The History of Taekwondo


The History of Taekwondo reaches back to ancient Korea. It is thought to have originated as a martial art called Tae Kyon and later, Soo Bak. It was first practiced by the soldiers of the kingdom of Koguryo and later passed on to the legendary Hwarang of Silla.

Early Korea was comprised of walled city states and villages. These developed into confederated kingdoms. Each was ruled loosely by a central figure. These early kingdoms were subject to Chinese intervention and interaction. Eventually, a confederation of three major kingdoms evolved. This proved to be a period of cultural and political advancements. It also saw constant warfare which prompted the growth of the military establishment. This time period is the source of much of the martial heritage we see in today’s Taekwondo.

Koguryo was one of the three kingdoms. Constant conflict with the Chinese to the north contributed to a culture that was predominantly martial in nature. The ruling elite was a warrior class which constantly honed their martial skills. Evidence of this can be seen on tomb murals which depict figures engaged in unarmed combat. The techniques depicted are remarkably similar to those used in modern Taekwondo.

To the south, Silla and Paekche emerged as the two other kingdoms in the triumvirate.
Eventually Silla became the dominant force in Korea and the peninsula became unified under one banner. Silla was noted for its famous Hwarang or “Flower of Manhood”. Their primary function was an elite military corps, but they also exemplified the highest of virtues. They adhered to the five secular injunctions of the Buddhist monk Won’gwang:

Loyalty to the King
Fidelity, respect, and obedience to one’s parents
Fidelity in friendship
Never retreat in battle
Never make an unjust kill

These tenets still guide the practitioners of Taekwondo.

Silla was not to last, however, and after two hundred years the kingdom splintered once again. By the end of the tenth century, Korea once again became unified. This unity was to last until the country was divided following WWII. The new kingdom was known as Koryo.

In the late
fourteenthcentury the Yi dynasty came to power and remained in one form or another until the twentieth century. Martial arts practice began to wane, this was primarily due to technological advancements such as gunpowder. Eventually, the practice of traditional martial arts was prohibited. Soo-bak survived, however, only because it was handed down from master to student in secret, even at the risk of imprisonment. It is a certainty, however, that elements of Japanese karate were introduced into the traditional Korean style, and therefore became an influence in modern Taekwondo.
After the liberation of Korea following WWII, Korean martial arts began to emerge once again. They were known by several different names at that time. Soo Bak Do, Kwon Bop, Tang Soo Do, and Hwarang Do, being the most notable. Dissension prevented a unified Korean martial art until 1957 when a consensus was taken and Taekwondo became the commonly recognized name.

The Korean Tae Kwon Do Association, formed in 1961, led the way by sending its masters all over the world to spread the martial art. In 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation was formed to become the central governing body responsible
forgrowth of the art. In 1988, Taekwondo was introduced as a demonstration sports in the Olympic games. In 2000, it became an official Olympic sport.