There are differences on when Taekwondo was originated,
some Taekwondo authorities believes that Taekwondo is relatively new, no more
than 49 years old. In order to understand better the origin of Taekwondo,
below is a resume of the develop of Taekwondo.
1905 : Occupation of Korea by Japan. Japanese educational curriculum was
imposed on all Korean school. It mean that the Korean students were taught
Judo and Kendo at the schools.
1906 : Tae Kyon was secretly practice and passed on to a few students, like
Han IL Dong and Duk Ki Song ( Who began his training in Tae Kyon at the age of
13, under his teacher Duk Ki Song ).
1909 : The Japanese forbid the practice of any kind of fighting Arts in Korea.
However it did not stop totally the practice of Martial Arts. The Buddhist
temples in Korea and Japan were the refuge places for the Martial Artist.
1930 : Around the 1930s Mr. Choi Hon Hi ( Founder of Taekwondo ), began his
Martial Arts instruction under Master Han IL Dong, who was his calligraphy
instructor. He began teaching Tae Kyon to Mr. Choi Hon Hi because in his youth
he was frail and quite sickly.
1936 : Hwang Kee ( founder of Tang Soo Do ), another students of the outlawed
Martial Arts was only 22 years old when he mastered the Arts of Tae Kyon and
Soo Bak Do. Master Hwang Kee then traveled to Northern China where he studied
the T'ang Method, then he worked to combine those styles until 1945.
1937 : Mr. Choi Hon Hi was sent to Japan (Kyoto) to further his education.
Here he meet a fellow Korean Mr. Kim, who was engaged in teaching Shotokan, a
Japanese Martial Arts. After two years of concentrated training, Mr. Choi
earned his first degree black belt. Then he went to the University of Tokyo
where he continued his training and attained his second degree black belt, at
this time he began teaching at the YMCA. When the World War II began, Mr. Choi
was forced to enlist in the Japanese Army.
1941 : Because of the pressure of the World War II and in order to fulfill
military requirements, the Japanese lifted the ban on Martial Arts in Korea.
On this year Judo and Juken-jutsu (bayonet art) began to be taught.
1943 : Karate and Kung-fu were officially introduced to Koreans, which enjoy
1945 : Liberation of Korea. Resurfaced of the native Arts of Tae Kyon and Soo
Bak. Among the others Martial Arts styles that surfaced at this time were:
- Bang Soo Do
- Kong Soo Do ( Karate-Do, literally means "Way of the empty hand" )
- Kwon Bop
- Tae Soo Do ( Way of the foot and hand )
- Tang Soo Do ( Karate-Do, literally means "Way of the Chinese hand"
or "Way of the tang hand").
The Japanese occupation of Korea bring to Korean people a renewed interest for
the Martial Arts, as a results several schools ( Kwans ) opened in Seoul.
Below are the five Kwans in order according on who open first :
- 1st Chung Do Kwan or Chong Do Kwan ( Gym of the blue
wave ) : Founded by Won Kook Lee (Lee Won-Kuk) in 1945, in Yong Chun,
- 2nd Moo Duk Kwan : Founded by Hwang Kee, at the end
of 1945. Hwang Kee taught an art he eventually named Tang Soo Do.
- 3rd Yun Moo Kwan : Founded by Sup Chun Sang (Sup Jun
Sang; Chun Sang-Seop).
- 4st Chang Moo Kwan or Kwon Beop Dojang : Founded by
Yun Pyung (In Yoon Byung; Yun Byung-In), at the YMCA in 1946.
- 5st Chi Do Kwan : Founded by Yon Kue Pyang.
After the Korean War (1953-1954), three more Kwans appeared, those are :
1.- Ji Do Kwan or Jee Do Kwan : Founded by Gae Byang
2.- Song Moo Kwan or Sang Moo Kwan : Founded by Byung
Chik Ro (Ro Byung Jik; No Byong-Jik).
3.- Oh Do Kwan (Gym of my way) : Founded by Hong Hi
Choi, with the help of Tae Hi Nam.
1945 : The Korean and the Japanese Martial Arts gained a lot of popularity. So
in this year the Korean Judo Association was formed.
1946 : Early this year the Tae Kyon instructor began teaching the troops in
Kwang Ju, Korea.
1946-1947 : Mr. Hong Hi Choi(at time he was first Lieutenant of the Korean
Army's 2nd Infantry Regiment), taught Martial Arts to Korean and Americans
stationed at Tae-Jon. This was the first time that Americans were introduce to
what eventually become known as Taekwondo.
