Taekwondo as a sport has over 60 million practitioners in 184 countries. It originates from South Korea where the world governing body, the World Taekwondo (WT), is currently based

The modern form of Taekwondo was not agreed until 1955, but the sport has its roots in various Korean forms of martial arts stretching back more than 2,000 years.

The name Taekwondo literally translates as the way of the foot and the fist.

‘Tae’ means to break or attack with the foot, ‘kwon’ means to break with the fist and ‘do’ translates as the art or way.

The art of Taekwondo holds its roots in ancient times, dating back over 2300 years in ‘Old Korea’.

However it has only been known as “Taekwondo” since the official unification of the 5 major Korean martial arts academies or Kwans in April 1955.

Taekwondo was also introduced into the Korean military by South Korean President Syngman Rhee in 1952, after a flourish in Korean martial art development after a liberation ceasing a 30 year Japanese rule. It was widely taught and used during the Vietnam War about a decade after first being formed.

Since then, The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was officially established in Seoul, Korea at the Kukkiwon (Headquarters) in 1973.

Taekwondo was introduced into the General Association of International Sports Federations (AGISF) and the International Council of Military Sports (CISM) later in 1976.

WTF then became an International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized sports federation in 1980 before making its way as a demonstration sport for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, becoming an official event at the 2000 Sydney Olympic games.

It is now also part of the Common Wealth games after its introduction in Brisbane, 2006.​

Finally in 2017 changing its name, by dropping the word Federation to become the World Taekwondo (WT).

If there is a difference between taekwondo as a sport, and taekwondo as an art, it is that the art recognises no rules for combat while the sport of taekwondo is highly regulated for the safety of its participants.

As an art, taekwondo focuses on a combination of combat techniques and self-defense as well as being a good form of exercise and enjoyment.

In taekwondo a system of attacking and defensive movements incorporating punching, kicking and blocking techniques as well as differing stances is done in a set sequence and is referred to as Poomsae. These basic movements bring together all the martial art skills in a graceful yet powerful manner.

Poomsae forms a significant part of the promotion process in taekwondo, and practitioners must be able to demonstrate a good understanding of the arrangements before that can progress to the next rank.

Belts and promotion

Like many martial arts, taekwondo has ranks called ‘Kup’. The grading in taekwondo consists mainly of patterns, ‘poomsae’, techniques and theory. Theory is displayed verbally and expresses information on Korean words, vital information such as the rules of the sport and a general understanding and knowledge of taekwondo.

New students begin at 10th Kup (white belt) and advance down in number to 1st Kup. students then advance into an intermediate rank called meaning “black belt candidate”. After this the student takes a dan test, after which the student becomes a 1st dan black belt.

Kup ranks and belt colours

The coloured belt system represents the progression of a student from white, the innocence of a beginner to the maturity of the black belt, who is impervious to darkness and fear. The coloured belt sequence from white to black is as follows:

Colour and meaning

10 Kup               White Belt – Signifies innocence, as that is the beginning student who has no previous knowledge of Taekwondo.

9 Kup                 Yellow Tab – A middle phase between a total beginner and yellow belt.

8 Kup                 Yellow Belt – Signifies earth, from which a plant grows roots as the Taekwondo foundation is being laid.

7 Kup                 Green Tab – A middle phase between yellow and green

6 Kup                 Green Belt – Signifies the plant’s growth, as Taekwondo skills begin to develop.

5 Kup                 Blue Tab – A middle phase between green and blue

4 Kup                 Blue Belt – Signifies heaven or the sky, toward which the plant matures into a towering tree as training in Taekwondo progresses.

3 Kup                 Red Tab – A middle phase between blue and red

2 Kup                 Red Belt – Signifies danger, cautioning the student to exercise control and warning the opponent to stay away.

1 Kup                 Black Tab – Final phase between red and black

1 Dan                 Black Belt – Opposite to white, therefore signifying maturity and proficiency in Taekwondo. Also indicates the wearer’s imperviousness to darkness and fear.

Black belt – Dan ranks

Dan ranks increase from 1st Dan to 10th Dan. Generally a dan black belt is either a plain black belt or has a stripe across the tip for each rank usually gold. For example, a 5th dan could have five gold stripes across the end of the belt.

All New Zealand Taekwondo members receive ranks of 1st dan and above issued from the Kukkiwon. To participate in the Olympic Games all black belt must be registered this way.

Taekwondo teaches more than just physical fighting skills and defensive techniques. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind.

Taekwondo first appeared in the Olympics as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. It is now also a Commonwealth Games sport.

It made its debut as an official Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Since then it has also featured in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Taekwondo is certainly not limited to those in superb physical condition. Anyone can take advantage of its benefits when learning proper techniques.

The Match, The Rules

Taekwondo is characterised by the use of powerful kicks. Using the legs allows athletes to have a greater reach and power to disable the opponent from a distance. In sparring, turning and back kicks are most often used.

The competition is fought on a Square or Octagonal Contest Area that measures a minimum 8 m × 8 m with a safety area of at least 2 m around the contest area.

The contestants wear a red or blue trunk protector (hogu) and head protector, a groin guard, forearm guards, shin guards, hand protectors, and a mouth protector.

The duration of the contest is non-stop three rounds of two minutes each, with a one-minute rest period between rounds. In case of a draw after the completion of the third round, a fourth round of two minutes will be conducted as the ‘golden point’ overtime round.

In the event of a tied score, after the golden point round, the judging officials decide the match based on the initiative shown during the final round.

Foot techniques are only allowed by using the parts of the foot below the ankle bone. No shin or knee techniques are permitted.

Hand techniques only score with the front of the first two knuckles of the closed hand (fist), and only with the leading part of the hand.

Full force attack by fist and foot techniques is permitted on the areas covered by the trunk protector.

Only foot technique attacks to any part of the head are allowed. Hand techniques to the head are prohibited.

Points are awarded when permitted techniques deliver force. (Doesn’t have to be full force. Accurate and powerful, yes, but a balance of the two.) Points are awarded through the PSS electronic scoring system, with judges adding for a spin or back kick.  Points are therefore awarded as follows:

  • One point for fist attack that strikes trunk protector (fist awarded by corner judges).
  • Two points for a foot attack that strikes trunk protector.
  • Three points for a kick to the head
  • Four points for spinning or back kick that strikes the body.
  • Five points for a spinning kick to the head
  • A player is declared winner if the referee stops the contest.

You may be assigned a penalty for prohibited acts. This is known as a ‘Gam-Jeom’ (deduction penalty). When a competitor receives 10 ‘Gam-Jeom’ the referee will declare the opposing competitor as the winner. Or if any competitor receives 5 ‘Gam-Jeom’ within a single round, their opponent will be declared winner of that round. Under the referee punitive declaration (PUN).

Although only sparring is contested in the Olympics, breaking, poomsae and self-defense are also key parts of the martial art of taekwondo and contested frequently in other competitions.

As well as the sporting and self-defence aspects to Taekwondo, there is also an exercise element, which brings health improvements such as; balance, flexibility, stamina, strength and posture.

In addition to the physical health improvements, Taekwondo is also known to benefit mental health through increased confidence, improved self-esteem, focus, concentration levels and self-discipline.

Taekwondo is suitable for all ages, and Selwyn Taekwondo membership ranges from 5 years to MUCH MUCH more years.

More health benefits of Taekwondo;

  • Improved muscle tone and appearance
  • Increased strength and stamina
  • Improved confidence and self-esteem
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved agility and reflexes
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Greater self-discipline
  • Reduced stress

Taekwondo remains a hugely popular activity for both adults and children and boasts circa 60 million practitioners across the world.