Off all the directions in which Taekwondo has gone since its origins in post-World War II Korea, there is none perhaps so dynamic and flamboyant as the so-called “Olympic-style”.
This style of Taekwondo has come to be the dominant variant of the world’s most widely practiced Martial Art. But how did a particular branch of this art eventually become an official Olympic game? Its history is a storied and colorful one, and one with no shortage of intrigue .
But before we get into the history of this explosive combative sport, let us briefly discuss its stylistic merits;
Olympic Taekwondo forbids punching techniques anywhere beside the front and side of the torso. Kicks are permitted above the waist, with the throat, spine, back of head, and neck viewed as areas to be avoided, though an accidental strike to one of these areas with a kicking technique is not viewed with the same contempt as an accidental or seemingly accidental punch to the face or head.
There is no wrestling, grabbing of the opponent’s kicking leg, or head butting allowed in Olympic-style Taekwondo. These rules set up a situation where one can commit a hundred percent of their full-power, speed, and technique into kicking techniques to the head and torso, without concern for boxing or wrestling-type maneuvers. For a fighter of any discipline to attempt to compete against a high-level or Olympic-caliber Taekwondo fighter in the Olympic set of rules would be an exercise in punishment.
This relatively new sport has been spoken of as, “The most beautiful Martial Arts sport to have ever been created”, and your author would find this declaration quite difficult to refute. While some arts such as Jiu-jitsu, or some techniques for example kicks to the legs and thighs require some appreciation on behalf of the spectator, there is no imagination required in appreciating a spinning-hook kick to the head.
It is in Taekwondo’s tapestry of unique and awe-inspiring kicking techniques that the sport drives its essence. A “knotobaun” or spinning round-kick followed by a spinning back kick which connects flush to the intended target, is a sight to behold, regardless of one’s personal martial tastes. It is in such exchanges such as these where the complexity of Taekwondo in its chess-like glory is most exalted. This style favors the counter-attack rather than initial attack of an exchange, thereby setting up a plentitude of defensive possibilities. If for example, the afore-mentioned knotobaun, back kick combo is thrown yet parried by the defender, the resulting split-second loss of total balance is enough for an expert Taekwondoist to counter with say a well-placed roundhouse kick to the undefended ribs of the attacker.
The extreme velocity of the initial attack results in an added impact to the counter-attacks already explosive speed and power. The resulting “thud” echoed thru the lungs of the recipient of this blow, compounded by the slap or snap of the “hogu” or chest protector, is enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most hardened combat-sport enthusiast. As with nearly all other art forms, the subject is best described thru its actions, and in this case that is the high-speed combative ballet that is actual high-level Olympic style competition.
But how did a hybrid of Japanese Karate and native Korean martial styles such as Tae-Kyon come to be the world’s most widely practiced variant of the world’s most widely practiced Martial Art? A brief timeline of this sport’s rise from Korean national past time to its inclusion in the official Olympic games will prove useful in our quest to better understand this phenomenon;
On May 25, 1973, the 1st World Taekwondo Championship was held at the Kukkiwon, the headquarters for the eventual World Taekwondo Federation, by the K.T.A., or Korea Taekwondo Association. This was and is the governing body of Korea in particular, as the now-defunct United States Taekwondo Union was in this country (it has since been replaced by the U.S.A.T. organization). The World Taekwondo Federation as a governing body consisting of individual national governing bodies was officially created the following day.
By 1978 the first Pan-American Taekwondo championship was held in Mexico City. By 1985, Taekwondo was adopted as a demonstration sport for the upcoming 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. Many thought that this was a concession to the host nation in an effort to respect the native culture, and that Taekwondo would never in fact become an official Olympic game. They were wrong. And by the year 2000’s Summer Olympics, held in Sydney, Australia, Taekwondo’s dreams of official Olympic inclusion were realized.
It is a testament to the tenacity and will of the Korean people that they were able to gain Olympic-status for their relatively new sport. The finer details of this struggle are food for much study into the machinations of such an endeavor, as well as a case-study into the human nature we all share which sometimes lead us to unpleasantness such as IOC (International Olympic Committee) scandals.
A facet of Olympic-style Taekwondo that makes it easily recognizable from its I.T.F. or traditional-style counterparts, is its unique uniform. While other Taekwondo schools or martial art systems may adopt the very same “dobok”, the “V-neck” cut of a W.T.F. uniform is unmistakable.
This practicality-conscious innovation was indeed born of comfort, but the significance of this new form of martial sport-combat having its own peculiar uniform can not be understated. While the majority of U.S. Taekwondoists involved in competition in the open-Karate circuits went the way of their American karate counterparts in adopting varied, flashy, and sometimes quite ridiculous uniforms and competition wear, it was refreshing to see the W.T.F. enforce the practice of solely allowing the white, V-neck uniform at its competitions. To witness the opening ceremonies of an Olympic-style competition and see the throngs of devotees decked-out in their crisp, white, V-neck doboks, is to immediately see and feel the unity that exists within this world-wide athletic family. While the traditional aspects of Karate-type fighting may be all but unperceivable in today’s Olympic sport, these traditions are preserved in the poomse or “forms” divisions of Taekwondo competition.
While not a medal sport, poomse represents the spirit of the Taekwondoist as a philosopher, and observer of life’s varied manifestations. At most local, state, and national level competitions one will usually find forms divisions, and sometimes even group forms, or musical forms divisions. It is not unheard of for there to also be breaking divisions, though these are often unwieldy and inconsistent affairs.
Participation in Olympic-style Taekwondo is a pursuit requiring dedication, and attention to one’s athleticism and conditioning. For those willing to undergo its often exhilarating rigors, this sport will transport a person to a world of achievement and self-learning, and also results in a strengthening of character matched by few other physical pursuits.
At Velocity Martial Arts and American Top Team of Pompano Beach, we have an Olympic-style Taekwondo program designed to meet the needs of novice competitors and elite-level alike. Whether your desires and interests lead to you to pursue your own Olympic dream, or if this sport serves to create a foundation of movement and kicking to prepare oneself for other martial realms such as MMA, Olympic-style Taekwondo is an exciting, fun way to learn practical self-defense skills and test and develop one’s character.
Come to our spacious facility in the heart of South Florida and experience the energy and excitement that is Olympic-style Taekwondo today!