1947-1948 : 1947 was a year where Mr. Hong Hi Choi rose rapidly through ranks.
He was promoted to captain and then Major. In 1948 he was posted to Seoul as
the head of logistics and become Taekwondo instructor for the American
Military police School in Seoul. In late 1948, Mr. Choi become the Lieutenant
1949 : Mr. Hong Hi Choi was promoted to full colonel and visited the United
States for the first time, attending the Fort Riley Ground General School
located in Kansas. While there this art was introduced to the American public.
1952 : President Seung Man Rhee observe a 30 minutes demonstration by Korean
Masters and was so impressed with Mr. Nam Tae Hi, breaking demonstration, that
he asked Mr. Hong Hi Choi about the art. President Rhee then ordered all
soldiers to receive training in this art. Various units distinguished
themselves, including the Korean 29th Infantry Division, which was organized
and activated by Mr. Hong Hi Choi at the Cheju Island in 1953. This unit was
responsible for all Tae Kyon training in the Korean Army and the Black Tigers,
an elite unit involved in espionage missions behind enemy lines.
1953 : By the end of this year, Mr. Hong HI Choi, commanded the largest
civilian gym in Korea, the Chong Do Kwan.
1953-1954 : After the Korean War, three more Kwans appeared. The Ji Do Kwan,
Song Moo Kwan, and the Oh Do Kwan.
1955 : Technically this year was the beginning of Taekwondo as a formally
recognized art in Korea. During this year, a special board was formed which
included leading master instructors, historians, and prominent leaders of
society. Several names were submitted for this new Martial art. Finally on
April 11, 1955, the board decided on the name of Taekwondo, submitted by Mr.
Hong Hi Choi. The name of Taekwondo replace the different and confusing terms
such as Dang Soo, Gong Soo, Tae Kyon, Kwon Bup, and others. During this year
Mr. Choi spread Taekwondo to universities and military post across Korea. The
third District Command in Tae Jon become one of the main centers for this new
1959 : Taekwondo spread beyond its national boundaries. Mr. Hong Hi Choi and
nineteen of his top black belts toured the Far East. The tour was a major
success. Also in this year Mr. Hong Hi Choi was elected President of the Korea
Taekwondo Association, and published his first Korean text on Taekwondo
entitled " Taekwon-Do Guidelines ". During this year, Mr. Choi
attended the modern weapon weapon familiarization course in Texas, USA. He
used this opportunity to visit several Taekwondo schools, one of them was the
Joon Rhee school, who was the pioneer of Taekwondo in the USA. and later on
become the Secretary General of United States Taekwondo Association in
1961 : The Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was founded on September 14,
1961, with Mr. Hong Hi Choi as a President. At this time the Chi Do Kwan left
the organization. The Chung Do Kwan, the largest civilian school in Korea,
remained distant from the KTA and develop their our organization called the
Korean Soo Bahk Do Association which become the rival of the KTA. In 1962, the
Korean government stepped into the dispute when they recognize all the blacks
belts certified by the KTA, as a consequence many Martial Artists who had
left, return to the KTA.
1962 : South Vietnamese troops requested to be taught Taekwondo, so Mr. Nam
Tae Hi, known as the right hand man of Mr. Choi, and three other instructors
were sent from the Oh Do Kwan to teach fifty soldier from various branches of
the Vietnamese Armed Forces. Two instructors returned to Korea after six
months, but Mr, Nam Tae Hi and Seung Kyu Kim stayed a full year returning on
1962-1963 : Taekwondo entered Thailand. Malaysia and Hong Kong.
1963 : Mr. Hong Hi Choi hosted a famous demonstration at the United Nations
headquarters in New York.
1964 : On February the Taekwondo Association was formed in Singapore.
Also on this year Mr. Chong Lee introduce Taekwondo to Canada.
1965 : Mr. Hong Hi Choi led a goodwill mission of Taekwondo to West Germany,
Italy, Turkey, United Arab Republic, Malaysia, and Singapore. This was the
basis for not only establishing Taekwondo Associations in these countries but
also the formation of the "International Taekwondo Federation" ( ITF.
1966 : Mr. Park Jong Soo introduced Taekwondo to the Netherlands. Also on this
year Mr. Hong Hi Choi, lost his leadership of the KTA (Korean Taekwondo
Association), because the South Korean government did not like a goodwill trip
to North Korea by a Taekwondo demonstration team lead by Mr. Choi. Mr. Choi
resigned on this year as a president of the KTA, and on March 22, 1966, he
founded the International Taekwondo Federation ( ITF. ) in associations with
Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, the United States, Turkey, Italy,
the United Arab Republic, and Korea. The headquarter of the ITF eventually
moved to Canada.
