Elemental Taekwondo

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Origins of Tae Kwon Do

Where did Tae Kwon Do come from? When was it created? Who created it? What martial arts influenced its creation? Did it influence any other martial arts?

The first step in finding Tae Kwon Do’s origin is understanding the history of the country it came from.

Korea has had its fair share of wars over territory. Both China and Japan fought with Korea over their lands, resulting in a near complete takeover on more than one occasion.

Around 1910, Japan had taken over most of Korea, save for a few small factions scattered about the country. During this siege, Japan sought to rid Korea of all its culture. This was done in hopes of causing feelings of despair in the Korean people, breaking their spirits to the point of easy conformity to Japanese beliefs and customs, thus totally becoming one with Japan. During this point in history, all Korean customs—including martial arts—were abolished and Japanese customs were taught in their place.

It is certainly possible that some of the Korean people were successfully able to continue Korean martial arts and other customs in their purity. One rumor speaks of an ancient Korean martial art called Soo Bak that may have continued its practice in secrecy while under Japan’s regime, but whether it has been passed down today in its entirety is speculation. Because of the extremes gone to remove traditional Korean heritage, we are forced to consider the possibility that most Korean martial arts in their most undefiled form have been completely erased from the world.

Eventually, Korea did reclaim it’s land. Because of this, Korea as a whole was able to openly practice customs that may have been secretly held on to, despite Japan’s choke-hold. Even so, few if any martial artists practicing original Korean martial arts could spread the style, at least effectively.

One group that is said to remain completely intact is the Hwarang. During the Japanese invasion, there were a few Buddhist temples left relatively untouched in Korea where the Hwarang could practice secretly. However, in my opinion, Hwarang Do is more of a basis on how to live and conduct every aspect of your life, moreso than most other martial arts. Due to this, I believe that the ancient styles of martial arts the Hwarang practiced were used less and less in order to keep from raising suspicion to the Japanese. I think they kept most of their training to painting, writing, etiquette, and other traits and activities of nobility, thus keeping the code of Hwarang completely intact, while still keeping its practitioners safe from harm to any watchful eyes.

In 1945 Korea began creating a new martial art, one that was original to that of the forced practice of the Japanese Karate. Hwarang Do re-emerged and began their teachings once more in the open, along with Soo Bak. Other ‘new’ martial arts had also begun to spring up, consisting of a miasma of various martial arts combined and altered to that of the masters’ preferences, such as Chung Do Kwon.

In my opininon, having so many styles kept Korea separated, which I doubt is something that the Korean hierarchy wanted. This may be the reason that they began working on coming up with a universal name for their martial arts 1955. Tae Kwon Do (Roughly translating to "The Way of the Foot and Fist") was suggested, and was agreed on the main martial art practiced for Korea.

In 1961 the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) was organized. By then, Tae Kwon Do had become world recognized as Korea’s martial art. Other martial arts from Korea were—and still are—practiced (Tang Soo Do, Soo Bak, Moo Duk Kwan, etc). By and far, the most heavily practiced is still Tae Kwon Do.

Being as Tae Kwon Do was created in a time of rebirth and new awakenings, it would be almost impossible that it didn't have pieces of other martial arts. I believe that Tae Kwon Do received huge influences from Karate. I’m sure there are also great influences from the salvaging of Korea's previous martial arts, such as Soo Bak, but I believe the basis of Tae Kwon Do comes from older styles of Karate, and then built off of it to adapt to that of its students and masters. In all of Tae Kwon Do’s traditional forms, you can see how 'top heavy" they are, just as most styles of Karate. I think this points out better than the common kicks and practices of today where Tae Kwon Do came from. Of course, even this is just speculation.