The rise of t'aekwondo is an extraordinary tale. Founded only forty years ago, it has grown so vigorously that it has become one of the most popular martial arts in the world. During its formative years, t'aekwondo was nearly indistinguishable from its parent art, Okinawan karate-do ("Tang [dynasty] hands way" originally, later "empty hands way"). The Korean kongsudo ("empty hands way") and tangsudo ("Tang [dynasty] hands way") of the late 1940s became the t'aesudo ("smashing-kick fist way") of the 1950s. In the 1960s, t'aesudo was renamed t'aekwondo and thereafter received the official support of the South Korean government, developing into a uniquely Korean martial art. The building of the Kukkiwon and formation of the World Taekwondo Federation (W.T.F.) in the 1970s largely finalized the system of modern t'aekwondo. The internationalization of t'aekwondo begun by Gen. Hong-Hi Choi in the 1960s was continued by the W.T.F. in the 1970s, which resulted in the introduction of t'aekwondo into the 1988 and 1992 Olympics as a demonstration sport. In the year 2000, t'aekwondo will become the second Asian martial art (the first being judo) to become an official Olympic sport.
Of course, most literature on t'aekwondo describes the art as "thousands of years old," but this is simply not so. Most of the martial arts practiced in Korea before the nineteenth century were merely reflections of Chinese martial arts. The three most common pieces of evidence for the antiquity of t'aekwondo -- the tomb murals of Koguryo kingdom, the statue of Kumkang-Yuksa, and the Muye tobo t'ongji (1790s) -- actually show that early Korean martial arts were largely derivative of Chinese martial arts. First, the tomb murals of the Koguryo dynasty (3-427 A.D.) do indeed show martial arts being practiced, but these murals are now located in modern Manchuria, not Korea. This of course is a mere technicality, since the Koguryo kingdom included much of both northern Korea and Manchuria, but it is also true that the Koguryo kingdom was heavily influenced by the Chinese. In fact, Koguryo was the easternmost outpost of Han dynasty China (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), and the martial arts depicted in Koguryo tomb murals closely resemble those in the tomb murals of the Eastern Han, located in what is now eastern China. This suggests that the form of Koguryo-era martial arts emerged because of Chinese cultural influence, rather than independent development by the future Koreans. Secondly, the statue of Kumkang-Yuksa at Sokkuram, which is often cited as the figure of an ancient warrior practicing t'aekwondo, is in fact a Buddhist guardian figure found through-out East Asia, and thus cannot be said to be unique to Korea either. Lastly, and most conclusively, the Muye tobo t'ongji (Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts) of the 1790s describes Chinese tactics and martial skills including quan-fa ("boxing"; lit. "fist method"), quotes classical Chinese sources, and was written by a scholar famed for his erudition in classical Chinese. Indeed, it seems nearly identical to the Jixiao Xinshu or New Book for Effective Discipline (1561) by the Chinese general Jiquang Qi (1528-1587). Thus, the three pieces of evidence most often cited as supporting the existence of an ancient form of t'aekwondo actually support the opposing viewpoint, and demonstrate that Korean martial arts imitated Chinese martial arts until at least 1800.
The most popular martial art in Korea prior to the nineteenth century was kwonbop ("fist method"; in Mandarin, quan-fa). Kwonbop entered Korea through its close association with China, especially through the Koguryo dynasty, as already mentioned. When King Kwankkaet'o of Koguryo sent warriors to aid Sinra against the wako (Japanese pirates), they also trained Sinra warriors who later became the core of the famous warrior band, the hwarang ("flower youth"). The hwarang are often described as the finest warriors in Korean history, but they trained in kwonbop, a Chinese martial art. The Chinese martial arts achieved their greatest fame during the Tang dynasty, and as a result, kwonbop is sometimes referred to as tangsu ("Tang hand"). This fame, incidentally, was also reflected by Okinawans, since karate originally meant "Tang hand" before Gichin Funakoshi changed its meaning to "empty hand" in 1933. A third term for Chinese martial arts in Korea was subak ("striking hand"), although kwonbop remained the most popular of the various terms.
The only uniquely Korean martial arts before the twentieth century were ssirum and t'aeggyon, and neither of these had a great impact on the early development of t'aekwondo. Ssirum was a form of wrestling that became popular as a sport by the thirteenth century. It is still practiced in Korea, but had no obvious effect on the development of t'aekwondo. T'aeggyon appeared in the early 1800s, about the same time that the Chinese martial arts became less popular, and in its modern form is an art emphasizing circular kicking, leg sweeps, and leg trapping followed by a throw. There does seem to be some link between modern t'aeggyon and t'aekwondo, since both arts emphasize circular kicking (roundhouse kick, spinning kicks) rather than linear ones (side kick, front kick), but any influence that t'aeggyon may have had upon t'aekwondo's development was not evident in the techniques of the latter until the 1960s. The Koreans in the late nineteenth century valued scholarship, not athleticism, and by 1900 there was little serious interest in the martial arts of either China or Korea, except perhaps as games for children to play at festivals. Interest in t'aeggyon was further reduced because it was popularly associated with thugs and criminals. By 1945, there were only two masters of the art left, so few people had the chance to study the art at all. It was not until Dok-Ki Song and Hwan Song gave a demonstration of t'aeggyon in 1958 at a birthday party for Republic of Korea (R.O.K.; South Korea) President Sung-Man Yi (aka. "Sung-Man Lee") that there was a resurgence of interest in the art. This renewal of interest preceded t'aekwondo's development into a more circular style, which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This suggests that t'aekwondo's transition may have been in part due to the recognition of the circular traditions of t'aeggyon.
