History of Taekwon-Do


The martial arts have been practiced for thousands of years in all parts of the world. These arts have reached the highest level of development in the Orient, mainly Korea, Japan and China. Legend speaks of a Buddhist monk who traveled from India to China traveling several thousand miles alone over the Himalayan Mountains. His name was Boddhidarma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. He traveled to a Buddhist monastery in the Hunan Province called Shaolin, or "young forest." As Boddhidarma instructed the monks in his particular way of Buddhism, he also taught them a series of physical exercises designed to create physically strong bodies and mentally strong minds. His reasons was that how could they become spiritually strong if they were physically weak. This was about 1500 years ago in AD 525. The Shaolin legacy continued to develop into a more refined and technically efficient fighting art. Before the arrival of Boddhidarma, people practiced fighting tactics to defeat their enemies, but Zen Buddhism promotes the quest for enlightenment. These monks and nuns spent their time in meditation, pursuing intellectual studies and seeking perfection of character. The martial exercises became an integral part of this quest for the enlightened state, also called cosmic consciousness, oneness with the universe, samahdi, satori, nirvana, or spiritual perfection. As masters of Martial arts, these Zen Buddhists cultivated the ideas of honesty, respect, loyalty, and maintaining a code of selfless service..

In hopes of spreading Zen Buddhism, the monks and nuns traveled throughout China, Okinawa, Korea and Japan, thus not only spreading their spiritual teachings but their spectacular martial arts as well. To that end, traditional martial arts of today still maintain the focus of the development of the body, mind and spirit. This holistic philosophical approach separates the true martial arts from the increasingly prevalent martial "sport", which represents a thin veneer of the essence and depth of traditional martial arts. The true meaning of traditional martial arts training is to dedicate one's self to the discovery and use of full human potential. Martial arts, as art forms, are a way of life, a lifetime study and a means toward spiritual development.

As Zen Buddhism spread to Korea, these Shaolin techniques may have been incorporated into the indigenous martial arts of the time. It is likely that the Northern Chinese styles found their way to what is now called Korea, due to the emphasis on spectacular kicking techniques. Korea adapted these teachings such as Tae Kyun, Kwon Bup, Soo Bak Do, combined with indigenous arts into what eventually became known as Taekwon-Do.


Korea, the so-called "Hermit Kingdom", possesses a unique form of martial art called Taekwon-Do. Throughout Korea's colorful history, the special characteristics of the Korean people enabled them to survive as a distinct race and culture. A prime characteristic is their ability to adapt themselves to foreign ideas without sacrificing their own cultural identity. This enabled them to avoid being "swallowed up" by foreign powers of superior military strength.

To get a more clear idea of Korea's size, an analogy can be used. The peninsula of Korea to Mainland China can be compared to the state of Florida to the United States. The proximity of Korea to Japan is similar to that of the state of Florida to Cuba.

During the (6th / 7th century AD, the Korean peninsula was divided into three Kingdoms: Silla, Koguryu, and Baekje. Silla, the smallest of these Kingdoms was constantly under invasion and harassment by its two more powerful northern and western neighbors. During the reign of King Chinhung, the young aristocrats and warrior class formed an elite officer corps called Hwa Rang, which literally means "flowering youth." To guide themselves and to give purpose to their knighthood, they incorporated the following five-point code of conduct set forth by their country's most famous Buddhist monk and scholar, Won Kang Bopsa.

  1. Be loyal to your King (country)
  2. Be obedient to your parents
  3. Be honorable to your friends
  4. Never retreat in battle
  5. Make a just kill

With the instruction of the Buddhist faith, and this dynamic martial art, these warriors were to act as models of cultured and chivalrous warriors. Hwa Rang Do is translated as "way of flowering youth." The Hwa Rang therefore represented an elite warrior class with a strict moral and ethical code of justice. The legendary martial skills of the Hwa Rang stand as a predecessor of modern Taekwon-Do.

"They could spin kick at such speeds that their enemies frequently thought the feet of the Hwa Rang warriors were swords." - Joo Bang Lee, 1972

The spiritual strength they derived from their warrior code enabled them to attain feats of valor that became legendary . From the victories of Silla, the Korean peninsula became united for the first time in its history.

ome authorities suggest that the Japanese Bushido was adapted from Hwa Rang Do. Its samurai code of ethics and its adherence to strict spiritual warrior way of life serve as a striking similarity to the essence of the Hwa Rang warriors.

