Taekwondo is more than simply the study and practice of kicking and punching as a direct translation might suggest.
Taekwondo evolved over time from other forms of martial art such as Hwarangdo, Subak and Taekkyeon and has been influenced by Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism to become what it is today.
Taoist philosophy identified that apart from physical training, mediation could help one rise to the state of a pure martial artist whereas contemplation, mental concentration, the manner in which Taekwondo skills could be used, respect of seniors was influenced by Buddhism.
The philosophical influence of these ideologies in Taekwondo can be seen clearly in poomsae, a detailed pattern of defence-and-attack motions and techniques which forms the foundation of Taekwondo teaching.
The word Taeguk also known as the Great Absolute translates to big and eternity and as such has no form, beginning or end and refers to the union of Eum and Yang. It represents the claim that Eum and Yang are one and the same as it is the eternal infinity whose vastness contains the essence of everything, and from which everything in the Universe originates.
The symbol for Taeguk can be found in the centre of the South Korean Flag consisting of a red and a blue swirl. The red swirl represents positive energy (Yang) and the blue swirl represents negative energy (Eum). Together they represent continuous movement whilst maintaining balance.
An example of balance is when an opponent uses aggressive or positive energy and initiates an attack, the defender should use negative energy to respond by stepping aside to allow the attacking energy to harmlessly flow past. This example highlights what was once hard becomes soft as the attack did not cause injury, and what was soft becomes hard as the passive action countered the assault, allowing the return of balance.
The eight Taeguk poomsae forms are represented by the Palgwe, eight trigrams or symbols similar to those found on the corners of the South Korean flag. The trigrams ordered from Taeguk Il Jang to Taeguk Pal Jang are Heaven (Keon) [乾][☰], Lake (Tae) [兌][☱], Fire (Ra) [離][☲], Thunder (Jin) [震][☳], Wind (Son) [巽][☴], Water (Kam) [坎][☵], Mountain (Kan) [艮][☶] and Earth (Kon) [坤][☷].
The first form Taeguek Il Jang is assigned Keon and represents creation. The very last form in Taegeuk poomsae is Pal Jang and is assigned Kon and represents the end. The two are complimentary opposite to one another - Heaven and Earth, Yang and Eum, Positive and Negative, Beginning and End in line with the philosophy of Taegeuk.
The four trigrams on the South Korean flag clockwise from top left are Heaven (Keon), Water (Kam), Earth (Kon) and Fire (Ra). Again Keon and Kon (Heaven and Earth) are opposite to one another as is Kam and Ra (Water and Fire).After learning the eight Taeguk forms and having attained black belt the cycle does not stop as Taeguek is a continuous movement.
It is the end of the beginning but not the beginning of the end. The experienced beginner is now able to transition from being a junior and being ranked by geup to a senior being ranked by dan and begin to experience further learning that builds on the fundamental foundations previously acquired.
Philosophy of Taekwondo as explained by the World Taekwondo Federation, is that Taekwondo is intertwined with our lives so that we can learn from our actions in our everyday activities. Taekwondo can also be considered a philosophy itself as Taekwondo represents the principles of changes in movements in humans and as our lives consists of our movements Taekwondo therefore represents the principles of our lives. A better understanding of Taekwondo philosophy can only be achieved through participation. Participation in Taekwondo and understanding its philosophical teachings will allow solutions to be found to overcome any situation.