Thursday, August 04, 2005

A History of Taekwondo

For people interested in finding out more about Taekwondo, here's a compilation written by Instructor Mr David Jewell of the Upwey Dojang some years ago.

A History of Tae Kwon Do

by Mr David Jewell

Forms of self-defence are as old as mankind itself, and it would be impossible to trace hand and foot fighting of today back to any single beginning. Korea is a country with a much varied history, being at the cross roads of Asia. She was periodically invaded by the Mongols, the Manchurians, the Chinese and the Japanese but the indigenous people of what is now known as the Korean Peninsula hung on to their own identity.


Early history of the Korean Peninsula is a melting pot of tribal warfare and invasion by the Mongols, the Manchu Ch'ing dynasties and other northern peoples. This period is, as far as Korea is concerned, chiefly Protohistory, a period when we have few facts and quite a lot of materials which are often of uncertain value. Early Chinese records tell us of some tribal groupings such as the Puyo, the Okcho, the Yemaek and the I-lou. In the spring of 109BC the Chinese began an invasion of northern Korea and established four commanderies with the hub of Chinese administration in Korea at Nangnang which endured for 400 years. This was a period of great Chinese influence on the Korean Peninsula which had the effect of unifying many of the local tribes. On a tributary to the Yalu river a group who considered themselves a branch of the Puyo peoples united to form Koguryo under the rule of King T'aejo (53 - 146AD). Early references to Koguryo reveal a people who were fierce fighters, and given to warfare. They lived in a mountainous area ill suited for agriculture and apparently turned their hunting activities into a professional military way of life.

During the fourth century AD there arose three distinct and strong kingdoms in Korea, Koguryo in the north with Silla and Paekche in the south. The small Kaya league nested between the two southern states having strong ties with the Wa State of Japan. Koguryo was to continue its expansion through an elite military class called the Kyondang, at the expense of its southern and northern neighbours until it reached its peak in the 5th Century AD, covering half of the Korean Peninsula and much of Manchuria. Some tomb paintings indicate a form of hand and foot fighting from this period separate in style to the Chinese martial art of kwonbop, introduced around 520AD and made popular in Korea between 1147 and 1170.

The early sixth century saw the introduction of Buddhism to Silla and the annexation of much of the Kaya States by Silla. Silla then formed an alliance with the T'ang of China, in order to co-ordinate an invasion of Paekche, the T'ang from the sea and the Silla forces led by General Kim Yu-sin from the land. In 661, with Paekche secured, the T'ang/Silla forces set upon Koguryo. In the following years the T'ang attempted to establish control of Paekche at which point Silla broke off its alliance and routed the T'ang from the Peninsula. As the result of a concerted effort in 667, aided by a Koguryo defector named Namsaeng, Koguryo finally fell to the Silla forces in 668. The unifying of the Korean peninsula was complete.

A partial answer to Silla's military success was its military institutions. Growing out of a semi-official body dedicated to the nurturing of talent amongst upper class young males, there emerged at this time an elite paramilitary youth Corp. These were known as the Hwarang who had among their ranks the young Kim Yu-sin, later to become the master swordsman and leading General. The Hwarang were organised on a clan or village basis with a fixed social structure and were a firm base for national morality and spirit. They learnt traditional values through communal life and rites and learnt mutual understanding and friendship through military arts, poetry and music. During the wars of unification the Hwarang fought fiercely in the vanguard and, although very young, were leaders skilled in many of the military ways and in martial arts, such as Wrestling, Soo Bak-Gi and Taek Kyon (primitive forms of foot fighting adapted from sport). The martial spirit of the Hwarang and of Silla is revealed in the five precepts for secular life given to them by the Buddhist monk Won'gwang (d.640AD).

* 1. Serve your lord with loyalty.
* 2. Serve your parents with filial piety.
* 3. Use good faith in your communication with friends.
* 4. Face battle without retreating.
* 5. When taking life, be selective.

