As the popularity of Taekwondo has grown worldwide, it is important to understand the separation of the art as a sport and as a martial art. As a supporter of both styles, one cannot argue the fact in which the impact of sport Taekwondo (TKD) has had over the prominence of the traditional art of Tae Kwon Do. Elements of both styles can be seen in various arenas of both sport and martial arts, including inside the fighting cages of the MMA.
Due to the renowned and celebrated approval of Olympic Sport Taekwondo, the martial art of Tae Kwon Do has become somewhat overshadowed and many view the Korean art of self defense as a “sport” only. To acknowledge the separation between sport TKD and the martial art of Taekwondo, one must have an understanding and appreciation of the deep, historical roots of what is a true and traditional martial art.
Modern-day Taekwondo was founded upon hard styles of martial arts such as Shotokan and Shudokan Karate, Judo, Hapkido, Shaolin and Chuan Fa Kung Fu. Ancestral roots of Taekwondo are attached to such ancient martial arts as Taekkyeon, (Subak), Kwon Bup and Kong Soo Do. Although the name “Tae Kwon Do” was not coined until 1955 by General Choi Hong Hi, the martial art of Taekwondo would evolve from other arts such as Soo Bahk Do with roots to the Korean kingdom of Silla, providing founding roots to modern-day TKD dating back nearly 2,700 years.
The martial art of Tae Kwon Do was derived out of the original nine Kwans (schools) and their founders:
- Chung Do Kwan: Won Kuk Lee
- Ji Do Kwan : Sang Sup Chun
- Moo Duk Kwan: Hwang Kee
- Chang Moo Kwan: Yoon Byung In / Lee Nam Suk
- Song Moo Kwan: Byung Jick Ro
- Oh Do Kwan: General Choi Hong Hi
- Kang Duk Won: Hong Jong Pyo / Park Chul Hee
- Han Moo Kwan: Lee Kyo Yoon
- Jung Do Kwan: Le Yong Woo
Based on the martial art lineage of these founders, Tae Kwon Do can ultimately be traced to martial arts taught to the ancient Korean military as a lethal form of self defense.
With the founding of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in 1973, its establishment was practically immediately viewed by most as being a World Sports Federation. Although primary objectives of the WTF were to promote Taekwondo on a global scale, the obvious mission was to ultimately see Taekwondo as an Olympic and Paralympic sport.
With Taekwondo becoming an official Olympic sport in 2000, many practitioners are anxiously awaiting the final decision of the IPC Governing Board to rule on the approval to include Taekwondo in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games; a decision that is currently scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi between January 30 and February 1 of 2015. Conclusively, if the decision is made by the governing board of the International Paralympic Committee, the World Taekwondo Federation continues to accomplish the primary goals for which it was established.
Additionally, martial art sports such as Taekwondo and MMA have many rules, policies and regulations, all established for the safety of the participants as well as being governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the governing jurisdiction in which the sport is based. The same is true for Boxing, Judo and Wrestling. Because of the limitations that these rules place on the participants, it is technically and historically incorrect to combine the “sport” into the same category as a “martial art”.
In the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for example, one must be highly skilled in traditional martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, Muay Thai, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling and Tae Kwon Do. Simply because these fighting arts are used in an established sport setting, makes each one no less of a martial art: a proven and traditional system of combat, regardless if its original conception was based on the principles of a “combat sport” and void of any “martial ethic” values.
The origins of Karate were simple, yet extremely devastating and the primary founders of what would become known as Tae Kwon Do, first practiced hard-styles of Karate. Ro Byung Jick, Lee Won Kyuk, Hwang Kee, Yoon Byung-In and Chun Sang Sup all studied hard Karate such as Shotokan, and some with roots to Taekkyeon/Subak; hard, deadly forms of self-defense.
As for the two major organizations: the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) (Martial Art) and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) (Sport), millions of martial artists and athletes across the globe have the ability to share in the diversity of a martial art with ancestral roots that wind their way through history for thousands of years.
Whether in sport competition or of a combative nature, the roots of Tae Kwon Do undeniably lead to that of a martial art which is precise, powerful and deadly, yet encompasses the philosophical teachings of peace. It is the primary element which distinguishes the true aspect of traditional Taekwondo as a martial art; an aspect which all involved should never allow to slip away into obscurity.