Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. It is a unique martial art in that it expresses the essence of its county of origin. No other martial art has been so influential in the country of its origin as has Taekwondo in Korea. Some believe Taekwondo is Korea's most effective diplomatic tool in spreading Korean culture throughout the world. However, Taekwondo has an identity problem due to confusion and distortion regarding its historical origins and process of development.
Writings on Taekwondo history usually portray Taekwondo as an unique product of Korean culture, developed over the long course of Korean history since the Three Kingdoms Era. However, Taekwondo's primary influence came from Japanese Karate that was introduced into Korea during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the early 1900s.
After WWII, Korean martial artists who would later become the founders of Taekwondo began to "Koreanize" the Japanese Karate they had learned during the Japanese occupation so it would reflect more of the Korean culture. They began to incorporate some of the remnants of Subak and Taekkyon into their previous karate training. This involved selection of a new, non-Japanese name, the creation of a system of techniques and training that was distinctly different from that of karate, and an attempt to show Taekwondo 's development throughout Korean history. The new name given the art was "Taekwondo." The development of a new system of techniques and training came about by moving Taekwondo away from karate's nature as a martial art to that of a sport, called the "competitionalization" of Taekwondo. This document attempts show Taekwondo's links to karate and to Korean martial arts, such as to the ancient Korean martial arts of Subak and Taekkyon.
Efforts remove the Japanese Karate influence have left Taekwondo divided into two entities: a traditional martial art and a competitive sport. Traditional Taekwondo is still largely based on the training principles, kata, and philosophies of karate, while competitive Taekwondo, which originated in Korea, is considered a subset of traditional Taekwondo.
The concept of martial arts was developed in Japan beginning with the transformation of swordsmanship from a battlefield necessity to a form of philosophic human movement (tao). This philosophical concept, as applied to fighting skills, did not exist in Korea. As will be discussed later, physical activity, especially the fighting arts, became an object of scorn and a sign of low breeding during the latter years of the Joseon Dynasty. Korea's first exposure to the concept of martial arts was through training in Judo and Kendo during Japanese occupation of the early 1900's. The martial arts concept was further reinforced with the introduction of karate and other Japanese philosophies and methodologies.
Taekwondo not only has a physical history; it also has a spiritual history. It was created without spiritual components, but its origins were spiritually based. This spiritual aspect seems to be lacking in many dojangs in the United States, maybe because of the traditional relationship between Taekwondo and Buddhism. Since most occidentals do not understand or practice Buddhism, they usually ignore the spiritual aspects of Taekwondo. Understanding Taekwondo's spiritual aspects does not mean one needs to be a Buddhist, or any other religion for that matter. It only means that one understands the reasons behind the basic principles and traditions of Taekwondo, such as why students are taught to avoid unnecessary violence and why it is stressed that students use their fighting skills responsibly.