What followed was a period of relative peace and the decline of the Hwarang as a military organisation. It became known as a group specialising in poetry, music and dance for enjoyment and fun. This period also saw the gradual weakening of the throne of Silla until 936 when Wang Kon, a very strong War-Lord, founded a new dynasty called Koryo, an abbreviation of Koguryo. It is from this that the modern name Korea is derived. It was during this time that Soo Bak once again became popular as a sporting activity and martial art. Koryo tried to repel or appease invaders until late in the Koryo Dynasty (the 13th Century) it had become a full-fledged participant in the Mongol adventure of conquest and one small fragment in the vast Mongol Empire which stretched eastward to the Danube. Koryo was the launching ground of the Mongols against Japan but their attempts were thwarted by heavy storms which the Japanese called "divine wind" (kamikazi). The 14th Century saw the expansion of the Chinese Ming and the contraction of the Mongol empire and the coming to power in Koryo of Yi Songgye in 1392 and the replacement of Buddhism by Confusionism as the State Religion. Confusionism advocated classical Chinese thinking which played down the physical side of life and replaced it with reading, poetry, music and other classical arts. This tended to stifle the development of Korean Martial Arts which became almost none existent.

The Yi Dynasty was to last until 1910, with various Kings introducing many social and cultural changes. Generally, it was a period of diplomacy more than continual war with Korea looking for assistance from Japan when threatened from the north, and looking to China when threatened from the south. Even so, Korea did spend many decades under the control of foreigners, particularly China. From the late 17th century through to the early 19th, Korea was known as the "Hermit Nation" because it turned away foreigners, particularly the Europeans who were expanding their own empires at this time. Towards the end of the 19th century Korea set up relations with many Western Nations in an effort to offset Japanese influence. In 1894 the Tonghak Rebellion brought both Japanese and Chinese troops onto Korean soil in an effort to protect their interests and to influence the Korean Monarchy. After the Sino-Japanese war (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05) it was obvious that Korea was to come under Japanese protection. The final Yi Dynasty King was on the throne for only 24 days when a new treaty with Japan stripped him of all power and thus the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 was merely an acknowledgment of what had already happened. The Japanese were hard task masters and did all they could to subdue the Korean people, including the banning of the Korean language press and the compulsory teaching of Japanese in all the schools. Korean culture was frowned upon and the Korean people were forced into servitude, hiding much of their culture including their martial arts. When Japan became involved in World War II many Koreans, particularly those resident in Japan, were forced into the Japanese military. Towards the end of the war, the Americans invaded Korea to press back the Japanese but also in an effort to control the post-war occupation of the Korean Peninsula by the Soviets. In 1948 the Americans and Soviets proclaimed the division of Korea into the Republic of Korea (South), with Syngman RHEE as President, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North). Both the Soviet controlled North and the American controlled South claimed the whole of Korea and in 1950 the North Korean military invaded south, resulting in the 'Korean War' lasting until the 27th July 1953.

Syngman Rhee (b. 26/4/1875 Whanghae - d. 19/7/65 Honolulu) was a very nationalistic Korean who went to the USA in 1904 to become the first Korean to obtain a Phd from an American University. After returning to Korea he found that he could not work under Japanese occupation so returned to the USA in 1912. Seven years later, in China, he was elected President of the Korean Provisional Government in exile and held this position for 20 years. During WWII he remained in the USA establishing his reputation with the Americans which resulted in Syngman Rhee being set up by the US as the new post war President of the Republic of Korea. He used strong arm tactics, including assassination of opponents, to maintain his presidency in elections in 1948,52,56 and 1960. He maintained dictatorial control over all levels of government until his downfall shortly after obvious rigging of the 1960 election. Student riots, with heavy casualties, resulted in a call from the National Assembly for Rhee's resignation. He resigned on the 27th April 1960 and went into exile in Hawaii where he died 5 years later. Rhee was replaced by constitutional liberalism in the Second Republic but instability in the new democracy led to a military coup on the 16th May 1961. General PARK Chung Hee dominated the military junta and terminated military rule at the end of 1962 to become the president of the Third Republic, being re-elected in 1967 and 71 until he dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the constitution in 1972 in the face of growing popular unrest. Park expanded the powers of the presidency and at the end of 1972 was directly elected president of the Fourth Republic. Despite great unrest in the Korean population he was re-elected in December 1978 but less than a year later he was assassinated by the head of his own Central Intelligence Agency. In 18 years Park had laid the basics for Korea's economic success through State planning, capitalist incentives, strict control and the abrogation of labour rights. His assassination caused another military coup on the 12 December 1979 resulting in the May 1980 domestic uprising in Kwangju. Brutally put down, the uprising resulted in CHUN Doo Hwan assuming the presidency and the beginning of the Fifth Republic in October 1980. Chun lifted martial law the following January and was elected president a month later. For the next four years he ran a repressive regime until he nominated his successor ROH Tae Woo, a former General of the 1979 coup. Pressure from Human Rights Activists, the USA, and the coming 1988 Olympics saw an election being held in December 1987 resulting in Roh being elected President with only 36% of the vote.


