Koreans who were able to study in Japan were exposed to Japanese martial arts in some cases receiving black belts. 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 upon a variety of martial arts such as taekkyon, kungfu and karate. 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 thirteen roof tiles with a forefist punch. Following the demonstration, South Korean President Syngman Rhee instructed Choi Hong Hi to introduce the martial arts to the Korean army.