History » Taekwondo History

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.
Many Taekwondo students have learned the physical skills of Taekwondo but they know little of its origin or its spiritual basis. Is it any wonder there are so many Taekwondo practitioners who are immature "showoffs?" They know how to perform Taekwondo techniques, but they know very little about "Taekwondo." Students must learn "about" Taekwondo as well as learning its techniques. Taekwondo is constantly changing, so it is essential that Taekwondo practitioners understand its history, both physical and spiritual, so they may ensure any future changes remain true to the roots of Taekwondo.
In the criminal justice system, the law recognizes that differing witnesses to an incident are not necessarily lying, they are just viewing the same incident from a different viewpoint and with prejudiced eyes. This prejudice is affected by many factors, such the country of origin, economic class, age, etc. of each witness. History is affected in the same way. Any book on history is affected by the religion, race, gender, politics, etc. of the author.
Since the establishment of the ancient Korean state in either 2332 BC or 1122 BC (depending on the reference), Korean people have had to fight to protect their independence from Chinese, Mongol, and Japanese invasions. As a result of these centuries of fighting, they developed a systematic art of self-defense that was used for national defense as well as for personal defense. Early forms of Taekwondo were used by the military throughout Korea, as indicated in an old Korean song:
"The art of hand is like the use of sword.
General Chok taught it as a military art.
If one neglects one single pass of the two hands,
he will be beheaded in the blink of an eye."
Suh InhyukSuh Inhyuk, a researcher of Korean martial arts, divides Korean martial arts into three groups, classified by their use:
·         Sado Moosul (private or folk martial arts). These styles are related to sport and competition.
·         Pulsa Moosul (Buddhist martial arts). These styles were practiced in Buddhist temples and were dedicated to moral self-improvement and spiritual-physical development.
Kunjoon Moosul (court martial arts). These styles were used to train the military and had an accent on weapons.
The earliest known names for Korean martial arts that formed the foundation of Taekwondo were Subak or Taekkyon. In researching writings about ancient Korea, it is difficult to differentiate between these two ancient martial arts. The first references to Subak, claimed to be the predecessor of Taekkyon, are found in the Koryosa (History of Koryo) circa 1147.The first reference to Taekkyon is found in Chaemulbo, a book written by Yi Song-giduring the reign of King Chongjo (1776-1800). Many historical references consider the two terms synonymous since there is no clear dividing line between the two. Subak was the older of the two arts and Taekkyon built upon it by adding more foot techniques. Over the centuries, Subak has been called Subak-hi, Subak-ki, and Subyeokta; while Taekkyon has been known as tak-kyeon, gak-hi, gak-sul, and bigak-sul. Many other fighting styles developed in ancient Korea, such as Kannyok or Subak-chigi, Charyok, Yu-sul, and Oren-kwon but the most original and "most Korean" of them was Taekkyon. The name Taekkyon was always written using the Korean alphabet, while other style names were written using Chinese hieroglyphs.
Taekkyon did not use many stances, but it had very developed kicks, leg jams, and sweeps. The aim in Taekkyon fighting was to defeat the opponent, not to injure him. Kicks were below chest level and most were circular in movement, not straight. Hand techniques were circular movements without using fists. They primarily were used for palm-push blocks and grasping to set an opponent up for a kick attack.
All martial arts began the day the first human had to defend himself/herself against an attack from an animal or one the subsequent humans, so the search for the roots of Taekwondo must begin with the first humans.