The Rich and Exciting

History of Taekwondo

Beginning in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II and Japanese Occupation, new martial arts schools called kwans opened in Seoul.

Whether one chooses to travel back to the dawn of systematized martial practice and the origins of Chinese Kung-Fu, the advent of Karate-Do in Okinawa and its subsequent development in the island of Japan, or the formal creation of Taekwondo in Korea, this journey is increasingly interesting the further one delves into its finer points.

That Taekwondo is a unique and distinct art beginning at the close of the Japanese occupation and the period following the Allied defeat of Japan is fact. Though there are many a Korean Taekwondoist that would like you to believe that Taekwondo has a history of thousands of years, this is simply not the case unless you substitute “Martial Arts” in place of Taekwondo. Whenever attempting to research matters such as these, it is important to realize that national pride and cultural bias tend to color historical depictions in no small way.

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In fact, to pick up two different Taekwondo books and find a common historical account regarding the academic history of the art of Taekwondo will be the exception rather than rule. Another factor to consider beyond personal ambition in the slanting of history, is the political motivations behind these player’s actions. The following account is my sincere attempt at a concise and informative overview of the history of Taekwondo. My opinions have been formed over the past twenty-eight years of studying this art. Owing no loyalty to any federation or school, I have tirelessly researched ALL perspectives available that thru this dissecting of opposing accounts I might better discover the truth and essence of these matters.

We begin our tale with a Korean populace suffering under the yoke of Imperial Japanese occupation post World War I. The Japanese oppressors were quite clear in their outlawing the practice of native Korean Martial Arts such as Tae Kyon, Subak, and Kwon-Bup. The most significant of these arts to the present discussion is Tae Kyon, in my opinion. I say this because it is in Tae Kyon and nowhere else that we find the origins of the unique Taekwondo footwork movements and even possibly the exceptionally varied kicking techniques associated with the art and spot today.

I find it difficult however to believe that today’s expression of Taekkyon with its nearly modern Taekwondo style of kicking is a totally accurate representation of this elder art. In my youth, Taekwondo kicking in terms of stylistic flair was very different than what we see today.

More specifically, Taekwondo‘s key exponents in the 1970’s and ’80’s practiced a very different art than today’s Olympic Taekwondo athletes or performers like the famed Korean Tigers exhibition team. Men like Jhoon Rhee, Hee Il Cho, S. Henry Cho, Kwon Jae Hwa, Jung Soo Park, and even Chuck Norris (a Tang Soo Do stylist), utilized techniques more closely resembling those typical of a Karate-type fighter, yet incorporating a higher ratio of kicking techniques as well as a higher degree of variety in these kicking techniques. . This should come as no great surprise considering these men were all competitors in open-type Karate-type fighting matches against Karate men as well as Chinese Kung-Fu practitioners.

Taekwondo as an modern Olympic sport is a full-contact, knockout wins, boxing-formatted, hi-tech display of the wicked possibilities that develop when people are engaged in play that involves highly explosive and lightning-fast kicks targeted towards the head and torso without the consideration of face-punching, leg-kicking, or wrestling. This aspect of modern Taekwondo practice is barely traceable in terms of general appearance and feel from those early Taekwondo pioneers in the U.S.

The incredible display that is a modern, elite-level Korean Taekwondo demonstration is nothing less than breath-taking. The only comparable sort of Martial Arts performance in terms of high-flying exotic artistry would be the Chinese art or practice of demonstrative Wushu, reportedly being considered for Olympic Sport Taekwondo inclusion. This sort of aerial and often daredevil spectacle is something more akin to an acrobatic martial ballet than a traditional Taekwondo or Karate exhibition.

All of this reinforces my suggestion that modern Tae Kyon practice is most likely quite different from what was practiced in the times prior to the Japanese occupation. This said, we move on to the arts which were deemed acceptable for Koreans to practice, namely the Japanese arts of Karate, Kendo, and Judo. Upon the close of World war II and the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, native arts were once again allowed to flourish.

But did they flourish? Tae Kyon is barely a blip on the global martial radar. Kwon-Bup is extinct. Subak seems to be carried on to some degree within the Tang-Soo Do/Mu Duk Kwan family, this lineage having being formerly presided over by the famed Hwan Kee, a true Martial Arts professor and scholar. One of his many contributions to the arts and humanity as a whole, is his work in the modern popularization and distribution of the Muye Dobo Tongji, a 17th century manual on martial theory and practice as well as military science.

It should be noted that Tang-Soo Do actually predates the formal naming and classification of the art of Taekwondo under Korean Army General Hong Hi Choi. But it is under this General Choi that on April 5, 1955 Taekwondo was officially created as an art. It is quite clear to me that Taekwondo is primarily a synthesis of native Taekwondo and Japanese (rather than Okinawan) style Karate. To deny such glaring realities in hopes of minimizing the role of Japanese influence in today’s

Korean Taekwondo seems a historical injustice and a machination of calculated propaganda.

It is clear however that Taekwondo began its history after World War II combining elements of previously existing styles, including Tae Kyon and Karate. From there the so-called “Traditional Taekwondo” develops in Korean and then spreads around the world to become the world’s most widely practiced Martial Art, eventually becoming an official Olympic game in Sydney, Australia’s 2000 Summer Olympics.

The intricacies and debates that lie within the corridors of these monumental occurrences are better served thru up-close and individualized examinations that focus on particular events and their resulting effects on the art and its history.

The history of Taekwondo thru the year 2010 is indeed documented, if inconsistent. It’s future remains unwritten. Will Taekwondo go the way of Ninja-style “Chinese stars” and comically dubbed Kung-Fu films, in a continuing downward spiral into relative obscurity? Or will Taekwondo students unite in an effort to keep their art relevant and vital in today’s increasingly MMA-dominated landscape. Time will indeed tell, and it is my hope that we as a Taekwondo family and culture will not only endure, but that we will fight to preserve all of our cultural heritage, while at the same time ceaselessly refine and develop or art and theory.