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Korean Martial Arts have a two-thousand-year history and a diverse range of styles. Modern Korean martial arts styles–with characteristic techniques–are widely adopted by martial art practitioners around the world and are undoubtedly Korea’s most recognized cultural feature. For example, Taekwondo, a renowned Korean martial art of Korean origins, is one of the most frequently practiced martial arts in the world and has grown in popularity to the point of becoming an Olympic sport, with only Judo as an Asian martial art form represented in the games. Self-defense, discipline, unity, balance, and control are important to Korean martial arts, yet with over 25 styles in use today, there is a wide range of Korean styles and manipulation techniques. 

The active style and technique martial art practitioners subscribe to depend on the form of training and martial arts training they’ve received. Many of the internal styles (as well as external styles) have their origins in Chinese and Japanese martial arts, but they have evolved into distinctly Korean art forms. The most popular Korean martial art form, Taekwondo, has roots in Japanese styles relating to karate (itself derived from Chinese martial arts) but incorporates many historically Korean techniques. Hapkido is rooted in Japanese Daito Ryu, but is also considered distinctively Korean due to the incorporation of uniquely Korean styles.

So, what are the characteristics of Korean martial arts? What distinguishes them? These forms stand out due to their acrobatic kicks, combat style, similarity to some Japanese styles, and overwhelming popularity. Discover what Korean martial arts are all about with this review.

List of Korean Martial Arts Styles

Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a martial arts style focused primarily on punches, blocks, strikes, and kicks (i.e. spinning hook kick). Taekwondo is without a doubt the most popular Korean martial art. It was first introduced as an Olympic sport in 2000, during the Sydney Olympic Games. It is South Korea’s national sport and is extensively practiced around the world.

Kicks and punches are the hallmarks of taekwondo, commonly known as taekwon-do or tae kwon do. “Tae” means “to destroy with the foot,” “Kwon” means “to destroy with the hand,” and “do” means “art” or “way of life.” While destruction is a common characteristic in its literal translation, taekwondo is much more than just a combat method. It’s also a philosophy, an exercise, a sport, and a self-defense practice. Punches to the head, as well as strikes below the belt, are absolutely prohibited in competition.

Taekwondo was created as a martial art at the unofficial end of the Korean War when President Syngman Rhee of South Korea ordered the formation of nine martial arts schools, which were later united. It was given the name “Taekwondo” in 1955, and the Korean Taekwondo Association was founded in 1959. Taekwondo swiftly spread over the world, and numerous ways were taught.

While Taekwondo has its origins in Japanese karate, it has since incorporated many Korean techniques from the Mu Ye Do Bo Tong Ji and now bears little resemblance to karate. Taekwondo, unlike karate, has evolved a comprehensive range of kicking techniques that distinguishes martial art from other popular martial art styles.

In the Korean martial art Taekwondo, there are ten levels of rank. Each level has a corresponding belt, like in many combat arts. While school colors vary, the most popular are white, white with yellow stripe, yellow, yellow with a green stripe, green, green with blue stripe, blue, blue with red stripe, red, and black, according to the ITF.

Hapkido

Hapkido is a Korean martial arts style focused on punches, kicks, throws, and joint locks. HapKiDo, or “the art of coordinated power,” is the second most popular Korean Martial Art form which combines aspects of many types of martial arts, including Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, and Tae Kwon Do. It is considered a highly effective style of self-defense, teaching defense techniques to counter common attacks, both unskilled and those taught by other martial arts. Throughout the curriculum, one learns a few attack techniques but is primarily instructed in the defenses. For example, one will learn how to defend against multiple attackers, or how to defend from a lying position. More advanced hapkido lessons involve defense techniques against weapons such as knives and swords, as well as their usage. Hapkido isn’t as competitive as Taekwondo, and competitions usually consist only of demonstrations.

Like most Korean Martial arts, it is unclear where Hapkido found its origins. The founder was Korean by the name of Choi Yong Sul, who was sent to Japan as a child. However, what styles of martial arts he learned in Japan and employed in Hapkido are uncertain, even though most assume he had at least studied Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu as the similarities are undeniable.

Other Korean martial arts include:

Gongkwon Yusul – Gongkwon Yusul is a hybrid martial art that includes elements from Hapkido, Jujutsu, Judo, and Boxing.

Gungsol – Gungsul is a Korean martial art focused on traditional archery techniques.

Haidong Gumdo – Haidong Gumdo is a martial art focused on sword techniques. It contains elements similar to Kenjutsu and Iaido.

Han Mu Do – Han Mu Do (or Hanmudo) is a Korean martial arts style. It is seen as a “smoother” and more “open hand” cousin to Hapkido. Hanmudo students also train with weapons.

Hwa Rang Do – Hwa Rang Do is a Korean martial art that includes sparring, self-defense, weapons training, and grappling.

Kuk Sool Won – Kuk Sool Won is a martial art focused on strikes, kicks, grappling, joint locks, weapons training, and healing techniques.

Kyuk Too Ki – Korean kickboxing.

Sibpalki – Sibpalki is a martial art that teaches close combat skills that were utilized in the late 1700s.

Soo Bahk Do – Soo Bahk Do is a Korean martial art that grew out of Tang Soo Do.

Ssireum – Ssireum is a martial art focused on wrestling.

Taekkyeon – Taekkyeon is a martial art focused on low kicks, leg sweeps, trips, pushes, etc.

Tang Soo Do – Tang Soo Do is a martial arts style that is similar to Taekwondo and Karate.

Teukgong Moosool – Teukgong Moosool (or Tukong Moosul) is a martial art that was developed by South Korean special forces units.

Won Hwa Do – Won Hwa Do (or WonHwaDo) is a Korean martial art known for its circular techniques.

Yongmudo – Yongmudo (Yongmoodo) is a Korean martial arts style that combines techniques from martial arts such as Taekwondo, Judo, and Ssireum.

Michael Deem–Korean martial arts trainer

Michael Deem is an elite martial arts coach that can help you succeed. Michael trains aspiring martial artists in the martial arts doctrine, helping students turn their weaknesses into strengths, improving their skills and confidence. Contact Michael Deem for everything from beginner Korean martial art classes and more.

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