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Taekwondo, (태권도) also spelled Taekwon-do or Tae Kwon Do, is a Korean martial art. It combines combat and self-defense techniques with sport and exercise. Gyeorugi, a type of sparring, has been an Olympic event since 2000.


Taekwondo was developed by a variety of Korean masters during the 1940s and 50s as partial combination of traditional Korean martial arts (such as taekkyeon), Okinawan karate, and other traditions (such as Chinese quanfa).

The name taekwondo is generally credited to Choi Hong Hi(of the Oh Do Kwan), though some sources dispute the claim that he invented the term. Regardless, he was the name's major advocate. The World Taekwondo Federation claims that taekwondo development was a collaborative effort by a council consisting of members from the Nine Original Kwans(portions of the minutes of this meeting can be found in the Korean language book "A Modern History of Taekwondo"), while the International Taekwon-Do Federation credits Choi Hong Hi solely.

Traditional taekwondo typically refers to the martial art as it was established in the 1940s-1960s in the South Korean military and in various civilian organizations, including schools and universities. Some authors also refer to some styles International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) taekwondo and any other "non-sport" style as traditional taekwondo.

Kukkiwon-style taekwondo (sometimes called Sport taekwondo, or WTF-style) was developed after traditional taekwondo and has a somewhat different focus, especially in terms of its emphasis on speed and competition (as in Olympic sparring), though of course self-defense is still at its core. Some authors refer to International Taekwon-Do Federation as a form of sport taekwondo, though as previously mentioned others refer to it as a kind of traditional taekwondo. Accordingly, the the terms "traditional" and "sport" are often inconsistently used.

Kukkiwon-style is now an event at the summer Olympic Games and is governed by the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). Kukkiwon (Korea's national academy for taekwondo, also called the World Taekwondo Headquarters) is the traditional center for WTF taekwondo and was founded in 1973 by Dr. Kim Un Yong.

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 and punches thrown from a mobile stance. 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. Pressure points, known as jiapsul, are used, as well as grabbing self-defense techniques borrowed from other martial arts such as Japanese judo, Korean hapkido, and Korean wrestling or ssireum. Less commonly, taekwondo may also include weapons training.

In Korean, tae (태, ) means "to strike or break with the foot"; kwon (권, ) means "to strike or break with the fist"; and do (도, ) means "way of life". Thus, taekwondo may be loosely translated as "the way of the foot and the hand." The name taekwondo is also written as taekwon-do, tae kwon-do, or tae kwon do by various organizations.

Styles of Taekwondo:

Among the styles of taekwondo commonly practiced are:

  • Traditional Taekwondo. This is an amalgam of styles of taekwondo practiced during the 1940s-60s, before the various schools (kwans) that established the foundations of taekwondo in Korea were unified into a single style that we now call taekwondo. There is no "single style" of traditional taekwondo; instead there are many different styles depending on which school (kwan) one is following. Traditional taekwondo often shares many of the same forms and techniques as some styles of karate, especially Shotokan Karate.

    • Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo. This is a name commonly given to the style of Traditional Taekwondo popularized in the U.S. by the actor and martial artist Chuck Norris. Moo Duk Kwan taekwondo is essentially a U.S.-variant of Tang Soo Do (which itself has another variant called Soo Bahk Do), a martial art closely related to taekwondo. Moo Duk Kwan is simply the name of one of the original Nine Kwans of taekwondo.

    • Like Moo Duk Kwan taekwondo, one can often find schools that practice taekwondo styles named after one of the original Nine Kwans. These too are often (but not always) traditional styles of taekwondo, although many modern schools of taekwondo also name themselves after one of the Nine Kwans. 

    • Early styles of taekwondo also went by other names such as Tae Soo DoTang Soo Do, and Kong Soo Do. These are the names used by some of the early kwans for their martial art. Kong Soo Do is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters for the word "karate-do" -- essentially, this was the "Korean karate" that heavily influenced the subsequent development of modern taekwondo.

    • Jhoon Rhee Taekwondo. Originally this was a U.S.-variant of Traditional Taekwondo brought to America by taekwondo pioneer Jhoon Rhee. Eventually Rhee transitioned to an ITF-style, and then later transitioned again to develop his own style (but with ITF-style elements). Note: this should not be confused with Chong Chul Rhee's Rhee Taekwon-Do which is a very large chain of schools in Australia and New Zealand that practices ITF-style taekwondo.

