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.