What is Taekwondo?
A dynamic Korean martial art and Olympic sport, Taekwondo translates as the ‘the way of hand and foot fighting’. It is a hugely popular martial art, with an estimated 70 million practitioners worldwide. The art was developed during the 1940s and 1950s by the original 9 Kwans (schools), settling on the name “Taekwondo” in 1955. It was created primarily from its Karate roots, with some influence from Chinese and traditional Korean martial arts. For more on the history of Taekwondo we recommend these conference abstracts as a starting point.
Taekwondo is most often associated with its spectacular kicking techniques and its full contact Olympic sparring discipline. Taekwondo syllabuses also include a wide variety of striking techniques, self defence training, series of prearranged patterns or forms, locks and throws, power breaking of wooden boards and other demonstration elements, and both semi and full contact disciplines of point sparring competition.
Taekwondo practitioners typically follow a training syllabus taught by an instructor and overseen by the senior examining instructors of their club or association. Students attend tests known as gradings every three to six months to evaluate their patterns, sparring and breaking techniques, and successful candidates are promoted in grade. Your grade is denoted by a sequence of coloured belt for junior (Kup) grades followed by black belt (Dan) grades. There is a strong emphasis on discipline and good etiquette amongst practitioners of the art.
Semi-contact Sparring Competition
What are the different disciplines of Taekwondo?
Taekwondo has become a hugely popular martial art worldwide and a number of disciplines are showcased in international competition. The variety of syllabuses taught are the result of complex history of influences, intrigues, hybrids, splits and unifications in the development of the martial art and sport.
While a variety of related disciplines exist, four are by far the most common in competition: semi contact rules sparring, Chang-Hon patterns, full contact rules sparring (as in the Olympic Games), and Kukkiwon patterns. These are most frequently taught together in their historic pairs and are colloquially known as an ‘ITF’ or ‘WTF’ syllabus after the international federations.
As in many sports and martial arts the relationships between the various international federations is complex. The World Taekwondo Federation which delivers the WTF full contact rules Olympic Games and other international events is a separate organisation from the Kukkiwon, a taekwondo governing organisation established by the South Korean government in 1972 which trains Kukkiwon syllabus examiners. Following a schism in the largest International Taekwondo Federation following the death of its founder General Choi Hong Hi there are currently three substantial ITF organisations, each overseeing their own international events and each training examiners in very similar semi-contact sparring and Chang-Hon patterns based syllabuses. A variety of less common disciplines are also practiced, and groups partially or entirely independent from the larger national and international federations also organise competition in one or more of the more popular disciplines.
Kukkiwon Team Patterns Competition
How is Taekwondo Organised Internationally?
There are a large number of different international Taekwondo federations, and nationally you will find instructors affiliated to a wide variety different organisations providing Taekwondo training. While this variety has resulted in a variety of clubs to choose from, it has also resulted in divisions that have hindered participation between practitioners, and makes it difficult for newcomers to the sport to compare between different Taekwondo clubs and organisations. The BSTF are able to provide independent and impartial advice to students, student unions and university sports departments who have any questions about the provision of Taekwondo training, gradings and tournaments – please contact us if you have any queries.
At an international level it was not until 2014, with the encouragement of the International Olympic Committee, that a protocol of accord was agreed between the World Taekwondo Federation (the international federation which oversees the Olympic Taekwondo event) and one of the big three International Taekwondo Federation organisations. The two organisations pledged to acknowledge their common roots, further their co-operation and promote cross participation amongst athletes across all disciplines of Taekwondo. We welcome the open and collaborative approach now being adopted by these international federations, and hope to see further growth in multi-discipline events at the national level.
IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach, with WTF President Dr. Choue Chungwon and ITF President Dr. Chang Ung
How is Taekwondo Organised Within Universities?
Outside of universities the typical model is for instructors to open a Taekwondo club which they own and control. Instructors are often members of a larger Taekwondo association through which they access grading services and tournaments for their club’s members, and train and grade themselves under their association’s senior instructors.
Within universities the structure is very different, as clubs and their sport departments employ an instructor to teach a certain number of sessions per week, while an elected student club committee controls and operates the club. Students usually purchase an annual membership or ‘license’ from the same organisation of which their instructor is a member. These memberships are typically £10 – £30 per year and include member to member insurance and access to that organisation’s events and grading services. There are several organisations university clubs may wish to engage for their services, such as one of the various associations affiliated to either of the two NGB groups (BT and the BTC), to one of several independent associations (TKDEL, TKDSL, AMA, ITS and others), or to their students’ union alone.
If this all sounds rather complex, the good news is that British Student Taekwondo Federation events are open to all university Taekwondo clubs, regardless of third party memberships. The BSTF is a registered charity, and provides representation for all university Taekwondo clubs equally. We are governed by Trustees who are elected directly by the university clubs themselves, working in the best interest of all of our members. We offer multi-discipline championships consistent with the rules of the respective international federations, independently insuring our events so that all university clubs can get on with training and competing freely together in the spirit of university sport. Please explore this website to learn more about our work.
BSTF Chair Mehdi Mirza, Master Usman Dildar and WTF President Dr Chungwon Choue meeting in Oxford, 2015