Taekkyeon (Korea)

Taekkyeon (Korea)

Name of sport (game)


Name in native language


Place of practice (continent, state, nation)



Taekkyeon is a traditional Korean martial art with a dance-like appearance in some aspects. A Goguryeo mural painting at the Samsil tomb shows Taekkyeon was practiced as early as the Three Kingdoms Era and transmitted from Goguryeo to Shilla. Taekkyon derives from an earlier art called Subak, which split into two: yusul and Taekkyon, during the early Joseon Dynasty. Its practice never seems to have been widespread within the Korean peninsula, but it was practiced frequently around Hanyang, the capital city of the Chosun Dynasty. At the height of its popularity, even the king practiced Taekkyon. Unfortunately for the people of Korea, the king had to out-lawed Taekkyon matches due to the fact that matches were quite frequent and was mainly use for gambling purposes. In the end the king decided to just make Taekkyon only for military use to prevent the people from gambling their wives and houses away.
Taekkyon took a severe blow when Neo-Confucianism grew in popularity, and then the Japanese occupation nearly made the art extinct. The last “Old-School” Taekkyon practitioner, Song Duk-Ki, maintained his practice of the Art throughout the Japanese occupation and subsequently laid the seeds for the arts’ regeneration. He became the first human cultural asset in taekkyon.


Taekkyeon is a traditional Korean martial art that makes use of fluid, rhythmic dance-like movements to strike or trip up an opponent. The graceful movements of a well-trained Taekkyeon performer are gentle and circular rather than straight and rigid, but can explode with enormous flexibility and strength. The feet play as important a role as the hands. In spite of its gentle impression, Taekkyeon is an effective martial art highlighting a broad variety of offensive and defensive skills employing all available fighting methods. It also teaches consideration: a skilled Taekkyeon practitioner can rapidly dominate an opponent, but a true master knows how to make an opponent withdraw without incurring damage.

Unlike many hard, external Korean arts which are best suited for younger students, Taekkyon can be practiced well into old age. Because all movements are intended to harmonize with the structure of the human body, techniques are natural and minimally stressful. Part of the reason for this stems from the art's abandonment of normal warm-up and stretching exercises. Instead, the basic techniques, interspersed with brief series of hand pats along the length of tight muscles, provide the necessary muscle stretch and circulation boost. Song Duk-ki proved Taekkyon's therapeutic side effects by training daily until the age of 94. Shin Han-seung continued until he died at the age of 60.
Like other martial arts, Taekkyon teaches the use of "ki" or internal energy, to augment physical power. One method for releasing "ki" is through a "kihap", the forceful exhalation of air at the moment a technique is performed. However, Taekkyon's "kihap" differs from that of all other Korean and Japanese arts. Instead of a short, loud explosion of noise, Taekkyon students make a soft but forceful "eek eh" sound which, they claim, comes from the traditional Korean fighting arts.
A basic principle of Taekkyon sparring is to attack hard with soft, and soft with hard. To illustrate, a punch to an opponent's jaw, while undoubtedly effective, will inflict considerable pain on the puncher. weapon such as the knee or elbow.
More sensible is to strike a hard target with a softer weapon-the palm heel, for example. Conversely, Taekkyon teaches that an attack to the fleshy mid-section is more effective if the striker uses a hard weapon such as the knee or elbow. Lee Yong-bok explains that, unlike most other fighting styles which advocate performing a linear technique and then finishing it, Taekkyon teaches students to continue techniques past their potential point of impact.
In a violent encounter, Taekkyon strategy teaches that a person should stand directly in front of his attacker and move with a rhythmic motion that allows a quick, evasive slip to either side. In contrast to the linear movements in Taekwondo and other Korean arts, the Taekkyon student's body constantly moves forward and backward, to the left and to the right. Lee Yong-bok describes this strategy as the first skill of Taekkyon: staying away from the attacker's weapons.
According to this logic, evasion is superior to blocking because, as long as an opponent's attack fails to make contact, his power does not matter. Taekkyon fighters move with a rhythm which beginning students sometimes learn while traditional Korean drums and bamboo flutes keep time. This rhythmical motion into and out of attack range further differentiates the style from all others. Similar movements have been found in the "tal chum", the centuries-old Korean mask dance. Herein lies another of Taekkyon's differences: During this continuous body motion, the arms constantly move up and down, out and back, and from side to side, confusing the opponent as to exact target locations. When combined with nimble footwork in four directions and occasional evasive jumping, a Taekkyon stylist becomes more difficult to hit.
Taekkyon's kicks have proved so effective that the style does not even include among its hand strikes a traditional jab or reverse punch. The kicks are so legendary that, for hundreds of years the name of the art was synonymous with foot-fighting. However, the kicks bear little resemblance to the typical spinning and jumping maneuvers glorified in tournaments and film. Instead, Taekkyon leg techniques are simple and direct, focusing on linear moves but including limited usage of circular and spinning kicks. Taekkyon has traditionally emphasized stepping and stamping techniques directed at the opponent's lower legs and feet.
In contrast to the intensity of Taekkyon when it existed only for combat, modern practice limits the damage that may be inflicted upon fellow students.
Lee explains the traditional rules of friendly Taekkyon competition, probably developed within the past 100 years, as follows:Custom (greeting and bowing) comes first. Pressure-point attacks are not allowed. Light to medium contact is allowed. Leg-grabbing and take downs are allowed. Kicking above the neck is allowed. Trapping with the hands is allowed. Jumping and kicking with both legs is allowed. Knocking out one leg with a kick is allowed.
Under the system Shin Han-seung systematized, Taekkyon training progresses through three steps. The first is "honja ikhigi", or training by oneself in basic movements and techniques. The second is called "maju megigi", or practice of more difficult and realistic techniques with a partner. The third is "gyeon jugi", or sparring. It teaches what can only be learned in simulated combat when the defender does not know his opponent's actions or reactions.

Current status

There are approximately fifty recognized practitioners of Taekkyeon at present, and the Korean Taekkyeon Association plays a significant role in the transmission and promotion of this traditional martial art.택견 (Taekkyeon, a traditional Korean martial art).


As a part of seasonal farming-related traditions, Taekkyeon serves to facilitate community integration, and as a sport accessible to all plays a major role in promoting public health. Taekkyeon is also practiced by a great number of people as a daily activity.


Sources of information



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