What is Taekwon-Do?
Taekwondo is a martial art developed in Korea by General Choi Hong Hi in the 1940s and 1950s. Taekwondo literally translates to ‘the art of hand and foot’. Taekwondo took aspects of traditional martial arts such as Taekkyeon and Gwopbeop, Karate, and various Chinese martial arts to compile them into a complete fighting form. Taekwon-do is now renowned to many as the greatest martial art in terms of kicking power. However, kicking is only one aspect of Taekwon-do, as it has an array of punches, strikes and defensive blocks that makes it an all round martial art for self defence.
Other TKD Groups
The two largest bodies of Taekwon-Do can be split into World Taekwon-Do Federation (WTF) and the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) set up by General Choi Hong Hi. The ITF is the official group discovered by General Choi Hong Hi in 1966 and was designed to be the main body for all of Taekwon-Do, but the same way as Korea split, as did Taekwon-Do. The WTF is a competition-style version of Taekwon-Do that focuses almost entirely on kicks for competitive sparring. This Olympic style of Taekwon-Do also prevents punches to the head, meaning most fighters rely on their kicks. One distinct difference between WTF to ITF competitions would be the noticeable chest guard that fighters wear to protect themselves. This has sparked a lot of controversy as many claim the WTF should not be the official Olympic sport as it does not reflect Taekwon-Do, but General Choi Hong Hi believed competitive Taekwon-Do is a game and not real fighting.
A Beginners Guide to
A Taekwon-Do practitioners rank is defined by their belt. There are 5 colour belts a student can receive before their black belt. Like many martial-arts, each coloured belt has an assigned ‘kup’. Beginners start at 10th kup and work their way up to 1st kup (red belt black tag). Between each belt is a ‘tag’ of the next coloured belt up. Once they achieve a black belt they will achieve their 1st degree (1st dan).
You can then progress to a higher rank as a black belt by gaining higher degrees. There are a total of 9 degress (dans) which you must work up towards and for each dan a student will receive a golden embroided roman numeral on their belt. As a black belt you would have reached a level where you are qualified to teach and 1st-3rd dans are given the title ‘assistant instructor’ (boosabum), 4-6th dans the title ‘instructor’ (sabum) 7-8th dans are given the title ‘master’, and the highest ranking 9th dan the title ‘grandmaster’.
To advance along the ranking system you must pass a grading to demonstrate you have learnt the syllabus for your current level. A grading typically requires you to preform a pattern which is a sequence of defensive and offensive movements against an imaginary opponent. It also requires you to preform various new techniques you have learnt for that level, and know your theory i.e. korean terminology, and meaning of belt colours, etc.
When you get to yellow belt and beyond you are required to do prearranged sparring, which prearranged form of sparring consisting of a series of attacks and blocks with a partner. At green belt onward you will also be required to spar an opponent also grading to demonstrate your combat abilities, along with being able to break a board to demonstrate your techniques have power. Those under 16 kick a target pad with power. Grading above green belt also requires you to preform a series of self-defence techniques to show you can get out of grapples and street-fight situations.
Between gradings there is a specified minimum time between you can grade again. Achieving an A (advanced pass) in your grading will allow you to grade in half the time. Those who train more frequently can grade sooner.
Belt Symbolism & Minimum Waiting Time
White Belt (10th Kup): Represents innocence, as the beginner has no previous knowledge of Taekwon-Do. 1 month minimum wait time before grading.
White Belt with Yellow Tag (9th Kup): Inbetween Yellow belt and White Belt. 1 month minimum wait time before grading.
Yellow Belt (8th Kup): Represents the Earth which a plant sprouts and takes root as the Taekwon-Do foundation is being laid. 2 months minimum wait time before grading.
Yellow Belt with Green Tag (7th Kup): Inbetween Yellow and Green belt. 2 months minimum wait time before grading.
Green Belt (6th Kup): Represents the plants growth as Taekwon-Do skills begin to grow and develop. 3 months minimum wait time before grading.
Green Belt with Blue Tag (5th Kup): Inbetween Green belt and Blue Belt. 3 months minimum wait time before grading.
Blue Belt (4th Kup): Represents the Heaven, towards which the plant is matures into a towering tree as training in Taekwon-Do progresses. 4 months minimum wait time before grading.
