Origins of Taekkyon
The exact origins of Taekkyon are unclear, but many historians believe it emerged during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – 668 AD) on the Korean peninsula. Murals and records describe unarmed combat training and competitions during this era, likely representing early forms of Taekkyon.
The name “Taekkyon” first appears in historical records during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). It was practiced by the military and general public for self-defense, recreation, and spiritual cultivation. Taekkyon masters would often set up schools to teach the techniques.
During the late Joseon Dynasty, Taekkyon’s popularity declined as gunpowder weapons made martial arts less necessary. However, some masters preserved the art and passed down teachings over generations. By the early 1900s, only a handful of Taekkyon experts remained.
Revival After World War II
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), martial arts training was prohibited, nearly causing Taekkyon to disappear completely. After World War II ended, Korean masters Song Duk-ki and Lee Yong-bok led efforts to revive and preserve Taekkyon.
In 1967, Taekkyon was named Korea’s 9th Important Intangible Cultural Asset, receiving government support for its preservation. Taekkyon began to gain mainstream popularity and many new training halls emerged, especially in Seoul.
In the 1970s, tournaments between Taekkyon practitioners and other martial artists were held. Taekkyon masters decisively defeated kung fu and karate black belts, generating national pride in the Korean martial art. This catalyzed further growth in schools and students.
Differences from Other Martial Arts
Unlike martial arts like karate and taekwondo that utilize many arm and hand techniques, Taekkyon focuses heavily on fluid, dance-like kicks and footwork. Sweeps, pushes, and trips using the legs and feet are common.
Taekkyon emphasizes maintaining balance and control through agile stances and footwork. Circular motions and rotation of the body is integral. Practitioners must stay in constant motion, circling opponents with stable low stances.
While powerful strikes can be used, Taekkyon does not focus on brute strength. Instead, it utilizes the momentum and torque of spinning kicks and body rotation. Speed, accuracy, and finesse are key principles. Defensive evasion and control of opponents is prioritized over trading forceful blows.
There is also an emphasis on grace and fluidity of motion. Korean masters often likened Taekkyon to dancing with an opponent. This grace and agility differentiates it from other martial arts.
Key Techniques and Principles
Taekkyon utilizes a wide variety of kicks executed from multiple stances and positions:
Front, side, and spinning heel and instep kicks
Knee strikes and lifts
Low sweeps and hooks with the feet
Various jumping and hopping kicks
Hand techniques include open palm strikes, punches, and pushes to unbalance opponents. However, leg techniques are much more prevalent.
Taekkyon follows several core principles:
Stay in constant, fluid motion
Control spacing using footwork and kicks
Use momentum and torque for power
Remain balanced while off-balancing the opponent
Strike from multiple angles by spinning and rotating
Evade attacks by moving off-line
Use agility and finesse over brute strength
Training involves various drills to develop balance, kicking precision, body rotation and torque, and evasive footwork. Sparring matches emphasize control and use of techniques in fluid combination.
Today, Taekkyon enjoys a thriving resurgence in Korea and worldwide. The Korea Taekkyon Association governs schools, rankings, and competitions. There are hundreds of training halls to learn the art.
Taekkyon demonstrations and matches are regularly broadcast on Korean television. YouTube and Instagram allow global audiences to discover the visually stunning techniques. Events like belt promotion tests and skilled master demonstrations frequently go viral online.
International interest has expanded as Taekkyon appears in global martial arts competitions and demonstrations. While still less known than arts like karate and taekwondo, Taekkyon’s intriguing style and history gains more fans every year.
Taekkyon practitioners passionately preserve this historic piece of Korean cultural heritage. As a uniquely Korean martial art emphasizing flexibility, finesse, and fluid motion, Taekkyon offers a sophisticated style of unarmed combat different from all other martial arts. Its revival in modern times ensures Taekkyon will captivate audiences for generations to come.