WHAT IS TAEKWONDO, AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM KARATE??
One of the most common questions that we get when people visit our school, is “What is Taekwondo?” It is usually followed up by “How is it different from Karate?” These are fair questions, as most people who don’t practice martial arts are probably only familiar with either art through TV and movies – who didn’t grow up knowing about the Karate Kid, right? However, while Taekwondo certainly shares some roots with Karate, there are also many things that set it apart as its own unique style.
Taekwondo is a relatively modern martial art. It was established during the 1940s-1950’s, after the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII. It holds roots in many older martial arts – there are several ancient Korean styles as well as an influence of Karate, as at one time Korea was a Japan-occupied country. But after the war, the Korean people wanted to separate themselves from the Japanese influence. One of the ways they decided to do that was to create their own unique martial art. Several prominent martial arts schools at the time got together and hashed out the details of their own unique style. They were able to create something that was no longer simply a version of Karate, but something undeniably Korean.
Taekwondo, literally translated, means “The Art of Kicking and Punching”. Another translation is “The Art of Hand and Foot”. The idea was that there is an equal amount of emphasis on training both hand and foot techniques – kicking, punching, blocking, etc. This alone was enough to set it apart. Karate does include both hand and foot techniques but places significantly more emphasis on the hands. More recently, the focus of Taekwondo has shifted to place slightly more emphasis on kicking techniques. There are a few reasons for this; kicks are more powerful, and it allows you to keep a greater distance from your opponent and hopefully lessen the chance of injury to the kicker. We do still use our hands in Taekwondo; there are plenty of punches, strikes, and blocks! But the rules for official competition are very strict about when you can punch. There are also rules about how many attacks can be made using your hands.
Competition rules were another important piece to set Taekwondo apart from Karate and other martial arts. A chest guard was introduced for protection. This allowed competitors to make much harder contact with each other and resulted in a new system of scoring. Punching to the face was banned and resulted in the deduction of points from a match. In order for a point to count, a kick had to physically move the opponent instead of simply touching them. This proved that you understood the technical aspect of your techniques and knew how to apply them.
Over the years, curriculum and ranking systems and competition rules continued to be refined (and still are!) as the art became more established and grew in popularity. In the 1980’s it was introduced as a demonstration sport to the Olympics and became a permanent fixture there in 2000. This is essentially the martial art that we practice here today! Taekwondo is now officially practiced in almost 200 countries around the world, making it one of the most popular martial arts in the world.
So now that we’ve learned how Taekwondo came to be, we can go back to the first question: What is Taekwondo?
There are many different answers to this. None of them are wrong, but each individual’s experience with Taekwondo is a little different, and unique to their own personal journey. Some people will say it is a good method of self-defense, which is true. Others will say it’s a great workout, and we can’t argue with that. For some people it’s their favorite competitive sport – there are Taekwondo tournaments held both locally and nationally/internationally all throughout the year! And there are many people who would say that it’s a way of life.
We here at Hwang’s don’t disagree with any of these things, but we fall most strongly into that last category. While we come to Taekwondo for all sorts of reasons – whether it be health and fitness, a competitive nature, the need for focus and self-discipline, or a place to belong – we believe that our school is a family. Our goal is not only to teach you how to kick and punch, to defend yourself out in the world, or to win a sparring match – though we will teach you those things too! But it’s more than that. We want to create a community that gives everyone a place where they feel welcomed and supported and safe, and to instill confidence and respect in every person who walks through our doors.