national symbols

Taekwondo, Korea's National Sport

Walking home from work in the evening, it's not uncommon for me to hear little boys and girls practicing taekwondo in the small studio around the corner from my apartment. If the timing is right, I see groups of kids walking home in their white uniforms, practicing a few moves on each other as they head home.

Taekwondo, Korea's national sport, is popular not just here in Korea, but all over the world. It most likely developed from other forms of Korean martial arts, like taekkyeon, which is commonly described as a more “dance-like” version of the sport. Korean martial arts have passed through several waves of popularity and near-extinction throughout the years. As recent as the early 20th-century, during the Japanese colonial period, the sports were prohibited. But, having been passed down secretly, they survived. After liberation, the government decided to eliminate Japanese influence from its martial arts by merging several forms into one. And so taekwondo was born.

The word "taekwondo" combines the characteristics of the sport: tae ("foot" or "kick"), kwon ("hand" or "punch") and do ("way" or "discipline"). The World Taekwondo Federation defines the sport as "the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world." Like most martial arts, taekwondo is more than just combat; it combines self-defense and philosophy and teaches its students self-discipline, courtesy, and perseverance.

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Korea's "Immortal" National Flower

The Mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon, or hibiscus syriacus) has been an important flower in Korea for thousands of years. The Silla Kingdom (which ruled for almost 1000 years, until 935 AD), called itself the "Mugunghwa Country."

Today, the flower is mentioned in Korea's national anthem ("Mugunghwa samcheolli hwaryeo gangsan" or "Rose of Sharon, thousand miles of beautiful mountain and river land") and is found in other national emblems, like the Coat of Arms.

The government adopted the Rose of Sharon as an official symbol of Korea after the country was liberated from Japan. The Rose of Sharon has many characteristics that make it the perfect national flower for Korea. The flower blooms for a long time (from early July through late October) and there are thousands of blooms on each plant. It's a tough plant that can bloom in difficult situations; cut and placed in a vase, the flower lasts longer than many others. Korean word mugung means "immortal".

The strength and beauty of the flower represents the Korean people and the many trials they have overcome.