The earliest records of Martial Arts practice in Korea
date back to about 50 B.C. These earliest forms of korean martial arts are known as 'Taek Kyon'. Evidence that Martial
Arts were being practiced at that time can be found in tombs where wall-paintings show two men in fighting-stance. Others
reject this evidence and say that these men could be simply dancing.
Back at that time, there were three kingdoms:
- Koguryo (37 B.C. - 668 A.D.)
- Paekje (18 B.C. - 600 A.D.)
- Silla (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.)
Silla unified the kingdoms after winning the war against
Paekje in 660 A.D. and Koguryo in 668 A.D. The Hwa Rang Do played an important role at this unification. The Hwa Rang Do was
an elite group of young noble men, devoted to cultivating mind and body and serve the kingdom - Silla. The best translation
for Hwa Rang would probably be "flowering youth" (Hwa ="flower", Rang="young man"). The Hwa Rang Do had an honor-code and
practiced various forms of martial arts, including Taekyon and Soo Bakh Do. The old honor-code of the Hwa Rang is the philosophical
background of modern Taekwondo.
What followed was a time of peace and the HwaRang
turned from a military organization to a group specialized in poetry and music. It was in 936 A.D. when Wang Kon founded the
Koryo dynasty, an abbreviation of Koguryo. The name Korea
is derived from Koryo.
During the Koryo Dynasty the sport Soo Bakh Do,
which was then used as a military training method, became popular. During the Joseon-dynasty (also known as the Yi-dynasty.
1392 A.D. - 1910 A.D.) this emphasis on military training disappeared. King Taejo, founder of the Joseon-dynasty, replaced
Buddhism by Confucianism as the state religion. According to Confucianism, the higher class should study the poets, read poems
and and play music. Martial arts was something for the common, or even inferior, man.
Modern-day Taekwondo is influenced by many other
Martial Arts. The most important of these arts is Japanese Karate. This is because Japan
dominated Korea during 1910 until the
end of World War II. During WWII, lots of Korean soldiers were trained in Japan.
During this occupation of Korea, the Japanese
tried to erase all traces of the Korean culture, including the martial arts. The influence that Japan has given to Taekwondo are the quick linear movements that characterize the
various Japanese systems.
After World War II, when Korea became independant, several kwans arose. These kwans were:
- Chung Do Kwan
- Moo Duk Kwan
- Yun Moo Kwan
- Chang Moo Kwan
- Oh Do Kwan
- Ji Do Kwan
- Chi Do Kwan
- Song Moo Kwan
The Kwans united in 1955 as Tae Soo Do. In the beginning
of 1957, the name Taekwondo was adopted by several Korean martial arts masters, for its similarity to the name Tae Kyon.
General Choi Hong-hi required the army to practice
Taekwondo, so the very first Taekwondo students were Korean soldiers. The police and air force had to learn Taekwondo as well.
At that time, Taekwondo was merely a Korean version of Shotokan Karate. In 1961 the Korean Taekwondo Union arose from the
Soo Bakh Do Association and the Tae Soo Do Association. In 1962 the Korean Amateur Sports Association acknowledged the Korean
Taekwondo Union and in 1965 the name was changed to Korean Taekwondo Association (K.T.A.). General Choi was president of the
K.T.A. at that time and was asked to start the I.T.F. as the international branch of the K.T.A. The southern government was
overthrown in 1961. General Choi Hong-hi left for America
and established I.T.F. (International Taekwondo Federation) Taekwondo, as a separate entity, two years later.
Demonstrations were given all over the world. It took a
while before real progress was made, but eventually, in 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation (W.T.F.) was founded. In 1980,
W.T.F. Taekwondo was recognized by the International Olympic Commitee (I.O.C.) and became a demonstration sport at the Olympics
in 1988. In the year 2000 taekwondo made its debute as an official olympic sport. There were several attempts to unify I.T.F.
and W.T.F. Taekwondo, but unfortunately, these failed.
I.T.F. vs W.T.F.
As mentioned earlier, Gen. Choi established ITF-Taekwondo
(which practices a more traditional form of taekwondo) while WTF-Taekwondo (which has a strong emphasis on sparring) became
an olympic sport in 2000.
A good-will trip to North-Korea in 1966 caused General
Choi to fall in disgrace in the eyes of the South-Koreans. Choi resigned as president of the K.T.A. and founded the I.T.F.
on March, the 22nd of that same year. The headquarters of ITF were established in Canada.
ITF started concentrating on the forms developed by General
Choi, while the KTA (which later, on May 28, 1973, became the WTF) concentrated on the Palgwe's. Later the WTF abandoned the
Palgwe's and started concentrating on Taeguks. Slowly, the WTF emphasis turned to sparring. This is also the reason why a
lot of people rather call (WTF) Taekwondo a martial sport than a Martial Art.
The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) is a smaller organization,
and has many similarities to the ITF. The ATA has a copyright on the forms of the organization, so these forms cannot be used
on competitions by non-members. There are many organizations, but the three mentioned above have the most members.
ITF practices the so-called 'semi-contact' part of Taekwondo,
while WTF practices the so-called 'full-contact' part. ITF focuses more on the traditional way of taekwondo. Since the break-up,
there have been many attempts to reunite WTF and ITF, so-far without success. There probably will never be a union within