Martial Art of the Month: Taekwondo

The New Year is upon us, readers, but of course, we can’t close 2015 out without the latest installment of KFK’s Martial Art of the Month! Today, we take a closer at Korea’s most famed martial art and the country’s national sport, Taekwondo (or “The Way of the Fist and the Foot” in English). For a quick video intro to this month’s entry, take a look at World Taekwondo Champion Bren Foster in this interesting quick fire video:

Origins

The lineage of Taekwondo goes all the way to the ancient Korean art of Taekkyeon, the first explicitly recorded traditional Korean martial art from the Joseon Dynasty. But the art as we know it first came to be in the aftermath of World War II, when the government of South Korea attempted to unify the various “kwans” (martial arts schools) that had been established after the war’s end into a single school. It was in 1955 that this first effort at unification saw the introduction of the term “Tae Soo Do”, but in 1957 Korean general Choi Hong-hi, a student of both Taekkyeon and Shotokan Karate, began to introduce the term “Taekwondo” as the preferred substitute.

Here, the history of Taekwondo gets somewhat controversial with the rise of two separate governing bodies that would lay claim to the term for this new art born of the unification of the teachings and fighting philosophies of the many kwans – The Korea Taekwondo Association, first established in 1959 and which would later establish the more well known World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in 1973. General Choi and other masters within the federation would break off and establish another organization, the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) in 1966, which officially recognizes him as the founder of Taekwondo. In any case, regardless of the governing body of this new, unified school of Korean martial arts, there’s no doubt about the impact that Taekwondo (TKD) would have on the martial arts world.

Techniques

Few schools of martial arts are as renowned for their powerful kicks as is TKD. With significant emphasis placed on flexibility training, TKD practitioners learn to transform their legs into deadly weapons of war. The idea behind it all is simple – a kick can do significantly more damage than almost any other technique, to the point where just a single punt to the head can put an opponent down and keep them there. Sparring and competitive fighting in TKD is equal parts beauty and brutality, especially at the Olympic level.

The flashy power of TKD’s kicks is such that it isn’t uncommon for fighters to launch kick after kick from a single leg, and few masters of the art have perfected this as far as the legendary Tan Tao-liang aka “Flash Legs”!

TKD’s strengths with kicking has had one unfortunate side effect, the misconception among some in the martial arts world that it has nothing to bring to the table as for punching. But this is simply not the case as any good TKD teacher will tell you – like every other martial art, it all simply comes down to analysis and application of the weapons of the particular school of combat.

Still, it is TKD’s kicking skills that have garnered it the most recognition and respect in the martial arts world, and with the modern acrobatic demonstration art of “tricking”, TKD practitioners regularly take their kicks to the furthermost ‘extremes’ of martial artistic expression, whether it’s Aaron “Ginger Ninja” Gassor, stunt man and fight choreographer Tim Man, or acclaimed masters of flexibility, Chloe and Grace Bruce!

Practitioners you may know

It goes without saying that each of the aforementioned TKD exponents are some of the best at what they do, but of course, there are many more. Many MMA fighters hold black belts in TKD and draw from the kicking skills they’ve taken from it, such as Anderson Silva and Cung Le. Some, like Anthony Pettis, even like to add a little TKD flash and flair to their knockouts!

Because of its flashy kicks, TKD lends itself well to martial arts films, with action stars like Scott Adkins and Silvio Simac taking the power of the art to the big screen!

Of course, we can’t forget the Rhee brothers, Phillip and Simon, either – it was through their work in the “Best of the Best” films that TKD achieved perhaps its most notable cinematic portrayal in the English-speaking world.

However, for millions of people across the globe, the face of TKD remains the King of Kickers himself, Hwang Jang Lee, and we can think of no better way to close out this installment of the Martial Art of the Month than with a glimpse at his amazing skills, as well as our interview with him. Enjoy, and see ya for the next in our series in January, have a happy kicking New Year 2016!

From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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