Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why Taekwondo history research matter

Introduction: I put a lot of emphasis on both my writings, research and energy (not to say money as
well) into learning and understanding Taekwondo and martial arts history. Often I am asked why I bother with it, as there is perceived to be very little to gain from this, and it can be quite time consuming. Also I have heard (and will undoubtfully hear it more in the future) that understanding and learning history will not make someones side kick any better. It is true that history will not make you perform physically better, but in my opinion it is one of the areas that are grossly overlooked and despite what people believe and perceive, I personally have gained a lot from this research. In the hopes to motivate others into delving a little more into history I will write a few points on what this is in this post.

True understanding of where we came from: In Taekwondo for a long time (and even today) many learn that the art has been developed in Korea from the 3 Kingdoms era (Silla, Baekje and Kogoryo), through the Koryo dynasty, into the Yin/Chosun dynasty until modern times. We kick because of the mountanious landscape gave the Koreans strong legs, and because the Hwarang warrior group developed kicks to break shields, and we do a lot of jumping kicks because the same warriors kicked people off of their horses. I am sorry to say that all of this is simply myths, especially the kicking people off of their horses bit. The problem is that there are grains of truth within much of the modern myths. There were indeed native Korean martial arts as in systematizised combative training both unnarmed and armed all through Koreas history, but their relationship with Taekwondo today is non-existant, except for the fact that we tend to focus on kicking because that is what is said to have been done in the older systems.

The Author is of a Ji Do Kwan lineage
The Korean tendency for kicking is a mix between, climate, culture and lifestyle. The jumping kicks of modern Taekwondo came about as a means to promote the art through fantastic displays of physical feats. Breaking which was a nominal factor within the older arts were also stressed a lot.

For the ones researching history without bias, and doing the best we can to fact check, and check our sources, our sources sources, and sometimes even our sources sources sources, we know a little differently today than what you still see in modern textbooks and hear instructors promote as facts. Modern Taekwondo is a mix of several different Karate styles gathered in Japan, and some minor Chinese influence through a few individuals, coupled with the aforementioned collective memory of native martial arts kicking tendency. ALL Taekwondo lineages can be traced back to one of the following Kwan (Schools) that were opened in Korea between 1944-1950s: Song Mu Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, Mu Duk Kwan, Yun Mu Kwan, Chang Mu Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, and Oh Do Kwan (sorry if I left someone out, this is from memory). Some can trace their lineages back to other Kwan such as Han Mu Kwan, or Kang Duk Won, but these are often seen as sister Schools or anex schools from the aforementioned ones. This means that Taekwondo`s history in Korea can rightfully be said to have started in the 1940s, but the art did have older roots. Its just that these roots leads outside of Korea, most notably Japan, but also in two noteable cases; China. Why is this important? Well read on and see :-)

Unlocking a treasure trove of vital information: Once we have established were Taekwondo came from, we unlock a lot of information we can access to understand our modern system. If I say to a mainstream Taekwondo exponent that you should read what the founder of Shotokan Karate wrote, he would probably think I am joking. What does Gichin Funakoshi have to do with a 2000 years old Korean martial art? The answer is that Taekwondo is not 2000 years old as we just observed, and when I add that the founders of Oh Do Kwan, Yun Mu Kwan, Song Mu Kwan, Chung Do Kwan learned Funakoshi`s style of Karate (in most cases directly from Funakoshi himself), and that the rest
Bubishi example of Application of
the Keumgang arae makki
were undoubtfully influenced by him you suddenly see why it is so important for us as traditional taekwondo students to read his works. Funakoshi is just the tip of the iceberg though, you also have Kenwa Mabuni who taught at least one Kwan founder (Yun Kwae Byung - Ji Do Kwan), Choki Motobu who does not feature in our lineage, but he studdied for a long time under one of Funakoshi`s Teachers, Chojun Myiagi who other Korean pioneers had a lineage back to, Oyama who learned Karate at the same time as the founders of Taekwondo did, and so much more, and this is just the karate root. It has never been so much information available to us, and it has never been so easy to get to it as today. But before we can get to this information we need to know that it is relevant for us, and to see the relevance a study of Taekwondo history is needed.

