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What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do, or Taekwon-Do is a Korean Martial Art, specializing in its quick, powerful, and effective leg kicks. The literal meaning translates to “the way of the foot and fist.” It has become one of the most popular styles around the world for competitions and beginning style for anyone getting into martial arts at any age.

Its origin dates back to ‘The Three Kingdoms of Korea’ from 57 BC to 668 AD. The three kingdoms joined together in an unarmed system known as Subak. Its development rose in culture and its training of military soldiers where it became a popular sport and entertainment. As the Goguryeo dynasty ended and transitioned to the Joseon dynasty, so did Subak where it was then only practiced for sport and competition.

Taekkyon then emerged within the Joseon dynasty as the successor of Subak. Its style still exists today in competitions and demonstrations where it focuses on its ability to take your opponent off balance by tripping or throwing. 

During the Japanese Occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, Korean martial arts were banned and Koreans were forced to learn Japanese martial art styles, such as Okinawan and Shotokan Karate. Hwang Kee was an important figure during this time where he studied and mastered Taekkyon. However, his knowledge of the style became an issue for Japanese authorities which forced him to move to China where he studied the martial art of Kuk Sool under Chinese Master Yang Kuk Jin, a form of Kung-Fu.

When World War II ended, so did the Japanese occupation. Hwang Kee returned to Korea where he became one of nine founders of a new martial arts system. Towards end of the Korean War, the style had a mixture of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean styles which became known as Tang Soo Do. Each founder and their schools, known as Kwans, had their own iteration of the Tang Soo Do style which quickly became very popular in Korea. In 1952, the president of Korea, Syngman Rhee, had suggested the Kwans unite their iterations into one style. That style became known as Tae Soo Do.

Hwange Kee continued to develop his iteration of Tang Soo Do, which became known as Moo Duk Kwan style. His style became the most popular and widely iteration of Tang Soo Do. Along with another Kwan Founder and military general, Choi Hong Hi, suggested a change in the name to Tae Kwon Do and became founders of the style known and practiced today.


In 1959, the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed to complete the unification of the arts. In 1973, the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism established Kukkiwon, the official World Taekwondo Academy and Headquarters. Along with KTA, they formed the World Taekwondo Federation to promote the martial art as an international sport.

In 1962, Jhoon Goo Ree opened the first American Taekwondo school in Washington DC and became the Father of American Taekwondo. Taekwondo today has many variations and continues to be one of the most popular sports in the world. Taekwondo is one of two martial arts to be accepted as an Olympic sport, the other being Judo. Its rules and regulations of the Taekwondo Olympic sport is overseen by the Kukkiwon today.

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