History of Taekwondo


A more detailed history of the development of Tae Kwon Do is present-ed atKukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Headquarters, website.

Since 1972, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) has been the official governing body for the sport. Its history is provided on the WTF website.

Early Koreans developed unique martial art forms for unarmed self-defense to complement their skills with weapons. The first recorded evidence of what was to become modern Tae Kwon Do is about two thousand years old. A mural painting depicting figures practicing martial arts techniques was found in a warrior’s tomb. Historians estimate the tomb was constructed sometime between 3 and 427 A.D. In addition, historical records from the Koguryo Kingdom (37 BC to 668 AD) mention the practice of marital arts techniques and tournaments.

The Sonbae were a group of warriors formed to protect Koguryo from hostile kingdoms. The Sonbae were best described by the meaning of the word itself, “a man of virtue who never recoils from fighting”. Historians believe that the Sonbae practiced Taekkyon, a predecessor of Tae Kwon Do. Artifacts from the Chosun dynasty explain that Sonbaes were students of history and literary arts at home and spent a great deal of time constructing roads and fortresses, thus always devoting themselves to the improvement of their nation, both materially and intellectually.

The Silla Dynasty (57 BC to 935 AD) had its own version of the Koguryo’s Sonbae. These warriors were called the Hwarang, which translates to “Flower Knight”, and were established in 537 AD by King Jin Heung. The Hwarang, whose greatest accomplishment was helping to unify the Korean peninsula, also practiced Taekkyon. Their instructor, Won Kwang Bupsa, wrote the Sesokokye describing the principles that all Hwarang committed to living by. Though they evolved over time, these principles are still the core of the Tae Kwon Do philosophy today.

A large tribe detached itself from the Koguryo Kingdom forming the Baekjae Kingdom (18 BC to 600 AD) and created their own band of warrior protectors called Soo Sa. The Baekjae were also known for their fighting contest festivals called SooByeokTa, where the winner was sometimes rewarded with a leadership position in the military or in one of the kingdom’s villages.

The three kingdoms were united when Silla conquered Koguryo and Baekjae, but their conquest created instability and the new government soon disbanded. Meanwhile, descendents from the former Koguryo kingdom were able to band together and eventually reunite the kingdoms under the Koryo dynasty (918 AD to 1392).

All military personnel practiced martial arts during the Koryo Dynasty. Competitions were even used as a means for rank promotion. Naturally, rules and judging standards were established for these competitions and many scholars consider this the birth of the sport Tae Kwon Do. The popularity of these contests eventually spread to the public and were called Subakki. As Koryo began to trade with countries from around the world, the name Korea was adopted by traders, many of which were fascinated by Subakki and helped further spread its popularity.

The final dynasty of Korea was the Chosun (or Yi) Dynasty (1392 to 1910), during which the cultural focus shifted from the martial arts to literary arts. In 1790, at the height of the dynasty, the first volume of an important martial arts textbook was published. It was called the Mooya Doba Tongjee, and its fourth volume contained illustrations of hand techniques that are nearly identical to the poomse of modern Tae Kwon Do.

The Chosun Dynasty fell in 1910 when Japan invaded Korea and suppressed many cultural aspects that had been practiced for centuries, including the Subakki and Taekkyon contests. However, these martial art forms continued in secret until 1945 when the Japanese were defeated in World War II. By this time, several Kwans (schools) had developed and, in April 1955, were united under the name Tae Soo Do, which was later changed to Tae Kwon Do.

In 1965, under the direction of General Choi Hong-hi, theKorean Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA) was established. Soon after, plans for an international branch were initiated, but before these plans could come to fruition, the southern government was seized and General Choi fled to the United States. There he formed the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) as in an independent organization. In 1973, the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association changed its name to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF), finally making its debut as an Olympic sport in 2000.

In general the ITF is considered to be the more traditional form of Tae Kwon Do, placing more emphasis on poomse, while the WTF focuses more on full-contact sparring. In addition, General Choi developed the poomse forms used by the ITF, whereas the WTF uses the Palgwes and Tae Keuks. Attempts have been made to unite the ITF and WTF, but the two organizations currently remain independent.


TAE KWON DO can trace its origins back nearly 2000 years to the Korean Peninsula. Before the use of gunpowder, Taekwondo was a critical skill for military combat in Korea. For hundreds of years, Taekwondo was passed among masters of the art. After World War II, Taekwondo became much more popular in Korea and has led to our present day understanding of Taekwondo.

The Taekwondo spirit takes the basic instinct of person to protect one’s self from an outside force with bare-hand fighting and has created a systematic system of moves. This system can be described as an art. The Taekwondo spirit emphasizes loyalty, courage, ethics, learning, and acting. These combine to bring peace to the Taekwondo practitioner. Taekwondo always strives to bring unity.

