Next to Karate and Kung Fu, TaeKwonDo is perhaps the next most popular Martial Arts system in the Western world. Having gained popularity fairly early on, it has a highly organized component in the United States.
TaeKwonDo, also spelled as Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do, or Taewondo, finds its origins tracing through Korea. The original art form, for which it derives its name Taek Kyon can be found in various ancient Korean paintings as a means of self-defense.
Because of the Korean influence, you will find that countries flag in many of the dojo’s or dojang’s (either translating to “schools”). However, much of the TaeKwonDo that you find commonly in the United States and Western Worlds is known as the “modern” form of the art. There is a great deal of influence in style of the art from Japan, who occupied Korea during the early 1900’s.
Over the last decade, there has been growing emphasis in this group of Martial Artists to distinguish “traditional” from “modern” versions of TaeKwonDo. Many of the more traditional schools do not participate in competitions or do the sparring as you see in the Olympics.
TaeKwonDo comes from three Korean words. Tae meaning “foot.” Kwon meaning “fist.” Do meaning “way.” It is characterized by very quick and high footwork, one of the more famous techniques being a series of spinning kicks that you may have seen Jean-Claude Van Damme perform in some of his movies.
Because of the fast pace of the movements, it serves as a great cardio workout and has actually been modified to form the basis of the popular Tae Bo series of workouts by Billy Banks. In addition, when performed correctly, TaeKwonDo is a very good form of self-defense.
In traditional TaeKwonDo, there is a very strong philosophical component that leads to a way of life, much like what is seen in the more traditional Kung Fu styles. Because of the emphasis on the kicks as punches, as the name implies, there are no weapons involved in traditional TaeKwonDo. Over time, however, weapons have been incorporated into the system but normally taught at very advanced levels. They feature basic weapons like the gim to very unique ones like canes and umbrellas. Some TaeKwonDo schools tend to emphasize breaking techniques, building strength in their hands and fists so that those become the weapons of choice.