A Brief History of Taekwondo



The cultures of East Asia have a long tradition of armed and unarmed combat systems. With a vibrant network of trade, there was an exchange of culture in addition to goods for many centuries throughout East Asia as well as between Eastern and Western Asia along the Silk Road.

Many distinctive combat styles developed within each country, and, today, different combat styles and martial arts are readily identified within various countries: wrestling with India and Mongolia, escrima with the Philippines, Muay Thai with Thailand, kung fu with China, karate with Japan, and taekwondo with Korea.

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Early History & Kwans

The roots of taekwondo’s modern incarnation begin in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Over the past 70 years, taekwondo has continued to evolve as a dynamic martial art with an exciting sport component.

Capener postulates that taekwondo originated following World War 2 as Koreans returning from Japan opened karate studios and began teaching kongsudo or tangsudo. After these Korean karate studios were established, an eventual need was identified to “Koreanize” these various martial arts leading to the following:

Five main dojangs, or schools, were founded in the years between World War II and the Korean War. Each of these dojangs were founded by men with formal training in karate in Japan. These dojangs became known as The Five Major Kwans:

Following the Korean War, several sub-kwans, or Annex Kwans, were started. Of the nearly 40 kwans that arose in the mid-50’s, the leading kwans were Oh Do Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Han Moo Kwan, and Jung Do Kwan.

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Kwan Unification

After World War II, the original Kwan founders met several times to discuss some kind of united organization, however they could not reach sufficient agreement. Before the end of the Korean War, renewed unification efforts began culminating in the formation of the Korea Kong Soo Do Association. “The organizing members were RO Byung Jick (founder of the Song Moo Kwan), YOON Kwe Byung (grandmaster of the Jidokwan), SON Duk Sung, LEE Nam Suk (grandmaster of the Chang Moo Kwan), LEE Chong Woo, HYUN Jong Myun, JO Young Joo, and KIM In Hwa.”

After the Korean War in 1953, work began to unify the various Kwans. At this time, several names were used for taekwondo including Kong Soo Do, Tang Soo Do, and Soo Bahk Do. In addition, there were differences in the forms and sparring used by each kwan. However, the primary difference and conflict regarding unification was related to rank promotion standards. It took another decade before consensus could be reached on Hyung (forms), Shihap (sparring) and Nonmun (written examination) for promotion tests.

In May 1961, the Korea Taesoodo Association was formed. A Unification Ceremony was held on March 18, 1965, and a year later, the Korean Taesoodo Association became the Korean Taekwondo Association.

Kim Yong Chae.    The leadership of Kim Yong Chae, the 5th KTA President, was essential to the development of taekwondo. After beginning his term of office in January 1967, Grandmaster Kim “pushed for the development of the chest protector (hogu) for competition, was the first to send KTA Instructors to foreign countries, reformed the rules for tournament competition, and pushed for the construction of the Central Dojang (Chung Ang Dojang) which became the Kukkiwon.

Lee Chong Woo.    After leading the Jidokwan — and recommending its name change about 1954 — Grandmaster Lee was subsequently influential as one of the primary leaders of the unification efforts of the nine kwans, was a Kukkiwon vice-president, wrote the first taekwondo textbook, designed the Kukkiwon’s original logo, helped design Shihap Kyorugi (match sparring) as found in Olympic Taekwondo competition, and pioneered use of the hogu.

Capener states that there was also “an intense period of experimentation” of kicking and footwork patterns that led to a new technical system with new kicks “as well as substantial development in the speed, power, and manner of execution of existing kicks.” In others words, taekwondo quickly evolved into a truly unique and original martial art.

As Capener explains, this experimentation resulted in a philosophy of technique seen in the following three elements:

  1. Opposition (sangdaseong)
  2. Completion (sonch’wisong)
  3. Perfection (wanbyoksong)
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The Central Taekwondo Dojang in Seoul, Korea is called the Kukkiwon. It’s purpose “is to promote Taekwondo as a means of general exercise for the benefit of public health as well as to spread Taekwondo as a symbol of Korea and its traditions.” It fulfills this mission by determining the requirements for poom and dan promotion, instructor training, hosting national and international events, and promoting health and spirit of Taekwondo through the Kukkiwon Demonstration Team.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the central taekwondo headquarters was held on November 19, 1971. The building was completed a year later rising three floors with a basement level underneath with a competition area, spectator seating, lecture rooms, clerical offices, restaurant, and locker rooms.

The Kukkiwon hosted the 1st World Championships in 1973. “In 1978, the Kukkiwon finally succeeded to unify Taekwondo by integrating 10 separate Taekwondo Kwans; Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan and Kwan li Kwan.”

In 1980, the Kukkiwon took over the responsiblity of poom and dan promotion requirements and issuing dan certificates. Up until this time, this role was fulfilled by the Korea Taekwondo Association.

In 1983, the World Taekwondo Academy was founded. The WTA provides education and training programs such as instructor and referee courses designed to improve the quality of taekwondo instruction and competition around the world. The WTA also holds the World Taekwondo Hanmadang, a festival for recreational taekwondo practitioners to compete in various events including breaking, forms, and self-defense.

In 2006, the Research Institute of Taekwondo was established. The RIT staff includes nearly 30 taekwondo experts and taekwondo-related researchers that undertake academic research, developing new techniques, and sharing information through seminars.

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The World Taekwondo Federation, the world governing body and representative sports organziation to the International Olympic Committee, was created on May 18, 1973 with 108 member countries. In 1975, the WTF was accepted by the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) followed by the inclusion of taekwondo as an official sports event by the International Council of Military Sports (CISM) in 1976. The WTF became an IOC-recognized sports federation in 1980, making Taekwondo an Olympic sport.

