The Korean nation was founded by tribes that migrated from Mongolia to the south, in the peninsula known nowadays as Korea. The development of the Korean nation progressed through different dynasties: Koguryo, Paekche, Silla, Koryo and YI. Three of these dynasties existed at the same time in different regions of Korea and that period is known as the “era of the Three Kingdoms.” These dynasties were:
Koguryo (37 BC – 668 AD), existing in the northern part of the peninsula and spread to southern and western parts of Manchuria.
Paekche (18 BC – 660 AD), existing in the central and western part of the peninsula.
Silla (57 BC – 936 AD), existing in the southern and eastern part of the peninsula.
The dynasty of Silla defeated Koguryo and Paekche, unifying the Korean nation into one state in 66 AD.
During that period, the suit of clothes consisted of a loose trouser and a jacket combined with a waist belt, which was normal in all three realms. It very much looked like today’s Tae Kwon Do uniforms. Notably, in the Kingdom of Paekche, senior military officers used to wear different colored belts to show their rank.
Period of the Three Kingdoms
Koguryo (37 BC-668 AD)
Due to bordering with hostile tribes in the north, the kingdom organized a body of warriors, known as Sonbae. Sonbae lived in groups, studying history, literature and arts and were known for their virtue and bravery. Sonbae provided military force and strengthened the ability of political leadership in the region. At that time there is an early form of Tae Kwon Do, known as Subak. Even competitions took place in various festivals and ceremonies.
The earlier recorded figures of martial arts in Korea appear in some paintings at the upper part of the tomb of Muyong Chong which was discovered during excavations in 1935 and dates back between 3 and 427 A.D. The frescoes on the top of the tomb show two men carrying out an early form of Tae Kwon Do and other decorations. Some other graves in the area have similar murals portraying soldiers in positions that resemble the current Tae Kwon Do, demonstrating that this system was quite popular and was being practiced both by nobles and soldiers as well as farmers and the lower class.
Paekche (18 BC-660 AD)
Historical data show that in this kingdom, warriors were trained mainly in Ssireum, a traditional Korean form of wrestling, as well as in archery and horse riding. Competitions including early forms of Tae Kwon Do took place also in this region.
Silla (57 BC-936 AD)
In the beginning this kingdom was the weaker of the other two, but as Paekche grew in the West and Koguryo began attacking in the north, it became necessary to establish a powerful military structure based on martial arts. The result was Hwarangdo, a war code based on high ethical standards, similar to the Sonbae of Koguryo. The term «Hwarangdo» means “the way of flourishing youth”. Hwarangdo eventually became the basis of military power of the Silla, allowing them to conquer first Paekche and then Koguryo during the 7th century AD, and thus unifying the Korean nation in 668 AD.
The Hwarang warriors followed a series of ethical values, they never used their martial skills without good reason, and they promoted charity, generosity, compassion and other humanitarian ideals. The main principles they followed were:
-Loyalty to homeland
-Obedience to parents
-Faith in friends
-Refusal to retreat before the enemy
-Refraining from unnecessary taking of life of any creature
Koryo Dynasty (918 AD – 1392 AD)
This dynasty came into power after the Silla. During that period, the evolution of the martial art known today as Tae Kwon Do was systematized and its learning became compulsory for the militaries. In reality, military officers strengthened their order in this way. There were many war-skill competitions involving mainly fighting (kyorugi) and breakings (kyokpa).
The kings of Koryo dynasty were particularly interested in Subak – as Taekwondo was known by then – and encouraged and supported competitions, thus becoming very popular among the population.
But the introduction of gunpowder in military things won the confidence of the military stuff and support in Taekwondo subsided. It sustained its existence through contests and games taking place in villages and provinces.
Yi Dynasty also called Chosun (1392 AD-1910 AD)
Apart from the lack of support from the military, Taekwondo suffered further losses as a result of a change in ideology during that period. Buddhism dominated in the previous Silla and Koryo dynasties, but the Yi dynasty was dominated by Confucianism. As a result, more attention was given to literature and arts, and Taekwondo competitions which were held at various festivals were reduced in number.
During the reign of the third king of the dynasty (1401 -1408 AD), specialists of the Ssireum Taekwondo and Archery were recruited to help organize the army.
In 1790, King Chongjo assigned the printing of a book on martial arts, the fourth chapter of which was titled “hand-fighting techniques” and contained 38 movements that closely resemble the techniques of today’s Taekwondo.
Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945 AD)
After the implementation of a long-term plan of ever-growing economic and political influence, Japan gained full control of Korea on August 22, 1910.
Japan’s motive for this action was firstly to improve the welfare of the Japanese people and, secondly, the fact that they wanted a starting point for the invasion in China.
In the years followed, the Japanese colonial law pushed hard the Koreans and the country’s economy. Japanese companies had privileged treatment and great exploitation of the country’s natural wealth took place. Practice and teaching of any form of martial art was banned, although many still practiced Taekwondo in secret. During this period, the Japanese took some Korean Masters in Japan and forced them to train the Japanese army. In this way various Taekwondo techniques were introduced and incorporated into the Japanese Karate. Later in 1943, after the suppression of teaching Korean martial arts, teaching Karate was allowed in the country.
At the end of World War II, Japan surrendered unconditionally and finally on August 15, 1945, Korea was liberated from the Japanese rule.
After the war, there were originally 5 Schools (Kwans):
- Chung Do Kwan, founded in 1944
- Moo Duk Kwan, founded in 1945
- Song Moo Kwan, founded in 1946
- Ji Do Kwan, founded in 1946 as former Yun Moo Kwan
- Chang Moo Kwan, founded in 1947.
When the Korean War ended, General Choi Hong Hi (former member of the Chung Do Kwan and later founder of the International Taekwondo Federation) founded the Oh Do Kwan in 1954.
By the mid ’50s, three more Kwans appeared:
- Jung Do Kwan in 1954
- Han Moo Kwan in 1956
- Kang Duk Kwan in 1956
Attempts were made to unite the Kwans, pressure existed for the designation of the name and eventually prevailed the name Tae Soo Do as a product of compromise.
General Choi Hong Hi became president of the Korean Tae Soo Do Association in 1965. In 1966 he formed the International Taekwondo Federation; he then left Korea and moved its headquarters to Canada.
On November 30, 1972, Kukkiwon is established, also known as the global center of Taekwondo, in the area of Gangnamgu in Seoul, South Korea.
On May 28, 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) is established, which regulates all the issues of contests and is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The WTF promoted Taekwondo as a sport worldwide, making it an official Olympic sport in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, preceded by a presentation as an exhibition sport in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 1992 Games in Barcelona.