The Art of Taekwondo

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Workout methods have often drawn inspiration from Asia – pilates, body combat, body attack, and even cross fit all have roots in the martial arts practices found in the Orient. The term “martial arts” covers many different practices, and is defined as “codified systems and traditions of combat practices which are practiced for a variety of reasons: self-defense, competition, physical health, and fitness, as well as mental, physical, and spiritual development.”

The most popular forms of martial arts are often the ones with the greatest fortitude for health and fitness – taekwondo is no exception. Originating in Korea, taekwondo combines combat techniques, self-defence, sport, and exercise and was established in the 1950s and 60s by the South Korean military. The names and symbolism of the traditional kicking patterns often refer to elements of Korean history, culture, and religious philosophy.

Loosely translated as “to strike by way of hand and foot,” taekwondo training generally includes a system of blocks, kicks, punches, and open-handed strikes and may also include various take-downs or sweeps, throws, and joint locks. Some taekwondo instructors also incorporate the use of pressure points, known as jiapsul, as well as grabbing self-defense techniques borrowed from other martial arts.

Taekwondo practitioners are typically dressed in an all-white uniform (sometimes instructors dress in black) with a belt tied around the waist. The colour of the belt denotes what level of expertise the practitioner has reached. They are, as follows:

  • White belt : signifies innocence, much like that of a novice, who has no previous knowledge of taekwondo.
  • Yellow belt : signifies earth, from which aseed begins to grow – an analogy to the foundations of taekwondo being laid.
  • Green belt : signifies the plant's growth, as one's taekwondo skills begin to develop.
  • Blue belt : signifies heaven, the direction in which the plant grows towards – a metaphor to the training progression made.
  • Red belt : signifies danger, At this stage the student is very skilled in taekwondo and could cause serious damage without self-control.
  • Black belt : Represents maturity, a good level of skill in taekwondo, and a rejection of darkness and fear.

Each taekwondo school is unique but most will include some consistent practices, and a student typically takes part in most or all of the following:

  • Learning the techniques and curiculum of taekwondo
  • Both anaerobic and aerobic workouts
  • Self-defence tevhniques Sparring
  • Relaxation and meditation exercises
  • Throwing and/or falling techniques
  • A focus on mental and ethical discipline,etiquette, justice, respect, and self-confidence

Once the foundations are laid, students move on to breaking boards, a practice made popular through numerous Hollywood martial arts movies. Demonstrations often also incorporate bricks, tiles, and blocks of ice.

Despite the notion that all this board breaking is likely to cause injury, taekwondo competitors traditionally sustain only minor injuries. Only about 8% of competitors are injured per competition, with the legs being the most common location for injuries, and bruising the most common injury type.

Beside gaining a new skill, the benefits of taekwondo speak for themselves. The practice enhances self-esteem and strengthens both the body and mind by heightening physical and mental prowess, and helps to develop discipline. Taekwondo also trains people to recognise situations where physical self-defence may be necessary, and also teaches them to twist such situations to their advantage. As a sport included in the Olympics, there's even the odd chance of you winning a medal!


Self-Defence Techniques


It is common knowledge that the best self-defence technique is to avoid a bad situation. However, when trouble comes a-knocking, it is extremely important to assess the threat level and respond accordingly.

  • Make some noise – As soon as the attacker touches you, shout loudly and push back at him or her. This signals for help and it lets the attacker know you are not an easy target. It may not dissuade all attackers, but will warn off those that were looking for easy prey.
  • Know the most effective body parts to hit – The eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee, and legs are parts of the body where you can do the most damage easily. Poking or scratching the attacker's eyes with your fingers or knuckles can be effective, as is using the heel of your palm to strike just under his nose. You could possibly temporarily stuny our attacker with a knife hand strike (all fingers held straight and tightly together, with thumb tucked and slightly bent at the knuckle) at the side of the neck, or aim for the knee, as it is vulnerable from every angle and easily kicked without risk of your foot being grabbed.
  • Use everyday objects – Hold a key or pen between your middle and ring finger while walking home in the dark for more assurance. If outdoors, toss some dirt or sand into the attacker's eyes. Women are advised to spray perfume or hairspray into an assailant's eyes to momentarily blind them.


Source: The Expat March 2013

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