Taekwondo is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, it teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind. Today, it has become a global sport that has gained an international reputation, and stands among the official games in the Olympics.
Let's take a closer look at the meaning of the word “Tae Kwon Do”. It is composed of three parts as shown in the English spelling, though it is one word in Korean. "Tae" means foot, leg, or to step on; "Kwon" means fist, or fight; and "Do" means the way or discipline. If we put these three parts together, we can see two important concepts behind "Tae Kwon Do".
First, Taekwondo is the way of using “Tae” and “Kwon”, 'fists and feet,' or all the parts of the body that are represented by fists and feet. Second, it is a way to control or calm down fights and keep the peace. This concept comes from the meaning of “Tae Kwon” 'to put fists under control' [or 'to step on fists']. Thus Taekwondo means "the way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world."
Taekwondo has been developing throughout the 5000-year long history of Korea, being called by several different names during that time. Taekwondo began as a defence martial art called "Subak" or "Taekkyon" and developed as a way of training body and mind in the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, under the name of “Sunbae”. In the Shilla period, it became the backbone of Hwarangdo, a military, educational and social organisation whose aim was to produce leaders of the country. After Korean independence in 1945 there were 9 Kwans (schools) all teaching their own style of Taekkyon. In 1955 by the order of Syngman Rhee the 9 Kwans were unified under one name “Taekwondo”.
Taekwondo today is similar to the martial arts of other Oriental countries and shares some features with them. This is because in the course of its evolution it has integrated aspects of the many different styles of martial arts of the countries surrounding Korea, like Japan and China.
But Taekwondo is very different from many such oriental martial arts. Firstly, physically it is very dynamic with active movements that include a myriad of foot skills. Secondly, the principle physical movements are in harmony with that of the mind and life as a whole.
Taekwondo can be characterized by unity: the unity of body, mind, and life. When you do Taekwondo, you should make your mind peaceful and synchronize your mind with your movements, and extend this harmony to your life and society. This is how in Taekwondo the principle of physical movements, the principle of mind training, and the principle of life become one and the same.
How come we reach such a unity in Taekwondo?
Taekwondo is a way of life, much like having a job, raising a family, fighting for a cause, or any one of numerous raison d'etre. What makes Taekwondo different from these is that it is an activity for survival in extremely antagonistic situations. One must always overcome the enemy that is trying to cause harm. But simply winning a fight is not enough to guarantee one's safety, because the enemy may recuperate and attack again. Moreover, there may be many other enemies than the one that was just defeated. One cannot ever feel safe unless one gains permanent peace. To attain this permanent or lasting peace, one needs unity. This is what Taekwondo aims for. Otherwise Taekwondo would be no different from street-fighting.
Taekwondo pursues harmonious growth and improvement of life through its unique activities. This is why one could say Taekwondo is a way of life. To ultimately enable ourselves to lead more valuable lives, we would do well by finding the guiding principles deeply hidden in Taekwondo.