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The History of Taekwondo

People in primitive ages, no matter where they lived, had to develop personal skills to fight in order to obtain their food and to defend themselves against their enemies, including wild animals.

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 in this land after the Neolithic age had many such activities. Yongko in Puyo state, Tongmaeng in Koguryo, Muchon in Ye and Mahan, and Kabi in the Silla dynasty are some of the striking examples of the "sports activities" which ancient Koreans practiced in their religious rites. These eventually were developed into exercises to improve health or martial abilities.

The long experience of ancient people in defending themselves against the attacks of animals as well as their imitation of the defensive and offensive positions assumed by the animals slowly led the people to develop more effective skills of their own in the use of their hands in fighting, thus creating a primitive form of Taekyon (an old name of Taekwondo).


The origin of Taekwondo in this country can be traced back to the Koguryo dynasty, founded 37 BC since mural paintings found in the ruins of the royal tombs built by that dynasty show scenes of Taekwondo practice. Muyong-chong and Kakshu-chong are two royal tombs built in the Koguryo dynasty, which were discovered by a group of archaeologists in 1935. They were located in Tungku, Chain county, Tunghua province in Manchuria, where Koguryo had its capital in Hwando province.

The ceiling of the Muyong-chong carried a painting depicting two men facing each other in Taekwondo practice, while the mural paintings of Kakchu-chong show two men wrestling. In reference to this particular painting, Tatashi Saito, a Japanese historian, in the Study of Culture in Ancient Korea.

'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 soul of the dead.;

The construction of the above two tombs dates back to the period between 3 AD and 427 AD, during which, historians say, Hwando province remained the capital of Koguryo. It can therefore be inferred that Koguryo people started practicing Taekwondo during that period.


Taekwondo was also practiced during the Silla dynasty. Silla was a kingdom founded in the southeastern part of the land some 20 years before Koguryo in the north. At Kyongju, the ancient capital of Silla, two Buddhist images are inscribed on the inner walls of Sokkuram cave in Pulkuk-saTemple. These two 'Diamond warriors', protecting Buddhism from devils, take Taekwondo stances.

Silla was famous for its Hwarang. Korean culture and martial arts of the period were strongly influenced and enriched by the Hwarangdo, a military, educational and social organization and noble youths of the Silla dynasty. The code of honor on which the Hwarang was based was loyalty to the nation, respect and obedience to one's parents, faithfulness to one's friends, courage in battle and avoidance of unnecessary violence and killing.

The influence of the Hwarangdo played an important role in unifying the three kingdoms.

SK Grotto

Many scattered descriptions in written documents of the three kingdoms such as the SamgukYusa, the oldest document of Korean history, show that Hwarang do not only regarded the Taekwondo practice for their unarmed combat study as an essential part of physical and military training, but also recommended it as a recreational activity.

Archaeological 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 like the one we study today.


In the history of Koryo, Taekwondo which was then termed & "Subak" was practiced not only as a skill to improve health and as a sport activity but it was also encouraged as a martial art of considerably high value.

Here are a few extracts from the historical record of Koryo that testify to the popularity of Taekwondo as a martial art.

"King Uijong admired the excellence of ChosunUi-min in Subak and promoted him from Taejong(military rank) to Pyolchang"

'The king appeared at the Sang-chun Pavilion and watched Subak contests.

"The king watched Subak contest at Hwa-bi Place".

"The king came to Ma-am and watched Subak contests"

These records indicate that Subak in the Koryo dynasty was also practiced as an organized sport for spectators.

Subak is believed to have gained its highest popularity during the reign of King Uijong, between 1,147 and 1,170 A.D. This period roughly corresponds to the era that includes part of the Chinese Song and Ming dynasties, during which the Chinese "Kungfu" became widely popular after this self-defense art was developed into two advanced systems, namely Neikya and Weikya. These two systems differ chiefly in that the one employs more defensive skills and the other more offensive skills.

The above fact is worth noticing as it further shows that Taekwondo is not only of a pure Korean origin but it has achieved independent development throughout the long history of Korea.

What is very important about Subak in the Chosun dynasty is that there was a book published to teach the game as a martial art and that it became more popular among the general public whereas earlier it had been to a certain degree monopolized by the military in the preceding Koryo dynasty.

A historical record indicates that people from both Chungchong and Cholla provinces once gathered at the village of Chakji located along the provincial boundary to compete in Subak. This record supports the motion that Subak played an important role as a popular sport activity of the people in the dynasty.

Furthermore, people who aspired to be employed by the military department of the royal government were eager to learn Subak because it was included as one of the major subjects of the test to be taken by the applicants.

Meanwhile, King Chongjo published "MuyeDoboTongji" an illustrated textbook on martial arts, which included Taekwondo as one of the major chapters.

It is obvious, therefore, that Subak became an important national sport and attracted much attention from both the royal court and the general public during the Chosun dynasty.

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


Taekwondo in the first half of the 20th century:

Along with the deterioration of national fortunes, the fall of the military was accelerated by the dismantling of the army; finally Japanese imperialists colonized Korea through an oppressive forceful invasion.

The oppression of the Korean people by the Japanese imperialists worsened, and the practicing of martial arts, which could have been used as a means of revolt, was forbidden.

However, Taekwondo persisted in the spirit of the Korean people as a physical and spiritual training method of anti-Japanese organizations such as the Independence Army and the Liberation Army, and as a legacy which had to pass on to the younger generation.

After liberation from the Japanese invasion-1970s:


After liberation from the Japanese invasion on August 15, 1945, those with an aspiration to revitalize the traditional art of Taekwondo taught their followers, and at last, on September 16, 1961, the Korea Taekwondo Association was established. On February 25, 1962, the Korea Taekwondo Association became the 27th affiliate to join the Korea Amateur Sports Association. On October 9, 1963, Taekwondo became an official event for the first time in the 44th National Athletic Meet. Its great leaps in the development of competition rules and protective equipment started with the 1963 National Athletic Meet 32 years ago.

Korean instructors began going abroad to teach Taekwondo in the 1960s, which could be called a turning point in the history of Taekwondo. Taekwondo made its way to the world sport through the 1st World Taekwondo Championships held in Seoul, Korea in May 1973 with participation of 19 countries. At the Seoul meet held on May 28, 1973 on the occasion of the championships, representatives of those countries established the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).


Presently, member countries of the WTF total 152 (as of 26 February 1999) and the global Taekwondo population are estimated at 30 million people. Spurred by the recognition of Taekwondo by the IOC at its 83rd General Session in 1980, Taekwondo has been rapidly becoming an international sport. It was adopted as a demonstration sport of the 24th Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the 25th Barcelona Olympics in 1992.


Taekwondo was adopted as an official sport of 2000 Sydney Olympic Games at the 103rd Session of the IOC held in ParisFrance on September 4, 1994.

Taekwondo has consolidated its position in the world sport as fast as any other martial art sport. Besides in continental championships hosted by four member regional unions of the WTF as well as in the World and Women's World Championships, World Cup Taekwondo, CISM Taekwondo Championships and FISU World University Championships, Taekwondo is being played as an official sport in most international multi-sport games such as World Games, Pan American Games, All Africa Games, Southeast Asian Games and Central American Games.

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