The cultures of East Asia have a long tradition of armed and unarmed combat systems. With a vibrant network of trade, there was an exchange of culture in addition to goods for many centuries throughout East Asia as well as between Eastern and Western Asia along the Silk Road.
Many distinctive combat styles developed within each country, and, today, different combat styles and martial arts are readily identified within various countries: wrestling with India and Mongolia, escrima with the Philippines, Muay Thai with Thailand, kung fu with China, karate with Japan, and taekwondo with Korea.
The roots of taekwondo’s modern incarnation begin in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Over the past 70 years, taekwondo has continued to evolve as a dynamic martial art with an exciting sport component.
Capener postulates that taekwondo originated following World War 2 as Koreans returning from Japan opened karate studios and began teaching kongsudo or tangsudo. After these Korean karate studios were established, an eventual need was identified to “Koreanize” these various martial arts leading to the following:
Five main dojangs, or schools, were founded in the years between World War II and the Korean War. Each of these dojangs were founded by men with formal training in karate in Japan. These dojangs became known as The Five Major Kwans:
Following the Korean War, several sub-kwans, or Annex Kwans, were started. Of the nearly 40 kwans that arose in the mid-50’s, the leading kwans were Oh Do Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Han Moo Kwan, and Jung Do Kwan.
The Chung Do Kwan is the earliest kwan and founded by Lee Won Kuk (1907-2003) with strong roots in Japanese Shotokan karate emphasizing basics, forms, use of the makiwara, and one- and three-step sparring.
In 1926, Lee Kwanjangnim moved to Japan to attend middle and high school eventually enrolling in Chuo University’s law school. During this period of Japanese-occupied Korea, it was not uncommon for affluent Korean families with positive relations with the Japanese occupational government to send their sons to study at the better universities in Japan with the intent of having a better chance at career success. While at Chuo University, Lee Kwanjangnim became one of the first Koreans to begin studying karate and received instruction from Funakoshi Gichin Sensei (1868-1957) and his third son Funakoshi Yoshitaka (Gigo), the head instructor at many of Funakoshi Sensei’s karate schools. In later interviews, Lee Kwanjangnim stated that he received the highest Shotokan rank available at the time.
Lee Kwanjangnim returned to Korea and opened a dojang in Seoul in 1944. Because of his positive relationship with Japan’s Chosun Governor General Abe Nobuyuki and later declining an “invitation” from President Syngman Rhee to join the president’s political party along with all 5,000 Chungdohwe students, Lee Kwanjangnim was later accused of collaborating with the Japanese and spent time in prison beginning in 1947. Following his release in 1950, Lee Kwanjangnim and his wife returned to Japan.
“LEE Won Kuk was a precise person. He had a strong body of a martial artist and glaringly sharp eyes. His expression was very strict. Right after the independence day, he seemed to offset his pro-Japanese deeds by developing a good relationship with people of the National Police Headquarters. He led the efforts to get rid of Seoul gangsters. The Chung Do Kwan was once called the National Police Headquarters dojang.”
Lee Kwanjangnim originally called his style of martial art tangsoodo (“Way of China Hand”) which is the Korean pronunciation of Funakoshi Sensei’s mid-1920s spelling of “karate-do”, using the Tang/China character. He called his school Chungdohwe, or “Blue Waves Association,” a term referring to a youngster’s spirit and vtality. Following Grandmaster Lee’s return to Japan in 1950, his student SON Duk Sung became leader of the school. In 1951, Son renamed it the Chungdokwan (“Blue Wave Institute”).
Lee Kwanjangnim is often referred to as “The Father of Taekwondo.”. Although he did not personally take part in many of the activities towards unification of many of the kwans throughout the 1950s and ’60s, many of his students did. Lee Kwanjangnim’s influence upon taekwondo extends through these leaders including NAM Tae Hee (1929-2013), CHOI Hong Hi (1918-2002; the founder of the Oh Do Kwan and the International Taekwondo Federation), and RHEE Jhoon (“The Father of American Taekwondo”).
The Song Moo Kwan was founded by RO Byung Jick (1919-?) in Kae Song in 1946. RO Kwanjangnim also studied karate under Funakoshi Gichin Sensei at Tokyo’s Chuo University a few years after Chung Do Kwan founder LEE Won Kuk.
