Tae Kwon Do is probably the most popular martial arts in the United States, and possibly the world. Tae Kwon Do, which translates to "the way of kicking and punching " originated in Korea. There is some debate about the exact origin of the art, but it is generally believed to have derived in its current carnation around 1945 from former regional arts and possibly Karate. It was initially developed for the purposes of combat, however, today it is mostly practiced in the form of a competitive sport, even being incorporated into the Olympics in the year 2000.
Even though Tae Kwon Do is practiced mainly for competition, it still has its roots in combat and can be useful in self-defense. It focuses primarily on kicks but also has a variety of punches, blocks and other techniques that can be applied in a confrontation. The emphasis on the feet also makes it a very good tool for defending yourself without having to get too close to an attacker. Tae Kwon Do incorporates concentration exercises to focus one's strength, as demonstrated by breaking boards and bricks, that can be useful in delivering crippling blows in a confrontation. In general, Tae Kwon Do is a "standing martial arts" meaning most of the techniques are executed from a standing position.
Tae Kwon Do places significant emphasis on kicks and flexibility. In any school, you can find photos of students and instructors delivering kicks to the head or breaking boards held high. Younger, more flexible students may adapt quicker to some of the techniques, however, the structured program of Tae Kwon Do can benefit any individual. Tae Kwon Do is also a great choice for those who feel that strength may not be their best asset since the muscles and the reach of the legs can be a great equalizer regardless of the size of the opponent.
According to Chuck Westcott, who has been teaching Tae Kwon Do for over fifteen years and owns Chang's Martial Arts Academy, the typical class starts with a quick warm-up to loosen the joints and get the blood flowing, followed by about fifteen minutes of kibon -- basic techniques, which, for the majority, consist of kicks. Next there is usually a focus on kicking combinations, sparring and/or poomse -- a sequence of set movements (katas in other arts). Sparring can range from light touch to a full contact with sparring gear. Classes are usually concluded with a cool down and an emphasis on stretching. Classes can also incorporate concentration exercises and meditation.
Tae Kwon Do is a traditional martial art, which means that there are formal rules of conduct and courtesy that all students are expected to follow, hence its popularity amongst younger students. While most schools have a relaxed atmosphere, students wear a traditional gi -- uniform, and belt during class. Tae Kwon Do teaches the physical aspects of the art balanced with respect, discipline and self-confidence and is a great way to get into shape while learning to defend yourself.
If you think you're interested in Tae Kwon Do, take advantage of the fact that it's one of the most popular arts by finding the right school and instructor for your training - there are many to choose from. Most will offer a free introductory class. To supplement their Tae Kwon Do curriculum, keep in mind some instructors may include aspects of other arts such as weapons or grappling. Another advantage is that if you ever need to move, odds are there will be another school wherever you end up and you can easily continue your training.
So if you want to impress your friends with spinning back kicks or highflying kicks, consider Tae Kwon Do.
Mukesh Pitroda is a Chicago-area instructor in Modern Arnis with over 14 years of experience in the martial arts. For more information: Mukesh@modernarnischicago.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times