Taekwondo, a popular martial sport is often claimed to have historical origins on the Korean peninsula with origins said to have been traced as far back as the 1st century BCE. However, such historical claims are difficult to empirically verify and separate from the influences of neighboring counties. The sport rose to prominence following the end of Japanese occupation with the end of WWII. Formalized rules were established in 1961 and in 1988 the sport became an Olympic event. The name "Taekwondo" literally means way of foot and fist, although the modern emphasis lies on the kicks. This may be a way to help legitimize the sport's connection to the traditional practice called Taekkyon, which originated in Korea during the Goguryeo period in the 4th century. Taekkyon uses hands and feet as well as any part of the body; though only open feet and open hands are allowed during competitions. The motions are smoother and more curvilinear than in Taekwondo. Although both disciplines start with the sound "tae" in English, there is no relationship.

Although there is much controversy regarding the historical origins of many martial disciplines in South Korea, there is little question that, Koreanized or traditional in origin, Korean martial arts and sports have enjoyed considerable success. Styles such as Hapkido, Kuk Sool, Hwarangdo, Han Moo Do, Yudo, Kumdo, Goog-sool, and many others arose quickly out of an independent Korea and have spread to countries around the world. Although they are not as popular as Taekwondo, they each uniquely represent the Korean martial spirit which dates back to antiquity. Unlike Japanese martial arts which often use "-do" at a name's end (meaning "way"), traditional Korean martial arts were called "Mu Sool" or "Mu Yea". This could lead to some confusion since although the "do" in Taekwondo and Hapkido means "way" (as in Karate-do and Aikido), the historical meaning in Hwarangdo is different from the modern usage (also "way" like the others). When that martial art was invented in the 1960s, the name was borrowed from an ancient group (do) consisting mainly of the children of the gentry class (yangban) for learning military tactics, leadership, and fighting skills.


Taekkyon, TaekgyeonTaekkyeon, or Taekyun is a traditional Korean martial art.

It is characterized by fluid, dynamic foot movement called "pum balbgi" or Stepping-on-Triangles. Taekkyon includes hands and feet techniques to unbalance, trip, or throw the opponent. Taekkyon has many leg and whole-body techniques with fully integrated armwork. A Taekkyon practitioner is called a "Taekkyon-kkun" (태껸꾼).

Since the twentieth century, Taekkyon has come to be seen as a living link to Korea's past. As such, it has provided historical references for modern Korean martial arts and is often considered as the oldest martial discipline of Korea. Almost wiped-out during the Japanese Occupation, Taekkyon was rediscovered after the Korean War and has influenced the name and conceptualization of Taekwondo.

Taekkyon is the first martial art enlisted as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is also the 76th Intangible Cultural Property of South Korea.


Hapkido is a hybrid Korean martial art. It is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, grappling, throwing techniques, kicks, punches, and other striking attacks. It also teaches the use of traditional weapons, including knife, sword, rope, nunchaku (ssang juhl bong), cane (ji pang ee), short stick (dan bong), and middle-length staff (joong bong), gun (analogous to the Japanese jō), and bō (Japanese), which vary in emphasis depending on the particular tradition examined.

Hapkido employs both long-range and close-range fighting techniques, utilizing jumping kicks and percussive hand strikes at longer ranges, and pressure point strikes, joint locks, and throws at closer fighting distances. Hapkido emphasizes circular motion, redirection of force, and control of the opponent. Practitioners seek to gain advantage over their opponents through footwork and body positioning to incorporate the use of leverage, avoiding the use of brute strength against brute strength.


Ssireum or Korean wrestling is a folk wrestling style and traditional national sport of Korea that began in the fourth century.

In the modern form each contestant wears a belt (satba) that wraps around the waist and the thigh. The competition employs a series of techniques, which inflict little harm or injury to the opponent: opponents lock on to each other's belt, and one achieves victory by bringing any part of the opponent's body above the knee to the ground