“Song Moo Kwan’s Song meant pine tree, which meant green and a long life” Ro Kwanjangnim once said to explain the name of his school. “Also, Song was one of the Koryo capital city name, Song Do. And Song was also borrowed from the Song Do Kwan (Shotokan) when I learned Karate under Funakoshi while studying abroad.”
“RO Kwan Jang’s student, and the second Kwan Jang, LEE Young Sup reflects: ‘Every six months, there was testing for promotion. Mainly one step sparring, three step sparring, free sparring and forms were used to decide promotions. But free sparring was for 4th guep and higher, and 1st Dan required breaking a board. If these rules were broken, the Kwan Jang was very upset.’”
The Jidokwan was founded by CHUN Sang Sup in 1946 as the Choson Yun Moo Kwan Kong Soo Do Bu. CHUN Kwanjangnim learned judo and karate while studying in Japan. After returning to Korea following the end of World War II, he opened a judo and karate school. His students opened other schools spreading the teachings to other parts of Korea.
“He had a slender figure and was not particular, but was an intellect and always wore suits.”
During the Korean War in 1950, CHUN Kwanjangnim disappeared. Some accounts state that he was kidnapped and taken to North Korea, others state that he was on a volunteer mission to the north. After his disappearance, YOON Kwei-byung (1922-2000) became leader of the school and changed the name to Jidokwan, or “Wisdom Way School”.
Grandmaster YOON studied karate under Toyama Kanken (1888-1966), the Okinwan founder of Shudokan karate, at Nihon University as did YOON Byung In Kwanjangnim, founder of YMCA Kwon Bup Bu.
Grandmaster YOON later opposed the efforts to unify the kwans, was voted out of the Jidokwan by the senior students, and replaced by LEE Chong Woo (b: 1928) as the Jidokwan’s second grandmaster.
Shortly after Independence Day, YOON Byung In (1920-1983) became the instructor of physical education at Kyung Sung Agricultural School and also began teaching Moo Do. In the late-40s, he founded the YMCA Kwon Bup Bu at the YMCA in Jong Ro in Seoul.
YOON Kwanjangnim grew up in Manchuria in the largest Korean community in China. He learned “Joo An Pa” a Chinese martial art from a Mongolian instructor. After he moved to Japan in 1938 to study agriculture at Nihon University in Tokyo, YOON Kwanjangnim also began studying karate taught by Toyama Kanken. Due to YOON Kwanjangnim’s martial arts skill and passion, he became the captain of Nihon University’s karate team.
“YOON Byung In was basically a traditional Moo Do man. His body was small, but was trained with martial arts and full of energy. His behavior was blunt. He did not know how to wear his clothes and shoes fashionably. He wore a pair of oversized US Army boots and his left baby finger was cut off, so he had to wear a pair of special white gloves, even in the summer. He taught his martial art (Ju An Pa Kwon Bup) to his students according to their body sizes, so the students could learn martial arts that suited their body specialty.”
In 1947, YOON Kwanjangnim taught for CHUN Sang Sup Kwanjangnim, the founder of Choson Yun Moo Kwan, for a year before opening the YMCA Kwon Bup Bu. He and CHUN Kwanjangnim trained a great deal together and were called brothers. According to CHUN Il Sup, the younger brother of CHUN Sang Sup, “YMCA Kwon Bup Bu’s YOON Byung In and LEE Nam Suk trained with the Choson Yun Moo Kwan in the beginning, so I can say the Yun Moo Kwan and the YMCA Kwon Bup Bu were brother Kwans.”
Like his friend Chun Kwanjangnim and many other Koreans, Yoon Kwanjangnim disappeared during the Korean War. His student, Lee Nam Suk (1925-2000), eventually opened a school and began teaching. After the war, Lee and Kim Soon Bae changed the name from YMCA Kwon Bup Bu to Chang Moo Kwan. “But according to LEE Chong Woo, the Chang Moo Kwan name was used by YOON Byung In as a favorable name before the Korean War.”
