THE HISTORY OF TAE KWON DO
Early Koreans developed unique martial art
forms for unarmed self-defense to complement their skills with weapons. The
first recorded evidence of what was to become modern Tae Kwon Do is about
two thousand years old. A mural painting depicting figures practicing
martial arts techniques was found in a warrior's tomb. Historians estimate the
tomb was constructed sometime between 3 and 427 A.D. In addition, historical
records from the Koguryo Kingdom (37 BC to 668 AD) mention the practice of marital
arts techniques and tournaments.
A more detailed history of the
development of Tae Kwon Do is present-ed at
the World Taekwondo Headquarters, website.
Since 1972, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF)
has been the official governing body for the sport. Its history
is provided on the
The Sonbae were a group of warriors formed to
protect Koguryo from hostile kingdoms. The Sonbae were best described by the
meaning of the word itself, "a man of virtue who never recoils from fighting".
Historians believe that the Sonbae practiced Taekkyon, a predecessor of Tae Kwon Do.
Artifacts from the Chosun dynasty explain that Sonbaes were students of history and
literary arts at home and spent a great deal of time constructing roads and
fortresses, thus always devoting themselves to the improvement of their nation,
both materially and intellectually.
The Silla Dynasty (57 BC to 935 AD) had its
own version of the Koguryo's Sonbae. These warriors were called the Hwarang,
which translates to "Flower Knight", and were established in 537 AD by King Jin
Heung. The Hwarang, whose greatest accomplishment was helping to unify the Korean
peninsula, also practiced Taekkyon. Their instructor, Won Kwang Bupsa, wrote the
Sesokokye describing the principles that all Hwarang committed to living by.
Though they evolved over time, these principles are still the core of the Tae
Kwon Do philosophy today.
A large tribe detached itself from the Koguryo
Kingdom forming the Baekjae Kingdom (18 BC to 600 AD) and created their own band
of warrior protectors called Soo Sa. The Baekjae were also known for their
fighting contest festivals called SooByeokTa, where the winner was sometimes
rewarded with a leadership position in the military or in one of the kingdom's
The three kingdoms were united when Silla
conquered Koguryo and Baekjae, but their conquest created instability and the
new government soon disbanded. Meanwhile, descendents from the former Koguryo
kingdom were able to band together and eventually reunite the kingdoms under the
Koryo dynasty (918 AD to 1392).
All military personnel practiced martial arts
during the Koryo Dynasty. Competitions were even used as a means for rank
promotion. Naturally, rules and judging standards were established for these
competitions and many scholars consider this the birth of the sport Tae Kwon Do.
The popularity of these contests eventually spread to the public and were called
Subakki. As Koryo began to trade with countries from around the world, the name
Korea was adopted by traders, many of which were fascinated by Subakki and helped
further spread its popularity.
The final dynasty of Korea was the Chosun (or Yi) Dynasty
(1392 to 1910), during which the cultural focus shifted from the martial arts to
literary arts. In 1790, at the height of the dynasty, the first volume of an important
martial arts textbook was published. It was called the Mooya Doba Tongjee, and
its fourth volume contained illustrations of hand techniques that are nearly
identical to the poomse of modern Tae Kwon Do.
The Chosun Dynasty fell in 1910 when Japan invaded
Korea and suppressed many cultural aspects that had been practiced for centuries,
including the Subakki and Taekkyon contests. However, these martial art forms
continued in secret until 1945 when the Japanese were defeated in World War II.
By this time, several Kwans (schools) had developed and, in April 1955, were
united under the name Tae Soo Do, which was later changed to Tae Kwon Do.
In 1965, under the direction of General Choi
Hong-hi, the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA) was established. Soon after,
plans for an international branch were initiated, but before these plans could
come to fruition, the southern government was seized and General Choi fled to the
United States. There he formed the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) as
in an independent organization. In 1973, the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association
changed its name to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF), finally making its
debut as an Olympic sport in 2000.
In general the ITF is considered to be the
more traditional form of Tae Kwon Do, placing more emphasis on poomse, while
the WTF focuses more on full-contact sparring. In addition, General Choi
developed the poomse forms used by the ITF, whereas the WTF uses the Palgwes
and Tae Keuks. Attempts have been made to unite the ITF and WTF, but the two
organizations currently remain independent.