Better understanding of the practical application of Taekwondo: Ever wondered about the weird things that define traditional taekwondo techniques? I have. The unrealistic stances, the chambering of the blocks, the hand withdrawn to the hip while punching, and so many Poomsae minutae details did not make any sense to me until I researched history, got hold of the relevant information (for instance Funakoshi`s early works) and applied the knowledge I gained to the modern system. Sometimes just looking within Taekwondo itself is enough, as I have learned tons of early Taekwondo books from the 60s and onwards that are not openely taught today.

The hand on the hip is explained in a great and simple way by Funakoshi in all his books (I have them all) that deal with karate instruction. It is perhaps best explained and demonstrated in the 1935 edition of Karate Do Kyohan (translated by Neptune publications). Stances are also explained by him and by Motobu`s "fighting drills", which you can get all of his publicated drills in one book translated by Patric Mcharty. "The Study of China Hand Techniques" by Ittoman from the 1920s translated by Mario Mckenna gives us a great view into the role of grappling techniques and unorthodox (by modern standards) punching methods. The Bubishi (also translated by Patric Mcharty) gives us a view into philosophy, vital points, self defense applications and much more that the Karate pioneers had access to. The writings of Kenwa Mabuni gives us further insights into the relationship between forms and self defense (I have quoted him before on the meanings of angles in Poomsae).

Reading history on its own wont make your sidekick any better, but it might increase your knowledge on when and how to apply that side kick, as well as greater insights into how it is used in Poomsae as opposed as sparring. The simultanious hammer fist strike and sidekick combination of Taegeuk Oh Jang and Taebaek Poomsae for instance makes little sense when you look at the textbook applications today critically. Theres nothing wrong with the sequence as is, but the modern interpretation leaves much to be desired.

Not being led on a wild goose chase: The 2000 years myth that have been pushed to a degree until
Taek Kyon only has an indirect
influence on modern Taekwondo
recent times has led many students (and now masters) astray into a wild goose chase. We kick high in Poomsae to gain better follow through and to train our bodies for instance, but the 2000 year old myth of Taekwondo makes people believe that this is also how we apply the Poomsae and its kicks. A study of Taekwondo`s true history will explain that kicks should be applied to low section in most cases, and once that is understood the hand techniques that used to be akward to apply can be applied easily again. The aforementioned sidekicks and hammerfists of Taegeuk Oh Jang and Taebaek are a prime example of this. Most just accept the kicks being on mid section or even to the face (and in some cases straight up), because the Hwarang warriors supposedly kicked high. The truth is that these sequences will never truly be understood or applied until you kick low toward the opponents shins or knees. The hand on the hip only because of tradition and in real life you will keep it up is another one of the wild goose chases. I agree that if the other hand is not in use it should protect your head or centerline, but the traditional techniques all (that I can think of) use both hands. The basic traditional punch for instance has one hand pulling the opponents arm while you punch with the other (as per Funakoshi`s explanation).

Understanding what the goals of the founders of Taekwondo were: What were the goals of the founders of Taekwondo? What did they want us to take away from studying the martial arts? How did they view the relationship between basics, forms, free sparring and self defense? Is the way you spar today compatible to what they themselves were saying in the 1940s-70s? Is Taekwondo just a sport? Is it a martial art? Is it self defense? Is it everything? What values were important to them? This blog explores a lot of these questions rutinely if you have not noticed citing the different books that has been published and that I have gotten my hands on. Mainstream Taekwondo today is a far cry from what the Kwan founders set out to established just prior to and after the Korean war. Learning about this is crucial to understand were we came from and what we should focus our training on, should we want to honor these founders and pioneers.

No artificial limiting factors: "Pure Taekwondo does not include throws or grappling", "original Taekwondo did not contain joing locks they came later from Hapkido", Choi Hong Hi never taught grappling so I do not teach any either", "My teacher never taugh throws or break falling so I do not either", "Only ITF Taekwon-Do is true Taekwon-Do, the others simply copied the name" etc. These are just a small sample of what I have been told, and read in comments. The thing they all have in common however is a display of a lack of knowledge of Taekwondo history. There is no such thing as "pure Taekwondo" because Taekwondo itself was a mix of different arts, which themselves was a mix of different arts. Once you understand Taekwondo history you will see the absurdity of the notion of "pure Taekwondo". "Original Taekwondo" is also a problematic term, but in later years I have come to support noted Taekwondo historian George Vitale that "Original Taekwondo" should be preserved to be Oh Do Kwan Taekwondo. Simply because they used the name first, not because of age or content of the system. Joint locks, throws and grappling I will not comment much on in this post, but it has been part of the system since long before Taekwondo came into being and still is. People not learning this aspect just demonstrates that they are learning a limited part of the system. The name Taekwondo was "given" to the KTA (Korean Tang Su Do Association, into Korean Tae Su Do Association and then Korean Taekwondo Association) by Choi Hong Hi twice. Last time in 1965 were he used politics to get them to accept Taekwondo as a name for what they were doing by one vote. They did not "steal it" by any means, and Choi did not "force" them either, but he lobbied heavily and tactically to make them accept the name and use it. Only after he fled Korea and lost all control over the KTA did he start talking about frauds and copycats (at least thats what I have come to understand).

