Should forms be part of Taekwondo at the Olympics?

Taekwondo has been an Olympic medal sport since the 2000 Sydney games. It is the second East Asian martial art to be introduced to the Olympic Games – the first being Judo. In 2020, at the Tokyo Games, Karate will be the third East Asian martial art to be included in the Games.

At most non-Olympic Taekwondo competitions, there are a variety of events: sparring, tag-team sparring, forms, team forms, board-breaking, and sometimes even musical forms. In the Taekwondo at the Olympics, there are only sparring events – sparring being one of the better spectator sports. However, when Karate joins the Olympics, there will be both kumite (sparring) and kata (forms) events. This leads me to ask: should there also be forms events for the Taekwondo at the Olympic Games?

Firstly, the Olympics are odd in how they include East Asian martial arts. It’s odd to include only Judo, Taekwondo, and Karate, and not so many of the other equally-valid East Asian martial arts, such as Kendo or modern Wushu. The Olympics are, of course, originally a European tradition, which is why they include so many of the traditional European sports, such as javelin, discus, shot put, the triathlon, and the pentathlon, but if East Asian martial arts are going to be included, why only those three? And given the similarity of Taekwondo and Karate, why is Karate only being included in the Olympics 20 years after Taekwondo?

Part of the reason for this may be which sports and events are best for spectators. Taekwondo and Karate are similar, so will spectators want to watch both? And this may also be part of the reason why forms are not part of Olympic Taekwondo. Sparring is faster and more explosive, so more exciting for spectators to watch. It’s also easier to understand – whoever lands the most shots (generally) wins. With forms, however, unless you have some training in Taekwondo, it’s difficult to know when watching a form whether it’s been performed well or not.

However, if forms are being included in the Karate events, then there’s no reason why they can’t be included in the Taekwondo events. Also, since forms are part of every other Taekwondo competition, and the Olympics are supposed to be the ultimate world competition for the sports that are included, then there should be forms events in the Olympic Taekwondo. As for making the forms events interesting for spectators, that’s what commentators are for – commentators are experts on the sport who guide the audience through what’s happening.

So I think that forms should be included in the Taekwondo at the Olympics. They show a different set of athletic abilities to sparring – jumping reverse turning kicks are rarely used in sparring, but they are difficult to perform well and spectacular to watch. Kukkiwon recently announced the development of ten new forms specifically to be used for competitions, and they are notably ‘flashier’ than the other Kukkiwon forms (and than most other forms in Taekwondo), with more kicks and kicking combinations, and more complicated kicks. Perhaps these forms were designed to be more exciting to watch, and thus designed to be used at an Olympic Taekwondo forms event.

How to spell ‘Taekwondo’

From the title of this post, and indeed the title of this blog, you can already see what my opinion on this is. Let me explain it.

I see ‘Taekwondo’ written in a lot of different ways. I see it written: Tae Kwon Do, Tae Kwon-Do, Tae-Kwon-Do, TaeKwon-Do, TaeKwon-do, Taekwon-Do, Taekwon-do, TaeKwonDo, TaeKwondo, Taekwondo, taekwondo, T’aegwŏndo, Taegwondo. (All of these different ways written deliberately and not mistakenly.)

Most of these writings vary only in whether syllables are separated by spaces and hyphens, and in capitalisation.

I think that the correct way to write 태권도 is ‘Taekwondo’. No spaces, no hyphens, no capital letters in the middle of the word, but the first letter should be a capital letter.

Firstly, why shouldn’t there be any spaces? ‘Taekwondo’ is one word in Korean. It would be like, in English, instead of writing ‘information’, writing ‘in form ation’. Certainly, each of the syllables in ‘Taekwondo’ has meaning – just as ‘in’, ‘form’, and ‘ation’ have distinct etymological meanings – and looking at the separate meanings is how we learn what the whole word means, but ‘Taekwondo’ is not three words, it is one.

Why shouldn’t there be any hyphens? In large part for the same reason that there shouldn’t be any spaces. Writing ‘Tae-Kwon-Do’ suggests that it’s three words rather than one. Writing ‘Taekwon-do’ suggests that the ‘do’ is a suffix that can be omitted as with ‘Karate-do’, but no-one ever calls ‘Taekwondo’ just ‘Taekwon’.

Furthermore, in the McCune-Reischauer and Revised systems of romanisation, hyphens are significant. They are used to separate letters that English speakers may interpret as a single sound – specifically they are used to distinguish between ‘ng’ and ‘n-g’. An example of this is in the word 평안 pyeong-an. If the hyphen were omitted from the romanisation, this would be written ‘pyeongan’, but this is ambiguous – is the pronunciation like ‘pyeong-an’ or ‘pyeon-gan’? Thus, hyphens shouldn’t be used to separate syllables unless necessary to help with pronunciation.

Why shouldn’t there be any capital letters WITHIN the word, like in ‘TaeKwonDo’? This is just bad English. The trend for using capital letters in the middle of words (like in ‘YouTube’) is a modern phenomenon that’s used most often in brand names. It’s inelegant, and looks very odd if you dO iT aLl ThE tImE.

Why should there be a ‘k’ instead of a ‘g’? G’s in Korean words tend to be confusing. For example, the romanisation of 고려 according to the Revised Romanisation is goryeo, but the ㄱ in this position is pronounced more like a ‘k’ than a ‘g’, which is why writing this word as ‘koryo’ makes a lot of sense. This is also true of a word like 국기원 – written gukgiwon in RR, but more familiar when written kukkiwon. When the ㄱ is in the middle of the word, the pronunciation IS often more like a ‘g’, but a ‘g’ is often still confusing for English speakers, so a ‘k’ should be used. (Similarly, I advocate writing ‘kukki-won’ rather than ‘gukgiwon’, ‘songdo-kwan’ rather than ‘songdogwan’, and so on.)

And finally, why should ‘Taekwondo’ always start with a capital letter? ‘Taekwondo’ is a proper noun – it is a name – not capitalising the first letter would be like writing ‘britain’ or ‘korea’. Taekwondo is a specific style of martial arts, much the same way that Impressionism is a specific style of western art, and both should be written with a capital letter at the start.