"A National Sport, Taekwondo”-Proclaimed by Korean President Park Chung Hee in 1971


What is Tae Kwon Do?  

Taekwondo is a 2000 year old Korean martial art, the national sport and martial art of Korea.  Originally known as Taekyon, Taekwondo has been used throughout Korean history to protect the Korean peninsula from invading Chinese and Japanese armies. Today it is a dynamic form of self-defense and physical fitness, excellent for women and children and people of all ages. Men and women from eight to eighty have reaped the benefits of Taekwondo. Taekwondo will also be an official sport at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Tae Kwon Do was at first called "Taekyun", or Kicking and Punching, and was used almost 2000 years ago during the Three Kingdoms Period by the Korean knights, or Hwarang. The Hwarang Knights of the Kingdom of Silla were the Korean equivalent of the medieval European knights, following a code of chivalry morally grounded in Buddhism. The purpose of the training, however, was Confucian-service to the Government and King. The Hwarang were skilled in many areas of combat, including archery, horseback riding, weaponry, wrestling, swordsmanship, and taekyon. It should be noted however, there was never a single martial art called Hwarangdo, instead several arts practiced by the Hwarang knights

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After the three Korean Kingdoms unified, taekyon became known as subak. Subak was practiced extensively by the Korean military in what is known as the Middle Period. This period lasted from approximately 800 A.D to 1476 A.D. It was at this time that subak became one of the most effective martial arts the world had seen, practiced by the military and the common people alike, both as a military form of self defense and popular recreation. Several stories were written concerning subak matches, a precursor to modern free fighting, and the King was reputed to have enjoyed watching subak contests.

Unfortunately, by the late 15th Century, a cultural rot had set in. Korean society became converted to Confucianism, which extolled civility, scholarship, and government service. Social recreation was frowned upon, and subak in particular was seen as an activity unfit for proper citizens. The once popular martial sport was relegated to a few adherents who kept the art alive. The final nail in the coffin was the invasion of Korea by Japan in 1910, and the subjugation of its citizens, who were forced to adapt Japanese ways. Subak was only practiced by a few die hard students in secrecy for fear of execution as the practice of native Korean martial arts was outlawed.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, native Korean martial arts began to resurface. The first of these was the Chung Do Kwan (School of the Pure Way) under Won Kuk Lee in 1944. Even today, Won Kuk Lee is considered by many the true founder of modern Korean Taekwondo, the man from whom all others flow. As the years passed, other schools developed such as Moo Duk Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan, Oh Duk Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, and others.

It was during this time, from the late 40's until the early 60's, that what would become known as Tae Kwon Do would be called a variety of names-Tang Soo Do (Way of the China Hand), Tae Soo Do (Way of the Foot and Hand), Kong Soo Do (Way of the Empty Hand), Soo Bahk Do, depending on what kwan one studied under as well as the Instructor's background. It was not until the 1960's and the advent of the KTA that the term "Tae Kwon Do" became universally accepted by the various kwans as the term for the Korean national martial art.

Interestingly, Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee originally titled his art Hwa Soo Do (Way of the Flowering Hand), but enrolled few students due to the unfamiliarity of the name. After he received permission from other Instructors to call his art Tang Soo Do, a more widely known name, his school began to grow.

Author's note: Recently, officials with the Song Moo Kwan have advanced the notion that their style was in fact the original kwan. While there is evidence to show that Song Moo Kwan did start in 1943, it lasted only briefly before closing. Despite several attempts to restart it in the late 40's-early 50's, the poor condition of the Korean economy prevented a successful restarting. It was not until the mid-50's that Song Moo Kwan was able to successfully re-open. Because of this, it is the opinion of this author that the first true kwan remains Chung Do Kwan.

The literal meaning of “Taekwondo” is: Tae...’Kicking, jumping, or using the feet’; Kwon...’Striking or using the hands’; Do...’ A Way or Path through life’. Taekwondo is therefore “ the Way or Art of striking with the hands and feet.” It is a martial art that promotes physical, mental, and spiritual growth through life, respect to elders, helping the less fortunate, and betterment of one’s community.
Taekwondo is currently the most popular martial art in the world, practiced in 165 countries.
There are two primary governing bodies for Tae Kwon Do worldwide: The World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF), led by Dr. Un Yong Kim, and the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF), founded by the late Gen. Hong Hi Choi. However, only the WTF is recognized by the Korean government. For this reason, and due to its involvement in the Olympics, World Games, and the World Tae Kwon Do Championships, the WTF is considered politically the more powerful of the two.

There are currently nine Gup and nine Dan ranks authorized by the WTF, along with nine Gup-level and nine Dan-level forms. Why nine?

At the founding of the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA), there were nine recognized styles of Tae Kwon Do.

The Kukkiwon, WTF world headquarters; Seoul, Korea

The uniform of Taekwondo is the white wraparound dobok, similar to a karate gi, symbolizing purity of mind and action. However, it is customary among Dan holders in the World Taekwondo Federation to wear a pullover dobok with a black V-neck collar. Black synbolizes the dignity of the black belt, while a pullover top is more difficult to wrench open in sparring. Finally, the uniform for Dan holders below the age of 16 is the V-neck with a red and black collar.

It should be noted: it has become fashionable for modern Instructors to forego the traditional uniform of Taekwondo in favor of garish displays of black, red, blue, and gold, or combinations of the above, with a multitude of patches, and ever fancier belts. One should not be lead to believe that such Instructors are representative of true Taekwondo, for they most certainly are not.


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