After Yoon Kwanjangnim’s disappearance according to research by Kim Pyung-soo he was incarcerated as a prisoner of war on North Korea’s Gojae-do Island. In the late 60s, he taught martial arts for a short time in an attempt by North Korea to create a martial sport in response to the South’s taekwondo. But, because of Yoon Kwanjangnim’s emphasis on teaching combat skills, this was a short teaching experience. Yoon Kwanjangnim returned to the North Korean city of Cheong-Jin to work in a cement factory until his death from lung cancer in 1983.
Founded after 1946 by HWANG Kee (1914-2002), this school was known as the “Transportation by Rail Committee Tang Soo Do Bu” or the “Railway Dojang.” Not only did it begin near the Yong San Railway Station in Seoul, but the railroad allowed classes to be held in the storage rooms of train stations as a service.
HWANG Kwanjangnim was not in favor of joining the Korean Taekwondo Association. Two of his students including HONG Chong Soo, his most senior student, led the way for Moo Duk Kwan’s unification with the KTA in 1965.
After World War II, the original Kwan founders met several times to discuss some kind of united organization, however they could not reach sufficient agreement. Before the end of the Korean War, renewed unification efforts began culminating in the formation of the Korea Kong Soo Do Association. “The organizing members were RO Byung Jick (founder of the Song Moo Kwan), YOON Kwe Byung (grandmaster of the Jidokwan), SON Duk Sung, LEE Nam Suk (grandmaster of the Chang Moo Kwan), LEE Chong Woo, HYUN Jong Myun, JO Young Joo, and KIM In Hwa.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
After the Korean War in 1953, work began to unify the various Kwans. At this time, several names were used for taekwondo including Kong Soo Do, Tang Soo Do, and Soo Bahk Do. In addition, there were differences in the forms and sparring used by each kwan. However, the primary difference and conflict regarding unification was related to rank promotion standards. It took another decade before consensus could be reached on Hyung (forms), Shihap (sparring) and Nonmun (written examination) for promotion tests.
In May 1961, the Korea Taesoodo Association was formed. A Unification Ceremony was held on March 18, 1965, and a year later, the Korean Taesoodo Association became the Korean Taekwondo Association.
TAEKWONDO LEADERSHIP IN THE 1960’s
Kim Yong Chae. The leadership of Kim Yong Chae, the 5th KTA President, was essential to the development of taekwondo. After beginning his term of office in January 1967, Grandmaster Kim “pushed for the development of the chest protector (hogu) for competition, was the first to send KTA Instructors to foreign countries, reformed the rules for tournament competition, and pushed for the construction of the Central Dojang (Chung Ang Dojang) which became the Kukkiwon.”
Lee Chong Woo. After leading the Jidokwan and recommending its name change about 1954 Grandmaster Lee was subsequently influential as one of the primary leaders of the unification efforts of the nine kwans, was a Kukkiwon vice-president, wrote the first taekwondo textbook, designed the Kukkiwon’s original logo, helped design Shihap Kyorugi (match sparring) as found in Olympic Taekwondo competition, and pioneered use of the hogu.
A NEW TECHNICAL SYSTEM
Capener states that there was also “an intense period of experimentation” of kicking and footwork patterns that led to a new technical system with new kicks “as well as substantial development in the speed, power, and manner of execution of existing kicks.” In others words, taekwondo quickly evolved into a truly unique and original martial art.
As Capener explains, this experimentation resulted in a philosophy of technique seen in the following three elements:
OPPOSITION. The basic idea is relating emptiness and fullness of time and space to sparring. For example, when a kicking attack is directed at the head, the attacker’s body is then vulnerable (“empty”). This “space” at this “time” creates an opportunity for the defender to counterattack. How long that space remains open is determined by the speed of both opponents’ techniques and movements. Capener calls this the “governing principle” of taekwondo sparring.
COMPLETION. The stated objectives of taekwondo technique can be fulfilled: “the powerful and accurate execution of a recognized technique to a legal target area.” This is possible because of the presence of an opponent and rules allowing each person the opportunity to test and perfect their techniques on a daily basis through sparring. Martial arts that rely upon “killing blows’ as a stated objective have no way of attaining completion aside from the obvious. And, “the sense of accomplishment which accompanies the successful execution of technique against a skilled and resisting opponent became a common occurrence.”
