In the latest of our brief history articles we’re going to take a look at Taekwondo – the Korean striking martial art known for its crazy spinning and head kicks. While only recently developed, it has quickly risen in popularity and has become an easily recognisable Olympic sport, as well as being utilised by MMA fighters such as Edson Barboza, Anderson Silva and Anthony Pettis.
Taekwondo is young as far as martial arts go, being developed in the 1940’s and 50’s through the work of several martial artists. The originators of Taekwondo took elements of Karate and the Chinese Martial Arts, and combined them with the Korean martial arts of Taekkyeon (which focuses on dynamic footwork and striking), Subak (another dynamic martial art that Taekkyeon developed from) and Gwonbeop (a Korean version of one of the Chinese martial arts).
In 1945, after the Japanese Imperial occupation of Korea ended new martial arts schools began to open in Seoul, known as Kwans. At these schools Korean martial artists taught various techniques they had learned in Japan during the occupation. The early Taekwondo taught in the Kwans in the 40’s and 50’s are often grouped under the umbrella term of ‘Traditional Taekwondo’, despite the fact that they were all unique styles of martial arts. The South Korean MIlitary adopted Taekwondo as their unarmed combat discipline around this time, which boosted it’s popularity with the masses significantly.
It was in 1952, following a military demonstration, that the South Korean President Syngman Rhee suggested that the different styles should be combined, and in 1955 the Kwan leaders began to work together to create a unified style of Korean martial arts. Initially the style was known as Tae Soo Do, from the Korean Tae for ‘stomp’ or ‘trample’, Su meaning ‘Hand’ and Do meaning ‘Way’ or ‘Discipline’. The Su was eventually replaced with Kwon, at the suggestion of the Korean Army General Choi Hong Hi, which means ‘Fist’.
The first Taekwondo federation was founded in 1959, the Korea Taekwondo Association. In 1966 General Choi founded the International Taekwon-Do Federation (Choi is somewhat controversially labelled as the ‘Father of Taekwondo’ by some organisations, whilst others see him as an unimportant or even dishonourable figure). Both federations sought to develop a common, unified style of Taekwondo. This was complicated by the Cold War politics of the 60’s and 70’s, the South Korean Government wanted to limit the influence of the North Koreans on the sport, whilst General Choi and the ITF sought support from anywhere they could receive it. In 1973 the South Koreans withdrew their support from the ITF, which relocated its headquarters to Toronto, and in the early 2000’s split into three organisations which all operate under the same name.
Also in 1973 the South Korean Government founded the Kukkiwon as the new national academy of for Taekwondo, and the World Taekwondo Federation was created with the specific purpose of promoting Taekwondo as an international sport. The WTF uses the Kukkiwon style of Taekwondo, which often gets referred to as the WTF-Style (or either Sport-Style or Olympic-Style) Taekwondo, even though it is a style defined by the Kukkiwon rather than the WTF.
Since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Taekwondo has been one of only two Asian martial arts (the other being Judo) which are featured in the Olympic Games after it was a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Games. In 2010 Taekwondo was accepted as a Commonwealth Games sport.