Blue Belt with Red Tag (3th Kup): In Between Blue Belt and Red Belt. 4 months minimum wait time before grading.
Red Belt (2th Kup): Signifies danger, cautioning the student to exercise control and warning the opponent to stay away. 5 months minimum wait time before grading.
Red Belt with Black Tag (1th Kup): In between Red Belt and Black Belt. 5 months minimum wait time before grading.
Black Belt (1st Dan): Signifies the maturity and proficiency in Taekwon-Do, and also indicates the wearer’s imperviousness to darkness and fear.
The Dobok (Uniform)
Every student, except those starting out, are expected to wear the official Taekwon-Do Dobok (uniform). To be eligible to grade or compete, the student must wear the correct official ITF Dobok with the official ITF badge on the left-hand side. There must be printed or embroidered on the back the Taekwon-Do tree, and ITF initials on the legs. For international competitions you must have the International Taekwon-Do Federation new logo on your suit.
Colour belts have complete white Dobok, whereas Black Belts and above have a black piping on their uniform to represent their rank, 4th dans and above have black piping plus striping down their arm and leg.
It is common for people to buy their own uniform online without this knowledge and buy a uniform from the wrong organisation, or a master uniform by accident. These uniforms are designed to be cheap and affordable for all, so it’s best to purchase from your instructors as they may have specific designs for their class.
Sparring Hands and Feet: Once you reach yellow belt you will eligible to spar, meaning that you will need your own sparring equipment. Taekwon-Do gloves must be open palm and covered around the fingers, and foot-guards covered around the toes.
Groin Guard: Groin Guards are compulsory for men and optional for females. Female versions of Groin Guards exist. Must be worn under the troussers.
Shin Guard: Shin Guards are required to prevent against shin clashing which is common in Taekwon-Do. Worn under the troussers. Compulsory for under 16s, optional for adults.
Mouth Guard: Mould-able mouth-guards are required when training to protect your teeth. They must be transparent for a referee to see blood. You should be able to mould them in hot water to fit your teeth.
Head Guard: You must also wear head guards when sparring to protect against concussions. These are required for competitions also.
Sparring is the most well-known competitive aspect of Taekwon-Do. Two individuals fight a two-minute bout in a ring. Four judges will surround every corner of the ring and count points during the fight. A jury of 2 or 3 people will be overseeing the bout, keeping track of deduction points, and the timing and ensure the referee and unmpire are acting according to the rules. The referee will make sure contestants abide by the rules and stop the fight for warnings, or minus points.
Warnings and fouls are given for:
Kicking or punches below the belt.
Uncontrolled attacks, i.e. kicking full power to inflict damage.
Stepping outside the ring.
Falling over or losing balance.
Swearing at the contestant, referee or judges.
Points are awarded for:
1 point – Any valid hand or kicking technique to the body target area
2 points – Any valid jumping hand or foot technique to the target area
3 points – Any valid jumping kicking technique to the high-section area
In international competitions competitors will preform two designated patterns, but in local and national competitions they usually require only one pattern and some competitions allow optional patterns.
Patterns follow a similar format to sparring as it is a knock-out system. There are five judges at the front of the ring, and a panel who announce the results. Two competitors are drawn against each other depending on belt rank and must preform a pattern. Competitors are assessed on:
Correct Technical content (techniques & stances preformed correctly)
Power of the techniques.
In case of a tie, another designated pattern will be assigned as a tie-breaker.
Special technique is a test of a students athleticism in preforming various flying kicks. A student will usually be required to do a flying kick to an elevated target, in which the student must connect with using the correct tool and form. The competitor must retain their balance on landing and finish in a guarding block position to show composure. Failing to do so will void your attempt.
Competitors are separated into categories by usually by height, age and grade. There will be usually 3 judges officiating the special technique. Competitors are allowed one measure up without touching the board before their attempt. Each successful attempt will award them points and the person with the highest points will be the winner.
Power requires the competitor to break multiple boards with usually a simple technique. Depending on the competition it could be all 5 of just a subset of the following 5 techniques:
Punch, Knife-Hand Strike, Side Kick, Turning Kick, Reverse Turning Kick.
Points are awarded for each board broken, and the person with the most boards win. In case of a tie, a technique is selected and the number of boards are increased until a winner is determined.