PERFECTION. With the continuous give-and-take in taekwondo sparring and without affected interruptions by referees, people can “execute techniques that are ‘perfect’ in relation to the technical demands of the situation.”
Capener eloquently states:
“Due to the design of the t’aegwondo sparring system and the nearly perfectly balanced interrelation of techniques, the number and type of technical exchanges and situations is finite. In fact it is quite limited according to the principle of the emptiness and fullness of time and space. This gives t’aegwondo sparring the element of predictability. That is, through control and manipulation of the opponent’s time and space it is possible to anticipate or create the unfolding technical situation. This makes it possible to execute techniques that are ‘perfect’ in relation to the technical demands of the situation. Further, due to the fact that the progress of sparring is not unnecessarily interrupted, this situational anticipation and response can be continuous making the ideal goal of the ‘perfect game,’ the continuous, total technical and psychological manipulation and domination of the opponent, theoretically possible.”
See “Taekwondo Techniques” and “Taekwondo Competition” for more information on this topic:
The Central Taekwondo Dojang in Seoul, Korea is called the Kukkiwon. It’s purpose “is to promote Taekwondo as a means of general exercise for the benefit of public health as well as to spread Taekwondo as a symbol of Korea and its traditions.” It fulfills this mission by determining the requirements for poom and dan promotion, instructor training, hosting national and international events, and promoting health and spirit of Taekwondo through the Kukkiwon Demonstration Team.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the central taekwondo headquarters was held on November 19, 1971. The building was completed a year later rising three floors with a basement level underneath with a competition area, spectator seating, lecture rooms, clerical offices, restaurant, and locker rooms.
The Kukkiwon hosted the 1st World Championships in 1973. “In 1978, the Kukkiwon finally succeeded to unify Taekwondo by integrating 10 separate Taekwondo Kwans; Chung Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Jido Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan and Kwan li Kwan.”
In 1980, the Kukkiwon took over the responsiblity of poom and dan promotion requirements and issuing dan certificates. Up until this time, this role was fulfilled by the Korea Taekwondo Association.
In 1983, the World Taekwondo Academy was founded. The WTA provides education and training programs such as instructor and referee courses designed to improve the quality of taekwondo instruction and competition around the world. The WTA also holds the World Taekwondo Hanmadang, a festival for recreational taekwondo practitioners to compete in various events including breaking, forms, and self-defense.
In 2006, the Research Institute of Taekwondo was established. The RIT staff includes nearly 30 taekwondo experts and taekwondo-related researchers that undertake academic research, developing new techniques, and sharing information through seminars.
The World Taekwondo Federation, the world governing body and representative sports organziation to the International Olympic Committee, was created on May 18, 1973 with 108 member countries. In 1975, the WTF was accepted by the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) followed by the inclusion of taekwondo as an official sports event by the International Council of Military Sports (CISM) in 1976. The WTF became an IOC-recognized sports federation in 1980, making Taekwondo an Olympic sport.
Taekwondo was included as an official event in the World Games in 1981, the Asian Games in 1984, the Pan American Games in 1986, and as a demonstration sport in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games before being voted into the Olympic Programme as an official sport at the 1994 Internal Olympic Committee meeting for the 2000 Olympic Games.
Today, the WTF includes 204 member nations with nearly 80 million participants throughout the world.
Taekwondowon (formerly Taekwondo Park)
The vision that the Taekwondo Promotion Foundation has for the Taekwondowon is:
Through the efforts of leaders such as Dr. Ken Min, taekwondo was accepted as a recognized sport within the United States’ amateur sports governing body at the time, the Amateur Athletic Union. While an associate professor at Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT in the late 1960’s, Dr. Min gained extensive experience at the local, state, and national level of amateur sport through his involvement with judo and taekwondo.
After beginning a full-time position at the University of California at Berkeley in 1969, Dr. Min began to develop a plan for a nationally recognized taekwondo organization. In the papers of Dr. Henry Stone, his predecessor at Cal, Dr. Min found the template for the plan for taekwondo. Dr. Stone had leveraged his connections in wrestling to help establish a national judo organization in 1952 and become “The Father of American Judo.”
