The History of Taekwondo

Korean hangul script for Tae Kwon Do
Tae (foot strike)
Kwon (hand strike)
Do (Path)

People who lived long ago had to develop personal skills to fight in order to obtain food and to defend themselves against the dangers of their environment. They also had to invent weapons for more effective defense and easier subsistence. However, even after they learned to use weapons, they never stopped their efforts to promote the development of their bodies and minds by practicing various games, especially in the form of religious rites.

The Korean ancestors who settled in several tribal states after the Neolithic age in what is now known as Korea had many such activities. The several tribal states were gradually annexed and integrated into three states: Goguryeo (37 BCE), Baekje (18 BCE), and Silla (57 BCE). The origin of Taekwondo in Korea can be traced back to the Koguryo dynasty, founded in 37 BCE, since mural paintings found in the ruins of the royal tombs built by that dynasty show scenes of Taekwondo practice.

Archeological findings such as mural paintings on the royal tombs of the Koguryo dynasty, the stone sculptures of Pagodas of temples produced during the Silla period, and many scattered descriptions in written documents show that many studies of fighting stances, skills and formalized movements closely resemble the present stances and forms of Taekwondo. Therefore, it can be inferred that people in the three kingdoms practiced an art very similar to the one we study today.

In Koryo, Taekyon/Taekwondo (which was practiced in the three states) became a systematic martial art and was actively practiced by warriors. In the Yi dynasty, Subak/Taekwondo was still popular in the military, and as it became a public sport, the competitions were conducted even among citizens as a sport and to improve their health.

However, in the latter half of the Yi dynasty, the importance of Subak as a martial art began to decline due to negligence of the royal court, which was constantly disturbed by the strife between feuding political factions. As a result, Subak remained merely as a recreational activity for ordinary people.

In 1943, following Judo, the Japanese introduced Karate and Wushu into Korea and they enjoyed temporary popularity until Korea was liberated in 1945. A number of Koreans who were interested in Taekwondo exerted an effort to revitalize the traditional art and in July 1946 held the 1st conference to discuss the unification of several schools of Taekwondo.

Taekwondo has grown as a uniquely Korean self-defense art for about 20 centuries. In March 1951 the Korea TongSooDo Association was established at Pusan, and on September 14, 1961 the inaugural meeting to unify Taekwondo schools and appoint 7 committee members was held.

The increasing popularity of Taekwondo and the enthusiastic devotion by many people to it made Taekwondo one of the official events at the annual National Athletic meet in October 24, 1962 as well as becoming an affiliate of the Korea Amateur Sports Association on June 25, 1962. The popularity and enthusiasm for Taekwondo is not only domestic, but worldwide because of the dominant superiority of Taekwondo over any other kind of self-defense art in the world. On August 5, 1965 the official name was changed to the Korea Taekwondo Association and on November 19, 1971 construction commenced for the main dojang (Kukkiwon) in Seoul. Its evolution and development as an international amateur sport quickly increased. The 1st world Taekwondo championships were held in Seoul, Korea in May of 1973, and led to the formation of the World Taekwondo Federation, which is tackling the task of making Taekwondo a modern world sport. Taekwondo has, in recent years, become the most respected national sport of Korea and as of 1988, was being taught by over 5000 Korean instructors in over 150 countries. In 1988 and 1992 it was an Olympic Games Demonstration Sport and in 2000 Taekwondo became a fully authorized Olympic Sport.