A group of Japanese archaeologist exploring the Tung-hua province of Manchuria in 1935, discovered 2 tombs that were dated to belong to the Tenth Kingdom of Koguryo (late 4th century). Murals painted on the ceiling of the Kakchu (Kak-Je) and Myong-chong temples depict figures in fighting postures. Guarding the Sok Kul An Buddhist cave Temple is a carved statue of Kumgang Yuksa, a famous warrior from the reign of King Hye-Gong (742-762) who also appears in a typical martial art pose. The appearance of these fighters in obvious martial poses shows that martial arts and fighting techniques go back a long way in Korea, to even before the known introduction of Kwonbop from China (520AD). These figures could equally represent open hand techniques of modern Tae Kwon Do or Karate but are most likely representative of the forebears of many modern asian fighting arts. To hold to the view that these figures show that Tae Kwon Do is thousands of years old is to be compared with saying that English is two thousand years old, it's just that it used to be called Anglo-latin. Also, to put things in further perspective, two small Babylonian works of art dating from between 3000 and 2000BC show two men fighting, one with a typical modern martial art block but no-one claims that Karate comes from Babylon1.

Although generally banned by the occupying Japanese, the Korean Martial Arts of Soo Bak, Tae Kyon, Kong Soo and Hwa Soo and others survived by being practiced in secret, whilst in later years, the Japanese martial arts were often learnt by Koreans from their invaders. Tae Kyon was secretly practiced and passed onto a handful of students by men like Han Il Dong and Duk Ki Song. Another student of the outlawed arts was Hwang Kee, the future founder of Tang Soo Do and the Moo Duk Kwan (martial arts School). By the age of 22, Kee had become expert in Soo Bak and Tae Kyon and in 1936 he travelled to Northern China to study the "T'ang method". He then worked until 1945 to combine the Korean and Chinese styles into Tang Soo Do (the way of T'ang hand). The original meaning of the term Karate was "T'ang Hand", Te meaning hand and Kara an ideogram to describe the Chinese T'ang. In 1936, Okinawan Masters got together at the behest of a newspaper to change the ideogram Kara to the one meaning "empty", as it has the same pronunciation2. In the later part of the Japanese occupation many Koreans went to Japan to further their education and to learn Martial Arts. One of these was Choi Yong-I, born in Korea in 1923 and started studying Korean Kempo at the age of nine. He went to Japan in 1938 to study aviation using the name Masutatsu Oyama but put more of his energies into the study of Karate to become, many decades later, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate. Another Korean, Choi Hong Hi, went to Kyoto, Japan in 1937 to study calligraphy. Choi had been studying calligraphy and Tae Kyon in Korea under Han Il Dong and upon arrival in Japan he started to study Shotokan Karate as a student of a Korean named Kim, and after two years of intensive training he was presented with a first Dan Black Belt in Shotokan. He then went onto Tokyo University where he gained his second Dan and became an instructor at the YMCA. During WW 2, whereas Oyama stayed in Japan, Choi was forced to enlist in the Japanese army and was posted to Pyongyang in Korea where he became involved in the Korean Independence Movement, resulting in his imprisonment. Until his liberation at the end of the war he practiced and developed much of his martial art, later to be named Tae Kwon Do.

