The History and Origins of Taekwondo Explained

Last Updated on May 29, 2023

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art developed in the 1940s. It combines elements of karate and traditional Korean martial arts. Taekwondo can be translated to mean “the way of the foot and fist”. Understanding the history and origins of Taekwondo is important in understanding its value and traditions. Taekwondo is renowned for its self-defense techniques, character development, and dynamic competitive sport.

It has become a popular martial art in many countries in the world today. Knowing the history of Taekwondo allows one to appreciate the evolution of the art and its influence on modern martial arts. The origins of Taekwondo can be traced back to the early days of the Korean peninsula. From the earliest times, Koreans have developed and practiced distinct martial arts.

The History and Origins of Taekwondo Explained

These arts were influenced by a multitude of foreign invasions, as well as the natural environment of Korea. The modernization of Taekwondo began after the Korean War, when many Korean martial arts masters came together to create a unified system of martial art. In 1955, the name Taekwondo was officially adopted and the International Taekwondo Federation was established.

Today, Taekwondo is recognized as an Olympic sport and continues to grow in popularity. Understanding the roots and evolution of Taekwondo helps to preserve the tradition and culture of this ancient martial art for future generations.

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Origins of Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that has gained popularity all over the world. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient Korean system of martial arts known as Subak or Taekkyeon. In this chapter, we will explore the historical development of martial arts in Korea and the creation of Taekkyeon, as well as the influence of other martial arts on the development of Taekwondo.

Historical Development of Martial Arts in Korea

The history of martial arts in Korea can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–668 AD). During this time, warriors were trained in various forms of combat, including archery, sword fighting, and hand-to-hand combat. These martial arts were used to protect the kingdoms from invasion and to maintain order within the state.

Subak, the ancient Korean martial art, was developed during the Goguryeo period (37 BC– 668 AD) and was used by the military for both hand-to-hand combat and horseback riding. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), martial arts became more widespread in Korea and were practiced by the general public as a form of self-defense and physical fitness.

Creation of Taekkyeon

Taekkyeon, a traditional Korean martial art, was created during the Joseon Dynasty. It is based on footwork and fluid movements and incorporates both hand and foot techniques. Taekkyeon was used both as a form of self-defense and as a recreational activity. It became especially popular among the Korean nobility and was taught in royal academies.

One of the unique features of Taekkyeon is that it emphasizes the use of the entire body, rather than just the hands or feet. Practitioners use their entire body to execute kicks, punches, and throws. In addition, Taekkyeon emphasizes fluidity of movement and aims to deflect attacks rather than block them.

Influence of Other Martial Arts

Taekwondo was influenced by several other martial arts, including Japanese karate and Chinese martial arts such as Kung Fu. In the early 20th century, Japan occupied Korea and brought their martial arts with them. Korean martial arts practitioners learned from the Japanese and incorporated some of their techniques into their own practices.

After World War II, Korea was divided into two separate countries, and martial arts continued to develop independently in the North and South. In the South, a group of martial arts masters came together to create a unified Korean martial art. They created Taekwondo, which was officially recognized in 1955.

One of the unique features of Taekwondo is its emphasis on kicking techniques. Taekwondo practitioners use a variety of kicks, including the spinning hook kick, the roundhouse kick, and the flying kick. In addition, Taekwondo has a strong focus on sparring and competitions.

Taekwondo has a rich history and has been influenced by various forms of martial arts throughout Korea’s history. From the ancient martial art of Subak to the traditional Korean martial art of Taekkyeon, each has contributed to the development of Taekwondo as a modern martial art. Today, Taekwondo is practiced by millions of people worldwide and continues to evolve and develop.

Read: Taekwondo for Beginners: How to Get Started

Formation of Taekwondo

Taekwondo was born from the unification of diverse Korean martial arts in the early 20th century. Political and social changes caused the suppression of traditional martial arts, encouraging the emergence of new forms.

After the end of Japanese occupation in 1945, Korean martial arts began their resurgence. Martial arts masters united, discussing the fusion of various styles into a single martial art to embody national identity. Thus, the Chang Moo Kwan school was established, blending multiple martial arts techniques.

General Choi Hong Hi, a Korean military officer, was pivotal in Taekwondo’s formation. In 1955, he unified several martial arts schools under the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA). The KTA standardized Taekwondo techniques and forms, uniting disparate martial arts styles into a standardized training and testing system.

The KTA was instrumental in globally promoting Taekwondo. Taekwondo made its Olympic debut as a demonstration sport in 1973, becoming an official Olympic sport four years later. This exposure skyrocketed Taekwondo’s popularity worldwide.

Today, Taekwondo boasts over 70 million practitioners across 190 countries. While various federations promote differing versions, Taekwondo’s core principles of discipline, respect, and perseverance remain constant.

In essence, Taekwondo emerged from the unification of various Korean martial arts styles. The Korea Taekwondo Association and Taekwondo’s Olympic inclusion played key roles in its global promotion. Today, it stands as a leading global martial art, upholding discipline, respect, and perseverance.

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Tenets and Philosophy

At the core of Taekwondo’s philosophy are five tenets that practitioners strive to embody.

  1. Courtesy (Ye Ui) – Respecting oneself and others, showing politeness and good manners.

  2. Integrity (Yom Chi) – Honesty, being truthful and upright, upholding moral and ethical principles.

  3. Perseverance (In Nae) – Never giving up, having determination and persistence in the face of difficulty.

  4. Self-control (Guk Gi) – Displaying restraint and discipline in one’s actions and emotions.

  5. Indomitable Spirit (Baekjul Boolgool) – Having a strong will, courage, and determination to overcome obstacles and challenges.

