Taekwondo is a fast-paced and exciting Korean martial art. Characterised by spinning and kicking attacks - often at head height - it’s one of the oldest martial arts in the world, dating back at least 2,000 years. The name itself is a description of this technique of self defence - Tae (foot), Kwon (hand), Do (art).
What is Taekwondo?
Deeply rooted in Korean culture, Taekwondo has been a full Olympic sport since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The World Tae Kwon Do Federation was established in 1973 and an estimated 20 million people take part all over the globe, making it the most practised martial art in the world.
Taekwondo dates from at least 37 BCE when it was depicted on the walls of a tomb in the Koguryo kingdom of Korea. Throughout the centuries the practice flourished, especially in the kingdom of Silla. Constantly under attack, its ruler established an elite group of warriors known as the Hwarang, or flower of youth.
These carefully selected young men were equipped for life as well as for battle, taking lessons in philosophy, poetry and history alongside their Taekwondo training. It is this version of the art that has become most common in western culture and its popularity as a sport and a way of life now has global appeal.
The way of the foot and the fist
Taekwondo has a rich and intricate vocabulary, which can seem quite challenging when you take your first class. The same attack can often go under two or more names and the way Korean is pronounced in English can also vary.
Many terms are also made up of composite words that can vary in their meaning from one form of taekwondo to another. These subtle variations aren’t always captured by the language used to describe them either!
However, you will need to know the basics - including counting to 10 in Korean - before you can really begin to get the best out of your taekwondo training.
Basic tenets of taekwondo
Students of taekwondo must observe 5 basic tenets:
- Ye ui or courtesy: this means being polite and respectful, turning up on time for class and bowing to your instructor.
- Yom chi or integrity: students are encouraged to be honest and live by moral principles, knowing what is right and wrong.
- In nae or perseverance: having patience is crucial to succeeding in taekwondo.
- Guk gi or self control: self control is what separates the martial artist from a street fighter.
- Baekjul boolgool or indomitable spirit: a true student of taekwondo will never give up until they’ve reached their goal.
In the dojang
As with other martial arts, the taekwondo dojang or practice hall has its own etiquette. Students bow to the instructor (Sabum) on the command kyung ye before being given the command chul sal (line up). Every lesson always starts with facing and bowing to the flags and a short meditation (mook yum).
Participants all wear the dobok (uniform) consisting of a white jacket and loose trousers. The jacket is belted with a dee, which is white for a beginner. During competition, a chest protector and helmet in either blue (chung) or red (hong) are used, to reflect the colours of the taeguk circle on the South Korean flag.
Once the referee gives the command Shi-jak the contest starts. During a bout, a competitor scores a Deuk-jeom or point during a successful attack. However, they can also be penalised a point (Gam-jeom) if they remain inactive or fall, even if they’re kicked.
Key twaekondo terminology
A mastery of the basic taekwondo commands will give you a head start when you first enter the dojang. These are the key commands you’ll need to know:
- Charyot (attention): when your instructor gives this command you need to stand at readiness without moving, eyes ahead.
- Kyung ye (bow): from the attention stance, bow at a 45-degree angle keeping your eyes forward.
- Joon be (ready): when this command is given, you need to move into the appropriate ready stance for the exercise to follow. Other commands could be Joochoom Seogi (middle or horse riding stance), Ahpkoobi or forward stance and Dwitkoobi or backward stance.
- Si jak/guman (start/stop): used for exercises that are conducted in your own time not to a count of ten.
- Pharo (return to ready posture): this command is usually given at the end of an exercise.
- Swiyo (relax): students adopt a relaxed stance with the nads behind the back.
- Hae san (dismiss): if you hear this command part or all of the lesson has finished and you can relax or leave the dojang.
Mastering the basics
One of the first skills you’ll need to master is the 4 direction punch (Saju Jirugi) and the 4 direction block (Saju Makgi). You’ll really have a chance to practice your Korean vocabulary as you move from joon be or ready stance to Gunnun So Gee or walking stance repeatedly and fluidly while executing either a punch (jirugi) or a block (mahki) to all 4 points of the compass.
Taekwondo sparring techniques
If you want to take your taekwondo practice to the next level, the chances are you’ll want to take part in sparring. A great way to grow your confidence and show off your skills, you can also refine your technique before trying some of the really spectacular kicking attacks that score more points and get you noticed!
Front kick or Ap Chagi is one of the first kicks you’ll learn and can also be one of the most powerful when mastered correctly. Yeop chagi (side kick) and dwit chagi (back kick) are equally powerful attacks when performed correctly. These simple kicks can be made even more effective when you add a flying attack (Twi-myo) or execute a spectacular spin kick (bandae dollyeo chagi) like the Dwi Huryeo Chagi or spinning hook kick. Listen out for these terms in the dojang as you may be asked to demonstrate your mastery of them.
For more information on the sport or how to get involved then visit www.gbtaekwondo.co.uk