    • Kuk Mu Kwan Taekwondo. Also known as the Kang System (after its founder) this is a fairly secretive style of taekwondo (deliberately) that purports to be particularly lethal.

  • International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) style, also called Chang Hon style. This can be thought of as an offshoot of the style that was being developed by Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA), an associated that was chartered with developing a unified style of Taekwondo. The KTA was formed to unify the styles of the nine separate martial arts styles previously practiced by the Nine Kwans, the first nine Korean martial arts schools to emerge after World War II. One of these styles was General Choi's Oh Do Kwan-style. General Choi eventually split from the KTA to develop the ITF-style. (See Timeline of Taekwondo for additional detail.) Generally, ITF practitioners refer to this style as a more "traditional" form of taekwondo, though some authors use that term to apply only to pre-ITF styles. See main page ITF Taekwon-do.

    • Characteristics: ITF Taekwondo is characterized by relatively wide, low stances and often more hand techniques (such as punches and strikes), sometimes delivered while performing an down-up-down (sine wave) motion. Schools teaching ITF-style taekwondo will often have a punching fist logo. The uniform (dobok) tops will often have a black trim along the bottom edge.

    • Forms: ITF taekwondo practices chang hon forms.

    • Spin-offs: currently there are four organizations worldwide that call themselves the International Taekwon-Do Federation. See main article ITF Taekwondo.


WTF-style free-sparring

  • Kukkiwon/World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) also known as Olympic-style, Sport-style, or more correctly Kukkiwon-style taekwondo. Shortly after the split of the ITF from the KTA's kwan-unification efforts, the remaining kwans came together to form the "national" (kukki) style of taekwondo. This was faciliated by the establishment of first the Kukkiwon -- South Korean's "national academy" for taekwondo -- and then later by the establishment of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), the associated sports federation. The Kukkiwon/WTF-style is the most unified Taekwondo group as it includes representation from all the original kwans. Most Kukkiwon/WTF-style dojangs practice the full taekwondo curriculum as set by the Kukkiwon (including self-defense), but some schools place emphasis on taekwondo specifically as a sport. See main page WTF Taekwondo.

    • Characteristics: WTF taekwondo is characterized by high, spinning, acrobatic kicks, with less emphasis on hand techniques during sparring. Schools teaching Kukkiwon/WTF-style taekwondo will often incorporate a similar logo to the WTF and may include the Olympic rings into their branding.

    • Forms: WTF taekwondo practices taegeuk and yudanja forms; these forms are performed in World Poomsae Championships held every year. Previously this style practiced palgwae forms, although this was for a very short period of time; they were quickly replaced with the taegeuk series.

  • In the United States, American Tae Kwon Do Association (ATA) taekwondo (also known as Songahm style) is also popular. ATA taekwondo was first established in 1969 as a private taekwondo school in Omaha, Nebraska by a former Traditional Taekwondo teacher in the Korean military (Haeng Ung Lee) who emigrated to the United States. ATA has since established schools across the U.S. as well as other countries. Each school is independently owned and operated and the school owners are licensed to use the Songahm forms and materials (in other words, the schools are franchised). See main page ATA Taekwondo.

    ATA/Songahm-style Taekwondo

    • Characteristics: ATA taekwondo can be thought of as a hybrid between ITF and WTF styles. Like the ITF-style, it generally focuses on combat (rather than sport sparring). Like Kukkiwon/WTF-style, it places greater emphasis on kicks that ITF-style does. ATA taekwondo often incorporates weapons training.

    • Forms: ATA taekwondo practices Songahm forms.

    • Spin-offs:Until 2013 the ATA had established international spin-offs called the Songham Taekwondo Federation (STF) and the World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU). These international spinoffs were reorganized under the ATA heading in 2013 and are no longer used, though one can still find references to STF and WTTU in a number of reference materials. 

Less-Common StylesEdit



Muay Thai
Krav Maga
Kyokushin Karate (Kypkushinkai)
Kudo Daido Juku Karate Do