Taekwondo: The Art of Self Defense
Each of the martial art derived from the respective native countries has its own distinct characteristics that make it unique. Proper scrutiny on the foundation and the basis that constitutes each ancient art reveals that it is closely tied to the culture and values of the country of its origin. Asean countries indeed are known for its rich history and traditions that in a way also influence its martial arts techniques and core principles.
The History and Golden Principles Propagated by Taekwondo
The Korean art of self-defense Taekwondo is considered as one of the oldest forms of martial arts in Korea, dating back to over 5,000 years ago along with the long history of the country. It is a form of ancient martial arts that have an extensive trail of history behind its existence. It is one of the most widely practiced martial art in the world. The word ‘Tae’ means ‘foot’, ‘Kwon’ meaning ‘fist’ and ‘Do’ meaning ‘way of’. So, factually Taekwondo means ‘the way of the foot and fist’.
The training includes learning a system of kick, blocks, punches, and open-handed strikes, as well as varying forms of take-downs, throws, and joint locks. All of these movements in the training aim to develop strength, speed, balance, flexibility, and stamina.
One of the prominent features of the art of Taekwondo is its emphasis on kicking techniques, as compared to other forms of martial arts. Further more, to self-defense training, students learn pre-arranged sequences of techniques known as forms or poomsae, known in other martial arts as ‘kata’.
The earliest hint of the existence of Taekwondo was depicted in a mural painting found in a tomb, in the kingdom of Koguryo located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula. The discovery was made between the periods of 37 BC - 66 AD. The drawings illustrated unarmed figures facing each other in a self-defense stance and donning some sort of fabric that is similar to the uniforms worn by the practitioners of Taekwondo.
Coming a long way since its humble beginnings, the techniques of Taekwondo have evolved along as the country of Korea developed further. There are countless collections and records of the ancient art of self-defense, made by the different kingdoms within the country throughout the centuries.
The highest form of ancient art was first achieved in the small kingdom of Silla. The kingdom was constantly under attack from larger and stronger powers, which forced its ruler, King Jin Heung, to establish an elite group of warriors called the ‘Hwarang’ or also known as ‘Flower of Youth’. The group consists sons of nobles within the kingdom, who were carefully chosen and officially trained in all aspects of military skills including unarmed combat, which at the time was known as ‘Tae Kyon’.
In addition to combat skills, the ‘Hwarangs’ were taught to develop their mind and spirit as well, through the study of history, poetry, and philosophy. The entire body of the art combining physical and mental mastery was known as ‘Hwarang Do’, which forms the foundation of modern Taekwondo training. The cores of Taekwondo revolve around the concept of improving one’s character, instill self-discipline, and boost confidence.
Subsequently, the Koryo dynasty that ruled Korea between 935 AD – 1352 AD also played a role in developing this art of self-defense. It is from the Koryo dynasty that ancient art got its official name - Taekwondo. Prior to that, the martial arts practice was known as ‘Subak Do’ during the era and was popular as an organized sport with detailed rules. The royal family sponsored many competitions and demonstrations, which led to the martial arts becoming deeply rooted in the Korean culture.
The martial art is the pride of the Koreans and has been one of the forms of arts that define the country apart from its food and modern day K-pop culture. It is fascinating to note that Taekwondo is one of the only two martial arts included in the Olympic Games, aside from Judo.
Taekwondo is not solely just a martial art form, but it serves the purpose of enriching lives through the values that the art form propagates. Practitioners of the art are not only taught on the physical aspect of technical mastery but also expose them to the finer details of the art form. It is considered a discipline that paves the way towards enhancing one’s spirit and life through training of the body and mind.
The martial art of Taekwondo can be characterized by its core values of unity, referring to the harmony of body, mind, and life. In practicing the art, one must be in a peaceful state of mind and synchronize the mind with the body movements. This logic not only applies to the practice of the art but extends to the journey of integrating harmony in life and demonstrating it in a societal context. Taekwondo pursues harmonious growth and improvements of life, which is why the art form became known as a way of life. Let us explore some of the guiding principles behind this ancient art form and how it relates to life.
Hard work and dedication
The old adage that ‘hard work never killed anybody’ rings true until today. Taekwondo is a composite art form that requires dedication and sincerity to hard work in order to learn and master the skills. The curricular for each rank and belt level helps to develop physical skills and mental health incrementally. Practitioners of the art advance through the ranks once they are deemed fit and have surpassed the test that is set for the respective ranks. The ranks begin from a white belt up to the highest 9th Dan Black Belt. Advancing through the ranks requires pure dedication and it takes approximately 9, 936 hours in total only to reach up to 7th Dan Black Belt, given that one passes the exam on the first try.
To say perseverance is a virtue is an understatement. In fact, it is really more of a skill—one that can be learned and enhanced through constant nurturing. As Taekwondo is a complex art form, it not only requires dedication and sincerity to master but must be followed through with perseverance. This is true because, in order for one to advance from one level to another, one’s limit will be put to the test. It is crucial not to give up even when the going gets tough. Thus, one must not set a limit as to how far to go in the art, because learning never stops.
Performing Taekwondo is for sure a physical and mental practice which involves dynamic punching and kicking drills, blocks, core-strengthening exercises and stretches. Such active movements help build stamina and strength. The learning and practice of the ‘poomsaes’ — specific patterns of defense and attack movements — leads to better motor skills, good body composition, body flexibility, and control. Taekwondo practitioners always demonstrate high peak anaerobic power, flexibility mainly in the legs, hips and posseses high dynamic upper and lower body strength and good core endurance.
Peace is the core essence of Taekwondo and respect and honor constitutes the main tenants of peace. Most accomplished practitioners in Taekwondo seek peace whenever possible through the act of showing respect and honor through their actions. As respect is reciprocal, a practitioner of the art shows respect to his master and vice versa. The art form which may take years to master at the highest level usually sees one person being trained under a particular master for years, which also reflects the loyalty aspect. A good practitioner proves his worth through his attitude and the executions of the instructions received from his master.