1967 : The Hong kong Taekwondo Association was formed. also on this year Mr.
Hong Hi Choi visited the All American Taekwondo Tournament held in Chicago,
Illinois, where he discussed expansion, unification, and policy of the United
States Taekwondo Association with leading instructors. This visit led to the
formal establishment of the U.S. Taekwondo Association (USTA)in Washington,
D.C., on November 26, 1967. The USTA was superseded in 1974 by the U.S.
Taekwondo Federation (USTF).
Korean & American Karate :
Until the 1960s, Taekwondo was essentially the same as Shotokan Karate.
"The modern karate of Korea," according to Sihak Henry Cho,
"with very little influence from Tae kyun, was born with the turn of the
20th century when it was imported directly from China and also from Okinawa
through Japan." "Taekwondo," he claimed, "is identical to
Japanese karate.... Some of the Korean public still use the 'karate'
pronunciation in conversation." This should not come as a surprise. By
the time of the Japanese occupation, Koreans had lost interest in the martial
arts. There were few native martial artists left and since they were forced to
teach in secret after 1909, they had to restrict the number of students they
could accept. At the same time, many Koreans probably went to Japan for an
education (like Mr. Hong Hi Choi) and returned with some knowledge of either
Judo or Shotokan Karate. Thus, by the end of the occupation, Korean martial
arts were known by a minority while the Japanese arts were diffused throughout
the populace, and especially among those of the upper classes who had had a
When karate was first introduced into the United States, few people noticed a
distinction between Japanese and Korean karate. As a result, Korean stylists
were often instrumental in the introduction of karate to the United States.
For example, Ernest Lieb, USAF, studied karate under Chun Il Sup while
stationed in Korea and became the first karate chairman of the AAU and later
the President of the American Karate Association. Atlee Chittim is another
example. In 1948, he returned from Korea where he had studied Taekwondo, and
became affiliated with the USKA. He gave limited instruction at various YMCA's
in San Antonio, Texas, and in 1955, he began teaching at San Antonio College,
as a brown belt. Some say it was Chittim who sponsored Jhoon Rhee's entry into
the United States in 1956. In any event, it was Rhee who later promoted
Chittim to black belt. A third example is Allen Steen, karate pioneer in the
American Southwest, who started karate under Jhoon Rhee in 1959 at the
University of Texas. He earned his black belt in 1962, and in 1963, he
promoted his first black belt. In 1966, he was a member of the victorious U.S.
National Karate Team in Hawaii. That same year, he won the International
Karate Championships in Long Beach, beating Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis.
In 1956, Jhoon Rhee arrived in Texas for military
training by the USAF While there, he taught what was possibly the first
American class in Taekwondo. He was called back almost immediately to complete
a year of active duty in the Korean Army, but he then returned to Texas in
late 1957 to attend San Marcos Southwest Texas State College. Rhee explains,
"Well, at that time in San Marcos -- it was a very
small city -- nobody ever really heard of karate. But when I demonstrated tae
kwon do as a freshman, after that everybody came to my dorm room and they
wanted to start a club. And so that's how it all started. Pretty soon, there
were about 40 or 50 in the club."
Rhee later transferred to the University of Texas at
Austin and taught in an even larger club. Then in 1962, he moved to
Washington, D.C. to become a professional instructor. He writes,
"I went to Washington to teach for somebody else.
They only had six or seven students. I taught for three or four days and then
I had to get out because they wouldn't pay me, couldn't pay me. So 28 days
after I arrived (in Washington), I opened my studio. ... I first ran
advertisements in Washington newspapers. I advertised in each paper for an
open house demonstration. At the open house, we had about 135 people packed
into a small room. And right after the demonstration, I think I had 30
students registered. Some people paid right there and more people paid within
three days. I think my demonstrations really attracted a lot of people
instantly. I don't want to blow my own horn, but I had very unique
specialties. I am only five foot five and I jumped about eight feet in the air
and broke three boards. ... At that time, I put all belt levels in one class.
Now we have all separate classes. I think now the drop-out is less because we
make the lessons more interesting, more professional. Now we can give them a
more personalized attention. They can really learn, and that I think
contributed a great deal."
Jhoon Rhee has remained a major contributor to American
karate. In 1966, he hosted his First National Karate Championships in
Washington, D.C. (these competitions lasted until 1970). He also hosted
publicity events such as giving free instruction in Taekwondo to Congressmen
in 1973, and having his students march in Washington Fourth-of-July parades.
