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Learn more and you will love it, too: taekwondo

Taekwondo is attracting a growing number of practitioners these days, regardless of age, nationality, or gender. The Korean martial art is practiced by people from more than 200 countries and nearly eight million people hold poom-dan certificates as of October 2012, according to the World Taekwondo Headquarters, also known as Kukkiwon in Korean. One of the main attractions for people around the globe to learn taekwondo is the philosophy behind the martial art. Its meanings and thoughts exist even in its uniforms and belts as well as in physical training.

Family members of the Kukkiwon Taekwondo Demonstration Team perform at the World Taekwondo Hanmadang 2012 which took place in August in Seoul (photo: Jeon Han).

When thinking of taekwondo, the first image people have in mind is a trainee wearing a white uniform named “dobok” and a belt tied around the waist. Shaped like traditional Hanbok clothes, dobok is composed of a jeogori-shaped jacket, pants, and a belt.

The color of dobok holds meaning; they were made to be representative of taekwondo’s philosophy as well as Korea’s culture, and they are white based on Koreans’ old preference for the color, according to the World Taekwondo Headquarters. This tradition was mentioned in the chapter on Dongyi (東夷傳) in the Records of Wei (魏志), part of the Records of the Three Kingdoms, a historical Chinese text written in the 3rd century. In the past, Koreans liked to wear white clothes because they had worshipped the Sun and believed that the white color symbolized sunlight, according to Korea's Doosan Encyclopedia. For this reason, Koreans are often dubbed as “the white-clad people” even today.

After putting on the dobok, the belt is wrapped and knotted twice around the waist. The roots for taekwondo belts go back to ancient Korean history when they were used to distinguish hierarchy in ancient society. The colors of the belts show the time of taekwondo training and make the outfit more distinguished. They come in five colors -- white, yellow, red, blue, and black. Beginners wear a white belt and after they spend more time in training they will wear a yellow belt. Blue and red belts will follow after yellow belts as their levels go up. Black belts are worn by poom-dan certificate holders who undergo a promotion test conducted by the World Taekwondo Headquarters and are aged above 15. Poom-dan grade holders under age 15 wear a poom belt of black and red.

Students from Jongno District’s taekwondo demonstration team perform in Insadong, Jongno District, Seoul, on August 26 in 2012 (photo: Jeon Han).

The five colors of the taekwondo belt correspond with the five traditional Korean colors named “obangsaek” (meaning five direction colors in Chinese characters). Under the principle of yin and yang, these colors represent the five directions and five elements of nature; Obang consists of north (black), south (red), east (blue), west (white), and the center (yellow), according to Doosan Encyclopedia.

Taekwondo holds significance not only in its dobok but also in actual training. Taekwondo focuses on mental development and physical reinforcement as well. Practitioners can raise their physical resistance and immunity to disease and grow patience through taekwondo training. Taekwondo helps develop muscular strength and physical endurance and enhances breathing capacity, which makes the body operate more effectively.

The main goals of taekwondo lie in cultivating social qualities, including justice, morality, wisdom, and courtesy while enhancing physical reinforcement. Taekwondo trainees carry out mental development and build social qualities through meditation. The trainees are required to focus their minds through repetitive physical drills. The master-trainee relationship in taekwondo also helps continuously educate the trainees to respect others. For this reason, many parents -- from both Korea and overseas -- bring their children to the taekwondo gym. They actually show high satisfaction in the personality education of taekwondo for their children.

Members of the Kukkiwon Taekwondo Demonstration Team perform at Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul on July 1, 2012 (photo: Jeon Han).

The philosophy and spirit of taekwondo originates from the two founding principles -- "hongik-ingan" (弘益人間) (meaning universally benefitting human beings) and "jaese- ihwa" (在世理化) (meaning rationalization of human living) -- raised by Dangun, the founder of the Korean people who built Gojoseon (2333 B.C. - 103 B.C.), according to the World Taekwondo Headquarters. The ultimate goal of taekwondo training is to utilize these qualities for the betterment of humankind and eventually the world.

For more information about taekwondo, visit the related organizations.
World Taekwondo Headquarters (Kukkiwon)
World Taekwondo Federation 
Korea Taekwondo Association 
Taekwondo Promotion Foundation

By Yoon Sojung

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