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Title [Centre News] The Benefits of Taekkyeon Training for Adolescents

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Joo Hyun PARK, Korea Taekkyon Association

<Korea Taekkyeon Association>

The association manages diverse projects for the globalization of Taekkyeon, Korea's National Intangible Sultural Heritafe 76 (1983), inscribed by UNESCO (2011).


It is presumed that the Korean people had practiced empty-handed martial arts resembling a form of dance since before the Three Kingdoms period, as it is possible to infer from the tomb murals of Goguryeo. These empty-handed combat techniques, which can be regarded as the origin of Taekkyeon, changed and evolved as the national martial arts of the people from one era to another, albeit under different names. In the Three Kingdoms period, it was called Subak or Deokkyeoni and laid the foundation for strengthening national power, whereas, in the Goryeo Dynasty, it prospered as a leisurely activity for kings and military officials under the name of Subakhui. Eventually, in the early Joseon Dynasty, it became the basic combat art for warriors as one of the formal events in the military recruitment process, and since the mid-Joseon Dynasty, it was widely disseminated as a folk game among ordinary people. The lineage of this traditional martial art endured until the 1910s, when it was banned during the Japanese occupation of Korea as part of Japan’s policy to eradicate the Korean people and almost became extinct as a result. It barely endured through a handful of surviving Taekkyeon practitioners who covertly transmitted it to their students. While Taekkyeon failed to be revived even after Korea’s liberation from Japan, it eventually reintroduced itself to the world in 1958 when it was reorganized by Song Deok-gi. Subsequently in the 1970s, as the art was taught to Shin Han-seung, it became better established and organized, attracting broad attention from the public.

Against this backdrop, Taekkyeon practitioners have made utmost efforts to preserve and pass on this Korean traditional martial art. As Taekkyeon was eventually designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 76 in 1983, it was placed under institutional protection. In South Korea, Taekkyeon was selected as a national recreational sport in 1998 and then a formal event of the Korean Sports Council in 2007. Internationally, it became the world’s first martial art to be inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage on November 28, 2011, in global recognition of its unique value as a tradition and martial art that is distinct from other combat techniques.


Adolescence is a period of great importance that requires attention in many aspects, since it lays the foundation for one’s physical build and strength as the stage of human life with the most vigorous bodily growth and entails rapid social and emotional changes. Undertaking physical activities become more important during this period to ensure education in cultivating well-rounded people than sports activities undertaken during other stages in life, and represent even greater significance in laying a lifelong foundation for sports.



However, many adolescents experience times of personal hardship due to various pressure attributable to real-world issues that take place during this growth period, such as academic pursuits, family affairs, physical issues, and interpersonal relationships, as well as internal conflicts triggered by emotional changes that result from the sudden increase in growth hormones. Examples of such hardships include rebellious attitudes, as well as social problems including school violence, bullying and suicide. During adolescence, youths should be offered effective ways to develop positive personalities to ensure their healthy self-concept, along with well-balanced physical development, in order to help them find themselves in this important period as a meaningful contribution to the growth of their character (Roh Man-u and Kang Jin-yeong, 2014). In other words, it is necessary to expand adolescent participation in sports activities to help them lead healthy, sound lives through a positive physical self-concept and self-realization.



In this respect, martial arts training is effective in developing and enhancing physical strength and self-concept, while its benefits in terms of physical wellness and mental discipline are deemed to be aptly suited to the purpose of adolescent sports activities (Kang Min-jun, 2008). Many preceding studies demonstrate that martial arts training has a positive effect on adolescents in terms of developing certain areas of physical self-concept (Roh Man-u and Kang Jin-yeong, 2014).



In particular, Taekkyeon differs from other martial arts in that it incorporates gentle, natural movements that resemble dance moves and has a unique system of sparring named Gyeorugi, in which the sparring takes place with the utmost care not to hurt the opponent and receiving the opponent’s attacks with mutual courtesy. This is because the art of Taekkyeon, which has been passed down for over 5,000 years alongside the ups and downs in the history of the Korean people, naturally embodies the uniquely Korean philosophy of mutual prosperity (Lee Dae-jung, 2013).



