History of Tae Kwon Do
Literally translated, Tae Kwon Do means “the art of kicking and punching.” Tae means “to kick” or “to strike with the foot”, Kwon means “to punch” or “to strike with the fist”, and Do means “art” or “way of life”, creative rather than destructive in ones life.
Tae Kwon Do is a very effective means of self defense and a great cardiovascular workout for in Tae Kwon Do the legs and its very powerful kicking techniques sets it apart from all other martial arts. However, Tae Kwon Do is more than a physical art but also a philosophical art and a state of mind.
Over 2,000 years ago, Tae Kwon Do’s earliest records first appeared in the Koguryo kingdom as mural paintings back in about 50 B.C. on the ceilings of the Muyongchong, a royal tomb. These paintings show various unarmed techniques similar to modern day Tae Kwon Do. At the time, Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, which was founded on the Kyongju plain in 57 B.C.; Koguryo, founded in the Yalu River Valley in 37 B.C.; and Paekche, founded in the southwestern area of the Korean peninsula in 18 B.C. In the capital of Silla, Kyongju, carved in the tower wall are two giants facing each other in Tae Kwon Do stances. This indicates that Tae Kwon Do was practiced before these tombs were built in the years A.D. 3 and A.D. 427. The earliest known form of Tae Kwon Do was known as Taek Kyon.
Silla, the smallest and least civilized of the three kingdoms; coastline was under constant attack by its neighboring kingdoms. It is at this time that Taek Kyon is thought to be introduced to Silla’s warriors, known as the Hwarang, in strict secrecy by early masters of the art and Buddhist monks for concentration. Eventually this inspired the people of Silla to rise and conquer their enemies and soon the Korean peninsula was united as one country for the first time in history. The Hwarang adopted Taek Kyon as part of their basic training regimen, plus history, philosophy, morality, archery, riding, and specializing in poetry, singing, and dancing. They were to travel throughout Korea to lean about people and regions and needed a system of self-defense. The Hwarang are credited with the growth and spread of Taek Kyon throughout Korea during the Silla dynasty, A.D. 668 to A.D. 935. Taek Kyon was primarily a sport that promotes physical fitness activity. It was not until the Koryo dynasty, 935 – 1392, that Taek Kyon changed to a fighting art and became known as Soo Bak, “punching and butting”.
During the Yi dynasty, 1392 – 1907, in order to promote the art of the general population and not just the military nobility as in the past, the first book, Muye Dobotongji, was written on the art of Soo Bak. This book had kept the art alive for the first half of the dynasty. However, during the next half, the practice of Soo Bak had declined and returned to its original purpose of physical fitness for political conflict and the de-emphasis of military activity led to more pursuits that are scholarly. Once more, the art was practiced in secrecy and was handed down from generation to generation amongst individual families with limited knowledge.
In 1909, Japan invaded Korea and occupied the country for the next 36 years. During this time, native Koreans were banned from the practice of all military arts. Ironically, this rejuvenated and renewed the growth of Soo Bak. Koreans then formed an underground training and traveled to Buddhist temples to study their martial art, Soo Bak or Taek Kyon. However, some left Korea to China and Japan for work and study, but were exposed to the arts of those countries as well. In 1943, judo, karate, and kung fu were officially introduced and the interest in the martial arts flourished. It was not until 1945 when Korea’s liberation from Japan established its own and known fighting arts. These Korean arts varied due to the influence that the Chinese and Japanese arts had on the Korean masters and how much they had modified over the years.
In 1945, the first kwan (“school”) opened in Seoul. It was named the Chung Do Kwan. Over the next several years, more schools began to open. They were The Moo Duk Kwan, Yun Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Chi Do Kwan, Ji Do Kwan (our style), Song Moo Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, and a few more. Each claimed to teach the traditional Korean martial art, however, each also emphasized a different aspect and soon different names were known for these styles. They were Soo Bak Do, Kwon Bop, (spread by Buddhist monks in China), Kong Soo Do, Tae Soo Do, Tang Soo Do (traditional Korean name), and Dang Soo Do, as well as Taek Kyon. In addition, in 1945, the Korean Armed Forces was formed and Taek Kyon became a regular part of the military training over the next several years and into the Korean War. The art was further publicized by demonstrations for both the military and general public. Special commando groups, the Black Tigers the most famous of these groups, were martial arts trained soldiers and were formed to fight against the communist forces of North Korea. They performed espionage missions and assassinations. Many had lost their lives during this time. After the Korean War, the Korean 29th Infantry Division was formed in 1953 and was responsible for all Taek Kyon training in the Korean Army. In 1955 Tae Soo Do became a common name for all schools and styles for the benefit of the art and the schools. However, in 1957 the name changed again, this time to the familiar and modern name of Tae Kwon Do, for its similar name to Taek Kyon and for it’s meaning of “the art of kicking and punching”.
In 1961, the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association was formed and sent instructors all over the world to perform demonstrations to governments and the general public. Tae Kwon Do spread from the Korean Army to high schools and universities. The art was everywhere. During the Vietnam War instructors were sent to train the South Vietnamese troops because Tae Kwon Do was know for being an effective fighting art. Soon other government were requesting Korean instructors to train their countries in this art. By the 1970’s Tae Kwon Do was know worldwide. The World Tae Kwon Do Federation, WTF, was formed on May 28th, 1973, as well as the Kukkiwon (the national sports center in Seoul and WTF headquarters) and is the only organization recognized by the Korean government as an international regulating body to coordinate Tae Kwon Do activities outside of Korea. During that same year the first World Tae Kwon Do Championships were held in Seoul and are now held around the world every two years. Tae Kwon Do was soon recognized by the General Association of International Sports Federation, GAISF, which is an association of all Olympic and non-Olympic international sports. The GAISF introduced Tae Kwon Do to the International Olympic Committee, IOC, and in 1980, the WTF was admitted. The art became an official Demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea and in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. It is now an official Medal sport in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
In such a short period, from the formation of the WTF in 1973, Tae Kwon Do has seen such a rapid growth that it is the most practiced martial art in the world with well over 20 million practitioners in over 140 countries. Tae Kwon Do is an art that benefits all people and with its worldwide popularity and Olympic representation the art will only continue to grown. Tae Kwon Do originated as a martial art and will always be a martial art. However, in recent years it is being promoted as a sport. Only 10% train in Tae Kwon Do for competition, the remaining 90% train for learning respect, discipline, self-defense, and confidence. Combination of the two enhances this martial arts system.