The History Of Taekwondo
As it is literally translated from the Korean, Tae means "to kick" or "to strike with the foot", Kwon means "fist" or "to strike with the hand", and Do means "discipline" or "art". Together, Taekwondo means "the art of kicking and punching". i.e. "the art of unarmed combat." What truly distinguishes Taekwondo from other martial arts are its varied and uniquely powerful kicking techniques. Taekwondo is more than a system of physical power, it is an art aimed toward the moral development of its students.
The earliest records of Taek Kyon (the earliest form of Taekwondo) practice date back to about 50 B.C. Murals and painting on the ceiling of the Muyongchong, a royal tomb from the Koguryo dynasty show unarmed combatants using techniques such as knife hand, fist, and classical fighting stances that are identical to modern day Taekwondo.
During this time, Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, the first to be founded on the Kyongju Plain in 57 B.C. ; Koguryo, founded in the Yalu River Valley in 37 B.C.; and Backche, founded in the southwestern area of the Korean peninsula in 18 B.C. Taekwondo first appeared in the Koguryo kingdom, but it was Sillaâs warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who are credited with the growth and spread of the art.
Of the three kingdoms, Silla was the smallest and least civilized. Its coastline was under constant attack by Japanese pirates. After Silla appealed for help, King Gwanggaeto, the 19th in the line of Koguryo kings, sent an army of 50,000 soldiers into Silla to drive out the pirates. At this time Taek Kyon was introduced to Sillaâs warrior class, taught in secrecy to a few select Sillan warriors by early masters of the art.
These Tae Kwon trained warriors became known as Hwa Rang. The society of the Hwarang-do (the way of flowing manhood), founded initially as a military academy for the young nobility of Silla, adopted Tae Kyon as part of its basic training regimen. The society consisted of the Hwa Rang (leaders) who were selected from among the 16 to 20 year old sons of the elite royalty and the Nangdo (cadets) who were gathered from the rest of the young nobility. The society numbered between 200 and 1000 at any given time.
The young men were educated in many disciplines including history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, poetry, singing, and dancing, riding, archery, sword play, military tactics and Taek Kyon. Taek Kyon was taught in conjunction with the five codes of Human Conduct so that it became a way of life for the young men, a code of moral behavior that served to guide their lives and the use to which they put their trainning in Taek Kyon. The five codes of Human Conduct was established by the Buddhist scholar Wonkang. Be loyal to your county, Be obedient to your parents, Be trustworthy to your friends, Never retreat in battle, Never make an unjust kill.
The Hwa Rang were encouraged to travel in order to know the country and the people. These traveling warriors were responsible for the spread of Taek Kyon throughout Korea during the Silla dynasty, which lasted from A.D. 668 to A.D. 935. During this period, Taek Kyon was a sport and recreational activity designed to promote physical fitness. It was not until the Koryo dynasty ( 935 A.D.- 1392 A.D.) that the focus changed. During this time, Taek Kyon was known as Subak and during the reign of King Uijong (1147 - 1170) its emphasis changed from physical fitness to a fighting art.
Prior to the Yi dynasty (1397-1907) the art was restricted to the military nobility, but the first book was written to promote the art among the general public. The widely available book was responsible for the growth and popularity of the art among the common people and for the survival of Subak during this era. During the second half of the Yi dynasty, political conflicts and de-emphasis of military activities in favor of more scholarly pursuits led to a significant reduction in the practice of the art. The art returned once again to the role of physical fitness and recreation, except the general population maintained the art and not the nobility. Subak as an art became fragmented and its practice continued to decline until only incomplete remnants remained. What limited knowledge remained was passed down from one generation to the next within individual families that generally practiced it in secret.
Koreas fighting arts experienced a resurgence in 1909 when the Japanese invaded Korea and banned the practice of all martial arts for native Koreans during the 36 year occupation. Korean patriots, fueled by hatred of their oppressors, organized themselves into underground factions and traveled to remote Buddist temples to study the martial arts. Others left Korea to study the martial arts in China and even Japan, In Korea, Subak/Taek Kyon was kept alive through the efforts of a number of famous masters of the Korean martial arts. The nature of the martial arts changes when, in 1942, first judo, and then Karate and Kung fu were officially introduced. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, a variety of Korean martial arts flourished throughout the country.
The first kwan (school) to teach a native Korean style of martial arts was opened in 1945 in Yong Chun, Seoul. This dojang (gymnasium) was named the Chung Do Kwan. Later the same year, Moo Duk Kwan and the Chi Do Kwan were founded. Seven other major schools opened between 1953 and the early 1960s. Although each school claimed to teach the traditional Korean martial art, each emphasized a different aspect of Taek Kyon/Subak and various names emerged for each system. Styles became know as Soo Bahk Do, Kwon Bop, Kong Soo Do, Tae Soo Do, Dang Soo Do and Tang Soo Do.
For the next 10 years dissension between the various kwans prevented the formation of a central regulating board, but the martial arts had gained a foothold in the military. In 1952, President Syngman Rhee watched a demonstration by Korean martial arts masters and ordered training in the martial arts to be developed as part of regular military training.
Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean 29th Infantry Division was established on Che Ju island and was responsible for all Taek Kyon training in the Korean army. Two years later, a meeting was convened to unify the various kwans under a common name. Of the original masters who did not become part of the unified art, only Hapkido remains as a recognized separate art in itself. The name of Taek Soo Do was accepted by the majority of kwan masters, who agreed to merge their various styles for the mutual benefit of all the schools. However, two years later, in 1957, the name was once again changed, this time to the familiar Taekwondo. Taekwondo has been the recognized name for the Korean martial arts since that day