The History of an Art
As it is literally translated from the Korean, Tae means "to kick" or "to strike with the foot", Kwon means "fist" or "to strike with the hand," and Do means "discipline" or "art." Taken together, Tae Kwon Do means "the art of kicking and punching"-"the art of unarmed combat." Modern-day Tae Kwon Do, as it has come to be developed over the years, is a unique martial art incorporating both the quick, straight-line movements that characterize the various Japanese systems and the flowing circular movements of most Chinese styles. But more than this, what truly distinguishes Tae Kwon Do are its varied and uniquely powerful kicking techniques. It is this prominent use of leg and kicking techniques that sets Tae Kwon Do apart from all other martial arts systems. Yet, Tae Kwon Do is far more than simply a system concerned with physical prowess, for it is also an art directed toward the moral development of its students.
The earliest records of Tae Kwon Do practice date back to about 50 B. C. During this time Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, which was founded on the Kyongju plain in 57 B.C.; Koguryo, founded in the Yalu River Valley in 37 B. C.; and Baekche, founded in the southwestern area of the Korean peninsula in 18 B. C. Evidence of the practice of Taek Kyon (the earliest known form of Tae Kwon Do) has been found in paintings on the ceiling of the Huyong-chong, a royal tomb from the Koguryo dynasty. These and other mural paintings show unarmed combatants using techniques that are virtually identical to those of modern-day Tae Kwon Do. Of particular interest are details that show the use of the knife hand, fist and classical fighting stances, all components of modern Tae Kwon Do.
Although Tae Kwon Do first appeared in the Koguryo kingdom, it is Silla's warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who are credited with the growth and spread of the art throughout Korea. of the three kingdoms, Silla was the first to be formed, but it remained the smallest and least civilized. Its coastline was constantly under attack by Japanese pirates. Alter Silla appealed for help against the continual harassment by the Japanese pirates, King Gwanggaeto, the 19th in the line of Koguryo monarchs, sent a force of 50,000 soldiers into neighboring Silla to help the smaller kingdom drive out the pirates. It is at this time that Taek Kyon is thought to have been introduced to Silla's warrior class, handed down in strict secrecy to a few select Sillan warriors by early masters of the art.
These Taek Kyon-trained warriors became known as the Hwarang. Founded initially as a military academy for the young nobility of Silla, the society of the Hwarang-do ("the way of flowering manhood") adopted Taek Kyon as a part of its basic training regimen. The society was an elite group, consisting of the Hwarang, or leaders, who were selected from among the sons of royalty between the ages of 16 and 20, and the Nangdo, or cadets, who were assembled from the rest of the young nobility and who totaled between 200 and 1000 at any given time. The young men within the society were educated in many disciplines, including history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, riding, archery, sword play, military tactics and, of course, Taek Kyon. The guiding principles of the Hwarang-do education were based on the Five Codes of Human Conduct, as established by the Buddhist scholar lfonkang. These axioms are:
Be loyal to your country
Be obedient to your parents
Be trustworthy to your friends
Never retreat in battle
Never wake an unjust kill
Taek Kyon was taught in conjunction with the Five Codes of Human Conduct so that it became a way of life for the young men, a code of moral behavior that served to guide their lives and the use to which they put their training in Taek Kyon.
Today, these codes are reflected in the so-called 11 commandments of modern Tae Kwon Do. As with the original codes of conduct, these modern axioms are used to guide the moral development of students of the art, and no student who does not fully understand these tenets can ever hope to master the true essence of the art.
Loyalty to your country
Respect your parents
Faithfulness to your spouse
Respect your brothers and sisters
Loyalty to your friends
Respect your elders
Respect your teachers
Never take life unjustly
Loyalty to your school
Finish what you begin
Along with their training in fundamental education and military skills, the Hwarang were also skilled in poetry, singing and dancing, and were encouraged to travel throughout the peninsula in order to learn about the regions and people. These traveling warriors were responsible for the spread of Taek Kyon throughout Korea during the Silla dynasty, which lasted from A. D. 668. to A. D. 935. During this era, Taek Kyon remained primarily a sports and recreational activity designed to improve physical fitness (although it was nonetheless quite a formidable system of self-defense.) It was not until the Koryo dynasty, which began in 935 and lasted until 1392, that the focus of the art was changed. During this time, Taek Kyon became known as Subak, and during the reign of King Uijong (between the years of l147 and l170) it changed from a system designed primarily to promote fitness into a fighting art.
