Taekwondo, or "the foot-fist way," is a martial art closely related to Karate. It is the national sport of South Korea, and is a medal sport in the summer Olympics. Taekwondo competition worldwide occurs under the auspices of two organizations, the International Taekwondo Federation and the World Taekwondo Federation. It is also a popular recreational sport: over seventy million people currently enjoy Taekwondo, and it is practiced in almost every country of the world.
Those who are familiar with Karate or other martial arts will find Taekwondo very familiar. In fact, for the experienced martial artist seeking to do Taekwondo, the most significant change will be in terminology: naturally, Taekwondo uses the Korean language. Technical terms in Taekwondo are usually cognate to their Japanese counterparts, but are different enough to cause confusion. For example, a training school is a dojang, rather than a dojo; a shout is kihap, not kiya. Others, like hyeong (form) are very different from the Japanese (kata), and will require practice.
The experienced martial artist will find the full range of punches, kicks, stances, forms, and techniques common to most Asian martial arts in Taekwondo. However, Taekwondo may be characterized as somewhat more rigid and regimented than other styles. It emphasizes crisp, clean techniques, deep stances, and orderly, synchronized movements. It is therefore ideal for teaching large classes, which may in part explain its popularity.
As with any martial art, how to do Taekwondo depends on conditioning both the body and mind. The movements and techniques form a template, a set of tools to be used in self-defense, but the real development is internal. Taekwondo classes involve rigorous cardiovascular exercise, which conditions the body to perform to its peak potential, and to endure grueling punishment. At the same time, the brain is also trained: conscious and unconscious mind are taught to work seamlessly with the body, to produce actions and reactions that are lightning fast, controlled, and effective.
The results can be impressive. Many people who do Taekwondo not only gain improved self-defense skills, but also experience substantial health benefits, elevated mood, enhanced coordination, and increased confidence in both physical and intellectual pursuits. Because all martial arts competition carries some risk of danger, it is an especially good venue for learning the value of control, consideration, and sportsmanship. Many people who do Taekwondo, especially children, report substantial improvements in the quality of their lives because of it. And, above all, everyone who participates considers it extremely fun!