Tae Kwon Do
The History of Tae Kwon Do
Early Evidence of Korean Martial Arts
The earliest known evidence of Korean martial arts was discovered in the Tung-Hua province of Manchuria from the 10th Kingdom of Koguryeo. On the mural, were male figures in identifiable martial arts poses. Paintings on the ceilings of the Kak-Je and Myong-ching Temple depict figures also in combat forms. And from the Sok Kul, a Buddist cave temple, a statue of Kumgang Yuksa (a famous warrior), also stands in a deliberate pose. These ancient portrayals of martial arts establishes the existence of the craft in ancient-day Korea.
The Silla, The Hwarangdo, War and Peace
The 4th Century A.D. is known as the time of the three Kingdoms. The Koguryeo, Silla, and Baekja Kingdoms were three rival forces which developed and practiced a variety of combat styles. The most predominant was Taekkyeon which was a sub-division of Soobak. Taekkyeon was a fighting style invented by the Koguryeo which entailed powerful blows with the foot and leg. Identified as the longest extension of the human body, the leg was the ultimate “weapon” which, with proper execution, impeded retaliation through swift, lethal strikes. The soldiers of Soobak were named "Sonbae," or men of virtue who never retreat."
The three main kingdoms were formidable. The most commanding in military force was the Koguryeo. The Silla, to protect themselves from their considerable rivals, decided to overhaul their strategy and begin the cultivation of an elite corps of young men. They were called the “Hwarangdo," or "The way of the Flowering Manhood." To be inducted into the Hwarangdo, these men had to meet uncommon criteria: they had to excel in the liberal arts. The logic behind this was that individuals with an advanced mastery of subjects such as logic, arithmetic, astronomy and music, had the higher order thinking skills, to become more competent, astute warriors. The Hwarangdo were organized on a local basis with a defined social structure and rank, and were a national example for morality and spirit. As well as being educated academically through philosophy and history, the Hwarangdo had rigorous training in the martial arts, sword fighting, archery, equestrian sports and a code of ethics called the "Hwarang". This code of ethics were precepts for a secular life and outlined by the Buddist monk Won'gwang: 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, and 5) When taking life, be selective. There was also one key element that the Silla added to Taekkeon, which was the hand. Specific hand techniques and strikes were unexpected during unarmed combat and further increased their advantage in battle. By the 7th Century, the Korean peninsula was unified under the Silla Kingdom. The peace that followed diminished the need of the Hwarangdo as a military organization.
Confucianism and Japan
Without the emphasis on military power, the Silla Dynasty finally fell to the Koguryeo in 936 A.D. "Korea" derives it's name from a truncated version of Koguryeo, which is "Koryo." During the Koguryeo Dynasty, Soobak returned as a popular sport. In the 14th Century, as the Chinese Ming Empire fused with the Koguryeo, Yi Songgye came into power and Confucianism, which was an emphasis on Chinese classical thinking, replaced Buddism. Martial arts soon became viewed as a base practice due to it's manifestation in the physical realm. Outside of sanctioned military purposes, all other forms of main stream combat training faded into obscurity.
In 1910, Japan stripped the last Emperor of the Yi Dynasty of all his power and immediately began to subdue the Korean people and their culture. To assimilate the Koreans into their society, the Japanese reformed all the school systems and banned any movement not rooted in Japanese nationalism. Only the extreme faithful practiced the Korean martial arts in small underground societies. For those who were fortunate enough to attend a Japanese University during the occupation, or those forced into military service, received martial arts education in Okinawan and Japanese based forms. Koreans who lived in China had a Chinese-based education in forms.
The Korean War and Tae Kwon Do
Near the end of the Japanese occupation, the United States invaded Korea to repress the Japanese and gain control of the post-war occupation of South Korea. In 1948 Korea was divided into the Republic of Korea (South), with Syngman Rhee as President under American control, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) under Soviet control. Both North and South Korea claimed rights to all of Korea. In 1950 the North Korean Military invaded South Korea beginning the Korean War, which lasted for 3 years.
After the Korean War, several kwans (schools) developed. All of these, although differing in style, were based on the Japanese Shotokan Karate. As the kwans grew, a universal desire to “Koreanize” the systems was prevalent. The South Korean President sent out an official order that the schools unify under a standardized, purely Korean, martial art form. This was a three step process: 1) A Korean name for the martial art had to be established, 2) A system of techniques had to be regulated and removed of all Karate and overt Japanese influence, and 3) The new form was to be officially recognized and be able to trace its lineage and development through Korean history.
In 1955, the submission of “Tae Kwon Do,” by General Choi Hong Hi, was unanimously accepted by the Naming Committees’ governing body. In 1959, the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed to help preserve the new form and aid in the unification of the kwans under Tae Kwon Do.
Tae Kwon Do was based on and named after the Taekkyeon Korean martial art of powerful and exacting foot and leg strikes, incorporating the specific hand forms, philosophy and spirituality of the Hwarangdo or possibly Karate. "Tae Kwon Do" literally translates to "the way of the fist and foot." It exists as a principle based on mental as well as physical training. This is what is believed to be the driving force of life: the synchronicity of the whole being with their environment, in purpose, process and perception.
In 1972, the Korea Taekwondo Association Central Dojang was opened and was later renamed “Kukkiwon.” The Kukkiwan is the World Tae Kwon Do Headquarters and serves as the issuing body for Tae Kwon Do "dan" rank (black belt degree) promotion and certification. Also, it conducts research and instructional seminars and is home to the World Tae Kwon Do Academy, which trains and certifies Tae Kwon Do instructors through its leadership courses.
In 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was formed. It is the International Federation member of the International Olympic Committee which manages the competition events of Tae Kwon Do. The International Olympic Committee formally recognized the WTF and Tae Kwon Do sparring in 1980. Tae Kwon Do became a full medal Olympic sport at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and became a member of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. Tae Kwon Do and Judo are the only two Asian martial arts in the Olympic Games.
Tae Kwon Do is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. Although competition has always been a significant feature, many practitioners study the martial art for personal development, self-defense, or a combination of other reasons which would ultimately improve their being, outlook, and way of life.