For Dr. Min, the early goals were to gain agreement between various taekwondo instructors on policies of competition and rank recognition at the state and then the national level. At that time, most taekwondo instructors operated taekwondo as a business rather than an educational tool. Therefore, AAU recognition was not clearly understood as a benefit.
Although Dr. Min founded the U.S. National Collegiate Taekwondo Association and held the 1st UC Open Taekwondo Championships in 1970, karate gained official AAU recognition in 1972 which meant that taekwondo practitioners were forced to follow the competition format for karate throughout the nine U.C. campuses. Dr. Min clearly understood that “competition rules are the major guidelines for the curriculum development of physical activity for instructors.” He was inspired to work harder to achieve official AAU recognition for taekwondo. Otherwise, taekwondo instructors would be required to abandon their taekwondo roots and conform to karate practices.
Dr. Min leveraged his experience as President of the National Collegiate Judo Association, Chairman of the Collegiate Committee of the U.S. Judo Federation, Chairman of the Judo Committee of Montana, and Member of the USOC Judo Committee. He began a concerted effort to educate the decision makers within the AAU and elsewhere in order to convince them that taekwondo its own official recognition. Dr. Min emphasized four main points to support his argument.
Survey Results. Black Belt Magazine published survey results in its 1973 yearbook that the “Korean style of karate” was the most popular martial art on college campuses followed by the Japanese and Chinese styles (taekwondo: 41%; Okinawan karate: 28%; Japanese karate: 27%; Chinese kung-fu: 4%).
Competition Style. The stop-and-go point-system format of karate competition was in direct contrast to the continuous style of taekwondo.
World Organizations. The world governing organizations were based in separate countries each using its own language as its official terminology.
Safety. Mixing karate and taekwondo competitors would lead to “extensive injuries” because taekwondo relied upon 70% kicking techniques with full-contact whereas karate was 70% hand techniques without contact.
Dr. Min was invited to make a presentation at an AAU Executive Committee session in the fall of 1973, by the AAU president, David Rivenes, whom Dr. Min first met when Mr. Rivenes was the AAU Montana State President. The Executive Committee’s positive reception to the idea of including taekwondo as sport within the AAU led to another Executive Committee meeting in May 1974 before being placed up for vote of the entire AAU in Fall 1974.
An important aspect to Dr. Min’s approach was the emphasis upon inclusion rather than exclusion. Instead of taking an either/or approach of “karate-or-taekwondo” only where one immediately prevents the inclusion of the other he suggested that judo, karate, and taekwondo could co-exist as separate sports under an umbrella martial arts structure similar to track and field, wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman), and the aquatic sports (swimming, diving, and, later, synchronized swimming). In this way, other martial arts such as gongfu and wushu could be added at a later time.
At the 87th National AAU Convention held in Washington, D.C., taekwondo was officially admitted as a sport within the AAU of the U.S. in October 1974. Dr. Min served as the inaugural national chairman of the National AAU Taekwondo Committee from 1974-78.
The AAU’s recognition of taekwondo was significant as the U.S. became the second country to recognize taekwondo as an official sport by its national governing body of amateur sport outside of Korea.
In an interview in 2009 as a member of the World Taekwondo Federation Council, Dr. Min shared his thoughts about the future of Taekwondo. Although he felt that “taekwondo should seek to attract spectators and media attention,” he did “not consider taekwondo’s sole emphasis to be entertainment or competition with other sports for popularity or spectatorship.” Rather, he emphasized “taekwondo to be a philosophy in action, an educational endeavor which should be spearheaded by the WTA (World Taekwondo Academy), a similar concept of the IOA (International Olympic Academy) of the IOC.”
Recognizing that “more than 95% of taekwondo participants consider taekwondo an ‘art’ rather than a ‘sport,’ he felt that “Taekwondo’s future development should focus on safety of athletes, aesthetic performance, leadership, development for world peace and harmony through taekwondo education.’ And, always a big thinker, Dr. Min suggested that the Taekwondo Peace Corps initiated by the WTF should go further by incorporating “the core principles of the New Village Movement initiated by the late Korean President Park Chung Hee for the modernization of the country from the ashes of the Korean War.” The three principles being diligence, self-help and cooperation.
