Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Brief History of Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a sport with a long tradition reaching into ancient times. Seeing as this timeline is sometimes difficult to process with and without substantial reading, here is a general overview.

               Taekwondo has only "officially" existed since April 11, 1955. Although modern Taekwondo is a primarily kicking based form of combat, it draws influences from various Korean martial arts.

                       Korean martial arts were primarily grouped under the umbrella term of "Subak" (sometimes known as Yusul), a form of exercise and training available to the youth in the northern region of Korean kingdom known as Goguryeo, which ceased to exist sometime in the 7th century A.D. The combat part of Subak covered joint locks, kicks, throws, hand techniques, and ground fighting. Subak also included "taekkyon", a kicking-based fight-dance competition which shares certain similarities with modern Taekwondo.

   In order to become a soldier in the army of Goguryeo, one had to win three matches in competitive Subak tournaments. This training, coupled with the tough, unforgiving terrain of Northern Korea, helped form a powerful army that carved Guguryeo into a large empire spanning most of modern-day Korea, as well as parts of eastern Russia.

  To the south, a comparatively smaller kingdom known as the Silla (lasted until the 10th Century A.D) developed similar applications for martial arts. A small group known as the "Hwarang", an upper class social organization with academic and religious leanings, would evolve into a warrior elite known for archery, horsemanship, and sword-based martial arts. The Hwarang would prove inspiration for the martial art that is known as Hwarang-Do today.

Throughout the next few hundred years, Korean martial arts continued to develop with hints of Chinese influence. However, it would not prove as radical of a shift as the Japanese occupation of Korea.

 On the 22 of August, 1910, Japan officially annexed Korea into its empire. Korean martial arts were suppressed in an attempt to bring Japanese culture to Korea. Japanese culture would include Japanese martial arts, such as Karate, which was widely taught in Korea during the occupation. This is the reason why many Karate techniques, especially blocks, are seen in modern Taekwondo forms. Japanese arts such as judo and jiujitsu also gained popularity among the Korean youth, leading to these arts being  incorporated into previous Korean arts.

After 1945 and the withdrawal of Japanese military forces, Korean martial artists grouped together across the country in an attempt to revive the martial arts that had come close to extinction under Japanese rule. Under these practitioners, the five original "kwans" (martial arts schools)came into existence.

Song Moo Kwan
Chung Do Kwan
Chang Moo Kwan
Moo Duk Kwan
Yun Moo Kwan

 During the Korean War, the South Korean president ordered these kwans, as well as the four more that had formed by that time, to unify and create a fighting system that could be taught to the South Korean military. This proved an excellent opportunity to unify and regulate the Korean martial arts under one banner. This unified sport would be known as Taekwondo.

In the last fifty years, Taekwondo has soared in popularity, becoming an official Olympic sport in 2000, with an estimated 70 million registered practitioners worldwide.

Taekwondo athletes have formed many organizations across the world, each with their own rules and regulations. Taekwondo is now practiced in many armed forces around the globe, including U.S military branches and both Korean armies.


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