Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that evolved by combining different styles of unarmed combat that existed in Korea over the last 2,000 years, both those indigenous to Korea, as well as those originating from countries surrounding Korea, especially China and Japan. During their long history, Asian states frequently waged war on one another and the mutual influence of their military cultures was inevitable. The first archeological findings, providing evidence for the existence of martial arts in Korea, i.e. mural paintings in the royal tomb of Muyong-chong (around 4th century AD) and the stone guardian statue in a typical martial art pose (Sok Kul An temple), date from the Three Kingdoms Period (roughly from 57 BC to 668 AD), a time of great cultural and political advance, but also of constant warfare between the kingdoms of Pekje, Koguryŏ and Silla struggling to control the Korean peninsula. This contributed to the growth of the military as an institution and the development of the ancient Korean martial arts, from whence we derive the first origins of taekwondo.
Koguryŏ was the largest of the Three Kingdoms, known for its fierce warriors, and it is believed that Tae kyon, the oldest Korean martial art mainly relying on foot fighting, originated here in the midst of constant war with the Chinese. Tae kyon spread from Koguryŏ to Silla, probably around 5th century AD, where it was adopted by The HwaRang (“Flowering Knights”), an elite military unit devoted to defending their kingdom to the death. They are often credited for having spread martial arts throughout the Korean peninsula. They received strong mental, physical and spiritual Buddhist training and were taught to serve as models of their culture and as chivalrous scholar-warriors. Their combat skill (also known as SooBak) was based upon the concept of the unity of opposites: blending of hard and soft, linear and circular attacks.
In the 7th century AD the Kingdom of Silla defeated the other two kingdoms and unified Korea. However, 200 years later, struggles ensued once again, and in 936 the Koryŏ dynasty (successors of Koguryŏ) emerged as the ruler of Korea. After the second unification, various martial arts schools of unarmed combat flourished in the Korean Peninsula. Martial arts became popular not only in the military, but also as a form of competitive sport. SooBak and Tae kyon contests were held at royal annual festivals. The winners gained high court offices and taught the styles to the military.
The amazing upheaval of the study of martial arts came to a stall during the Kingdom of Joseon (1392 – 1897). The Yi dynasty brought significant Chinese influence and Confucianism to Korea. Old martial arts based on Buddhism were neglected. A long period of peace brought a decline in the study of martial arts and military power. On the other hand, the new religion influenced cultural growth and promoted the studies of poetry, music, art and philosophy.
After the Japanese takeover in 1910, the practice of Korean martial arts was outlawed. During the 35 years of the Japanese occupation of Korea, Korean martial arts were preserved only because they were practiced in secret. Also, Japanese arts were introduced in Korea at the time: Kendo, Judo, Karate and Aikido. After Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945, their martial arts could once again freely develop. The first five martial arts academies to open in Korea following the end of the Japanese occupation are called the five kwans: Mooduk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Changmu Kwan, Chungdo Kwan, and Songmu Kwan. After the Korean War, students from the original five kwans began opening their own schools, and another four major schools were founded. Each school had their own style of teaching and a unique set of techniques.
In 1955, the delegates from the Nine Kwans organized a meeting to coordinate schools, standardize teaching methods and create a unified art. This is when the term “taekwondo” was first coined. Literally, it means “the way of the foot and fist”, or “an art of hand and foot fighting” (with ‘tae’ meaning ‘foot’ or ‘kick’, ‘kwon’ meaning ‘fist’ or ‘punch’, and ‘do’ meaning ‘way’ or ‘method’).
Taekwondo became an Olympic sport in 1992. Today, the World Taekwondo Federation takes care of the tradition and promotes taekwondo all around the globe. As a result, there are many people who gamble and win big.