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Taekwondo is a form of empty hand martial arts combat that requires the athlete to use all parts of the body in competition. Taekwondo is a self defense discipline; the name is derived from the Korean words "tae", meaning kick, "kwon", a punch or other blow with the hand or fist, and "do", which is a way or method of operation. Among the general public, taekwondo is distinguished from other martial arts by its high speed, sweeping kicks and emphatic punches. As with judo, taekwondo was developed as a sport that is also representative of a moral code, where principles of loyalty, faithfulness, respect and the preservation of an indomitable spirit form a significant part of taekwondo training.

Taekwondo is a sport that originated from the ancient Korean forms of martial arts. It was significantly influenced in its development by elements of the Japanese martial art of karate, which were reflected in taekwondo after the occupation of Korea by Japan in 1910. The sport was exported to the United States after the Second World War through its exposure to American military personnel who had observed taekwondo in Korea. Taekwondo became popular as a global sport. The World Taekwondo Federation, the sports international governing body, has a membership of over 150 national bodies. There are an estimated 35 million taekwondo participants world wide. Taekwondo was made an official Olympic sport in 2000, with four weight class categories of both men and women. World championship taekwondo competitions have eight separate weight categories.

Taekwondo proficiency is recognized through the award of different classifications of belt, with each belt color signifying a level of taekwondo ability. As with the sports of judo and karate, the black belt classifications are the highest levels that may be attained in taekwondo. There are four aspects to competitive taekwondo—sparring, style, self defense, and a break test, where objects are shattered through a blow delivered with the hand or foot.

The basic competitive uniform worn in taekwondo is the dobok, a loose fitting white colored jacket and trousers. Athletes wear protectors to shield the torso, groin, shins, forearms, as well as a helmet for head protection. Footwear is not permitted in taekwondo.

A taekwondo match (or bout) commences with two competitors facing one another across the mat surface. The match is scored by officials, who assess points for both particular types of blows delivered as well as the style of execution by a competitor. Points are awarded for kicks delivered to the front or side of the head, and for punches to the head or the body of the opponent. Throwing or attempting to hold an opponent will attract the imposition of a penalty, as will any attack with the open hands to the head of the opponent.

Each bout in taekwondo is three rounds in length (three minutes each for men, two minutes in length for women); a winner is determined through either the accumulation of points or by scoring a knockout (defined by the inability of the athlete to resume their fighting stance within 8 seconds of being knocked down).

The dynamic punches and kicks delivered in taekwondo represent the application of different physical principles, the most important of which is the generation of force, which is a product of the mass of the object used to deliver the blow, and the acceleration of the object towards the target. Punches delivered both at a human opponent as well as in the breaking of a board must be precisely executed; the arm and hand will produce maximum effect if the hand is still accelerating at the time of the impact.

The successful breaking of a board or a brick in taekwondo is directly correlated to the speed and the precision of the strike. Depending upon the size of the hand of the taekwondo practitioner and the material being struck, the hand must strike the object at a speed of approximately 20 ft per second (6 m per second) to produce the force necessary to shatter a 1 in (2.5 cm) board. Experts who are able to break five boards simultaneously strike the targets with hand speeds of over 40 ft per second (12 m per second).

Unlike boxing, where the fighter endeavors to punch through the target to cause maximum damage to an opponent, the taekwondo expert seeks to deliver a blow with maximum speed and no appreciable follow through. This technique means that the force of the strike to the object is directed without interference to the surface. Studies conducted with respect to why a taekwondo expert is able to readily break one or more boards or bricks have centered on the concept of oscillation—if the blow is delivered as if the hand is directed through the board, like a boxer, to a point on the opposite side of the board, the target material will oscillate, which tends to negate the impact of the force intended to break the target. With a precise taekwondo strike, the hand or foot does not follow through, eliminating oscillation in the target and permitting the force of the strike to pass unimpeded through the target, creating the fractured target.

see also Boxing; Judo; Karate; Sumo.