Tae Kwon Do - A Martial Art Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Tae Kwon Do - A Martial Art

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While reading this Entry, it must be noted that as with any martial art, the principles, rules and traditions always vary from school to school. Things that you may learn while reading this may not apply in some martial arts schools. Most schools teach the art differently, right down to terminology and even how to write the name! The principles of a school in Korea may differ greatly from a school in the United Kingdom, or America. The purpose of this Entry is to give a basic overview of the art.

A Short Introduction

Tae Kwon Do is a popular Korean martial art and is also Korea's national sport. It is one of only two Asian martial arts featured in the Olympics, Judo being the other.

Tae Kwon Do is a relatively recent martial art. It is influenced by many other styles, and many Koreans practised these arts during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. In 1955 top Korean instructors and practitioners unified various techniques and principles of these arts into one and decided on a definite name. Tae means to kick, Kwon means to punch and Do means a way or method.

What You Can Learn in Tae Kwon Do

Unlike Karate, which mostly focuses on hand techniques, or Judo and Aikido, which involve mostly throws, sweeps, takedowns and ground fighting, Tae Kwon Do is mainly concerned with kicking techniques. The three basic kicks are the front-kick, side-kick and roundhouse kick. Also a small percentage of hand techniques like the knifehand, ridgehand, and hammerfist.

Tae Kwon Do isn't just restricted to plain old punches and kicks. There is a huge variety of fun, yet useful and important things to be learned:

  • Blocking techniques. Moves used to deflect punches or kicks.
  • Self-defence techniques. Such as how to escape from choke-holds, hand-grabs and headlocks.
  • Weapon defence. Similar techniques to deflect attacks from objects such as sticks, knifes and guns.
  • Sparring. This is controlled fighting during class.
  • Forms. Also known as katas, tuls or poomsae. These are sequences of organized blocking and striking techniques that follow a pattern.
  • Philosophy. This is something that varies between different schools. Some would stress this aspect of martial arts more than others. A brief example is that you do not learn Tae Kwon Do or any martial art, to use it to deliberately harm people. You should strive to learn to use Tae Kwon Do as much as you try not to use it. Its purpose is to defend yourself and others.

Aside from learning to defend yourself, practising a martial art has many other benefits such as fitness, flexibility, strength and discipline.

The Principles

Tae Kwon Do, like all martial arts, has its traditions. Some schools strictly follow all the old traditions, while others can be more relaxed. However, there are a few general rules that survive in about every school today.

  • Bowing. This is usually done when you enter and leave the building, or room where the class is held. It is a simple show of respect for the area that you have in which to practise your art. Also, you bow to your opponent when you begin or end sparring.
  • Belts. Whatever your rank, you must show respect to your belt. This means that you never drop it on the floor, you never wear it while eating or drinking and you do not mistreat it in any way. Also, when tying your belt, as you tie the final knot, you must turn around to do so if you happen to be talking to, or facing someone at the time. If you knotted your belt in front of someone, that is challenging them to a fight.

The Ranking System

Ranks in Tae Kwon Do are represented by tied cloth belts worn by the student or instructor. Each colour indicates a different level of experience. These are called kups. Higher ranks are gained by testing, and if you pass, you are promoted. White is the lowest rank, and black is the highest. Between, the colours vary, depending on the school. From white, the next colour is usually yellow, than onto green, brown, red and black, though some of these colours can be substituted by orange, blue, or purple. Between each of those is another rank, marked by a tip or stripe of the colour of the next of belt. For example, white belt with yellow tips, yellow belt, yellow belt with green tips, then to green belt and so on. However, coloured ranks aren't traditionally used in Korea. There you only wear a white belt until you are promoted to black belt. Coloured belts were started in the West because of the impatient nature of Westerners, who demand to see progress.

Beyond the rank of black belt there are dans. These are different degrees of black belt. Sixth degree black belt is Master and ninth degree is Grand Master.

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