It was Jhoon Rhee who first introduced padded sparring gear in the early
1970s. He still teaches at his Washington Dojang.
In 1961, Sihak Henry Cho opened what is believed to be
the first permanent commercial Taekwondo school in the U.S.. It was located on
Twenty-seventh Street in New York City and had about four dozen people working
out at it. He later opened a larger school on Twenty-third Street in
Manhattan. Cho was still teaching in 1983. Like Rhee, he originally came to
the U.S. as a student (he was working on his M.B.A.). He writes,
"My purpose was to go back home actually (after my
education), but on the way home, I came to New York mainly for sightseeing. At
that time, in the late 50s, early 60s, it wasn't that easy for a Korean to
come to the United States. In New York right now, we have over 100,000
Koreans, mostly they are immigrants. But at that time (1961), we had around
100, or even less than 100, and they were mainly students. It was very hard to
get a visa to come to the U.S. So I figured, since it was so hard to come over
here, why not look around and make sure I don't miss anything? It ended up,
instead of going back home, I ended up staying here."
While in New York, Cho visited a Judo school:
"The people who were there were amazed to see the
kicks and the different things they had never seen before. The only thing that
we had in New York, like the rest of the States, of course was Judo. That was
popular at the time."
Cho decided to stay and became one of the early pioneers
of American Taekwondo.
The Koreans began to gain a reputation in the 1960s as
kicking specialists. It was at this time that a string of talented Korean
kickers arrived in the U.S. and Canada: Jhoon Rhee (1958), Richard Chun
(1962), Chong Lee (1964), and Hee Il Cho (1969).
Changes in the Art:
Americans contributed to changes in both Karate and Taekwondo,
primarily as a result of American tournament experience. In the early 1960s,
fighters generally fought from a stationary position, using 80% hand
techniques and 20% foot techniques. Kicks were usually stomach level or lower,
and few fighters would kick off their lead leg. The standard kicks were front
kicks or roundhouse kicks off the back leg. The counter reverse punch and the
step-through lunge punch were the standard hand techniques. Open tournament
competitors in the same period (1962-1964) were better kickers, but their hand
techniques were primitive (Overhead Knife-hand strike, etc.) and they also
fought from a stationary stance, with no footwork. Countertechniques and
combinations were unknown. Kicks included roundhouses off both lead and
trailing leg and spinning back kicks. Most of these kicks came from the
Southwest (possibly due to Jhoon Rhee's influence there), as did kicks to the
head and jumping side kicks. East Coast fighters introduced the jumping double
front kick, and used the lead leg roundhouse more than other early stylists.
West Coast fighters stuck to the older Japanese styles. In 1965, Mike Stone
was released from the Army and won nine consecutive tournaments without being
defeated, primarily using a lead leg roundhouse and double ridgehands.
In the late 1960s, Chuck Norris became a champion by
combining Korean kicks (including lead leg side kick) with Japanese hand
techniques. He was also the first fighter to successfully introduce
combination techniques. Joe Lewis also came to fame at this time by the use of
the lead leg side kick and the crossing back kick, demonstrating the
effectiveness of single technique specialization. Lewis also proved the
effectiveness of a lead punch. As a result, lead techniques began to gain
recognition, although they would not become widely popular until the 1970s.
Footwork in this period became the standard back and forward movement still
prevalent today. Later on, point fighters would establish the basis of
American Kickboxing. After the WTF concentrated on the sport form of
Taekwondo, Korean instructors began emphasizing competition rather than
self-defense. As an example, touch blocks have long since replaced formal
blocks in sparring.
As a sport, Taekwondo progressed quite slowly. In 1962,
Tae Kwon Do was included as one of the official events in the 43rd Annual
National Athletic Meet. In May, 1973, the first biennial World Tae Kwon Do
Championships were held in Seoul, with more than thirty countries
participating. Taekwondo's big break came when the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) recognized and admitted the WTF in July, 1980. In May 1982,
Taekwondo was named an official Demonstration Sport for the 1988 Olympics in
The Taekwondo unity that Choi had achieved early in the 1960s soon
disintegrated. Taekwondo splintered when the KTA was renamed the World
Taekwondo Federation (WTF), on May 28, 1973. Young-wun Kim became the
President, and he dissolved the WTF's connection with Choi's ITF. The ITF
continued using the forms developed by Gen. Choi while the WTF began using the
Palgue forms, although the WTF later abandoned the Palgues as well, and
focussed on the Tae-guek forms. The WTF also began placing more emphasis on
the sport applications of Taekwondo. In 1977, the kwan names were replaced by
serial numbers. The kwans, in order from 1st kwan to 9th kwan, are:
Songmookwan, Hanmookwan, Changmookwan, Moodukkwan, Odokwan, Kangdukwan,
Jungdokwan, Jidokwan, and Chungdokwan.
