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Tae Kwon-Do: The Martial Art and its History

Literally translated, Tae means “to kick” or “smash with the feet”, Kwon means “to punch with the fists” and Do means “way” or “method.” This, Tae Kwon Do is the art of fighting with the feet and fists.

Tae Kwon Do evolved from the earlier form of Korean martial art called Taekkyeon. Some of the earliest of Korea’s historical records indicate that tribes of the Silla dynasty were practicing a system of wrestling, of which Sumo wrestling in Japan later originated, as well as the bare hand and foot system of Taekkyeon. During the 4th century, the Hwarang youth group, who were warriors characterized by determination, simplicity, honesty, honour, bravery and loyalty to their state was formed. The Hwarang group adopted the fighting system of Taekkyeon and proved its technique during and throughout great periods of the 5th and 6th centuries to be effective in battle. During these times, the fighting skills of Taekkyeon were developed and perfected by the Hwarang group. However, the Hwarang could not only fight using the style of Taekkyeon and expect their traditions to last. In the early 7th century, the principle of the Hwarang were incorporated into the Hwa Rang ogye (Five Secular Commandments) written by the Buddhist monk and scholar Master Wong’gwang. The five principles read: Loyalty to the King, filial piety, sincerity in relations to friends, not to retreat in battles, and selectively in the killing of living things. These were the major steps and roots to the development of early Tae Kwon-do.


It was not until the independence of Korea in 1945 that Kae Kwon-Do reached its present level of development when techniques of Taekkyeon were combined with the basic philosophies and code of Harmony and the HwaRang Ogye. Since then, Tae Kwon-Do has overcome many modern obstacles, mainly those of politics on every level, to rapidly develop into today’s most practical, explosive and culturally rich martial art.


Well over two thousand years ago, when Kyoungju was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, in what is now Korea, two giants were carved on the tower wall of a Buddhist temple. The giants are facing each other assuming a fighting stance as if they were practicing a martial art. These giants undoubtedly represent the early developments of the modern art of fighting known today as Taekwondo.
Ancient Taekwondo Tournament records show that Taekwondo was practiced as early as about 50 BC. During this time, Korea was divided into three Kingdoms: Silla, Koguryo and Baekche. Paintings on the ceiling of the Muyong-chong, a royal tomb from the Koguryo dynasty, provide us with evidence of the practice of Taek Kyon, the earliest known form of Taekwondo. These as well as other paintings show unarmed combat using techniques that resemble those of modern Taekwondo, specifically the use of the knife hand, fist and classical fighting stances.


Although Taekwondo first appeared in the Koguryo kingdom, it is Silla’s warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who are credited with the growth and spread of the art throughout Korea. Out of the three kingdoms, Silla was the first to be formed but it remained the smallest and less civilized. Silla’s coastline was constantly under attack by Japanese pirates. King Gwahggaeto, the 19th monarch in the Koguryo dynasty line, sent armed forces to help his neighbouring kingdom fight the pirates. It was at this time that Taek Kyon was first introduced to Silla’s warriors class, taught directly and in secret to a few Sillan warriors by early masters of the art.