The purpose of training and teaching Taekkyeon are deeply interconnected. Taekkyeon training aims to foster individuals who are spiritually, socially and physically healthy with a well-rounded personality and are able to lead a sound, joyful life as both an individual and a member of society. In this regard, Taekkyeon training represents significant value not only as a traditional martial art but also as an educational activity for adolescents. Taekkyeon’s value in adolescent education is linked to its general educational values. Based on Principles of Taekkyeon (Jeong Kyeong-hwa, 2002) and other research data, the benefits of Taekkyeon are (i) improvement of physical functionality, (ii) social development, (iii) improvement of concentration, and (iv) physical self-expression.



First, Taekkyeon improves physical functionality, as it incorporates physical, dynamic, psychological and biological functions. Taekkyeon training consists of main exercises, such as stretching, basic movements, Daegeori, Matseogi and Bonttaeboegi, which are recognized as physical activities with considerable health benefits. In particular, Bonttaeboegi exercises develop physical balance and coordination (Im Sang-won, 2009) and train practitioners to learn the effective mechanism of movements. Moreover, this sport requires highly vigorous physical activities and is helpful in strengthening cardiopulmonary functions as an aerobic exercise (Kwon Yong-ki, 2009). In addition, it develops muscles across the entire body, including arms, legs, hands, ankles and hips, which are significantly beneficial to increasing flexibility. These research findings demonstrate that Taekkyeon training satisfies adolescents’ desire for vigorous physical activities and improves their capacity to learn sports, as well as flexibility and basic physical strength, thereby contributing immensely to the balanced physical development of adolescents in their growth period.



Second, Taekkyeon provides the opportunity to develop social skills. Since the sport emphasizes the collective over individuals, it embodies a communal aspect that brings athletes and audience members together as one (Roh Jung-ho, 2012). Through Taekkyeon training, practitioners learn courtesy, respect, tolerance, temperance and other positive traits, and further foster stamina and willpower required for physical activities through physical and spiritual discipline, perseverance, and self-restraint from fundamental desires, which serve to maximize the capacity to function as a member of society (Lee Jeong-il, 2006). Under the strict rules and principles of Taekkyeon training, practitioners also learn social order by behaving with respect towards their instructors as well as senior, junior and peer practitioners in compliance with Taekkyeon’s norms and standards. As such, it is understood that Taekkyeon training has the potential to exert an immensely significant impact on the socialization of adolescents to aid their integration as members of society.



Third, Taekkyeon provides the opportunity to improve concentration. Taekkyeon practices mental discipline through an activity named Jonyang (存養), which is highly distinctive from general sports activities. Similar to meditation, it is a spiritual training method intended to calm one’s nature or essence of mind and practice self-discipline in order to maintain moral character. Among other benefits, it allows practitioners to calm their mind by mastering their natural character through an attitude that seeks to reach harmony and acceptance in relation to nature. In Taekkyeon, jonyang is performed prior to or after the start of training sessions to help practitioners foster composure, temperance, restraint and confidence, which contribute to the mental strength and emotional stability of adolescents.



Fourth, Taekkyeon provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body. During the self-training process of Bonttaeboegi, practitioners link together individual techniques of Taekkyeon and elevate them into beautiful body movements that are uniquely inherent in human beings in a way that does not place undue stress on the body (Lee Dae-jung, 2013). Performing Bonttaeboegi at a high level requires coordination and precise timing. To this end, practitioners must regularly and consistently practice smooth movements and transitions of the center of gravity. Through constant Bonttaeboegi practice, adolescents realize the essence and true meaning of martial arts, as well as the way to express themselves through beautiful movements that utilize the body like a dance performance.



In conclusion, Taekkyeon is an expression of physical elements that entails both educational purposes and values, and also a means of socialization that teaches adolescents to practice self-restraint within the boundaries permitted by Taekkyeon’s traditional norms and rules. It also develops almost all parts of the body, as practitioners perform gentle motions with quick and agile hand and foot techniques. Based on Taekkyeon’s unique ethical philosophy of mutual prosperity and integration with nature, practitioners undertake spiritual training and learn movements that embody Taekkyeon’s inherent philosophy, prior to physical training. Learning the significance of such preparations also facilitate the growth of one’s character. As a result, Taekkyeon represents a whole-person sport that offers functional benefits with regard to the spiritual, physical and social aspects from an educational standpoint.


※ Opinon in this writing are the author's own.