Tang Soo - TAE KYON - Kong Soo
Karate - Kung Fu
Soo Bahk - Hwa Soo
CHUNG DO KWAN - Won Kook Lee - 1945
MOO DUK KWAN - Hwang Kee - 1945
YUN MOO KWAN - Sup Chun Sang - 1945
CHANG MOO KWAN - In Yoon Byung - 1946
CHI DO KWAN - Yon Kue Pyang - 1946
OH DO KWAN - Nam Tae Hi, Choi Hong Hi - 1953/54
JI DO KWAN - Gae Byang Yun - 1953/54
SONG MOO KWAN - Byung Chik Ro - 1953/54

11th April 1955

At the end of World War II and the liberation of the Southern end of the Korean Peninsula by the American Forces a number of Martial Art Schools sprouted like bamboo shoots after rain. These Kwan were established by masters of Korean and foreign martial arts, the biggest being the civilian school of Chung Do Kwan in Seoul, established by Won Kook Lee whilst Hwang Kee formed the Moo Duk Kwan towards the end of 1945. One of the Korean styles was known as Tang Soo ("Chinese Hand" after the Chinese Tang Dynasty) and in 1953 the Korea Tang Soo Association was formed but later replaced in 1960 by the more Korean name of the Soo Bahk Do Association. Also formed in 1953 was the Oh Do Kwan. Established by Choi Hong Hi and Nam Tae Hi this school was established within the military and was for military personnel only although it had strong links with the civilian Chung Do Kwan which Choi later commanded in 1954.

Choi had been teaching his martial art to his soldiers throughout his military career and had become instructor for the American Military Police School in Seoul as early as 1948. In 1949 he visited Fort Riley in the USA and introduced the American people to 'Korean Karate'. Given fast promotion within the Korean Armed Forces, Choi was named Chief of Staff in 1952 as a Brigadier General and a man of considerable influence in the war time forces of Syngman Rhee. Immediately after the war he organised the crack 29th Infantry Division which was to become instrumental in the spreading of Tae Kwon Do throughout the Korean Military.

Technically, 1955 signalled the beginning of Tae Kwon Do as a formally recognised art in Korea. During that year a special board comprising master instructors from various Kwans, historians and prominent leaders of society was formed. A number of names for the new martial art were submitted but on the 11th April, the board decided on the name of Tae Kwon Do submitted by General Choi. This name, meaning 'the way of foot and hand fighting', appealed to the newly nationalistic Koreans as a totally Korean expression and greatly resembled the ancient Korean art of Tae Kyon. Thus the name of Tae Kwon Do began to spread throughout Korea as their own martial art and in a few years it had spread to many nations across the world.

At this stage various Associations began to arise, the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association (1959), the Korea Soo Bahk Do Association (1960) replacing the earlier Korea Tang Soo Do Association, and the Korea Tae Soo Do Association (1961). The unification of the various Kwans was never smooth but by Presidential decree in 1962 the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA), with Choi Hong Hi as president, was declared to be the representative body of the Korean Martial Art and the body whose black belt qualification would be recognised by the government. In March 1965, the Soo Bahk Do Association attempted to unite with the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association but the effort was unsuccessful splitting the Moo Duk Kwan between the two associations. On the 22nd March 1966, General Choi formed the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) after almost a decade of establishing associations in many countries of South East Asia, Europe and North America. This period of the 1960s was one of great political unrest both inside and outside of the martial arts fraternity and the various associations were told by the government of Park Chung Hee to unify under the banner of the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association and to come under the auspices of the Korean Athletics Association on February 23 1963. This was not a totally smooth operation with some masters, such as Son Duk Sung of the Chung Do Kwan, preferring to leave Korea altogether. It was also during this period that General Choi Hong Hi, often known as the 'Father of Tae Kwon Do', started to lose his control of Tae Kwon Do.

