Human communities throughout the world developed skills in unarmed combat in order to ward off attackers. With time, the different communities developed their own characteristic styles that emphasized different techniques. Communities continued to refine skills in unarmed combat well after the development of firearms and other advanced weapons. Skills were developed both as a defense against attack and for recreation and physical development. The area now known as the Korean peninsular is thought to have been first founded when peoples migrated there from Mongolia. The earliest records of Korean communal life date back to 2333 BC and refer to dance, music and games of a martial nature.
PERIOD OF THREE KINGDOMS
Korea developed into three kingdoms, Goguryo (37 BC to 668 AD) was established in the north of the peninsula, extending into southern and western Manchuria; Baekje (18 BC to 660 AD) was spread around the Han River Basin in the central and western section of the peninsula; Shilla (57 BC to 936 AD) covered the southeast along the Nagdong River. It was Shilla that unified the peninsula by defeating the other two kingdoms.
The costumes of the time, in peacetime and in wartime, consisted of loose trousers and a jacket held together for convenience with a tie belt. This clothing very closely resembles the Taekwondo and Judo suits of today. The dress of all three kingdoms was very similar. In Baekje the military rank of officers was shown by a series of colored belts, as is the practice in martial arts today. The early martial arts schools, or kwon in Korea, were known by a variety of names during the course of history, among them we find Subak, Taekwon, Kwonbaek and Harando.
GOGURYO (37 BC to 668 AD)
The earliest records of the ancient Martial Arts of Korea were discovered in 1935 by Japanese archaeologist Tatashi Saito when he excavated tombs in Manchuria at the site of the ancient Goguryo capital Tungku. Murals in the ceilings of the tombs depict women dancing and two men practicing what is obviously an early form of Taekwondo. Another tomb from the Goguryo period, the Sambo Chong, depicts a man in a costume strikingly similar to toady’s Taekwondo suit demonstrating a pose characteristic of Taekwondo, with one hand blocking downward and another upward. In yet another tomb, Gakchu Chong, two men are shown wrestling. The use of figures depicting Taekwondo in such murals testifies to Taekwondo having been well established as a popular activity and having been very much a part of the life of those times. The murals also demonstrate that warriors and noblemen as well as farmers and peasants practiced Taekwondo.
BAEKJE (18 BC to 660 AD)
Both the “History of the Three Kingdoms” and the “Sui China Chronicles” make reference to the patronizing of the martial arts by the Baekje Kings. Records indicate that King Onto, King Ahsin and King Biryu were among those who encouraged the popular practice of horse riding, archery, Taekwondo and Sirium (traditional Korean wrestling) this is further substantiated in a folk tale of the period originating in the province of North Cholla. The tale recounts how provincial contests were held in stone throwing and also “Subak Hui”, which as the tale tells, was an ancient art of self defense using both arms and legs.
SHILLA (57 BC to 935 AD)
In its earliest history the kingdom of Shilla was the weakest of the three kingdoms. Apart from the fact that it was established later than Baekje and Goguryo it had neither the vast territory nor population of Goguryo nor the richer economy of Baekje. Moreover hostile neighbors surrounded it. All of these circumstances aroused an aggressive sense of patriotism and led to the inception of the Hwarangdo warrior system that embodied high moral standards. When the kingdom of Shilla conquered Baekje and Goguryo in the 7th century the basis of its military power was the Hwarangdo warrior system. The Hwarang were drawn from the youth of noble families and they underwent both physical and philosophical training cultivating the martial spirit of “Hwarangdo”. The use of violence without morality was frowned upon and the virtues if charity, generosity and compassion as well as humanitarian ideals were held in high esteem. An old Korean proverb says, “A man without charity may conquer a nation, but never the world.” Another says, “the sturdiest man is also the most modest”. The following five ethical precepts were followed by the Hwarangdo:
There is evidence that an early form of Taekwondo was included in the curriculum. At the entrance to the Sakguram Grotto in the Bulguksa temple in Kyongju are relief carvings in stone dating back to the seventh century, which show two warriors both in typical Taekwondo stance. These figures are known as “Gumgang Yoksa” or “Warriors of Golden Strength”. In the modern Taekwondo syllabus, Pumsei Gumgang takes its name from this figure, as does the movement Gumgang Makgi that is featured in it. Further evidence of Taekwondo having been practiced by the Hwarangdo is found scattered throughout the Samguk Yusa, which are among the oldest historical documents dealing with this period.
GORYO (918 AD to 1392 AD)
Under the Goryo Dynasty Taekwondo took a position of even greater social and military significance. It came to be practiced as a sport with systemized rules. Contests were held in the presence of the king and successful contenders were awarded with promotion of their military rank. Taekwondo at this time was known as Subak or Subak Hui and many references were made to it in the “History of Goryo”, which is the accepted documentation of those times. It appears that such was the prestige of the knowledge of Subak in military circles that it was regarded as a privileged activity and technical instruction was not made available to civilians.
