Beyond Taekwondo - Traditional Sports of Korea

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Taekwondo is the best-known Korean martial art, but it is relatively a modern invention based on the elements of traditional martial arts. Koreans loved and excelled in horse-riding and archery since the dawn of history. Koreans also enjoyed the body-contact sport of ssireum, which is similar to wresting.

Taekwondo is a hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot fighting sport. Training for it begins with basic movements and postures, then proceeds to a set of stylized continuous movements (poomsae), one-one-one matches, and breaking objects. Elaborate techniques of using hands and feet characterize offense and defense in taekwondo. Hand techniques including snapping, pressing, twisting and their combination. Kicking in many variations deliver effective blows to the opponents.

Taekwondo has become a regular Olympic sport since 2000. The World Taekwondo Federation is headquartered in Korea and Korean taekwondo masters are teaching in many foreign countries. Standardized taekwondo terms used in international matches and training all over the world are in Korean.

Taekgyeon is a traditional Korean martial art using hand and foot techniques. It is similar to taekwondo, but the two sports are related to each other technically or historically. Taekgyeon traces back to Korean history, appearing in old books and paintings by the 1700s. Its movements are graceful and are designed to strengthen the force and flexibility of the limbs and muscles. The sport was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011.

Koreans have been known for their excellence in archery from time immemorial. The founder of the Goguryeo Kingdom in ancient times and other legendary Korean heroes were great archers. Archery was important in warfare and hunting in olden days, but it has been replaced by modern weapons. Still, during the Joseon Dynasty, it was regarded as one of the required subjects for training of mind and body. In recent years, Korean archers have dominated the world archery matches including those of the Olympics.

Ssireum is a popular contact-sport in Korea. Two men utilize their skills to throw their opponent to the ground. There are several murals in old tombs dating back to the early history of Korean showing ssireum matches. Athletes in a ssireum competition rely on their brute force, quick judgment and rapid execution. The matches were played by commoners and farmers throughout the country. It was an entertainment for many commoners that can easily be staged.

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