Looking at this we see that what keeps people restrained is often artificial restrictions that we can put to the side and work to develop Taekwondo to become the best we can get it to be. As both the ITF and WTF/Kukki Taekwondo has roots in the KTA we see we share lineage together eventough there are modern differences, so we should not fight each other, but help each other and learn from each other. Some of the best conversation partners online have roots back to Choi Hong Hi (Stuart Anslow for instance has learned me a ton) eventhough I am a Kukki Taekwondo exponent.

Clear understanding of our past, gives us an educated standpoint as to where to go from here: Once we know were we came from, know how the traditional techniques are applied, and know what the founders of Taekwondo wanted us to learn and study we have a firm educated standpoint on how to develop the art further. The new Poomsae developed for competition fails in this regard in a spectacular way, as in it would be very funny had it not also been so sad and highlighted the
Funakoshi demonstrating
an Application from Kory Poomsae.
Note the pulling of the opponents
arm toward the hip.
problems with a faulty understanding of the system to begin with. Personally I see little use in changing the overall system, but a change of focus and a greater depth of knowledge is needed. This should be the work of the Kukkiwon, but they are not doing enough of a good job in this regard. The only way to develop Taekwondo in a healthy manner is to learn the truth of were we came from and how the original system worked. Only when we have attained a better understanding of this, we can start to make changes that are healthy and educated. Change for changes sake, and change for aestecic is not good. The newly developed competition poomsae are a grand good example of this.

I hope to provide much more video content to this blog in the future. I have therefore set up a GoFundMe page on www.gofundme.com/traditionaltaekwondoramblings which I hope I can crowdfund a video editing software so I can make good quality videos for the blogs readers. If you want to contribute please visit the link to my GoFundMe page. Every donation helps :-)


  1. Congratulations!! Excellent post.

  2. Nice article!! Enjoyed reading it.

  3. "No artificial limiting factors: "Pure Taekwondo does not include throws or grappling", "original Taekwondo did not contain joing locks they came later from Hapkido", Choi Hong Hi never taught grappling so I do not teach any either", "My teacher never taugh throws or break falling so I do not either", "Only ITF Taekwon-Do is true Taekwon-Do, the others simply copied the name" etc." -

    I would ignore this type of ridiculous dribble, as it is apparently spread by those with artificial brains that have limited capacity to think, LOL!

    1. I don't think we can ignore this. People who purport themselves to be an authority or expert say these things and spread it like wildfire. This again makes people not to explore this area of Taekwondo as they believe it does not exist. This again leads to the extinction of these methods. Sometimes people need to be shown straight from the sources themselves before they can believe it.

  4. " - "Original Taekwondo" is also a problematic term, but in later years I have come to support noted Taekwondo historian George Vitale that "Original Taekwondo" should be preserved to be Oh Do Kwan Taekwondo. Simply because they used the name first, not because of age or content of the system." -

    I do not think the term original should be seen as problematic. It is accurate and it is a proper use of the word, according to correct English. It may be problematic to some who may see it as beating their side to something.
    As to the age, of someone uses the name earlier, then they can indeed be seen as somewhat older.
    Finally with respect to content. We must understand that they all were basically doing rudimentary karate. So when the new name TKD was conceived by General Choi Hong-Hi and applied to what he was developing, it must be noted that it coincided with the introduction of the first 2 Korean TKD Patterns. This was the start of the Original TKD, or the KMA of S.D. that was being developed in the ROK Army.

