There are numerous Taekwondo styles available today and they each vary in three respects: formal sequence, sparring rules, and martial art philosophy. Styles will differ in their attention to technique, positioning and posture of the body. Sparring rules can be viewed on a spectrum ranging from a sport-oriented to a combat-oriented martial art; a sport-oriented martial art will prepare fighters for a refereed match with more prescribed legal and illegal moves than a combat-oriented match will. A combat-oriented martial art will simulate self-defense in an unfavorable environment, with or without weapons, and much more.
Most Taekwondo styles will have a philosophical core; they will either make adjustments to the historical tenets of the Hwarang or take as their point of departure the five tenets attributed to Choi Hong Hi:
In-Nae (perseverance or patience)
Beakjul-bool-gul (invincibility of the spirit)
A large part of an individual’s athletic performance relies on their mental and ethical fortitude. Thus, philosophy of life is also taught along side physical training. Students of Taekwondo need to master discipline, respect, and clarity of mind in order to progress in their training.
Olympic Taekwondo is a competitive, sparring only, sport with World Taekwondo Federation rules. Competitors wear a hogu – protective wear for the chest to prevent serious injuries –, helmet, foot socks, shin pads, forearm guards, hand gloves, a mouthpiece, and males wear groin cups. Competitors fight within an 8-squared meter area where points are won by successful strikes to the legal areas. There are only two parts of the body that are permissible to strike with: the closed fist and the area of the foot below the ankle. Although electronic equipment is still not universally accepted, the pressure plates within the protective gear that is available today can be used to rule out human error and controversial decisions made by judges – such as wrong calls, phantom kicks, etc.
A competitor may score a point by successfully kicking or punching their opponent’s hogu. Moreover, three points will be awarded to the competitor that delivers a spinning kick, whereby their back is fully exposed to the opponent at the moment of contact, to the opponent’s hogu. It is only in this century that four points can be awarded to the competitor that executes a successful spinning kick to the head. Punches to the head are illegal in Olympic Taekwondo and the referee can penalize strikes to the legs and neck.
Aside from Olympic Taekwondo, the International Taekwondo Federation has similar sparring rules although differences may be found. Punches to the head are allowed and points are awarded in the following manner:
1 point for a punch to the head
2 points for a jumping kick to the torso or a kick to the head
3 points for a jumping kick to the head
The sparring area is bigger than the Olympic area; it could be 10×10 or 20×20. The hogu is absent during ITF competitions and, de facto, injuries are far more common. These competitions feature more than sparring sessions, in fact, one can see special techniques, brick breaking, and sequenced combinations.
One might think that brick breaking may sound utterly impossible. However, as Choi Hong Hi noted, the power of a strike can increase immensely if the speed is increased; while, if the mass of the striking object is increased, it will increase power but it cannot match the ratio of speed to power. In other words, speed is more important than size in generating a powerful strike. In Taekwondo, a fast strike delivered in a controlled manner will unleash a devastatingly potent blow.
Performing the martial art can be strenuous, however, an avid student with the right mentor may overcome any of the challenges that the martial art has to offer.