What is taught in a Taekwondo class?
Whatever your reason for wishing to study Taekwondo, there are certain things that you will taught in almost every class. The modern day Taekwondo syllabus contains several different elements which must be gradually mastered by a student in order to ascend through the belt ranking system.
The Taekwondo syllabus is composed of individual punching, kicking and blocking techniques. The main emphasis in Taekwondo is placed on kicking and it is this which sets it apart from other martial arts. Jumping kicks, turning, spinning, skipping and sliding kicks requiring great flexibility are performed solo or combined with a rapid flurry of multiple kicks. For a complete run-down of Taekwondo techniques see our section on Taekwondo Techniques.
Set combinations comprised of individual techniques are called poomsae or hyeong in Taekwondo. Known as kata in Japanese martial arts and forms in Chinese, Taekwondo poomsae are designed to get the student thinking about the real life combat applications of his martial art. In poomsae, the student performs a solo routine as if he were fending off multiple attackers. Thus a variety of kicks, punches and blocks are performed in multiple directions. Taekwondo patterns are a crucial part of any grading and they increase in difficulty and complexity as the student advances through the belt system. In much the same way as Tai Chi forms, Taekwondo patterns constitute a form of moving meditation.
Taekwondo sparring teaches a student the correct distancing and timing for each technique. Protection is usually worn on the feet, hands and sometimes on the head and mid-riff in order to enable students to hit each other relatively hard without sustaining injury. The lessons learnt in Taekwondo sparring are those that will prepare him for competition and for any real life situation where he may have to use his martial arts skills. Without sparring, martial art techniques are pure theory – sparring practice is where you get to see if they work or not.
Taekwondo breaking techniques allow a practitioner to smash through wood and stone blocks. The point of breaking is that it tests both the speed and power of Taekwondo strikes. A single thin board held lightly will not be broken by a slow strike, no matter how powerful it is. Meanwhile, a thicker board or series of boards will not be broken by the fastest kick in the world if the strike does not have sufficient penetrating power. By focusing on either speed or power to break a board set-up, a Taekwondo student proves that he has both. This is crucial to a martial artist, as different combat situations may require a bias towards either one. Breaking is included in belt graduation exams.
No one is expected to be invincible in Taekwondo. It is a fact that a student will be hit and thrown many times before he becomes proficient in a martial art. It is important therefore that a Taekwondo student learns how to absorb impact and fall correctly in order to minimise injury.
Bearing in mind that a street attacker is unlikely to be a Taekwondo expert, a student must learn to use his skills in a variety of combat scenarios. Taekwondo teaches techniques to deal with attackers armed with knives or sticks, multiple attackers and even attackers hiding round corners (using that leg flexibility to maximum effect).
All the martial arts techniques in the world will do you no good if you are out of breath after throwing a couple of kicks and punches. An expert martial artist must be in supreme physical shape and Taekwondo focuses on strengthening the body to stand up to the rigours of training, sparring, breaking and combat. A combination of running, skipping, plyometrics and weight resistance work may also form part of a Taekwondo class – increasing aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels and burning calories like nothing else.
Stretching and flexibility
Taekwondo kicks are high, fast and hard. The flexibility required to perform the variety of stunning kicks that makes Taekwondo famous among the martial arts means that a large part of any class must be dedicated to stretching.
Philosophy and Etiquette
If a Taekwondo student is to be taught how to literally destroy another human then he must also be taught how to control that power. Taekwondo philosophy focuses on deeply felt Korean traditions of respect, honesty, and justice.
Each Taekwondo school (kwan) has at its core, a list of chivalrous tenets that all student must adhere to. Breaking any of these codes constitutes a serious offence and can result in expulsion, regardless of the practitioner’s skill. For example, the tenets of the ITF are integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. The Jidokwan school goes even deeper, holding to the principles of view, feel, think, speak, order, contribute, have ability and conduct correctly.
In order to prepare oneself for combat or training, martial artists utilise the power of silent meditation. Some Taekwondo classes may perform meditation at the very beginning of practice in order to empty a student’s mind and ensure he is focused entirely on the present.
Taekwondo meditation takes the form of sitting or kneeling, clearing the mind and relaxing completely. Special breathing techniques are used to bring about muscular relaxation and allow the mind to separate from the body. The second stage of mediation involves visualisation. Difficult techniques can be performed in the mind before they are done in reality. Indeed the mind must understand the concept of any technique before the body can hope to do it.