Taekwondo is a martial art that originates from Korea. It combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise, and in some cases meditation and philosophy. In 1989, taekwondo was the world’s most popular martial art in terms of number of practitioners. Gyeorugi , a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000.

There are two main branches of taekwondo development, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

  • “Traditional taekwondo” typically refers to the martial art as it was established in the 1950s and 1960s in the South Korean military, and in various civilian organisations, including schools and universities. In particular, the names and symbolism of the traditional patterns often refer to elements of Korean history, culture and religious philosophy. ‘Traditional Taekwon-Do’ may refer to ITF Taekwon-Do as created by the founder of ITF Taekwon-Do General Choi Hong Hi on April 11 1953; or WTF Taekwondo, founded by Dr Kim Un Yong on May 25, 1973.
  • “Sport taekwondo” has developed in the decades since the 1950s and may have a somewhat different focus, especially in terms of its emphasis on speed and competition (as in Olympic sparring). Sport taekwondo is in turn subdivided into two main styles; one is practiced by WTF Taekwondo practitioners, and derives from 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). Today, the Kukkiwon, or World Taekwondo Headquarters is the traditional center for WTF taekwondo. The other comes from the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF).

Although there are doctrinal and technical differences between sparring in 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.

In Korean, tae means “to strike or break with foot”; kwon means “to strike or break with fist”; and do means “way”, “method”, or “path”. Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as “the way of the hand and the foot.”

The name taekwondo is also written as taekwon-do, tae kwon-do, or tae kwon do by various organizations, based on historical, philosophical, or political reasons.