The first book widely available on the art was written during the Yi Dynasty (1397 to 1907) to promote the art among the population in general. Prior to this, the art had been restricted primarily to the military nobility. The publication of this book and the subsequent popularizing of the art among the general public were responsible for the survival of Subak during this era, for during the second half of the Yi dynasty, political conflict and the de-emphasis of military activities in favor of more scholarly pursuits led to a significant reduction in the practice of the art. Records of the practice of Subak are sparse during this time. The art again returned to its former role as a recreational and fitness activity, with the exception that now it was the general population which maintained the art and not the nobility. Subak as an art became fragmented and diffused throughout the country, and its practice continued to decline until only incomplete remnants remained. What limited knowledge there was of the art was handed down from one generation to the next within individual families that generally practiced it in secret.
It was not until 1909 that Korea's fighting arts experienced a marked resurgence, for in that year the Japanese invaded Korea, occupying the country for the next 36 years. During this time, the Japanese resident general officially banned the practice of all military arts for native Koreans. Ironically, this very act sparked a renewed growth of Subak. Patriots, fueled by a hatred of their subjugators, organized themselves into underground factions and traveled to remote Buddhist temples to study the martial arts. Still others left Korea to work and study in China and even Japan itself, where they were exposed to the fighting arts native to those countries. In Korea, Subak/Taek Kyon was kept alive through the efforts of a number of famous masters of the Korean fighting arts. Eventually, the underground nature of the martial arts in Korea changed when, in 1943, first Judo and then Karate and Kung-fu were officially introduced. The following two years saw a dramatic increase in interest in the martial arts throughout the country. But it was not until Korea's liberation in 1945 that its own fighting arts finally took root and began to flourish. For many years, a variety of Korean martial art styles existed throughout the country. These styles varied from one another according to the amount of influence each master had absorbed from the numerous Chinese and Japanese styles and the extent to which the native Subak/Taek Kyon had been modified over the years.
The first kwan ("school") to teach a native Korean style of martial art was opened in 1944 Seoul, Korea "Chung Do Kwan". Chung Do Kwan was created by SR. GRANDMASTER WON KUK LEE. Later in 1945, the Moo Duk Kwan and the Yun Moo Kwan also opened in Seoul. The following year, the Chang Moo Kwan followed by the Chi Do Kwan were founded. Seven other major schools were formed between 1953 and the early 1960s, the three most prominent being the Ji Do Kwan, the Song Moo Kwan and the oh Do Kwan, all of which were opened between 1953 and 1954. Although each of these schools claimed to teach the traditional Korean martial art, each one emphasized a different aspect of Tae Kyon/Subak and various named emerged for each system. Styles became known as Soo Ba.k Do, Kwon Bop, Kong Soo Do, Tae Soo Do and Dang Soo Do. There were also those who claimed to teach traditional Taek Kyon.
Dissension between the various kwans prevented the formation of a central regulating board for 10 years. Yet, during those years, the martial arts gained a strong foothold within the newly formed Korean Armed Forces (1945), with Taek Kyon becoming a regular part of military training. IN early 1946, masters of the art began teaching Taek Kyon to troops stationed in Kwang Ju. This set the foundation for the great turning point in the Korean martial arts in 1952. That year, at the height of the Korean War, President Syngman Rhee watched a half-hour demonstration by Korean martial arts master. Rhee was so impressed with what he saw that he ordered training in the martial arts to be adopted as part of regular military training. This single act was to have a far reaching effect on the Korean martial arts. Later that same year, a master was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for special training in radio communications. The master had been one of those to perform before President Lee, and Lee had taken special notice of his abilities prior to his assignment to the United States. During his stay in Georgia, the master demonstrated his art to both the military and the general public, further publicizing Korea's fighting art. In Korea, special commando groups of martial arts- trained soldiers were formed to fight against the communist forces of North Korea. The most famous of these special forces was known as the Black Tigers, who staged many espionage missions across the borders in hostile territory. Occasionally they performed assassinations. Many great martial artist lost their lives during this time, including the founders of the Chang Moo Kwan and the Yun Moo Kwan.