At this point it is interesting to note the historic parallels between CHOI Hong Hi and PARK Chung Hee who were both Generals under President Syngman RHEE. Rhee was deposed on the 27th April 1960 by a constitutional democracy that was short lived. A coup lead by Park on the 16th May 1961 saw Park become President by the end of 1962. This was the year that Choi left Korea and was "promoted" to be the Korean Ambassador to Malaysia. Although he briefly returned to Korea in 1966 to establish the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) Choi never gained much political influence in Korea and finally moved the ITF headquarters to Toronto, Canada, in 1972, the year that Kukkiwon was opened. Choi had done much to spread Tae Kwon Do throughout the world whilst others were establishing a stronghold at home. As a further indicator to the almost total loss of influence of Choi in South Korea, Christopher Hill states in his 1992 book, "Olympic Politics", with reference to the 30th September 1981 vote by the IOC to decide on Seoul for the 1988 Olympics that "Kim Un-Yong dealt decisively with the rumour that General Choi, a Korean emigre in Canada, would stage an anti-Seoul demonstration, as some citizens of Nagoya had done, on environmental grounds, against their own city's bid. Kim did not believe the rumour, but he put five Taekwondo instructors on standby in case of trouble and there was no incident".

The early 1970s was the foundation period of two internationally known Tae Kwon Dos, one a traditional martial art and the other a progressive martial sport with the Olympics as its primary goal. In 1970, Kim Un Yong, a shrewd businessman and not a martial arts master, was elected as the new president of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association and was instrumental in changing the direction of Tae Kwon Do from martial art to martial sport with an ultimate goal of the Olympic Games. He is also one of Korea's representatives with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 1972 an advanced training establishment was built, called Kukkiwon, now the Mecca of participants in sport Taekwondo. In May 1973 the first World Taekwondo championships were held at Kukkiwon in Seoul with over 30 countries participating and as a result of the international success of this event, the World Taekwondo Federation(WTF) was formed with Dr Kim Un Yong being elected foundation president. The WTF replaced the KTA. Taekwondo, now one of the national sports of Korea, is included as part of the school curriculum at all levels and as a requisite for military training. Modern Taekwondo in Korea has progressed so much towards being a sport that its ruling body in Korea, the WTF, comes under the control of the Korean Athletics Association and not the martial arts body known as the Ki Do Hae.When Jigaro Kano took aspects of the martial art Aikijujitsu and formed a safer sport form for use by all people as a means towards better health and fitness, he adopted the name "Judo" to describe the new sport. Taekwondo has not adopted any name changes but it is important to realise that there are today, many styles of the original martial art of Tae Kwon Do. Perhaps the only distiction between the various styles being in the spelling, with the sport style preferring to use a single word for Taekwondo. With the announcement that Taekwondo will be a full medal Olympic sport as of the Sydney 2000 Olympics it has completed its road from martial art to martial sport. There is really no reason that Art and Sport can't co-exist under the same name if people are educated as to its history.

* Encyclopaedia Britannica
* 'The Martial Arts Companion' John Corcoran 1992
* 'Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do' Richard Chun 1975
* 'A History of Korea' William E. Henthorn 1971
* 'Tae Kwon Do' General Choi Hong Hi 1972
* 'The SBS World Guide' Peter Krien 1992
* 'What is Karate' Masutatsu Oyama 1966
* 'Tae Kwon Do Hyung (vol2)' Hee Il Cho 1984
* 'Inside Tae Kwon Do' Dec 1992 edition
* 'Tae Kwon Do' Mark McCarthy 1984
* 'Official WTF TKD' David Mitchell, M.A. Comm of G.B.1986
* 'The Overlook M.A. Dictionary' Emil Farkas, John Corcoran 1983
* 'Olympic Politics' Christopher Hill 1991
* 'The way of the Warrior' Howard Reid, Michael Croucher 1983
* 'Modern Karate' Steve Arneil, Bryan Dowler 1974
* The Way of the Warrior Howard Reid & Michael Croucher 1983
* Modern Karate Steve Arneil & Bryan Dowler 1974