“Taekwondo” is the generic term for a collection of schools (kwans) of Korean martial arts, in much the same way as “Karate” is for a number of Japanese styles. Although only having existed, by name, since 1955, Taekwondo has it’s roots deep in Korean ancient history.
The Korean peninsula was split into three rival kingdoms, Baekje, Koguryo and Scilla. Scilla, being the smallest of the three kingdoms and most affected by the others’ battle for dominance, sent a small group of their best warriors to China, to train in the martial arts and battle tactics. On their return, these warriors passed on their knowledge to the newly created elite warrior corps, the Hwa-Rang or “Flowering Youth”.
With these new, highly trained warriors, Scilla rose to become the dominant kingdom in Korea and started to impose their influence on the whole of the Korean peninsula. Training in the martial arts began to spread throughout Korea.
During the Joseon Dynasty, Korea fully embraced Confucianism and training in the martial arts was very poorly regarded. Formal martial arts training was reserved for the military, however civilian training still continued.
During the early part of the Twentieth Century, Japan annexed the Korean peninsula. During this time, all aspects of Korean national identity were banned. Korean history was no longer taught in schools and Korean language newspapers were all banned. Koreans were forced to take Japanese names and adopt the Japanese Shinto religion. Training in all forms of traditional Korean martial arts were outlawed, in favour of the Japanese systems. Training in Subak and Taekyon was forced “underground”, even to the extent where practitioners never exchanged names for fear of retribution, should anyone be caught.
People who were training “officially” in the Japanese systems, were able to adapt some of the techniques and amalgamate them with the “unofficial” techniques of the Korean systems.
Once the occupation ended, in 1945, a number of masters, officially trained in Japanese styles, or having trained in China, formed 5 schools (“kwans”) of newly developed arts, combining the most effective techniques of the traditional Korean arts and the systems they had been trained in during the occupation.
In 1952, when the Korean War was at it’s height, the kwans gave a demonstration of their skills in a martial arts demonstration, in front of President Syngman Rhee. At this exhibition, Master Nam, Tae Hi punched through 13 roof tiles. This impressed the President so much that he instructed General Choi Hong Hi to introduce martial arts training into the Korean army.
By the mid fifties, 4 additional kwans had emerged, prompting President Rhee to decree that all of these schools should unite under one title. General Choi suggested the name “Taekwondo” and it was officially adopted on April 11th 1955. These 9 kwans are recognised as being the founders of Taekwondo.
-Chung Do Kwan (created by: Lee Won Kuk)
-Ji do Kwan (created by: Chun Sang Sup)
-Chang Moo Kwan (created by: Yoon Byung In)
-Moo Duk Kwon (Created by: Hwang Ki)
-Song Moo Kwan (created by Roh Byung Jick)
Around 1953, shortly after the Korean War, four additional kwans were created.
-Oh Do Kwan (created by Choi Hong Hi and Nam Tae Hi)
-Han Moo Kwan (Created by Lee Kyo Yoon)
-Kang Duk Kwan (created by Park Chul Hee and Hong Jong Pyo)
-Jung Do Kwan (Created by Lee Young Woo)
In 1959, the Korea Taekwondo Association was formed, in order to help with the unification but this continued to be a struggle, as each of the individual kwans continued to teach different styles. The government, once again, requested they all unify, resulting in the formation of the Korean Tae Soo Do Association, which eventually changed it’s name back to the Korea Taekwondo Association, in 1965. At this point, however the Moo Duk Kwan decided against using the name and chose to go their own way, forming the style now known as Tang Soo Do.
Taekwondo is now seen as the World’s most widely practiced martial art, a fact recognised by it’s inclusion in the Olympic Games. But, Taekwondo offers much more than just sport. It is still an effective system of self-defence and is one of only two styles documented as having been actively used in battle (the other being Viet Vao Dao).
Taekwondo also offers fitness, flexibility, self-discipline, self-control and one of very few real sources of personal development on offer, today.