Prehistoric man developed skills to defend themselves against assailants and wild animals. For this very reason, human cultures throughout the world developed a variety of fighting skills. Each culture developed their own styles and techniques.
The earliest records of Korean communal life date back to 2333 BC, and make mention of music, dance and games played at tribal festivals. The exact nature of these games were not specified in the earliest records we have at hand, but as in any primitive society, we may expect to see that skills developed for self-protection and survival were practiced in peace time games, in order to gain competence. Since, in later records, the games are described to be of a martial nature, it can be concluded that the earliest elements of modern Taekwondo were to be found in these games.
Period of the Three Kingdoms
In its early history, Korea developed into three separate kingdoms. Goguryo (37BC-668 AD), Baekje (18BC-660 AD) and Shilla (57BC-936 AD). It was Shilla, by vanquishing the other two kingdoms that unified the nation into one state. The style of clothing in those times, in peace times as in war, consisted of loose trousers and a jacket held together for convenience with a tie belt, and very closely resembles Taekwondo suits of the twentieth century. The dress of all the three kingdoms was basically uniform. In Baekje, the military rank of officers was differentiated by a series of coloured belts. In Shilla, the coloured trim on the lapel served as an additional indication of rank. It is interesting to note that not only was the costume but the means of indicating rank then, remains to this day.
Shilla was situated in the south-east of the peninsula. In its earliest history, the kingdom of Shilla was the weakest of all the three Kingdoms. Shilla neither had vast territories or a rich economy. In fact, it had to deal with hostile neighbors that surrounded its territory boundaries. All these circumstances aroused an aggressive sense of patriotism and led to the inception of the Hwarangdo – a warrior system, which embodied high moral standards.
When the Kingdom Shilla conquered the Baekje and Goguryo Kingdoms in the 7th century, the basis of its military power was this warrior system of Hwarangdo. The Hwarangdo were drawn from the youth of noble families, and under went both physical and philosophical training, cultivating the martial spirit of Hwarangdo. The use of violence without morality was frowned upon, and the virtues of charity, generosity and compassion, and all humanitarian ideas 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 Hwarangdo followed the following ethical precepts:
1. Loyalty to one’s country.
2. Obedience to one’s parents.
3. Loyalty to one’s friends.
4. Refusal to retreat from enemy attack.
5. Abstention from the senseless killing of any living thing.
There is evidence to prove that the Hwarangdo practiced Taekwondo. At the entrance of the Sokguram Grotto in the Bulguksa temple in Kyongju, which dates back to the 7th century are relief carvings in stone of two warriors, both in a Taekwondo stance. These figures are known as “Gumgang Yofsa” or “Warriors of Golden Strength”. Further evidence that Taekwondo was practiced can be found throughout the Samguk Yusa, which is among the oldest historical documents dealing with the period.
With the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1920, the practice of any martial art by the Korean populace was prohibited. Never less, the Korean martial arts were practiced by a few in secrecy.
With the armistice in 1945, 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 used. With the proliferation of Taekwondo schools and associations throughout the world, there arose a need for co-ordination on an international basis, the world headquarters for Taekwondo, the KUKKIWON, was dedicated in November 1972. In 1973, the first world Taekwondo championships were held, with 17 countries participating.
This led to the formation of the World Taekwondo Federation in December 1973, and the Australian Taekwondo Association (formed early in 1972) became one of the foundation members. The main body of the ATA has now formed into “Taekwondo Australia Inc.”
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 Federation (GAISF). By 1980, there was over 100 national associations in the WTF, and 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 recognised sport. Australian Lauren Burns won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and future growth of Taekwondo in Australia and the world is exciting to say the least.
The history of Taekwondo and Terminology was sourced from “The Complete Handbook of Taekwondo” by K. No 1984, revised edition November 1992.