Thursday, 10 November 2011

How old is Taekwondo??

Koogoryo toomb paintings
often seen as evidence
of Taekwondo`s existance
thousands of years ago
"How old is Taekwondo??" If I am ever going to make a FAQ (frequently asked questions) for Taekwondo this would probably be on the first five questions answered. Unfortuantly this is a difficult question to answer, and if you search the web you will find anything from 5 000 years old to 40 years old. Why this discrephancy and confusion? I guess you first need to be a little more spesific in the question. You see Taekwondo is different things to different people.

For instance a "Kukki" Taekwondo exponent would say that Taekwondo is Koreas native martial art (with no to little influence from Karate) and is a direct decendant from the older Korean arts of Taek Kyon and Subak and therefore Taekwondo is atleast 2000 years old. Being a "Kukki" Taekwondo student myself I too believed this to be the whole and complete truth. Yes I saw that Karate was very simular but I took my seniors words without questions and went a long with it. I even propogated the idea for a few years. (Un)furtunatly being the Taekwondo "nerd" that I am I soon came to realise that the whole thing was a lie made up to hide Taekwondo`s Karate roots. Suddenly my 2 000 years of Korean Martial Arts herritage became no more than 50 years old. I was very angered with this and almost quit Taekwondo because of it. After all the history of all my training was a lie. The kicking part being from Taek Kyon was the only thing that distingouished Taekwondo from Karate and the only (tenious) link back to Koreas historic Martial Arts.

Famous Korean painting depicting
a Taek Kyon contest
I kept training and researching and soon came to realise that the Karate link was nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary it should be embraced. I can even appreciate the origin of the "2000 years history without Karate influence" propaganda because of the times Taekwondo was being developed and the Koreans feelings toward Japan. I recently talked to a Korean Master about this issue, and he did not really agree with my view that it was all a lie and propaganda. He did agree that if the Kukkiwon textbook would be revised again they should rewrite the history section, but at the same time he defended Kukkiwon by saying that their motivations were uniting the Martial arts of old (Taek Kyon and Subak for instance) with the Martial Arts of new (Various styles of Karate). Therefore they imported the kicks from Taek Kyon, named the art Taekwondo (no linguistic link, just phonetic as "Taek" and "Tae" are different words) and wrote the history section that almost deleted the foreign influences of Karate. This was all to unify the old with the new he said. I thought about it a little and said to myself: "this sounds a lot better than the lies and propaganda theory I came up with". Suffice to say I became a lot more at peace with the Kukkiwon. Even if the master is mistaken it at least makes me feel better:-)

So if it is not 2 000 years old per say, it does have certain roots that goes back further than 40 years through its link with Taek Kyon. Wether this link is of an influence only or a direct import of certain techniques I do not know but it does not really matter.

Choi Hong Hi is often
said to be
the "founder of Taekwondo"
Others would point to the fact that the word "Taekwondo" was first officially named as such in 1955 (making it 56 years old at the current year of writing, 2011). But then again the schools who agreed using Taekwondo were founded several years before, the oldest ones opened in 1944. This makes Taekwondo 11 years older, 67 years in 2011. These are the earliest Korean roots we can find most deffinatly. There is no denying that the earliest Kwan that later became Taekwondo opened its doors in 1944. However the schools that opened in the mid 40s to 50s did not develop out of a void. The founders had themselves studied martial arts of Chinese and Japanese origin. Most did study Shotokan Karate directly under its founder Gichin Funakoshi. Shotokan is said to be the first Japanese Karate style. It was "founded" in the 1930s. If you follow this root of Taekwondo to find its age you will now have a martial art thats about 80 years of age. The Chinese influences are much smaller in modern Taekwondo and thats just as good in this case as the sources of the Chinese martial arts are very unclear, and their roots and age are even more obscure.

Gichin Funakoshi about to perform Kanku Dai Kata
Notice that Choi Hong Hi is in the excact same stance
Does this make Taekwondo 80 years old? Im afraid that it is not that clear cut, you see Shotokan did not develop out of a void either. It came down to us through Funakoshi, but his roots was the Shurite of Azato and Itosu. They in turn learned from "Bushi Matsumura", who by some is said to have done the most to develop "linear" Karate wich Taekwondo is so heavily built upon. Matsumura was born ca 1796. If we conveniently say that "linear Karate was developed around 1830 (when Matsumura was 35 years or so) you could argue that Taekwondo is 180 years old. Matsumura did not invent fighting however and he had his master, who had his master, who in turn studied with his master ad infinity.

