Taekwondo, which means “the way of kicking and punching”, is a martial art that originated in Korea. Its roots date back to Korea’s Three-Kingdom era (c.50 BC), when a martial art known as taekkyon (“foot‑hand”) developed. For some 2,000 years, a range of martial arts were practised on the Korean peninsula. During the early 20th century, taekwondo become the dominant form of martial art practised in Korea. It then went international and in 1973 the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was founded. That same year, the first World Championships were held in Seoul.
Brief overview of the rules
The aim of taekwondo is for the athlete to kick and punch their opponent, while avoiding being struck themselves. The trademark of this martial art is its combination of kicking and punching movements in quick succession. Matches are fought on an octagonal field of play in three rounds of two minutes each. Points are awarded according to the degree of difficulty of techniques used; for example, a kick to the head scores higher than punches and kicks to the trunk. Spinning kicks are also rewarded with extra points. Penalties may be given to athletes for various faults.
Taekwondo’s first Olympic appearance was in its home country, featuring as a demonstration event at the Olympic Games at Seoul in 1988. It appeared again as a demonstration sport at Barcelona in 1992 but was absent from Atlanta 1996. However, four years later, taekwondo reappeared as a full medal sport from Sydney 2000 onwards, where events for men and women were held.
While taekwondo competitions were previously dominated by Koreans, the founders of the sport, this is no longer the case. Many countries now come out on top in taekwondo; for example, at London 2012, gold medals were awarded to athletes from eight different countries.
Certain countries have made history by winning their first ever Olympic medals in taekwondo – such as Vietnam in 2000, Afghanistan in 2008, Gabon in 2012, Niger and Jordan in 2016 – or their first-ever female Olympic medals, such as Iran and Côte d’Ivoire that same year.
International federation : World Taekwondo
© Lars Baron/Getty Images