Korean martial arts culture – Taekwondo

Before talking about taekwondo, I wish you a happy White Day as tomorrow (14 March 2015) is White Day in South Korea. What is White Day? On Valentine’s Day (i.e. 14 February), the females give chocolate as gifts to their lovers and on White Day (i.e. 14 March), the males reciprocate by giving candies to their lovers.  Actually, to the South Koreans, there is always something to celebrate on the 14th of every month – for more detail, you may refer to my blog post dated 14 January 2015.

In this blog post, I will talk about one of Koreans’ national sports – taekwondo (태권도).  In fact, taekwondo has a long history and is a kind of sports which most, if not all, Korean males have learnt.  Koreans in their 30’s and 40’s may still remember a popular cartoon robot character called Taekwon V which was good at taekwondo. Nowadays, taekwondo is a form of martial arts practised by more than 70 million people in 188 countries. Taekwondo was a form of demonstration sports for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games and has become an official competition event since the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It is now an official competition event in major world sports events including the Olympics, Panam Games, Asian Games, All American Games and South American Games.

Basic Facts of Taekwondo

Regarding its name, “Tae” means “foot”, “Kwon” means “fist” and “Do” means “way of” – therefore, “taekwondo” means “the way of foot and fist”.  It is a form of martial arts which uses bare hands and feet for attack and defense, involving kicking, jabbing and shouting.   It trains not only the body but also the mind by strengthening the character and learning the etiquette associated with it (e.g., morality, humility and respect for one’s opponent).

The roots of taekwondo can be traced back to a traditional form of martial arts, Taekkyeon (택견) (a form of martial art emphasizing low kicks and leg sweeps instead of abrupt kicking and punching), which in turn can be traced back to the tribal times in Korea and grew rapidly during the period of the Three Kingdoms from the 4th to 7th centuries.  In ancient times, apart from being an unarmed combat practised by the armies, taekkyeon was also a kind of competition between neighbouring villages and men might place bets on the outcomes of the matches.

Typical uniform of taekwondo is usually in white with a belt tied around the waist.  Taekwondo awards levels and belts according to the level of mastery demonstrated by the person.  Low levels are from Level 8 to Level 1 and high levels are from lowest 1 ‘dan’ to highest 4 ‘dan’ (for those aged 15 or under) or lowest 1 ‘pum’ to highest 4 ‘pum’ (for those aged 16 or above).  Different coloured belts are awarded according to the level attained.

Taekwondo in Modern Form

There are taekwondo demonstration teams like K-Tigers who offer performances to promote this martial arts.  K-Tigers (K 타이거즈 ) is a well-known demonstration team who combines taekwondo with K-pop in their performances.  You may appreciate how amazing their performance is by clicking the link below for a video of their performance in the dancing competition TV program, “Dancing9”:

K-Tigers’ performance in Dancing9

In 1976, Korea’s first sci-fi animated film called “Robot Taekwon V” (로보트 태권브이) was released.  It became a mega-smash hit and 7 sequels of the film and a series of comic books were released subsequently.  The plot of the film was that Dr. Cops created an army of giant robots to kidnap world-class athletes and wanted to destroy the world. Dr. Kim created his own giant robot which was good at taekwondo – Taekwon V – to challenge Dr. Cops’ robots.  Taekwon V was controlled by Dr. Kim’s son, Kim Hoon (a taekwondo champion), usually through a series of switches and levers but occasionally through merging his physical movements with the robot.  At that time, Taekwon V was a Korean robot hero to many children and inspired them to learn taekwondo.  You can listen to the theme song of the film and watch snapshots of the film by clicking the link below:

“Robot Taekwon V” Theme Song 

Taekwondo Events and Spots in South Korea

You can participate in cultural activities relating to taekwondo in the Chungju World Martial Arts Festival which is scheduled to take place between 22 August to 30 August 2015.  It is expected that martial arts teams from 39 countries will take part in demonstrations and performances, including taekkyeon and taekwondo.  There will also be hands-on experience programs and cultural performances. Chungju is the birthplace of taekkyeon which is listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.  You can obtain more information on the Chungju World Martial Arts Festival by visiting this website.

If you want something more exciting, the Chuncheon Korea Open International Taekwondo Championship is scheduled to be held from 2 July to 7 July 2015 and is expected to have 2,500 participants from 50 countries.  You can get more information by visiting this website.

If you want to study taekwondo, you can take a two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Seoul to reach the world’s largest taekwondo training space, Taekwondowon (태권도원) , in Muju-gun in North Jeolla Province.  Taekwondowon occupies an area of 2.3 square kilometers and includes a large taekwondo stadium, an exhibition hall, a virtual experience centre, a taekwondo museum and hotel-quality accommodation.  One of the programs offered there is the “Taekwondo Professional Course for Education” designed to understand the spirit, philosophy, history and techniques of taekwondo and strengthen the students’ competencies in both the study and practice of taekwondo.  There is also the “Experience Center Yap!” equipped with a 3-D theatre, strap-in wire machines that help students perfect their techniques and allow participants to have a taste for virtual sparring using motion detection systems.  There is a “Spirit Zone” with gardens, man-made waterfalls and streams, bamboo forest, traditional Korean pavilions and observation tower for tourists to experience serenity and appreciate taekwondo’s roots in the spirit of nature.  For more information, you may visit Taekwondowon’s website.

Next time you visit South Korea, don’t forget to visit the Taekwondowon and/or participate in the above events (if time permits) to learn more about this Korean national sports.

Reminder: Due to some new personal commitments, starting from next week, I will publish blog posts twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively.  So, the next blog post will be published on 17 March 2015.  Watch this space!



Arirang TV, “Taekwondo” , 100 Icons of Korean Culture, 2015-02-27

Julie Jackson, “Mountainous Muju now home to world’s largest taekwondo training grounds“, The Korea Herald, 2014-05-23

Robot Taekwon V gets back again“, Hancinema, 2005-05-15

O Youn-hee, “Classic ‘Taekwon V’ reanimated“, Korea Culture & Contents Agency, 2003-09-13

Ronald A. Southwick, “A Brief History of Taekwondo“, Michigan State University, 1998

Taekwondo“, Korea Tourism Organization

Taekwondo“, Korea.net


10 thoughts on “Korean martial arts culture – Taekwondo

  1. Thanks for any other wonderful post. Where else could anyone get that type of information in such an ideal approach of writing?
    I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am on the look for such information.


    • Thanks for your comments. You may refer to the materials listed under the “References” section of my posts and the “Resources” page of my web site.


  2. Hi,this post is amazing, but i still have a question.
    how do Korean instructors embed cultural traditions into taekwondo?


    • Taekwondo is a sport that emphasizes a sense of morality, humility, and a respect for one’s opponent and puts more emphasis on defense because of the taekwondo spirit of respecting peace and justice. These values are in line with the those emphasized by Confucianism which had strong influence on the Korean culture. Apart from teaching practical combat and defense techniques, the Korean instructors emphasizes these values to their students.




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