Ancient Korean Martial Arts:
Although Taekwondo is a modern art, many Korean practitioners claim that the
art began in the Koguryo dynasty (c. 37 B.C.). They claim that various Koguryo
dynasty royal tombs contain murals of men practicing Taekwondo. Interpretation
of these postures, which seems to be mere wishful thinking, apparently began
with Tatashi Saito's "Study of Culture in Ancient Korea." Saito said
"The painting either shows us that the person
buried in the tomb practiced Taekwondo while he was alive or it tells us that
people practiced it, along with dancing and singing, for the purpose of
consoling the dead."
None of the Koguryo tomb murals can be definitively
identified as the practice of a kicking & striking art. The murals on the
ceiling of the Muyong-chong are said to show "two men practicing a sort
of Taekwondo." They actually show two men -- both with goatee, moustache
and long hair -- wearing loin cloths. They are at least four feet apart (their
outstretched hands are a foot away from each other). The positions could be
stretching, dancing, or possibly wrestling Mongolian style, but they certainly
do not resemble modern Taekwondo stances or techniques.
The ceiling of Sambo-chong shows a man in deep horse
stance who appears to be pushing the walls apart. The WTF claims that this is
"Poomse practicing of Taekwondo," something that would be hard to
determine from a single figure, and certainly not the simplest explanation of
the position. Similarly, the paintings on the ceiling of Kakchu-chong shows
two men either dancing or Mongolian wrestling (the figures date from the age
of San-Sang, the tenth King of Koguryo), but Dr. Lee Sun Kun (President of
Kyung Puk University) tries to say that the mural "shows sparring of Soo
The Hwarang fighting order of the Silla dynasty, also
known as the Flower Knights, were famous for their practice of the martial
arts under the name of Hwarang-Do. According to the WTF, "Many scattered
evidences described in the Samguk Yusa, two oldest documents of Korea history
show that Hwarang also practiced Taekwondo in their basic training of the
body."The Koreans also cite as evidence the two Buddhist images inscribed
on the Keumkang Ginat Tower at the Sokkuram cave in Pulkuk-Sa Temple, Kyungju.
These Silla dynasty (c751 A.D.) stone relief carvings show the warrior
"Kumgang Yuksa" posing fiercely with one hand stretched low and the
other held near the ear in a fist. Although the Koreans often call this
position a Taekwondo fighting stance, the pose bears a closer resemblance to
the typical temple guardians found in Japan and elsewhere. In modern
Taekwondo, these figures are the inspiration for the double blocks used in the
The earliest influence on the Korean martial arts came
from China. According to legend, the Bodhiharma came to China in 520 A.D. and
taught Kung-fu at the Shaolin monastery for nine years. Sometime after this, a
form of Chinese hand and foot fighting called Kwon Bop (based on Shaolin
Kung-fu) entered Korea. During China's Sung and Ming dynasties, some believe
that nei-chia (internal kung-fu) and wai-chia (external kung-fu) entered
During the Koryo Dynasty (835-1392 A.D.), Tae Kyon was
renamed Subak. Subak probably peaked in popularity between 1147 and 1170, in
the reign of King Uijong. According to Draeger, Kwonpup (aka. Kwon Bop)
remained the more popular of the two arts. There were two schools of Kwonpup,
one defensive and the other a more aggressive school featuring jumping attacks
and evasive movement.
Some claim that envoys from Okinawa learned Subak during
the Yi Dynasty (1392-1907) and took it home, mainly because The Historical
Record of Choson gives evidence of trade between Choson (ancient name for
Korea) and the Ryukyu islands. There is also some speculation that people of
Chung-chong and those of Cholla provinces once gathered at the village of
Chakji to compete in Subak. The military manual Muye Dobo Tongji (Record Book
of Military Arts was published (written by Lee Duk Moo, c1790) by King
Chongjo, and gave notice to Subak. Illustrations show techniques that are
somewhat Chinese in nature: "These techniques -- perhaps of Chinese
origin, perhaps not -- definitely took on their own flavor and interpretation
in the hands of the clever Koreans." The illustrations show men without
facial hair, wearing baggy pants, sashes, and caps. They do seem to be
executing kicks and blocks. The practice of Subak eventually declined due to
lack of attention at the royal court.
A History of Taekwondo by Dakin Burdick.
Tae Kwon Do by Gen. Choi Hong Hi.