taekwondo sparringNo matter how you spell it, you’re talking about the most popular martial art in the world today.

There is no real explanation for the increased popularity, but I do have a theory. You see over the past, oh, 20 years or so, the World Taekwondo Federation, (also known as the WTF), has been successfully lobbying to have tae kwon do sparring as part of the Summer Olympic games.

Olympic Taekwondo Sparring has been seen in the Summer Olympics for several tours now beginning first as an exhibition and eventually becoming a medal sport.

It is my belief that this increased exposure has made taekwondo more popular around the globe.

Unfortunately, the taekwondo that is seen in the Olympic Games is a very, very small sample of the entirety of the martial art. Tae kwon do is like most every other martial art in that there is a complete cadre of parts and pieces that make up the whole. Taekwon-do students study forms, self defense, kicking, punching, joint manipulation…
All the same parts and pieces that make up any other martial art. Every martial art, including taekwondo, has a very distinct style of movement and expertise.

What I dislike about Taekwondo Olympic Sparring is that it leaves behind the belief that taekwondo is nothing but sparring. Yes, sparring is part of any taekwondo program in every style, but Olympic sparring is very specific. It has specific rules and procedures that do not translate into the rest of tae kwon do.

Olympic Taekwondo Sparring is often confused with Kukkiwon, the National Headquarters of Taekwondo in Seoul, South Korea. Taekwondo is the national martial art of South Korea recognized officially by its government. The WTF originated as part of the Kukkiwon but branched off as it pursued the Olympic exposure. Kukkiwon still regulates taekwondo rank advancement requirements for all WTF style practitioners around the world.

But, most WTF style taekwondoists are not Taekwondo Olympic sparring participants. It is unfortunate that other tae kwon do styles like the ITF, ATA or ITA and others mistake the WTF style of rank advancement with sparring only. As taekwondo enthusiasts, those of us who are bestowed rank by Kukkiwon should refer to our style as Kukkiwon Style, not WTF style. The WTF no longer has a style of taekwondo, just a style of tae kwon do sparring.