Taekwondo History

The Tae Kwon Do | What is Taekwondo | Taekwondo History | Taekwondo Description | Introduction to Taekwondo | Origins and Evolution | Philosophy of Taekwondo | Taekwondo Ethics | Taekwondo Organizations | Taekwondo Patterns | Taekwondo Vital Points | Competition and Ranks | Five Tenets | The Taeguk | The Theory of Power | Founder of Taekwondo | The Life of Choi Hong Hi

The oldest ancestor of taekwondo is an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by three rival Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was subak, with taekkyeon being the most popular of the segments of subak.

As the Goguryeo kingdom grew in power, the neighboring Silla kingdom became comparatively weaker, and an effort was undertaken among the Silla to develop a corps of special warriors. The Silla had a regular army but its military training techniques were less advanced than those of the Goguryeo, and its soldiers were generally of a lesser caliber. The Silla selected young men, some as young as twelve, and trained them in the liberal arts.

Those who demonstrated strong natural aptitude were selected as trainees in the new special warrior corps, called the Hwarang. It was believed that young men with a talent for the liberal arts may have the grace to become competent warriors.

These warriors were instructed in academic as well as martial arts, learning philosophy, history, a code of ethics, and equestrian sports.

Their military training included an extensive weapons program involving swordsmanship and archery, both on horseback and on foot, as well as lessons in military tactics and unarmed combat using subak.

Although subak was a leg-oriented art in Goguryeo, Silla’s influence added hand techniques to the practice of subak.

In spite of Korea’s rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, Korean martial arts faded into obscurity during the Joseon Dynasty. Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism and martial arts were lowly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings.

Remnants of traditional martial arts such as subak and taekkyeon were banned from practice by the general populace and reserved for sanctioned military uses although folk practice by the common populace still persisted into the 19th century.

Foreign influence: During the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), the practice of taekkyeon was banned. Although practice of the art nearly vanished, taekkyeon survived through underground teaching and folk custom. As the Japanese colonization established a firm foothold in Korea, the few Koreans who were able to attend Japanese universities were exposed to Okinawan and Japanese martial arts with some even receiving black belts under Gichin Funakoshi and other notable masters such as Kanken Toyama.

Koreans in China were also exposed to Chinese martial arts. By 1945, when the Korean peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonization, many martial arts schools were formed and developed under various names such as Tang Soo Do reflecting foreign influence.

At the end of World War II, several Kwans arose. They were: Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Jidokwan (or Yun Moo Kwan), Chang Moo Kwan, Han Moo Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Jung Do Kwan, Kang Duk Won, and Song Moo Kwan.

Modern Taekwondo: By the end of the Korean War, nine martial arts schools (translated as kwan) had opened, and South Korean President Syngman Rhee ordered that the various schools unify under a single system. A governmental body selected a naming committee’s submission of “tae-kwon-do,” possibly submitted by Choi Hong Hi, a general in the South Korean army and the founder of the Oh Do Kwan. However, several taekwondo leaders dispute this stating that Son Duk Song of the Chung Do Kwan submitted the name.

Following the submission of the name “taekwondo” on April 11, 1955,[3] the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959 to facilitate the unification. Shortly thereafter, taekwondo made its debut in North America. Standardization efforts in South Korea stalled, as the kwans continued to teach differing styles. Another request from the Korean government for unification resulted in the formation of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association, which changed its name back to the Korean Taekwondo Association in 1965 following a change of leadership.

This new leader was Choi Hong Hi who founded the International Taekwondo Federation in 1966 as an international governing body, in order to spread Taekwondo around the world. Subsequently, Choi fell out of favour with the authorities in South Korea and moved his organisation to Canada in 1972.

In 1972, the Korea Taekwondo Association Central Dojang was opened. A few months later, the name was changed to the Kukkiwon, which means “National Technique Center.” The Kukkiwon remains the World Taekwondo Headquarters to this day. The following year, the World Taekwondo Federation was formed.

The International Olympic Committee recognized the WTF and taekwondo sparring in 1980, and the sport was accepted as a demonstration event at the 1988 Seoul and the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. It became an official medal event as of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Taekwondo is one of two Asian martial arts (judo being the other) in the Olympic Games.

The public WTF and private ITF, the two largest taekwondo organizations, operate and train in hundreds of nations and teach the martial art to millions of people each year. Although competition has always been a significant feature of taekwondo, many practitioners study taekwondo for personal development, to learn self-defense, and/or for fun.