Taekwondo was included as an official event in the World Games in 1981, the Asian Games in 1984, the Pan American Games in 1986, and as a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games before being voted into the Olympic Programme as an official sport at the 1994 Internal Olympic Committee meeting for the 2000 Olympic Games.

Today, the WTF includes 204 member nations with nearly 80 million participants throughout the world.

Taekwondowon (formerly Taekwondo Park)

The vision that the Taekwondo Promotion Foundation has for the Taekwondowon is:

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Taekwondo in the U.S.

Through the efforts of leaders such as Dr. Ken Min, taekwondo was accepted as a recognized sport within the United States’ amateur sports governing body at the time, the Amateur Athletic Union. While an associate professor at Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT in the late 1960’s, Dr. Min gained extensive experience at the local, state, and national level of amateur sport through his involvement with judo and taekwondo.

After beginning a full-time position at the University of California at Berkeley in 1969, Dr. Min began to develop a plan for a nationally recognized taekwondo organization. In the papers of Dr. Henry Stone, his predecessor at Cal, Dr. Min found the template for the plan for taekwondo. Dr. Stone had leveraged his connections in wrestling to help establish a national judo organization in 1952 and become “The Father of American Judo.”

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[Demonstration sport at 1988 Seoul Olympic Games]
Go to: Olympic Videos
Go to: Olympic 2012 Videos

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Suggested Reading

Problems in the Identity and Philosophy of T’aegwondo and Their Historical Causes
by Steven D. Capener, PhD
Korea Journal, 1995. 35.4: 80-94
Abstract: “It has been postulated that t’aegwondo is Korea&’s most effective diplomatic tool, achieving what Korea’s most skilled diplomats have been unable to accomplish; that is, bring the citizens of advanced western countries to an attitude of respect before the Korean flag. It has been further argued that t’aegwondo, as the Korean national sport, and one of the repositories of traditional, indigenous Korean culture. plays a vital role in preserving traditional Korean culture in the face of western cultural imperialism.”
Source: Academia.edu

The Making of a Modern Myth: Inventing a Tradition for Taekwondo
by Steven Capener, PhD
Korea Journal, vol. 56, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 61-92
Abstract: “In their recent article entitled “Evidence of Taekwondo’s Roots in Karate: An Analysis of the Technical Content of Early Taekwondo Literature” published in the Korea Journal, Udo Moenig, Cho Sungkyun, and Kwak Taek-Yong present compelling empirical evidence that taekwondo originated from Japanese karate in the mid-twentieth century. The present article aims to discuss the implications of that assertion in the context of the nationalist project to invent a tradition for taekwondo. This article postulates that such myth-making is possible even in the face of strong empirical evidence to the contrary due to an anti-intellectual and anti-empirical nationalism that operates in the production/suppression of knowledge, especially in regard to issues that involve Korea’s complicated historical relation with Japan. This article discusses the process of the construction of an indigenous origin narrative for taekwondo and the response to that narrative in the form of a counter-narrative that postulates the role of karate in taekwon-do’s formation. The construction and rationale of the indigenous origin narrative is then examined through the lens of the modern phenomenon of the invented tradition.”
Source: Academia.edu

Taekwondo: The Spirit of Korea
by Steven D. Capener
Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Korea, 2000
ISBN: 8978200583, 9788978200585; 139 pp

A Modern History of Taekwondo
by Kang Won Sik and Lee Kyong Myong
Translated from the original Korean book to English by Glenn Uesugi and students.
Source: PDF4Pro.com

Storming the Fortress: A History of Taekwondo
By Eric Madis
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Shotokan Schools
Part 3: The Shudokan Schools
Part 4: The Maverick Schools
Part 5: Evolution of Karate Into Taekwondo
Part 5: Continued

A New Look for Joe College: From Letter-Sweater to Black Belt
by Gil Johnson
Black Belt Magazine Vol. 12, No. 4. (April 1974), p22-26.

A Different Kind of REVOLUTION at Berkeley
by Paul William Kroll
Black Belt Magazine Vol. 15, No. 4 (April 1977), p45-46; 76.

Won Kuk Lee (Wikipedia)
A very good summary of the Grandmaster Lee and the Chuungdokwan.

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Kim Pyung-soo
1) Promoted to black belt by the second Kwangjang of the Chang Moo Kwan, LEE Nam Suk (1954).
2) Sixth black belt of the Kang Duk Won.
3) Creator of Palgwe’s 1, 2, & 3.
4) Opened Kim Soo College of Taekwon-Karate in Houston, TX in 1970.

Korean Karate by Duk Sung Son

SON Duk Sung
Grandmaster Son began his taekwondo training in 1942 at the age of 26. In 1950, he began teaching his martial art to policemen in Seoul followed by the officers of the Signal Corps of the Korean Army. In 1955, he became chief martial arts instructor at the Korean military academy. The following year, he began teaching the U.S. Eighth Army. In 1963, he moved to New York. "Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do" was published in 1968 (Robert J. Clark, co-author) and is an excellent reference for the early explanation of taekwondo.

TKD Techniques Info

Step-by-Step Progress
Learn the basic techniques, and then build up to more sophisticated and challenging techniques. Just like learning the “A, B, C’s”, taekwondo relies upon a methodical approach that allows anyone of any age to improve their skill and health.

TKD Competition Info

Thrilling & Dramatic Action
Discover how taekwondo competition is one of the most fun and exciting activities for kids, teens, and adults. The variety of techniques, level of required skill, and amazing coordination combine to make a unique opportunity to test the skills.

Exciting Olympic Action!

Don’t Blink: Olympic Taekwondo Action!
A select list of videos and information about Taekwondo competition in the Olympics. See fast, furious, spectacular action and stunning kicks.