Where did Taekwondo Originate? A Brief History - Combat Sport Events

Where did Taekwondo Originate? A Brief History

Taekwondo is a striking martial art that focuses primarily on head, spinning and jumping kicks but includes punches also. But have you ever wondered what exactly Taekwondo is and where it comes from? Well in this article I will give you a breakdown of this Martial Arts origin and rich history. 

As well as answering the question of its origin I would like to explore the martial art further and take a look at the rules, equipment used and the competitions that take place.

So without further ado let’s get started.

What is Taekwondo?

For people who don’t know exactly what Taekwondo is I suppose we should probably start here before diving into the origins of the sport.

The sport is of two opponents competiting to outpoint the other. The fighter scores points by either hitting or kicking a their opponent. The amount of points recieved depends on whether you kick or punch the opponent and also where on the body or head you kick or punch your opponent.

There are 3, 2 minute rounds in which the fighters get their chance to score points.

Where did Taekwondo originate? 

Taekwondo is a Korean Martial Art that originated from the city of Seoul in the 1950s. Although Taekwondo’s origins can be traced back much further than the 1950’s it is around this time when the unified martial art known as Taekwondo was developed.

The answer, however, is not as simple as that as the Taekwondo martial art is steeped in rich history. So let’s dive into this question further and take a deeper look.


Acrobatic style Taekwondo event

It was post-1945 when the second world war had ended and Korea was no longer under Japanese rule. New martial arts schools called kwans began to emerge in Seoul, Korea. (Kwan simply means building or hall, however, it’s meaning changes when used in martial arts as it refers to a clan of martial artists.)

Taekkyon, Subank and Gwonbeop were the traditional Korean martial art and although these new schools were set up by Korean martial artists they taught Japanese or Chinese martial arts. The traditional martial arts of Korea was essentially forgotten about due to ruling Japan had over Korea.

A merge of martial arts had developed throughout each kwan and although the term had not been coined yet the fighting style had developed.

In 1952 the South Korean President at the time witnessed a martial arts display and urged that martial arts be used to the army.

Later in 1955 the leaders of the kwans met to discuss the possibility of creating a newly formed Korean martial art that was unified.

Choi Hong Hi advocated to use the name we now know as Taekwondo.

Taekwondo Belts

The Taekwondo belt system varies differently from different styles and organizations. 

They are usually separated into Junior and Senior sections.

The Junior

In the Junior sections, they are generally broken into ranks ranging from white to red or brown. Theses ranks are known as geup.

These belts may be a solid color or a solid colour including stripes.

The number of geup ranks often varies on the style of Taekwondo.

There are no one set of belts according to the World Taewkondo website.

The Senior

The senior ranks the black belt is usually has 9 ranks or dans. The dan is in replace to the geup in the senior ranks. These basically are degrees of that belt so for example “second dan” is a second degree black belt.

Some styles incorporate both the dan and geup calling it bo-dan.

There are so many styles and variations that it would take forever to brush through them all.

Taekwondo Competition

Taekwondo competitions are about sparring, breaking and patterns. In Olympic Taekwondo you spar using world Taekwondo competition rules which is a massive document that can be read here.

Since this document is so large I will break down the main parts that you need to know.

Scoring System

The scoring system scores based on whether you use a kick or punch and target area.

While there are thousands of rules and regulations the main scoring factors of Olympic Taekwondo are as follows:

  • 1 point for punch to trunk
  • 2 points for kick to trunk (torso)
  • 3 points for headkick
  • 4 points turning kick to the trunk
  • 5 points turning headkick

A fighter must outpoint their opponent in a 3 round battle. However, the fight can be cut short if one of the opponents is unable to continue due to injury or knockout.

There are also penalties included if you do any of the following

  • Pushing
  • Turning your back
  • Grabbing
  • Holding

The term Gam-jeom is a Taekwondo offence that leads to a point being deducted. These examples include

  • Deliberately stepping over the boundary line (octagon outline)
  • Attacking the face with anything but a kick
  • Throwing your opponent to the ground

If an opponent is knocked to the ground it is similar to boxing in which the ref will give a 10 second count. This knockdown occurs if a part of the body (except for the foot) touches the mat.

It is similar to boxing in that there is also a standing 8 count and the ref can call off the fight if they believe the opponent is unfit to continue.

Equipment and facilities

For this example, I will refer to the WT rules which are used in the Olympic Games.

The area in which fighters fight on an octagonal coloured shape mat that is 8m x 8m.

The octagonal area is part of a bigger mat. This area is a different color to the octagon to display the area. The octagon has no boundary surrounding it.

Taekwondo mat

The fighters must wear several items of equipment while competing.

These items include

  • Foot protection/Shin protection
  • Head protection
  • Trunk/Chest protection
  • Gloves
  • Groin protection
  • Dobok
  • Belt
  • Mouth guard

This illustration below shows the equipment used in sparring.

Taekwondo equipment
Illustration by Shawn Hill

Taekwondo Olympic Weightclasses

The weight divisions for an Olympic taekwondo competition are as follows:

under 58kg (approx 128 lbs)under 49kg (approx 108 lbs)
under 68kg (approx 150 lbs)under 57kg (109-125 lbs)
under 80kg (151 lbs-176 lbs)under 67kg (approx 147.7 lbs)
over 80kg (177 lbs and beyond)over 67kg (148 lbs and beyond)

Famous people that know Taekwondo

Possibly the most famous celebrity that practiced Taekwondo was Chuck Norris. Known for his roles in several martial art movies such as Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury, Chuck was an 8th-degree black belt in Taekwondo.

Chuck Norris

Another extremely popular figure in the MMA world and is also associated with Taekwondo is Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan was an amateur competitive Taekwondo fighter up until he was 21 years old. However, he still trains Taekwondo techniques.

Joe Rogan

If you are considering teaching your child Taekwondo why not click here to check out our article on Taekwondo for Kids.

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