“Cal taekwondo achieved 34 national championship titles out of 38 National Collegiate Taekwondo Championships. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Cal graduate Jimmy Kim made heavy weight champion and another Cal graduate Kim Royce made heavy weight champion in 1987. Furthermore, under Dr. Min’s leadership, UCMAP hosted the 1st World University Taekwondo Championship in 1986 and the 7th World University Taekwondo Championships in 2007 through [the] International University Sports Federation (FISU). Furthermore, the FISU Executive Board adapted Taekwondo as a compulsory sport of the Summer Universiade Game in 2009 in Izmir, Turkey. It was made possible by Dr. Min’s passion and endless commitment for university taekwondo development.
“Since 1969, under UC Martial Arts Program and PE Taekwondo classes, [UCMAP has] produced nearly 35,000 Taekwondo practitioners on the Berkeley campus. In 1995, the Korean government gave to Cal a $1 million endowment for Taekwondo and other martial arts by recognizing Dr. Min’s life time dedication and commitment to Taekwondo and martial arts. University of California Martial Arts Program will continue to serve Cal students to keep a balance among academic achievement, physical developments and education values of Taekwondo as well as preserving the philosophy, techniques, and traditions of martial arts.”
UCMAP Press Release, 2013.
[Demonstration sport at 1988 Seoul Olympic Games]
Go to: Olympic Videos
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Problems in the Identity and Philosophy of T’aegwondo and Their Historical Causes
by Steven D. Capener, PhD
Korea Journal, 1995. 35.4: 80-94
Abstract: “It has been postulated that t’aegwondo is Korea&’s most effective diplomatic tool, achieving what Korea’s most skilled diplomats have been unable to accomplish; that is, bring the citizens of advanced western countries to an attitude of respect before the Korean flag. It has been further argued that t’aegwondo, as the Korean national sport, and one of the repositories of traditional, indigenous Korean culture. plays a vital role in preserving traditional Korean culture in the face of western cultural imperialism.”
The Making of a Modern Myth: Inventing a Tradition for Taekwondo
by Steven Capener, PhD
Korea Journal, vol. 56, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 61-92
Abstract: “In their recent article entitled “Evidence of Taekwondo’s Roots in Karate: An Analysis of the Technical Content of Early Taekwondo Literature” published in the Korea Journal, Udo Moenig, Cho Sungkyun, and Kwak Taek-Yong present compelling empirical evidence that taekwondo originated from Japanese karate in the mid-twentieth century. The present article aims to discuss the implications of that assertion in the context of the nationalist project to invent a tradition for taekwondo. This article postulates that such myth-making is possible even in the face of strong empirical evidence to the contrary due to an anti-intellectual and anti-empirical nationalism that operates in the production/suppression of knowledge, especially in regard to issues that involve Korea’s complicated historical relation with Japan. This article discusses the process of the construction of an indigenous origin narrative for taekwondo and the response to that narrative in the form of a counter-narrative that postulates the role of karate in taekwon-do’s formation. The construction and rationale of the indigenous origin narrative is then examined through the lens of the modern phenomenon of the invented tradition.”
Taekwondo: The Spirit of Korea
by Steven D. Capener
Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Korea, 2000
ISBN: 8978200583, 9788978200585; 139 pp
A Modern History of Taekwondo
by Kang Won Sik and Lee Kyong Myong
Translated from the original Korean book to English by Glenn Uesugi and students.
Storming the Fortress: A History of Taekwondo
By Eric Madis
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Shotokan Schools
Part 3: The Shudokan Schools
Part 4: The Maverick Schools
Part 5: Evolution of Karate Into Taekwondo
Part 5: Continued
A New Look for Joe College: From Letter-Sweater to Black Belt
by Gil Johnson
Black Belt Magazine Vol. 12, No. 4. (April 1974), p22-26.
A Different Kind of REVOLUTION at Berkeley
by Paul William Kroll
Black Belt Magazine Vol. 15, No. 4 (April 1977), p45-46; 76.
Won Kuk Lee (Wikipedia)
A very good summary of the Grandmaster Lee and the Chuungdokwan.