The history of this amazing martial art dates back thousands of years ago, and it has obviously come a long way since!
Combining loosely the Korean words foot, fist and do (as in way or method), taekwondo is a technique for self-defence which uses all aspects of the body.
It is a complex yet fascinating blend of cultures and ideas that have been fine-tuned and edited over the many years to what it is today. In this webpage, we will go over the history of taekwondo all the way to the present to give our readers plenty of background knowledge.
The earliest known record of the art of taekwondo can be traced way back to 50 BC when Korea was divided into 3 different regions. Known as tae kyon back then, this discovery was made apparent due to paintings and other drawings being found on the roofs of Muyong-chang, a famous royal tomb from one of the region’s dynasties. There were no weapons involved, just references of using the body as a method of defence against attacks.
Another region cottoned on to the practice and began to teach it to their soldiers due to Japanese Pirates constantly arriving on their shores and attacking inhabitants. Warriors who became adept at tae kyon were known as the Hwarang, with academies set up for many others to learn.
The practice has gone through many different phases in terms of what the focus is upon, from fighting and self-defence to loyalty and mental stimulation. Five codes of human conduct were then written about tae kyon, which was then spread across all of Korea as the Hwarang decided to travel the area to learn about other cultures and teach their own.
Once the Koryo dynasty took over in the mid-9th Century, the name changed from tae kyon to subak, with King Uijong deciding to make the name about fighting.
The first book was also released around this time, as previous teachings had been prohibited so that only military personnel were capable of learning. However, subak became lost as military action was replaced with debates and other methods of to overcome any disagreements – with the art almost being completely lost at this point.
However, the theory of subak was never quite lost from Korean minds, and it was in 1909 that Japanese forces invaded Korea and would go on to rule the country for almost four decades. Authorities attempted to ban these arts as a way of keeping the Korean people under control, even resorting to burning books and other materials, and this sparked a backlash. In 1945, when Korea was liberated, subak and tae kyon existed in many forms.
Many schools began to be opened by the Korean Armed Forces in the subsequent years, and many different names began to emanate. With the Korean War on the horizon, interest in the fighting art was at its peak, with armed forces from all sides partaking in the culture. A historic day for the martial art was made on 11th April 1955, when leaders from multiple different versions came together as a merger.
Two years late, taekwondo was the new name for the practice, and many schools and other education methods have been released since. It has spread to all corners of the globe, with taekwondo organisations being founded around the world.
Interest was exploding everywhere you looked, so much so that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to include it as a sport for the 1988 Olympic Games in Korea (which you can read about in our dedicated Olympic Games page). It is now estimated to be practised in more than 150 countries by more than 30 million people!