    1. It's problematic if you view Taekwondo as a generic umbrella term for Korean striking arts;-) we've discussed this at length in the study group:-)

  5. "The name Taekwondo was "given" to the KTA (Korean Tang Su Do Association, into Korean Tae Su Do Association and then Korean Taekwondo Association) by Choi Hong Hi twice"-

    I do not believe the name was given to the Tang Su Do Association. It was first used in the ODK and then given to the CDK, as General Choi was the Honorary Director. Then 4 years later it was given to the KTA that General Choi formed on Sept. 3, 1959. It was rejected yet again by Sept. 1961, when the civilians first used their new compromise name of Tae SOO Do, as they did not want to use the name TKD, as that was what Gen. Choi was doing. They only reluctantly accepted the TKD name after the intense lobbying of General Choi in 1965. Even after General Choi was forced out and Dr. Kim Un-Yong came intomthe scene, they wanted to reject it again. But Dr. Kim saw the benefit of keeping it, as TKD was already introduced around the world and taking hold in several places.

    1. You're completely right. This post was written purely from memory in one go. The point I'm making remains: no one "stole" the name, it was given by gm Choi, rejected and then it was given again and only through political lobbying did the rest agree to the term. Thanks for setting the record straight though:-)

  6. My last hair splitting I would like to do is that it is common to define the original Kwans as the ones that opened before the Korean Civil War broke out with an all out invasion by the communists in the north on June 25, 1950. This then gives us only 5, even though there were of course 9 Kwans that were retired, numbered and rolled into the KKW in August of 1978.
    The 5 Original Kwans that opened prior to 1950 are:
    Song Moo Kwan
    Chung Do Hwe
    Chosun Yun Moo Kwan
    YMCA Kwon Bup Bu
    Moo Duk Kwan
    After the fighting ceased in July 1953, we see the Kwans reorganizing, with 3 Kwans now being headed by new Directors and under new names. Some look at the growth to 9 from splits or branches of the Original Five. For instance the YMCA Kwon Bup Bu had 2nd generation leaders, (the students of Kwan founder or those who first studied abroad), become the Chang Moo Kwan and the Kang Duk Won. The Chosun Yun Moo Kwan became the JiDoKwan, led by Dr. Yoon, a first generation who studied in Japan as the 2nd Director and the Han Moo Kwan, led by a 2nd generation student. The Kwan founded by GM Lee Won-Kuk was now run by his student, 2nd generation leader GM Son Duk-Sung as the Director. Splitting from the Chung Do Kwan was the Jung Do Kwan, led by another student of Kwan founder GM Lee, a 2nd generation leader named Lee Yong-Woo.
    This brings the total to 8, with the Oh Do Kwan, founded by General Choi Hong-Hi, as the Military Kwan. General Choi a 1st generation Kwan founder, studied in Japan. Some look at the Oh Do Kwan as an annex Kwan of the Chung Do Kwan, as it was staffed mostly by instructors from there and General Choi was their Honorary Director.

    1. Yeah I did not go into details about the Kwan. The point I was making was simply that if you trace any Taekwondo lineage back long enough you will end up in one of the Kwan:-) my own teacher has a lineage back to Ji Do Kwan for instance.

  7. "Modern Taekwondo is a mix of several different Karate styles gathered in Japan, and some minor Chinese influence through a few individuals, coupled with the aforementioned collective memory of native martial arts kicking tendency."

    Fantastic summary. If I ever grade further, I might just write this if I get the history part on the written test -- maybe add on a paragraph on how government and private agenda have shaped taekwondo for the hell of it.

    I bet the feedback would be interesting!

    1. Let me know if you do that, I'm planning on doing that when I grade. I've talked a lot with gm Cho about history and he is on board with the real one and has been for a long time. If they flunked you because of the history answer simply call him and get a second opinion:-P in the Poomsae book of ttu you will find a much less "propogandic" history (but it still caters a little to the propoganda).

    2. Hehe, I would probably be more inclined to take a fail as a legitimately funny joke. I've only ever spoken to GM Cho under the dan ceremony or to say hello in passing, so that would've been the most awkward conversation in history!

      As for the history section, I'd always guessed that either you or Master Løbak had a hand in its writing, actually. ;) We're very lucky down here to have Master Løbak's mentorship, and I've noticed over the years that his explanation of TKD history has also drifted further towards what you describe above.

  8. So, if we are studying karate texts and taekwondo high kicks are just for show, then why not just practice karate?

    1. Because in a way we already are? Albeit a Korean organisation or reinterpretation of karate.