Following the end of the war in 1953, the Korean 29th Infantry Division was established on Che Ju island. This unit was responsible for all Taek Kyon training in the Korean Army. Two years later, on April 11, 1955, a meeting was convened to unify the various kwans under a common name. The name of Tae Soo Do was accepted by the majority of the kwan masters, who then agreed to merge their various styles for the mutual benefit of all schools. However, two years later the name was once again changed, this time to the familiar Tae Kwon Do. Chosen both because it accurately describes the nature of the art (comprised of both hand and foot techniques) as well as for its similarity to the art's early name Of Taek Kyon, Tae Kwon Do has been the recognized name for the Korean martial arts since that day. However, although most of the kwans merged under this common name, there were a few who did not. It has never been clear which of the original eight did in fact merge in 1955, but of those who did not, only Hapkido remains as a recognized separate art in itself. Yet, despite the historic merging, dissension between the kwans did not end at that meeting in 1955. Until the formation of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association on September 14, 1961, and indeed for a few years thereafter, there remained much animosity between the various masters.
The first leaders of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association saw the potential for the spread and growth of their art and used their authority to send instructors and demonstration teams all over the World, spreading the art to every continent. In Korea, the study of Tae Kwon Do spread rapidly from the army into high schools and colleges. Dojangs for the general public sprang up everywhere. Tae Kwon Do had begun to blossom. Within a very brief time, the art had developed such a reputation for being an effective fighting system that during the Vietnam liar, the South Vietnamese government requested instructors to train its troops. During the 1960s, thousands of Tae Kwon Do demonstrators performed around the world before fascinated governments, which with few exceptions followed up such exhibitions with calls for Korean instructors to teach in their countries. By the beginning of the 1970s, Tae Kwon Do had firmly established itself worldwide.
On May 28, 1973 a new, worldwide organization, the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF), was formed. Since that day, all Tae Kwon Do activities outside of Korea have been coordinated by the WTF, the only official organization recognized by the Korean government as an international regulating body for Tae Kwon Do. Also in May 1973, the first biennial World Tae Kwon Do Championships were held in Seoul as a prelude to the inauguration of the WTF. Since then, the world championships have been held in many countries around the world, including the United States, West Germany, South America and Denmark.
It was Tae Kwon Do's prominence in the circle of international sports which brought the art to the attention of the General Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF). GAISF is an association of all international sports, both Olympic and non-Olympic, with direct ties to the International Olympic Committee (ICC). Under the auspices of GAISF, Tae Kwon Do as a sport was introduced to the ICC, which recognized and admitted the WTF in July 1980. Following this initial contact, at the General Session of the ICC in May 1982, the crowning achievement of Tae Kwon Do as a sport came when the art was designated an official Demonstration Sport for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea.
In the short time since the inception of the WTF in 1973, Tae Kwon Do has grown with unprecedented rapidity as a worldwide sport. Today, Tae Kwon Do is one of only two martial arts systems (the other being Karate-do) to be practiced all over the world, boasting an international membership of more than 20 million practitioners in over 120 countries," making it the most practiced martial art style in the world.
Considering the unparalled growth of the art of Tae Kwon Do and its acceptance into the circle of Olympic sports, there seems little doubt that it will continue to enjoy its rapidly expanding popularity around the world. Tae Kwon Do is a highly complex system composed of many elements, and it is in this diverse nature where the true strength of the art lies.
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