A long time lurker and first time poster. And this is my short anthology of TKD, which might clear up some of the misconceptions about TKD, especially by the proponent of the MMA who claims TKD is irrelevant.
I grew up in Hawaii in the early 1970s, taking TKD from a Korean "traditional" instructor who also taught TKD in the Korean ROK army before he immigrated to the U.S. He was also a ROK, Vietnam vet. As a teen, I took TKD lesson every day, Monday to Friday, after school from 5 to 8 pm. On Saturday, the class would go from 10:00 am to 1 pm. I believe it cost my parents $10 per month for me to take TKD. It took me about 5 years to earn my first degree black belt; since then I moved to the "mainland," joined the Army, college, and career, and haven't had time to take any MAs.
Speaking from my experience during the early 70s, the TKD I was taught had a quite a few hand strikes, both open and close. We were taught to strike opponent's vulnerable parts, including strikes to the throat, groin, eyes, underarm, etc. Despite learning these hand tachics, we were always warned to never use them except for self-defence, only in dire situations. The instructor also taught some form of joint-manipulation and sweeps common in Hapkido. Moreover, low kicks below the waist were taught along side the popular, fancy high and spinning kicks. The low kicks consisted of kicks to the mid-section, waist, and to the thigh area. In a street fight, however, low kicks can be utilize to the ankle in an attempt to trip the attacker and then to finish him off. As the OP stated, there were no weapons training of any sorts, though on our own we would play around with the home-made numchucks.
As far as strengthening our fists and open hands for handstrikes, we would practice punching/chopping eye=level, propped up 2 X 4 wrapped with a rope. This was to develop callous on your knuckles etc. Followed by heavy-duty punching bag you would see a boxing gym. Any sort of mistakes or misbehavior would be punishable by bare-knuckle push ups which further strengthen our fists and wrists.
We also had two types of sparring, non-contact sparring (basically going through the motion) and full-contact sparring. The full-contact was also divided into two types; one without any safety helmut/pads/etc and one with. Typically during sparring, usually three or four black belts would line up on the one side and the red and other lower belts would line up on the other side, facing each other. The full contact sparring would last about 5 to 10 minutes. Then, the lower belt would rotate to the next black belt and spar him for the next 5 mintutes. Any time when an opponent is knocked to the ground, we were told to be "gentlemen" and restart from the stand up position. The helmut and pads were used for pre-tournament fights; so we can get used to them. After years of training, my friends and I were pretty good at fighting; all of us at high school grade level hanging around for protection.
Once in a while, the city of Honolulu would host "Karate" tournaments. At our school, we would have our own tournament to pick the best fighters for each age/belt level to represent the TKD school. Tournament would have other TKD schools from Hawaii, as well as Japanese style Karate schools and Kung Fu schools.
I don't know if any of you been to Hawaii, but the inner-city of Honolulu is a rough and tough place to grow up, especially if you are a Haole. Contrary to the popular notion of the Brazilian JJ, originally espoused by Rorian and Royce Gracie of the early UFC, in a street fight, the last place you want to end up is on the ground; you would end up being stomped to death like a squashed watermelon by someone who actually know how to stomp and kick. Personally, the TKD I learned, helped me survive my youth in Hawaii; "stick and move, stick and move, watch your sides and back, knock him down and go for the kill (not literally)."
As youth growing up in Hawaii in the early 1970s, one of our favorite past-time was going to a movie theater to watch the Bruce Lee movies. I don't know if you guys noticed, all the kicks he used in his movies look like TKD kicks. Since I was very familiar with school mates who took Kung-Fu, I can somewhat confidently say that Bruce Lee did not use Kung-Fu/Wushu kicks in his movies. One night as I browsing the internet, I came across several pics of Bruce Lee and a TKD intructor practicing sparring together. Could Bruce Lee have gotten some ideas from this TKD instructor?
Since I'm now a middle-age man
who haven't practice TKD in some twenty-years, it's hard for me to recognize what a Tae Know Do is? Some of the videos uploaded unto this site are pretty laughable. The TKD matches during the last Olympic were pretty entertaining. However, one doesn't have to ever taken TKD to realize that, as one poster poignantly stated that it has become a martial "sports."