The tenets of Taekwondo extend beyond the mat into life, demanding moral character, self-discipline, and respect from practitioners.

Taekwondo’s philosophy draws from Taoist principles. A key Taoist principle is the Yin and Yang balance, symbolizing opposing elements like light and dark, soft and hard, feminine and masculine. Taekwondo adopts this balance in the physical and mental aspects of its training. It fosters not just physical strength but also mental discipline and balance.

Another Taoist principle, non-action or Wu Wei, underscores the importance of natural, effortless action. Taekwondo practitioners adopt this principle by focusing on fluidity and ease in techniques rather than brute force.

Taekwondo also values “Jin” or humaneness, echoing the Confucian philosophy’s emphasis on moral values like respect, loyalty, and compassion.

Basically, Taekwondo’s philosophy promotes moral character, self-discipline, and balance. Practitioners embody these values to become not only physically strong but also mentally and emotionally balanced individuals, leading fulfilling lives.

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Styles of Taekwondo

Taekwondo, as a martial art, has two main styles – the ITF or International Taekwon-Do Federation and the WTF or World Taekwondo Federation.

ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation)

The ITF was founded in 1966 by General Choi Hong Hi from South Korea. This style is known for its focus on self-defense, discipline, and power. The ITF is based on the five tenets of Taekwondo: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

This style uses a wider range of techniques, including hand techniques and a variety of kicks. ITF forms, or patterns, are generally more complex and longer than the WTF forms.

The ITF also holds a different set of tournaments that includes categories such as sparring, patterns, power breaking, and specialty techniques. ITF fighters also wear a different uniform compared to the WTF.

WTF (World Taekwondo Federation)

The WTF, on the other hand, was established in 1973 and is recognized as the official Olympic sport. This style focuses on speed, agility, and competition. The WTF is based on the tenets of Taekwondo, including courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit, similar to the ITF.

This style uses limited hand techniques and only a few kicks, including turning kicks and spinning kicks. WTF forms generally have fewer moves but are more acrobatic compared to ITF forms.

The WTF holds a different set of tournaments, including categories such as sparring and poomsae, or forms. WTF fighters wear a different uniform, which comes in different colors according to belt level.

Differences between the two styles

The most notable difference between the two styles is their approach to technique and application. ITF focuses on self-defense, discipline, and power while the WTF focuses on speed, agility, and competition.

Another difference lies in forms; ITF forms are longer and more complex, while WTF forms are shorter and more acrobatic. Moreover, ITF fighters have a wider range of techniques, while WTF has a limited set of techniques that focus on speed and agility.

When it comes to sparring, the ITF allows the use of hand and foot strikes to the body and limited use of hand strikes to the head, unlike the WTF that only allows foot strikes to the body and head. Moreover, ITF sparring matches have no protective gear, while WTF requires protective gear for the head, chest, arms, and legs.

In fact, both styles have their unique approach to Taekwondo. Whether you prefer the emphasis on self-defense and power of the ITF or the speed and agility of the WTF, Taekwondo offers a diverse range of styles that suit different individuals’ preferences and skill levels.

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Global Spread of Taekwondo

Since its creation, Taekwondo has spread throughout the world, establishing organizations in other countries and becoming increasingly popular in modern culture.

Establishment of Taekwondo Organizations in Other Countries

In 1966, the Korea Taekwondo Association was formed, which helped to standardize the practice and teaching of Taekwondo. This allowed for the establishment of Taekwondo organizations in other countries, which helped to promote the martial art worldwide. The World Taekwondo Federation was also created in 1973, which further helped to spread the practice of Taekwondo around the globe.

Today, Taekwondo organizations exist in over 200 countries, including the United States, Canada, China, and European nations. Many of these organizations are affiliated with the World Taekwondo Federation and hold international competitions, such as the Olympic Games.

Popularity in the United States

Taekwondo was introduced to the United States in the 1950s, primarily through military servicemen who had been stationed in Korea. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the martial art gained significant popularity in the United States. The establishment of Taekwondo organizations, such as the United States Taekwondo Association and the American Taekwondo Association, helped to promote the practice of Taekwondo throughout the country.

Today, Taekwondo is one of the most popular martial arts in the United States. It is estimated that there are over 6 million Taekwondo practitioners in the country, with over 20,000 schools teaching the martial art.

Role of Taekwondo in Modern Culture

Taekwondo has had a significant impact on modern culture, not just in Korea but throughout the world. The martial art has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and video games. It has also been incorporated into other sports, such as mixed martial arts and kickboxing.

Furthermore, Taekwondo has been recognized as an Olympic sport, with the first competition being held at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Since then, Taekwondo has been a regular sport at the Olympic Games, with numerous countries winning medals in the sport.

Overall, the global spread of Taekwondo has been significant, with the martial art being recognized and practiced around the world. It continues to play an important role in modern culture, both as a sport and as a way of life.

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After exploring the history and origins of Taekwondo, it is now evident that this martial art form is deeply rooted in Korea’s rich cultural heritage.

Key points of note include the influence of early Chinese martial arts, the founding of various schools and associations, and the official establishment of Taekwondo as a national sport in South Korea.

The importance of understanding Taekwondo’s history and origins cannot be overstated, as it helps to provide context for the art form’s practices and techniques.

Furthermore, delving into the historical aspects can help practitioners to better appreciate the cultural significance of Taekwondo and further enhance their understanding and knowledge of this discipline.

In conclusion, we can all benefit from further exploration and education when it comes to the history and origins of Taekwondo. By doing so, we can deepen our understanding of this martial art form and gain an appreciation for its cultural significance.

Therefore, let us continue to delve deeper into the world of Taekwondo and learn as much as we can about its rich history and traditions.

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