What is Taekwondo?
Taekwondo is a kicking and punching art that originated in Korea. The name was selected for its appropriate description of the art: Tae (foot), Kwon (hand), Do (way) or the “Way of striking hands and feet”.
Taekwondo in the United States
The introduction of Taekwondo in the United States began during the 1950’s when a handful of pioneering master instructors traveled to America to spread the art. Throughout the next few decades Taekwondo grew in popularity, not only as a martial art, but as an international sport.
In 1973, Korea hosted the first Taekwondo World Championships. Today,Taekwondo is practiced in 188 separate countries, representing 70 million practitioners. These numbers earn Taekwondo the distinction of being the most practiced martial art in the world.
Taekwondo first gained acceptance as an Olympic sport when it appeared as a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Taekwondo became a full medal sport competition beginning in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.
History of Taekwondo
One of the earliest clues of martial art’s history in Korea is a mural painted on the wall of a tomb that was built in the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, between 37 BC and 66 AD. The drawing shows two unarmed figures facing each other in a ready stance. Additional drawings in the tomb show figures performing blocks and wearing uniforms similar to those used in modern day martial arts training.
The advancement of Taekwondo and its techniques developed as the country of Korea developed. There are examples and history of Taekwondo training in virtually all the records of the different kingdoms that existed within the country throughout the centuries.
The highest form of the ancient art was achieved in the kingdom of Silla. This tiny kingdom constantly faced attacks and opposition from larger and stronger areas. As a result the ruler of the kingdom, King Jin Heung, established an elite group of warriors called the “Hwarang” or “Flower of Youth”.
The Hwarang consisted of the sons of nobles within the kingdom. They were carefully selected and formally trained in all aspects of military skills including unarmed combat, which at the time was known as Tae Kyon. It is significant that the Hwarang were taught not only the importance of developing their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well. In addition to fighting techniques, the young warriors were instructed in history, poetry, and philosophy. The entire body of study was known as Hwarang Do. The Hwarang gained skills not only for battle, but for daily life. This relates directly to modern Taekwondo training, which provides self defense skills as well as improved character, self-discipline, and confidence that can be applied to any task.
Following the Silla dynasty came the Koryo dynasty (935 AD – 1352 AD) from which Korea takes its name. Martial arts practice, known as Subak Do, became popular as an organized sport with detailed rules. The royal family sponsored competitions and demonstrations, and martial arts became deeply rooted in Korean culture.
Korean fighting styles can be historically traced back many hundreds of years to the three major Kingdoms of Korea: Silla, Koguryo, and Baek Je (6th Century AD)
These times throughout history were rife with constant and violent feuding between the Kingdoms and also their bitter enemies, the Japanese. The survival of these Kingdoms was dependent upon the development of strong armies. For these ancient warriors, mastery of the fighting skills was paramount, as any mistake would result in almost certain death.
The famous Hwa-Rang Warriors, an elite fighting core, were formed during the Silla Dynasty. These individuals underwent the most intensive training rituals, severe physical and mental conditioning, including mountain climbing, swimming turbulent rivers in freezing conditions, as well as training in fighting weapons including spear, bow, sword and hook.
They placed as much emphasis on training the mind as well as punishing their bodies, and ultimately discovered that mastery of the body comes as a result of mastery of the mind.
Each soldier strictly followed the Haw-Rang Warrior Code:
Be loyal to your King
Be obedient to your parents
Be honorable to your friends
Never retreat in battle
Make a just Kill
Because of their superior courage, ability in the battlefields, and their strict loyalty and philosophy, their deeds became legendary. The Haw-Rang Warriors gained the respect of even their most bitter enemies, and would go down in history.
Due to the dominance of these warriors, the Silla Dynasty, although the smallest, became the most powerful of the three Korean kingdoms. The arts of Taekyon and Soo Bak Gi flourished during the Koryo Dynasty (935 AD), after their defeat of the Silla Kingdom. During these times, training in Taekyon was compulsory for all soldiers, and perfection was the only way of being promoted through the ranks. Soldiers had to prove their mastery at an annual competition at the Kak Chon temple. Major governmental positions were determined by performance in these Fighting skills.
Over the next thousand years, the martial arts generally became less pronounced in Korea, apart from their military uses, and finally in 1909, with Japanese occupation of Korea, the practice of martial arts by Koreans was forbidden.
The only, major survivor of this catastrophe was Taekyon, with much training carried out in secret, many Koreans made their way to foreign lands during these times, where they could test their art against other styles including Karate, Jiujutsu, Judo, Kung Fu, Tai Chi. This enabled them to improve their own style and gain techniques from other styles.
In 1945 Korea was liberated form Japanese rule, and many Koreans returned to their homeland, bringing back with them the martial arts knowledge gained from abroad. At this time, the Republic of Korea (R.O.K) armed forces were formed.
In 1946, after his release from Japanese prison camp, 2nd Lieutenant, Choi Hong Hi began teaching his style of unarmed combat to these forces. He called this style, Taekwondo. Choi was primarily responsible for the fighting training of these soldiers, and later soldiers of most major countries armies adopted General Choi’s teaching.
The R.O.K demonstration teams, led by Choi, were later to become famous for their amazing skill displays while spreading the arty across the world, initially Vietnam, Malaysia and other Asian areas. Many famous Taekwondo masters of today were members of these demonstration teams.
In 1955 a panel of instructors, politicians and historians most notably General Choi Hong Hi (dec), decided upon the name Taekwondo to represent Korea’s national martial art.
General Choi was credited with the development of Taekwondo and is universally referred to as the Founder and father of Taekwondo. General Choi deeply researched and developed a modern martial art differing from any former art terminology, created techniques, systems, methods, rules, practice suits and philosophy on the basis of his self-confirmed theory and conviction.
Thus Taekwondo was named on the 11th April 1955.
Since then, the martial art Taekwondo has been improved in the sophistication and effectiveness of its techniques and overall physical fitness it imparts to its practice.
This martial arts class focuses on the following methods and positions:
- Elbow & Knee strikes
- Forward & backward punches and kicks
- Low, mid and high blocks protect the body