Taekwondo is a dynamic martial art that derived from ancient fighting styles. Taekwondo itself is a relatively new martial art, as it was formed in the 1950’s. In development, elements of Taekwondo were drawn from Karate, Taekkyon, Tangsoodo as well as hundreds of years of Korean fighting heritage. As Taekwondo progressed, instructors broke away from the source and created their own version of Taekwondo. The most well-known separation is with Grandmaster General Choi who broke off from the main structure of Taekwondo to begin the International Taekwondo Federation. Others formed their own interpretations and schools of thought known as the Kwans.
There are 10 Kwans and they are: Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan and Kwan li Kwan. Each Kwan holds its sovereignty today while honoring and respecting the leadership of Kukkiwon. Kukkiwon is World Taekwondo Headquarters. Kukkiwon holds the international poom/dan ranking (black belt certificate) accreditation for Taekwondo. Kukkiwon is the forefront for the development, education, and promotion of the highest standard of Taekwondo. Currently there are 7,005 legitimate dojangs (Taekwondo Schools/programs) around the world, with 3,076 right here in the United States.
Here in Pennsylvania, there are 41. In order to be a legitimate Taekwondo School, the owner must be at least a 4th Dan or higher Kukkiwon certificate holder with their 3rd class or higher Kukkiwon master/test examiner. This esteemed program provides the availability for students to obtain International black belt recognition and access to international competition. At the time of this article, there are currently 10,790,509 black belts world wide, with 412,727 in the United States. It has been addressed in other articles what Taekwondo is not. Feel free to read through these on what to watch out for and avoid when considering a martial arts school.
Previously mentioned, is the break off of instructors from the source. As mentioned, the ITF is by far the largest shoot off of Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters). A serious and worth mentioning break off is the ATA, (American Taekwondo Association). Unlike the ITF which form and style resembles Karate and is rigid and structured, the ATA is a watered-down off shoot from the ITF. The ATA claims competitions, state, national and even internationally. These are solely within the ATA and hold no value accept to the false achievement of the practitioner.
For a true sense of competition, World Taekwondo (WT), formerly World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), is the governing body of international Taekwondo Competition, including the Olympics. That’s right! Taekwondo is an Olympic sport! It was first introduced in the olympics in 1988, in Seoul, Korea, and became an official medaling event in 2000, at the Sydney Summer Olympics. Here in the United States, USATKD (United States of America Taekwondo) is the only pipeline to international and Olympic competition. Each year, USATKD has state, National, Team Trials, and other events for competitors. States can see anywhere from a couple hundred to 500 some competitors while nationals there can be well over 4,000 competitors. It is worth mentioning the standard of competition. WT sets the standard of competition and holds its officials, IR’s (International Referees) to the highest standard. These same standards continue with USATKD with yearly seminars and training along with excellent competitions. Surely, with all of these standards there are still students who slide by and individuals who monopolize on this system to make a profit. However, Kukkiwon and World Taekwondo, along with USATKD, remain the highest standard of Taekwondo.
Master Reilly’s Family Martial Arts, LLC, is one of only three Kukkiwon Dojangs in Western Pennsylvania. In 2020, we had seven students achieve international black belt. Competition was difficult for 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused all competition to be canceled, including the summer Olympics.
However, last year three of our students qualified for nationals along with Master Reilly, through USATKD. Master Reilly also achieved the highest level of national poomsae (form/pattern) judge. Master Reilly is also a National sparring referee and is Vice-president of Pennsylvania Taekwondo; the official governing council for PATKD competition for USATKD.
Taekwondo is about standard. Yes, there is sparring, kicking, punching, striking, and flying awesomeness. Yes, there is confidence and character building. There is the form of Taekwondo. Taekwondo form is full encompassing of all things Taekwondo, but so much more. It incorporates Korean culture, language, virtue, and tradition. To interpret Taekwondo form separate from the source is to lose all guidelines and standard, all understanding and method of Taekwondo. Kukkiwon is Taekwondo and anything outside of this is a counterfeit. To claim Taekwondo without standard, governance, education, development, competition and achievement is absurd. Watch out for the imitations, the frauds. Those that over compensate and use “filler”. Kukkiwon is Taekwondo, and Taekwondo is Kukkiwon. If your program is not Kukkiwon and offering you a real chance, or taking you to legitimate competitions, you are being lied to. It’s not about opinions, there are plenty of opinions across the vast internet. The history and legitimacy of competition in Taekwondo stands with Kukkiwon, WT, and USATKD.
If you would like to know more about Kukkiwon, feel free to click here. If you want to know more about World Taekwondo, click here. If you want to know more about USATKD click here. If you want to know more about PATKD click here. Feel free to also read through our other articles in our education blog.