Book a Seminar
Support This Site
Join the Association
|Have the natkd.com
instructors teach a seminar at your location.
||Keep natkd.com a free
and growing resource. Suggested donation = $20
||Are you an student or
instructor looking for a Martial Arts Organization to join?
The history of fighting arts
is as old as man kind and literally began with the first altercation
primitive man had with another man or the need to defend himself from a beast. While there is value in
the historical roots of the martial arts there is a point where it is
impossible to trace its origins to the original source.
There is much debate over
the true source of traditional martial arts whether they originated from
India, China, Japan, or even the famous Shaolin temples. Each of
these countries, the Shaolin temple and many other entities has contributed
the growth of the martial arts. For one style, country or organization to
argue with another over what the true roots of the martial arts are is as
silly as two fleas fighting over who owns the dog that they both live on.
Korea's geographic position
as an Asian nexus between China and Japan has caused Korea to be influence by
many Asian cultures. Korea was periodically invaded by the Chinese,
Japanese, Manchurians and Mongols. The fact that Koreans have been able
to retain so much of their culture and identity is a strong testament the
fortitude and resolve of the Korean people.
Korea and its
Ancient Martial Arts
Korea has a long martial
arts history. In 1935 Japanese archaeologists exploring the Tung-hua
province of Manchuria discovered tombs dating back to the 10th
Kingdom of Koguryo. Murals on the ceilings of the Kak-Je and Myong-chong
temple depict figures in fighting postures. The Sok Kul An Buddist cave
temple is guarded by a statue of Kumgang Yuksa, a famed warrior who served
during the reign of King Hye-Gong, also stands in a martial arts pose.
These depictions of ancient martial poses gives testament to the fact that
martial arts and fighting technique go back to ancient times in Korea.
The early history of the
Korean peninsula is a ubiquitous blend of tribal warfare and invasion by
peoples to the north. There are few facts, but some artifacts from this
period. Early Chinese records indicate some early tribal peoples. In 109
BC the Chinese invade northern Korea and establish a measure of control
over the Korean peninsula for 400 years. During this period of Chinese
influence, many of the local tribes unified to form the Koguryo Kingdom
under King T’aejo. The Koguryo were said to be a nation of fierce warlike
The 4th century
AD is known as the time of the three kingdoms, Koguryo, Silla, and Baek Je
respectively. There are artifacts from this period indicating that the
Koreans may have practiced ancient form of the Chinese martial art Kwonbop.
By the end of the seventh century AD the Korean peninsula was unified
under the Silla Kingdom.
Silla’s success was
partially due to its military class. During this time an elite
paramilitary youth group known as the Hwarang flourished. The primary
goal of the Hwarang was to nurture and develop the talent of young upper
class males. The Hwarang were organized on a local basis with a defined
social and rank structure and were a national example for morality and
spirit. They learned traditional values such as communal living,
friendship, and mutual understanding through training in the arts of
military tactics, poetry, music and many others. During the unification
wars the Hwarang were noted as fierce warriors displaying not only skills
in military tactics but also proficiency in the martial arts, such as
wrestling, Soo Bak-Gi, and Taekyon (ancient kicking based martial arts
adapted from games).
The Hwarang were given five
precepts for secular life by the Buddhist monk Won’gwang:
Serve your lord with loyalty.
Serve your parents with filial piety.
Use good faith in your communication with friends.
Face battle without retreating.
When taking life, be selective.
The peace that followed
diminished the need of the Hwarang as a military organization. The
organization the began to focus more on the development of arts.
In 936 AD the Silla Dynasty
fell to the Koryo (an abbreviation of Koguryo) Dynasty under the
leadership of strong war-lord named Wang Kon. The modern name of Korea is
derived from the Koryo Dynasty. During the Koryo Dynasty Soo Bak regained
popularity as a sport.