There is much evidence to support the existence of a form of hand and foot fighting during this period, in both Silla and Koguryu. A popular form of foot fighting ,called Soo Bak, was the original primitive art common among peasant farmers. During special holiday celebrations, usually of agricultural importance such as spring planting and autumn harvest, competitions of Soo Bak, Korean wrestling, tug of war, Taek Kyon, hopping contests, among other events, were held.

The Hwa Rang warriors added a new dimension to this national art of foot fighting by creating a unique military art and infusing the principles of the Hwa Rang warrior code. These new strict mental and physical elements elevated "foot fighting" to an elite art form.

Between the late 7th century and the early 8th century, because of the cohesive forces of Silla were crumbling, the Hwa Rang lost its military effectiveness. A rebel founded the "Later Paekche" in 892 AD and the son of a Silla king founded what he called the Later Koguryu. His successor changed the capital, moving it to Kaesong (then called Songdo) which is located just north of present day Seoul, the capital of the modern Republic of South Korea. This new king also shortened the ancient name of Koguryo to the Koryo, from which the modern name of Korea is derived. Less than 20 years later, Silla was overthrown and the new Koryo dynasty was born, ruling for over 450 years.

Overwhelming historical documentation suggest that Korean open hand fighting eventually found its way to Japan and formed the basis for Japanese Daito Ryo Aikijujutsu, the forerunner for Aikido, Jujitsu, Judo, and Korean Hapkido, created by Choi, Yong Sul and brought to the United States by his most senior and famous student, Bong Soo Han, President of the International Hapkido Federation.

Through Silla, the home of the Hwa Rang was overthrown, Hwa Rang chivalry endured even throughout the Koryo dynasty, serving as the driving force for unification of the Korean peninsula. The Koryo dynasty was overthrown in 1392, establishing the Yi dynasty. A new Confucian bureaucracy was established, criticizing Buddhism and its temples. The Buddhist lands were confiscated, their treasures sold abroad, and the many Buddhist sects were reduced to two main schools of Buddhism.

During the Yi dynasty (1392-1910), the martial arts and the Hwa Rang code fell into decline. The prevailing mentality was of "favoring the arts and despising arms." This policy led to the banishment of warriors and the warrior class with some taking refuge in Buddhist temples. There the arts were preserved in seclusion for centuries. By the end of the Yi dynasty, Korean martial arts appeared to have ceased to exist. The final blows came with Japanese occupation in 1910, when the practice of any of the martial arts was forbidden. Taek Kyon was still secretly practiced in the mountain temples, as the teachings were passed on from master to disciple in an unbroken line until the modern period. Bong Soo Han himself studied at one such mountain temple.

With Korea's liberation from Japan in 1945, the new Republic of Korea Armed forces was organized on January 15th, 1946, and a renewed interest in martial arts began to emerge.

In 1955, the instructors, historians and other prominent officials, including General Choi, Hong Hi, founder of the I.T.F. (International Taekwon-Do Federation), chose Taekwon-Do as the official name of the national martial art. The Korean Taekwon-Do Association was formed with General Choi, Hong Hi as its first president. The name was chosen for its apt description of the art: Tae (foot), Kwon (fist), Do (art, way, or discipline), and the name's close similarity to the ancient name of Taek Kyon, upon which 70 percent of the art is based. The other 30 percent is divided almost equally between Japanese Karate, and Chinese KungFu, though the philosophy and application of Taekwon-Do as a martial art is uniquely Korean.

After 1300 years, this Korean martial art has reached full maturity and has spread from a small band of aristocratic warriors to practitioners in more than 190 countries with thousands of students. The combination of the old classical techniques and new modifications has resulted in a form of self-defense and mental conditioning unrivaled in the modern world. Taekwon-Do, a truly modern martial art, with its roots in antiquity, has continually evolved to conform to the needs of modern civilization. The development of both the ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation) and WTF (World Taekwon-Do Federation) systems exemplify the continuing evolution of Taekwon-Do. In 1998, modern WTF Taekwon-Do was introduced to the world as a demonstration sport in the 24th Olympic games held in Seoul, South Korea.