History of Taekwon-Do

Grandmaster General Choi Hong Hi, founder of Taekwon-Do
Grandmaster General Choi Hong Hi (1918-2002), founder of Taekwon-Do

General Choi Hong Hi started developing Taekwon-Do. He based the art on techniques from Japanese Karate and Korean Taek Kyon.

11 April 1955:
The name Taekwon-Do was decided by a special board summoned by General Choi.

The Korean Taekwon-Do Association was formed with General Choi as its first President.

22 March 1966:
The International Taekwon-Do Federation was formed in Seoul, South Korea.

1973 onwards:
Other world bodies such as the World Taekwondo Federation and the Global Taekwon-Do Federation were formed.

The history of Taekwon-Do is closely linked with the personal history of the acknowledged father of modern Taekwon-Do, and founder and president of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), General Choi Hong Hi. It is because of his tireless effort and unflagging dedication that Taekwon-Do has the international status that it know receives.

1918 - General Choi Hong Hi

General Choi Hong Hi was born on November 9th, 1918 in the rugged and harsh area of Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District in what is now D.P.R. of Korea. Young General Choi's calligraphy teacher, who was also a master of Taek Kyon, the ancient Korean art of foot fighting taught him the rigorous exercises of Taek Kyon to help build his frail body. While in Kyoto, Japan to further his education, General Choi had the opportunity to learn Karate. These techniques together with Taek Kyon, foot techniques, were the forerunners of modern Taekwon-Do.

1945 - Founding of the South Korean Army

General Choi was one of the founding members of the South Korean army, formed after liberation from the Japanese colonists. This marked the launching pad of the art in the Korean military.

1953 - Oh Do Kwan

General Choi organized and activated the crack 29th Infantry Division at Cheju Island, which eventually became the spearhead of Taekwon-Do in the military and established the Oh Do Kwan (Gym of My Way) where he succeeded not only in training the cadre instructors for the entire military but also developing the Taek Kyon and Karate techniques into a modern system of Taekwon-Do, with the help of Nam Tae Hi, his right hand man.

1955 - Naming of Taekwon-Do

Technically, 1955 signaled the beginning of Taekwon-Do as a formally recognized art in Korea. On the 11th of April 1955, a special board was summoned by General Choi to decide on the unified name of Taekwon-Do. After much debate, the five major Kwans, Chung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Song Moo Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, and Moo Duk Kwan accepted the name because it closely resembled the name of the ancient Korean martial art, Tae Kyon. This single unified name of Taekwon-Do replaced the different and confusing terms, such as Dang Soo, Gong Soo, Taek Kyon, and Kwon Bup.

1959 - Korean Taekwon-Do Association

In 1959, the Korean Taekwon-Do Association was formed. General Choi Hong Hi was elected its President. Ro Byung Jick of the Song Moo Kwan and Yoon Kwe Byung of the Ji Do Kwan were elected the Vice Presidents. Hwang Kee of Moo Duk Kwan was appointed the Chief Director.

1966 - International Taekwon-Do Federation

The 1960's brought the rapid spread of Taekwon-Do not only to the Korean populace and military, but to many countries throughout the world. The "Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill Demo Team", comprising the late Han Cha Kyo, Kim Joong Keun, Park Joong Soo, Kwon Jae Hwa, toured nine countries. This was the basis not only for establishing Taekwon-Do associations in a great number of countries, but also the formation of the International Taekwon-Do Federation as it is known today. On the 22nd of March 1966, the International Taekwon-Do Federation was formed in Seoul with associations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, the United States, Turkey, Italy, Arab Republic of Egypt and Korea.

1972 - The Growth of Taekwon-Do

In 1972, General Choi moved the headquarters of the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with the unanimous consent of member countries, to Toronto, Canada, envisaging to spread this art eventually to all countries throughout the world. In 1985, the founder of Taekwon-Do strengthened his desire to spread his art to the entire world, especially third world and politically disadvantaged countries by moving the International Taekwon-Do Federation to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, where it is still located. Throughout his life, General Choi's greatest desire was to spread Taekwon-Do, his art, to all people, no matter race, creed or political view. With the foundation of the ITF, General Choi's vision of establishing Taekwon-Do as a worldwide non-political organization and martial art, not just a sport, has come true. General Choi states in his book, "Taekwon-Do":

"All things are governed by the law of Yin and Yang, dark and light... happiness can often stem from catastrophic moments... My life has been a turbulent one, riddled with lonely fights and unfortunate adventure that few would envy... a life of self-exile thousands of miles distant from my beloved country. Even so it has truly been a worthwhile endeavor.

It is one of nature's ironies that delicate plants such as orchids or tulips require extreme care while weeds flourish with no attention at all. Wild panic grass, easily mistaken for wheat or rice, can actually prevent the growth of the genuine article. I cannot help but despair over the tainted image of Taekwon-Do recently created by practitioners of sham Taekwon-Do, who have nothing in common with the origin and art form except for a borrowed name.

I console myself with this thought: Like a counterfeit diamond that cannot cut glass, fraudulent Taekwon-Do is appearance without substance and like a summer shower that quickly dries from the earth or a hurricane that rapidly passes from the sky, phony Taekwon-Do practitioners and imitators cannot endure. It exists solely on the strength of political influence and is totally devoid of fundamental philosophy or technique based on logic. As such it is destined for an early exit. The issue lies in our ability to dirrerentiate between the true and the false.

My dream has at last been realized... the ultimate fantasy of spreading and teaching Taekwon-Do with no regard to considerations of religion, ideology, national boundaries, or race. I can say without hesitation that I am the happiest man alive.

It is my earnest desire that Taekwon-Do should retain its original concept and technique. It is also my sincere hope that Taekwon-Do's emphasis on promoting a healthier body and mind will provide a significant contribution to human progress for many generations to come."

The Present

Today, Taekwon-Do is practised in almost every country. Malaysia has been called "The Second Home of Taekwon-Do" by General Choi. General Choi's contribution to world peace earned him a nomination for the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize from the Canadian government. General Choi traveled extensively, conducting Taekwon-Do seminars and grading examinations in many countries. His last seminar was in April 2002 in Denver, USA, two months before his death on June 15th 2002.

Olympic Taekwon-Do

Taekwon-Do became an Olympic sport in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. An account of Taekwon-Do in the Olympics can be found in the book The New Lords of the Rings by journalist Andrew Jennings.

Related Links

History of Taekwon-Do - ITF Information

Taekwon-Do Times interview with General Choi - Downey's Taekwon-Do Centers

The Historical Background of the Korean Martial Arts - By Scott Shaw, Ph.D.

People and Events of Taekwon-Do's Formative Years - By Dakin Burdick