Taekwondo (also, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwon-Do, or Tae Kwon-Do) is a martial art and combat sport originating in Korea. Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea and sparring, kyeorugi, is an Olympic sporting event. In Korean, derived from hanja, "tae" means to destroy with the feet, "kwon" means to strike or smash with the hand and "do" means "path", "way" or "method". Hence, taekwondo is loosely translated as "the way of the feet and fist".
Taekwondo's popularity has resulted in the divergent evolution of the martial art. As with many other martial arts, taekwondo is a combination of combat technique, self-defense, sport, exercise, entertainment, and philosophy. Although there are great doctrinal and technical differences among public and private taekwondo organizations, the art in general emphasizes kicks thrown from a mobile stance, using the leg's greater reach and power to disable the opponent from a distance. In sparring, turning, front, reverse turning and side kicks are often used, as well as the backfist and reverse punch; advanced kicks include jump, spin, sliding, and skip kicks, often in combination. Taekwondo training often includes a system of blocks, punches, open-handed strikes and may include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks, though it generally does not emphasize grappling.
The oldest ancestor of taekwondo is an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was subak, with taekkyeon being the most popular of the segments of subak.
As the Goguryeo kingdom grew in power, the neighboring Silla kingdom became comparatively weaker, and an effort was undertaken among the Silla to develop a corps of special warriors. The Silla had a regular army but its military training techniques were less advanced than those of the Goguryeo, and its soldiers were generally of a lesser caliber. The Silla selected young men, some as young as twelve, and trained them in the liberal arts. Those who demonstrated strong natural aptitude were selected as trainees in the new special warrior corps, called the Hwarang. It was believed that young men with a talent for the liberal arts may have the grace to become competent warriors. These warriors were instructed in academic as well as martial arts, learning philosophy, history, a code of ethics and equestrian sports. Their military training included an extensive weapons program involving swordsmanship and archery, both on horseback and on foot, as well as lessons in military tactics and unarmed combat using subak. Although subak was a leg-oriented art in Goguryeo, Silla's influence added hand techniques to the practice of subak.
In spite of Korea's rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, Korean martial arts faded into obscurity during the Joseon Dynasty. Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism and martial arts were lowly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings. Remnants of traditional martial arts such as subak and taekkyeon were banned from practice by the general populace and reserved for sanctioned military uses although folk practice by the common populace still persisted into the 19th century.
By the end of the Korean War, nine martial arts schools (translated as kwan) were open and South Korean President Syngman Rhee ordered that the various schools unify under a single system. A governmental body selected a naming committee's submission of "tae-kwon-do". Following the submission of the name "taekwondo" on April 11, 1955, the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959 to facilitate the unification. Shortly thereafter, taekwondo made its debut in North America. Standardization efforts in South Korea stalled, as the kwans continued to teach differing styles. Another request from the Korean government for unification resulted in the formation of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association, which changed its name back to the Korean Taekwondo Association in 1965 following a change of leadership. This new leader was General Choi Hong Hi who founded the International Taekwondo Federation on the 22nd of March 1966 in South Korea. Until this day General Choi is still acknowledged by practitioners of ITF Taekwon-Do as the founder and father of Taekwon-Do. Subsequently, Choi fell out of favor with the authorities in South Korea and moved his organization to Canada in 1972.
The World Taekwondo Federation was formed in 1973. The International Olympic Committee recognized the WTF and taekwondo sparring in 1980, and the sport was accepted as a demonstration event at the 1988 Seoul and the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. It became an official medal event as of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Taekwondo is one of two Asian martial arts (judo being the other) in the Olympic Games.
The public WTF and private ITF, the two largest taekwondo organizations, operate and train in hundreds of nations and teach the martial art to millions of people each year. Although competition has always been a significant feature of taekwondo, many practitioners study taekwondo for personal development, to learn self-defense, and/or for fun.