Korean Sport

South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, giving the country an economical boost through increased tourism and greater world recognition. At the time, North_Korea boycotted the event on the grounds that it was not made co-host.

A unified Korean team competed under the Unification Flag in 1991 in both the 41st World Table Tennis Championship in Chiba, Japan and in the 6th World Youth Soccer Championship in Lisbon, Portugal. A unified Korean team marched under the Unification Flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, but competed separately in sporting events. As of the 2006 Asian Games, South Korean officials have announced the countries shall compete in the same unified sporting teams as well.

In the summer of 2002, the FIFA World Cup was hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan, at 10 stadiums in each country. They competed separately, however.

Taekwondo (also spelled Tae Kwon Do or Taekwon-Do) is the most popular of the Korean martial arts and is the Korean national sport. It is also one of the world's most commonly practiced sports. The World Taekwondo Federation's style of Taekwondo is currently an Olympic sport.

In Korean, derived from hanja, Tae means "to kick or destroy with the foot"; Kwon means "to punch with the fist"; and Do means "way" or "art". Hence, Taekwondo is loosely translated as "the art of kicking and punching" or "the way of the foot and the fist." Taekwondo's popularity has resulted in the divergent evolution of the art. As with many other martial arts, Taekwondo is a combination of combat technique, sport, exercise, entertainment, and philosophy.

Although there are great doctrinal and technical differences among Taekwondo styles, the art in general emphasizes kicks thrown from a mobile stance, using the leg's greater reach and power to disable the opponent from a distance. In sparring, roundhouse, front, ax, and side kicks are most often used; advanced kicks include jump, spin, skip, and drop kicks, often in combination. Taekwondo training includes a comprehensive system of hand strikes and blocks, but generally does not emphasize grappling or close-in combat.

While the practice of martial arts has ancient roots in Korea, the naming and systemization of Taekwondo occurred relatively recently, and the Olympic sparring rules are being revised even today. See Korean martial arts.



As far back as the Silla Dynasty (668 AD - 935 AD), Chinese Chuan Fa techniques were used to train Korean warriors. These techniques evolved to become the empty-hand art of Subak, which was standardized during the Koryo Dynasty (935 AD - 1392 AD). During the early Joseon Dynasty (1393 - 1910), Subak was divided into Taekyon (a striking art) and Yusul (a grappling art). Through the years, however, Yusul was practiced with decreasing frequency and, eventually, only the Taekyon aspect of Subak remained, facing extinction.

In the late 18th century, King Chongjo ordered the compilation of the Muye Dobo Tongji, an official martial arts text which identified many disciplines, including the empty-hand Kwonbup (transliteration of Chinese Chuan Fa, from which Subak was derived). Taekyon survived during the last part of the Chosun Dynasty via the secret practice of certain Korean families and street gangs.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), many Koreans were exposed to Japanese versions of Chinese martial arts such as karate. As the Japanese moved deeper into the continent, karate was adopted and mixed with more traditional Korean martial arts such as Taekyon, as well as traditional Chinese martial arts studied by Koreans in Manchuria and China.

Upon the liberation of Korea in 1945, various martial arts schools formed, including Chongdokwan, Yonmukwan, Changmukwan, Odokwan, and Mudokkwan. General Choi Hong Hi, generally considered the father of modern Taekwondo, taught a combination of Karate and Taekyon to his soldiers.

In 1955, these arts, at that time called various names by the different schools, were ordered to unify by South Korea's President Syngman Rhee. A governmental body selected Choi's submission of "Taekwondo" as the name. Taekwondo incorporated more native Korean martial art styles, including difficult kicks from Taekyon in a modified linear form.

In 1959, the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed, with General Choi as president. This year also marked the first international tour of Taekwondo, by General Choi and 19 black belts.

In 1960, Jhoon Rhee was teaching what he called Korean Karate (or Tangsudo) in the United States. After a visit from General Choi, Rhee changed the name of his art to Taekwondo. Rhee is often considered the father of Taekwondo in America.

A goodwill trip to the Communist government of North Korea in 1966 caused General Choi to fall out of favor in South Korea. General Choi left for Canada, founding the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) in March of that year, with associations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, the United States, Turkey, Italy, Egypt and Korea. The ITF focused on a more martial style of Taekwondo, complete with tol, or forms, developed by Choi. By 1971, ITF had more than 65 member countries. General Choi died in 2002, in Pyongyang, North Korea.

In 1972, Kukkiwon was founded as the headquarters for Taekwondo in South Korea. In 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was formed by the South Korean government to rival the ITF. It was originally headed by Kim Un-Yong (later a member of the IOC), with participation of 35 delegates from around the world. Kukkiwon-WTF changed its format to focus on Taeguk pumse, sparring, and the competitive aspect of Taekwondo, holding the 1st World Taekwondo Championships in May 1973.

In July 1980, the International Olympic Committee recognized the WTF and, Taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. It has been an official Olympic event since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Taekwondo was admitted to the Asian Games as an official event in 1984.


Traditionally there are ten colour belt levels, called gup (or kup) ranks, and nine black belt levels, called degree or dan ranks. Each colour of belt (white, yellow, green, blue, red, black) having a specific meaning; for instance, white signifies innocence, as that of a beginning student who has no previous knowledge of Taekwon-Do.

The International Taekwon-Do Federation uses a system of 10 kup ranks and nine dan ranks. The colour belt ranks run from 10th kup to 1st kup. The black belt ranks run from 1st dan to 9th dan. 1st to 3rd dan have the title Assistant Instructor (Boo-Sabum); 4th to 6th are have the title Instructor (Sabum); 7th and 8th are Master (Sahyun), and 9th degree is a Grand Master (Saseong). The first Grand Master was the founder of Taekwon-Do, General Choi Hong Hi. The second Grand Master was Rhee Ki Ha, who was promoted to 9th dan by General Choi at the 1997 World Championships in Russia. Today there are probably about 20 Grand Masters. The reason for nine black belt degrees, according to General Choi, is that the number three is a powerful number in the orient, therefore three threes must be the most powerful. See also the ITF ranks article.

The traditional belt colors recognized by the Kukkiwon (headquarters of the World Taekwondo Federation) are white, yellow, green, blue, and red. Between solid colors, a central stripe down the middle of the belt reflecting the next full belt color is added to indicate progress in Gup level. For example, from white the next belt would be white with a yellow stripe. Some schools instead place a "tip" or belt-end stripe of the next color on a student's belt to signify a rise in rank. Other schools opt for two-tone belts, reflecting both the lower rank and the next rank (eg., between the white belt and the yellow belt would be a belt half white, half yellow). Some schools opt to use a solid color alternative instead of stripes. For example, a common belt-color scheme is: white, yellow, gold, orange, green, purple, blue, brown, red. There is NO standardization in belt colors in the United States or elsewhere. Another example is Australia, where many schools use white, yellow, blue, red and black. In these schools progression through gup levels is signified by white stripes near the tip if the belt, so white (equivalent to yellow I), yellow II & III, blue I, II & III, red I, II & III, then red belt with black tip for Cho Dan Bo (sort of black belt in-training) and black for Cho Dan (1st Dan)

Rank advancement records are kept by the school of origin and often by the style's association headquarters. Black Belt ranks are recognized as: 1st - 3rd, Instructor. 4th - 6th, Master. 7th - 9th, Grand Master. Tenth dan has historically been reserved as a posthumous award, but in recent years it has seen presentation to a few living (mostly Korean) recipients. For WTF practitioners grading achievements of Cho Dan and above must be registered with the Kukkiwon to be recognised and therefore eligible to train in WTF clubs around the world.