Gichin Funakoshi(?) performing Tekki Shodan. This existed as Chulgi il Hyung in early Taekwondo.
This move is identical to the modern Kukkiwon Poomsae Pyongwon.
Fighting has been around since humans started to walk the earth. You can trace the roots of Taekwondo far back in time, but the answer to the question "how old is Taekwondo?" will depend heavily upon how you see Taekwondo. Was it founded by Choi Hong Hi (as ITF or deriatives of the ITF would say)? Is it as old as the first Kwan opened in Korea? Is it as old as its roots? The name Taekwondo means the way of kicking and punching. Any fighting style that uses kicks and punches could fit that profile as long as they had a philosophical touch to their training (hence the "way"). As it is a Korean word, you could say that it only applies to Korean developed striking arts. Congratulations my friend; Since fighting has been around since humans, you now made Taekwondo many thousands of years old:-) Does it really matter how old it is? I mean your training and experience will not change wether Taekwondo is 40, 56, 67, 80, 180 or 2000 years old does it? So why care? Train and have fun doing it:-D
Taek Kyon training

All the best.


  1. Taekyon and scabdinavian master

    We have an fantastic grandmaster in
    GM Cho Woon Sup, 9 Dan that have lived and been an ancer person for thusens of students for almost 30 years...
    He grownded the "tradisionel taekwondounion , TTU" and some of us started to make this a reality 17years ago...

    Why do I never read anything about him the last years?

    He is maybe the only one outside of Korea that have the highest degree in Tae Kyon...and that happend many years ago,

    He was 60 years this years,- growing older every year,
    like the rest of us...

    "Cant we see the wood for all the trees" ????

    It have to be some masters out there that want to learn , and delivere it to the next generation,-
    all kinds of different stuff that he have learned them during the last 30 yars???
    OR ???

    Every year he take students to Korea to increase learning,

    every year you can supply an applicasion for staying months for free costs in Korea to learn, train and live at a Korean family, for 3 months

    Evvery year he is the major figuere at the TTU summercamp in Norway, together whith hundreds of students!!!!
    and it is a blackbelt gradueting at the same place, every summer

    every year for at lest 10 years now we have ouer own TKD school at a folkschool in Norway,

    But do I reed anything about all this and even moore concerning him and his past, present and thoughts for the future???

    Its a shanme,
    personelly I havent been training the laste few years ,
    I started some months ago to train again, and saw a frustraded situasion, and masters and instructors that need to wake up!!!!

    We are moore than lucky to have GM Cho so close to us.
    Maybe not everyone now how hudge respeckt he have in the wordl tkd-community,
    but it is about time.

    nina standal, norway TTU dan gradueded

  2. He is a very special person indeed and I will certainly try to write something about him in the future:-) That being said the reason why you do not read so much about him is that he is not only an expert in Taekwondo but also an expert in keeping out of the spotlight:-p

    We are in short really lucky to have him here with us. Not many get to study Taekwondo with such a competent and knowledgeable instructor.

  3. Ørjan - my research shows that Gen Choi was adamant that President Syngman Rhee would not name the new art 'Taekyon.' Choi's opinion was that Taekyon was a lowly street game with kicking techniques. From this scant information I'm guessing that at the time, if Taekwondo did borrow anything from Taekyon it was perhaps just the awareness of the opportunity kicks represented. Nothing much more than that. What I found out however is that the Karate practiced in the 1920s and 1930s which trained early Taekwondo practitioners had training issues. It was rigid, overly focused on kata, and had not yet embraced jiyu kumite, which does round off the skills a practitioner needs. So, it doesn't matter if Taekwondo is officially only 50+ years ... it has legitimate source code and was created to improve on the system as it was practiced then. Cheers, Colin

    1. "So, it doesn't matter if Taekwondo is officially only 50+ years ... it has legitimate source code and was created to improve on the system as it was practiced then."

      Thanks Colin but this was kind a the whole point with the post:) It really does not matter how old it is, it is still a great system:)

      I think that a post or article on how and what changes they did to their martial art to improve on what they had learned to develop Taekwondo would be a great read. Especially if one were to be written by a man who had done extensive research on it. Could you do one in the future Colin O:-)