YI DYNASTY (1392 AD to 1920 AD)
During the Yi dynasty subak was no longer monopolized by the military and the general public once more practiced it. Historical records testify to tournaments being held between Chunchong and Jolla provinces staged in the village of Chsakji which was locate on their boundary. Its military importance, however, was not diminished and records of the Hideyoshi invasion of 1592 show that some 700 soldiers of the Gumsan region fought the Japanese using Subak. Other records indicate that proven skill in the art of Subak was required. To defeat two or more persons in a Subak contest was a military requirement. The greatest record available to us is the martial arts textbook that King Changjo commissioned Yi Dok-Mu to write in 1790. The book consisted of forty pages printed with movable metal type and containing illustrations carved from wooden blocks. One of the major chapters is devoted to the detailed description of techniques and stances used in Subak. During this period Subak was the cynosure of the royal court and was the focal point of the military and the general public. Towards the end of the Yi Dynasty Subak’s importance as a martial art began to decline due to political disturbances and feuding and it was practiced more as a recreational activity for civilians.
With the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1920 the practice of any martial art by the Korean populace was prohibited, as was the possession of arms. Nevertheless it was practiced by a few in secrecy. In 1943 Japanese Karate was introduced to Korea and enjoyed a brief popularity until the armistice in 1945. With liberation a number of Koreans tried to revitalize the traditional Korean art of Subak and in 1946 the first conference was held to discuss the stronger development of this art by the integration of the various Kwans (or schools). Finally the Korean Taekwondo Association was inaugurated in 1961 and the modern term “Taekwondo” was subsequently coined. Taekwondo was nominated as a national martial art in 1971 and on May 25th, 1973 the first World Taekwondo Championships were held and on May 28th the World Taekwondo Federation was formed. World championships have continued to be held every two years since with the Asian, European and other regional championships being held in the intervening years. The Australian Taekwondo Association hosted the 1976 Asian Taekwondo Championships in Melbourne. There were 18 participating countries and the Korean team won the aggregate trophy with the Australian team coming second. Since this date the Asian championships have been conducted in
Australia on two further occasions, Darwin in 1986 and Melbourne in 1996. In October 1975 Taekwondo had a following of 5 million people in 60 countries around the world and was admitted into the General Association of International Sports Federations. By 1980 there were over 100 national associations represented in the World Taekwondo Federation. At the 83rd General Session of the International Olympic Committee at the Moscow Olympics in July 1980 the World Taekwondo federation was granted recognition making Taekwondo a recognized Olympic sport. Sport. Taekwondo featured as a demonstration sport in both the 1988 and the 1992 Olympics. The 2000 Sydney Olympics featured Taekwondo for the first time as a fully-fledged Olympic Sport where Australia won the first Taekwondo Olympic gold medal. Australian Lauren Burns won gold in the light weight division and Daniel Trenton won silver in the heavy weight division.
SOCIAL ASPECTS OF TAEKWONDO
In Taekwondo training today the traditional concepts of modesty, patience and charity are maintained. This is achieved by teaching winning techniques able to generate considerable force and power. As the skills of the student increases feelings of insecurity and powerlessness make way for increased self-confidence. A planned and physically demanding training program promotes self-discipline and determination. Students are also instructed in the need to practice and use their skills in a responsible manner. Within the club environment students are encouraged to practice their skills to a high standard with a trusted training partner. Students are taught to practice skills in a safe non-threatening manner that promotes mutual trust and team spirit. All of these qualities form the foundation of a sound and moral character. Possessing these a person can be in control in a threatening situation and avoid reacting with the unnecessary use of force. Self-esteem enables a person to behave calmly, modestly and charitably, an insecure person; on the other hand, suffering from feelings of inferiority or inadequacy is far less equipped to cope with difficult situations. In this way Taekwondo is able to contribute not only to a person’s physical development but also to a person’s social and emotional development.
PHILOSOPHY. A WAY OF THINKING.
The Korean national thought must be explained to understand the ideological basis of Taekwondo. The Korean people began as a tribe called the Han; they led an agricultural life that was faced with much environmental adversity. As this tribe established itself surviving natural disasters, famine and unremitting hard work the people related closely with the natural things around them. They relied in a spiritual way on nature’s power. The heaven, rain, clouds, sun, moon, trees, rocks, and could bring them many bad things but also a great many good things. The beauty and timelessness brought consolation and joy. The Han people admired the balancing qualities in nature and man. Over time the Han people developed a unified thought about this which they named the “thought of worshipping heaven’s god”, in Korean “Seon” (impeccable Virtuousness). Over the proceeding centuries the invading influence of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, were absorbed by the Korean people and promoted into their philosophy were the ideals of national defence, loyalty to country, family and friends. Taekwondo is therefore the study to acquire power and skill for self defense, but to protect ones self by devoting life to safeguard justice, to respect responsibilities and to promote universal equality.