literally from Korean, "Tae" means "to kick",
"Kwon" means "to punch" and "Do" means
"way" or "art". Together, then, Tae Kwon Do
means "The art of kicking and punching" or "The art
of unarmed combat". What separates Tae Kwon Do from other martial
arts are its numerous, varied and powerful kicking techniques. More
than being simply a system of defending oneself, however, Tae Kwon
Do is a lifestyle dedicated to the moral and mental development
of its students. Tae Kwon Do's five precepts are Courtesy, Integrity,
Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit; all students
of the art are expected to live by these basic guidelines.
Kyon, modern Tae Kwon Do's precursor, was practiced as early
as 50 B.C. Korea at this time was divided into three kingdoms:
Silla, Koguryo and Baekche. Paintings on the ceiling of the
Muyong-chong, a royal tomb from the Koguryo dynasty, show
Taek Kyon practitioners using techniques virtually identical
to modern-day Tae Kwon Do.
this first historical record of Taek Kyon seems to indicate
the Koguryo kingdom as the birthplace of the art, it is Silla's
warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who are credited with the propagation
of Taek Kyon throughout Korea. Silla's coastline was constantly
under attack by Japanese pirates, being the smallest and least
civilized of the kingdoms, and the kingdom eventually appealed
for help from the Koguryo dynasty. A force of 50,000 Koguryo
soldiers were sent into Silla to drive out the pirates, and
it was then that Taek Kyon was introduced to select members
of Silla's warrior class.
Hwarang were a special warrior class, trained in a military academy
initially founded for the young nobility of Silla, the society of
the Hwarang-do ("the way of flowering manhood"). The academy
adopted Taek Kyon as part of its regular training program. Hwarang
warriors were well-educated young men who were encouraged to travel
far and wide in Korea to learn about the regions and the people;
Taek Kyon was thus spread to all parts of the country during the
Silla dynasty, which lasted from A.D. 668 to A.D. 935. Taek Kyon
during this time was designed primarily to promote fitness, and
it was not until the Koryo dynasty (935 - 1392) that the art was
taught as a style of fighting.
Kyon became known as Subak, and the first book to be published on
it was written during the Yi dynasty (1397 - 1907). Subak became
an art popular among the general public, not just among the military
nobility. During the second half of the Yi dynasty, the art returned
to its primarily fitness-oriented purpose and was at this time passed
down and spread by the general population, due to de-emphasis of
military activity in favor of more scholarly pursuits.
practice of Subak declined until incomplete remnants existed in
scattered parts of the country. It was not until the Japanese invasion
of 1909 that Korea's fighting arts suddenly became popular again.
The Japanese, who occupied Korea for the next 36 years, banned the
practice of all martial arts for native Koreans, unexpectedly inducing
an upsurge in the number of practitioners, who travelled to remote
Buddhist temples and abroad to study the martial arts. In 1943,
Judo, Karate and Kung-fu were officially introduced, and a dramatic
increase in interest in the martial arts was seen throughout the
country. A variety of Korean martial arts existed at this point,
depending on the strength of influence other countries' styles had
on the masters teaching Taek Kyon/Subak.
In 1945, the first kwan ("school") to teach a Korean martial
art was opened in Seoul; this dojang ("gymnasium") was
named the Chung Do Kwan. Seven other major schools were formed between
1953 and the early 1960s. A central regulating board was prevented
from being formed for 10 years due to dissension between the various
kwans. However, this period saw the Korean martial arts gain a strong
foothold within the Korean Armed Forces, an event that was a major
turning point. In 1952, at the height of the Korean War, President
Syngman Rhee watched a half-hour demonstration by Korean martial
arts masters and was so impressed that he ordered training to become
a part of regular military training. It was not long before the
U.S. was first exposed to the Korean martial arts: a master was
sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for special training in radio communications,
where he demonstrated his art to both the military and the public.
April 11, 1955, the various kwans were united in a meeting among
the masters. The name of Tae Soo Do was agreed upon by the majority
of the kwan masters, who then merged their styles for the mutual
benefit of all schools. Two years later, however, the name was
changed to Tae Kwon Do, chosen because it accurately describes
the art as well as for its similarity to the art's early name
of Taek Kyon.
all the kwans, however, united. It is not clear which of the original
eight did agree to merge, but out of those who did not, only Hapkido
remains a separate martial art in itself. However, animosity still
remained between the various masters until the formation of the
Korean Tae Kwon Do Association on September 14, 1961, which saw
the potential for the spread and growth of its art and used its
authority to send instructors and demonstration teams worldwide.
In Korea, the study of Tae Kwon Do became immensely popular as it
spread from the army into high schools and colleges, into dojangs
for the general public. During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese
government requested instructors to train its troops, the art having
developed such a reputation for being an effective fighting system.
of Tae Kwon Do demonstrators performed around the world
before fascinated governments in the 1960s, leading to the
massive number of requests calling for Korean instructors
to teach in other countries. By the early 1970s, Tae Kwon
Do had established itself worldwide.
May 28, 1973, a new international organization, the World
Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) was formed.
Tae Kwon Do activities outside of Korea since that day have
been coordinated by the WTF, the only official organization
recognized by the Korean government as an international regulating
body for Tae Kwon Do.
Kwon Do's prominence in the circle of international sports brought
the art to the attention of the General Association of International
Sports Federation (GAISF). GAISF has direct ties to the International
Olympic Committee (IOC), and Tae Kwon Do as a sport was introduced
to the IOC, which recognized and admitted the WTF in July 1980.
Tae Kwon Do's chief moments of glory came afterwards, as the IOC
designated it an official Demonstration Sport for the 1988 Olympic
Games in Seoul, and subsequently a full Medal Sport for the 2000
Olympic Games in Sydney.
Tae Kwon Do has blossomed into being one of only two martial arts
systems (the other being Karate-do) to be practiced all over the
world, with an international membership of more than 20 million
practitioners in over 120 countries, making it the most practiced
martial art style in the world.
Kwon Do Yeon Hee Park, Yeon Hwan Park and Jon Gerrard. 1989.