Taekwondo has many benefits for the human body. As with any physical activity, Taekwondo can improve performance of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Taekwondo also serves to improve the body’s response to commands of the central nervous system. Taekwondo serves to build a person’s strength in at least 6 areas. These include physical strength, power, agility, balance, flexibility, and endurance.

As the Taekwondo practitioner improves their physical body, this builds their mental confidence. As the student of Taekwondo advances in their training, the coordination of mind and their complete body yields a more unified person. It is our belief that Taekwondo increases sociability, enhances focus, garners an attitude of  respect, builds physical endurance, creates confidence, and develops leadership.

The Taekwondo experience is a growth experience. Just as a young child has physical and motional development, as does the Taekwondo student develops in their physical and motional abilities. Taekwondo also serves to improve social development, emotional development, and intellectual development. It is never too late to start Taekwondo. The young and old can grow through the Taekwondo experience.

The Taekwondo spirit is one that seeks unity in all aspects of life. It is the hope that the unity and balance found in Taekwondo will permeate the student’s life and their relationship with family, friends, and all that they may encounter.


It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For the student who wishes to train in Tae Kwon Do, that step is respect. It is the step which begins the training journey, and which will accompany him throughout his progress as a student. And in time, he will be able to turn and show others how to take that first, most crucial step.

Respect is learned through action. Psychologist Paul Pearsall has observed that motivation follows behavior, it does not precede it. So even a beginning Tae Kwon Dostudent bows to the flag and his seniors as he enters the do-jang. He may be uncomfortable at first, feeling a bit awkward and unsure of the reason for such a tradition. But in time the action becomes natural — so much so that he would feel something was missing if he did not bow. The motivation to show respect grows within the student. Through the bow he communicates silently with his instructor and fellow students that he is making the connection with the tradition, the art, and the history of Tae Kwon Do.

Respect is also learned through focusing on common courtesy. The beginning student may wonder at such rules as keeping his nails well-clipped and not wearing jewelry in the do-jang. He may not understand the importance of keeping his uniform clean and neat. But the student who makes the effort to obey these rules will discover something growing within himself: respect for himself, his school, his instructor, and Tae Kwon Do as a whole. These rules were never intended to teach respect themselves, but they do set up the guidelines necessary for a courteous mindset to develop.

Another way the student learns respect is through the step-by-step process of rank promotion. With each promotion the student feels a sense of accomplishment that fosters pride. His confidence increases which develops self-respect. Over the months and years of his training, he discovers talents within himself that he would have never dreamed existed. He begins to see himself as someone of value, with something real to contribute to others. And he begins to feel a desire to help others, seeing in them the same potential he discovered within himself. Self-respect nurtures a healthy respect for others. While rank promotion only seems to serve the individual student, his entire school actually reaps the benefit of his accomplishment.

Our country was founded on respect. The very wording of our Declaration of Independence reflects a deep respect for each man’s rights, as well as the necessary positions of authority. But for too many years respect towards people and property has been declining in our country. What it boils down to is people today seem have the desire to be the authority, not to be subject to it. But life simply will not support too many “chiefs” in one tribe. The fact of the matter is that while we each have rights which must be respected, we also have leaders which must be respected. Submitting to authority is not a sign of weakness, it is demonstration of strength. When the moon tries to shine while the sun is in the sky, it frequently goes unnoticed. Only at night — in the sun’s absence — does it receive admiration.

Ultimately, the student of Tae Kwon Do will find it is his turn to teach respect to the newest students He will learn quickly that respect is not instructed, but demonstrated. Any teacher who does not respect his students cannot expect his students to respect him. Respect is contagious. To teach it best, show it.

Respect is one of the foundational principles of Tae Kwon Do. Through our Tae Kwon Do training, our hope is that our students are learning healthy respect for themselves, their school, and authority.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.  Romans 13:1-2


The origin of Ji Do Kwan can be traced back to one of 8 major schools of Taekwondo in Korea. Ji Do Kwan distinguished itself from other schools by their sparring abilities.  The movements of Ji Do Kwan are more fluid than other styles that emphasize more rigid actions.

The Ji Do Kwan symbol consists of 3 circles. A circle represents wholeness, since there is no beginning and end. The large outer circle represents the universe. Within the outer circle, the larger circle represents Earth and the smaller circle represents life on earth. All of these circles are interconnected.

The Ji Do Kwan symbol  outer edge is represented by a flower with eight petals. It is unknown which flower is represented, but each petal points to the center. Each petal represents on of the “Eight Manners of Solemnity.”  The number eight is also symbolic of balance and harmony, organization and personal success.

The colors red and blue have significance to the meaning of the Ji Do Kwan symbol. Red is the color of energy and power, courage and attention. Blue is for peace, calm and friendship. Placed together they create balance and harmony.


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