Taekwondo is a martial art that originated in South Korea, and is the national sport of that nation. The sport’s name is actually quite descriptive in the Korean language, as “tae” means “to strike or break with foot, “kwon” mean “to strike or break with fist,” and “do” means the “way,” “path,” or “method.” The name can be loosely translated to mean, “The way of the hand and foot.”
Taekwondo has a long and storied history, stretching back at least 1,000 years. Most notable about the sport is its fantastic and eye-grabbing kicks. Taekwondo has been a part of the Olympic games since 2000 at the Sydney, Australia Olympic Games, after being first demonstrated in 1988.
TRADITIONAL TAEKWONDO VERSUS SPORT TAEKWONDO
As might be expected, there is a difference between the styles of taekwondo. The traditional variety is heavily rooted in elements of Korean history and culture, and has its modern origins in the South Korean military, as well as educational institutions. Sport taekwondo is more familiar to those viewing the Olympics, with an emphasis on speed and sparring.
TAEKWONDO AT THE OLYMPICS
Those competing in taekwondo at the Olympics participate in a single elimination tournament for each of the 4 weight categories (flyweight, lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight). Repechage competition occurs for the bronze medal contest, where the winner of the single elimination tournament captures the gold metal with the loser taking silver.
Those who lose during the single elimination tournament are eligible to compete in the repechage, with those losing during semifinals earning a seed to the repechage finals on the opposite side of the bracket. Others retain their bracket position and proceed to the repechage unseeded. Bronze medals are awarded to the two finalists of the repechage.
Nations, whether host nations or not, send two female and two male competitors for each weight class to compete in the Olympics.
South Korea, as might be expected, has taken the lion’s share of Olympic gold medals in the sport since its introduction at the games. China ranks behind at number two, with less than half of the total medal count of South Korea.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR DURING A TAEKWONDO MATCH
Taekwondo is best known for its kicking techniques. Other martial arts such as karate and kung fu are not so heavy on these techniques, setting taekwondo apart. The originators of taekwondo had a philosophy that the legs are both the strongest and lengthiest weapons on the human body, therefore they should be the chief weapons used in combat. Legend has it that Koreans found the hands to be the body’s valuable asset, and that they should not be used in combat — at least not as its main weapon.
When watching a match, you can get a clue to who has the advantage by paying attention to certain factors. Keeping the correct distance from a competitor can be very advantageous. Scoring is incumbent on judging accurately where to place a kick, so those who have a good sense of body placement and distance have a good advantage. Ring awareness is another important factor. Experienced competitors know not to move into corners, so as to restrict the view of judges.