The Koryo Dynasty lasted
until the 13th Century and became a participant in the Mongols
activities on conquest. Koryo was used as a launching ground for the
Mongols attacks against Japan which were ultimately thwarted by heavy
By the 14th
Century the Chinese Ming Empire began expand into Koryo Dynasty as the
Mongols withdrew. Yi Songgye came into power in Koryo in 1392; Buddhism
was replaced by Confusionism as the official religion of the dynasty.
Confucianism’s emphasis on classical Chinese thinking, which down played
the more physical aspects of life and encouraged music, reading, poetry
and other classical arts suffocated the development Korean Martial Arts.
The Yi Dynasty lasted until
1910 when Korea was annexed by Japan. The final King of the Yi Dynasty
sat on the throne for a mere 24 days before the new treaty with Japan
stripped him of all power. The Japanese undertook immediate efforts to
subdue the Korean people. The Korean language press was immediately
banned. Japanese became a compulsory subject in all schools. Much of
Korean culture was frowned upon or banned including Korean martial arts.
When Japan entered World War II, many Koreans especially those living in
Japan were impressed into military service.
Near the end of the war,
the United States invaded Korea to push back the Japanese and to gain
control the post-war occupation of the Southern Korean Peninsula. In 1948
Korea was divided into the Republic of Korea (South), with Syngman Rhee as
President under American control and the Democratic People’s Republic of
Korea (North) under Soviet control. Both North and South Korea claimed
rights to all of Korea. In 1950 the North Korean Military invaded South
Korea beginning the Korean War which lasted until July 27th,
The Birth of Tae Kwon Do
Even though the Japanese
banned the study of Korean Martial Arts, many Koreans practiced arts such
as Soo Bak and TaeKyon in secret. During the occupation many Koreans
studied Japanese Martial Arts.
Although generally banned
by the occupying Japanese, the Korean Martial Arts of Soo Bak, Tae Kyon,
Kong Soo and Hwa Soo and others survived by being practiced in secret,
whilst in later years, the Japanese martial arts were often learnt by
Koreans from their invaders. Tae Kyon was secretly practiced and passed
onto a handful of students by men like Han Il Dong and Duk Ki Song.
Another student of the outlawed arts was Hwang Kee, the future founder of
Tang Soo Do and the Moo Duk Kwan (martial arts School). By the age of 22,
Kee had become expert in Soo Bak and Tae Kyon and in 1936 he travelled to
Northern China to study the "T'ang method". He then worked until 1945 to
combine the Korean and Chinese styles into Tang Soo Do (the way of T'ang
The original meaning of the
term Karate was "T'ang Hand", Te meaning hand and Kara an ideogram to
describe the Chinese T'ang. In 1936, Okinawan Masters got together at the
behest of a newspaper to change the ideogram Kara to the one meaning
"empty", as it has the same pronunciation. In the later part of the
Japanese occupation many Koreans went to Japan to further their education
and to learn Martial Arts. One of these was Choi Yong-I, born in Korea in
1923 and started studying Korean Kempo at the age of nine. He went to
Japan in 1938 to study aviation using the name Masutatsu Oyama but put
more of his energies into the study of Karate to become, many decades
later, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate.
Another Korean, Choi Hong
Hi, went to Kyoto, Japan in 1937 to study calligraphy. Choi had been
studying calligraphy and Tae Kyon in Korea under Han Il Dong and upon
arrival in Japan he started to study Shotokan Karate as a student of a
Korean named Kim, and after two years of intensive training he was
presented with a first Dan Black Belt in Shotokan. He then went onto Tokyo
University where he gained his second Dan and became an instructor at the
YMCA. During WW 2, whereas Oyama stayed in Japan, Choi was forced to
enlist in the Japanese army and was posted to Pyongyang in Korea where he
became involved in the Korean Independence Movement, resulting in his
imprisonment. Until his liberation at the end of the war he practiced and
developed much of his martial art, later to be named Tae Kwon Do.