The occupation of Korea by the Japanese from 1894 to 1945, on the other hand, had an enormous impact on the Korean people. Japan originally entered Korea in 1894. China came to Korea's aid but was defeated in the Sino-Japanese War (1894). When Queen Min was murdered by Japanese agents in 1896, King Kojong sought protection from the foreign legations, and the Russian legation sheltered him from the Japanese for nearly a year. Japan later defeated Russian claims to the area in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), at which point the U.S. tacitly recognized Japanese control of Korea with the Taft-Katsura Memorandum (1905). Japan then reduced the Korean army and took over the government. The Korean emperor was forced to abdicate in 1907 and in 1910 Korea was officially annexed to Japan. Segregated Korean and Japanese public schools were established, with the Koreans receiving an inferior education. There was little attempt by the Koreans to revolt, except for the assassination of Japanese Prince Hirobumi Ito in 1909 and the disastrous Declaration of Independence in 1919 in which thousands of Korean demonstrators were killed by the Japanese army. As the years passed, Japanese control tightened further. The Japanese language was taught in the schools rather than Korean, and many Koreans raised in that era still cannot read the Korean language. During the Second World War, over half a million Koreans were taken to Japan to work, primarily in mining and heavy industry. Sixty thousand of these died in Japan during the war. Back home, Korean women were forced to serve as "comfort women" (prostitutes) for the Japanese Army. By the time freedom finally arrived in 1945, the Koreans had little love for the Japanese.
The fifty year occupation by the Japanese greatly influenced Korean martial arts. Japanese educational curricula was imposed in all Korean schools, which meant that before the Japanese banned the practice of fighting arts in Korea in 1909, all Korean boys were taught the sportive forms of judo and kendo. The Japanese ban on the martial arts in 1909 was not able to suppress their practice completely. In fact, Yeon-Hee Park and Bong-Soo Han believe that the ban actually increased their practice, which moved to the Buddhist monasteries, a traditional place of refuge for out-of-favor warriors. Despite its unsavory association with young brawlers, t'aeggyon continued to be practiced at Tan O Nol ("youth festivals") until the art was outlawed in 1920. Among its practitioners were Dok-Ki Song and Il-Dong Han. According to Hancock, Kee Hwang (b. 1913) studied t'aeggyon with "family friends" and subakki with "an uncle." Masutatsu Oyama (born Yong-i Choi) also recalls studying chabi (aka. taiken; "a combination of kempo and jujutsu") in a Korean primary school in 1932, as well as from a North Korean farmhand who also taught him "Shaolin kung-fu" on his father's farm. Nam-Suk Lee and a few of his friends began training after discovering a few martial arts books in Chinese that the Japanese had failed to destroy. Lastly, Ki-Whang Kim (1920-1993) was able to begin judo in Korea in 1931, despite the Japanese ban.
Of course, the ban on fighting arts did not include members of the Japanese army stationed in Korea, and several important martial artists began their careers there. About the time of the Russo-Japanese war, British judo pioneer Gunji Koizumi studied kenjutsu and jujutsu in Korea at a school run by Nobukatsu Yamada. Many years later, Teruo Yamaguchi began learning karate-do while stationed in Korea.
Nor did the ban include Koreans training in Japan. At least nine Koreans trained in Japan: Yong-Shul Choi, Geka Yung, Hyung-Ju Cho, Won-Kuk Lee, Pyong-Chik Ro, Hong-Hi Choi, Yong-i Choi, Ki-Whang Kim, and Pyung-In Yun. Yong-Shul Choi (b. 1890) claims to have trained for many years in Daito-ryu aikijutsu under Sokaku Takeda, although his claims are not recognized by the followers of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. Choi later returned to Korea and taught yusul (jujutsu), which one of his students, Ji-Han Jae, later called hapkido ("coordinated energy way"). The other eight Koreans trained in karate-do. Geka Yung was the head instructor of the Kanbukan ("Korean martial arts hall") in Japan, which was later renamed the Renbukan ("training martial arts hall") under Norio Nakamura. Hyung-Ju Cho (b. 1907) moved to Japan, changed his name to Neichu So, and trained in Goju-ryu karate-do under Chojun Miyagi in high school, becoming a karate-do instructor in 1939. According to Hancock, Won-Kuk Lee learned Shotokan karate-do while attending school in Japan. Pyong-Chik Ro studied at a Japanese university during the Second World War, during which time he also studied under Gichin Funakoshi and earned his first dan (black belt rank) in karate-do before returning to Korea in 1944. Hong-Hi Choi (b. 1918) and Yong-i Choi (b. 1923) both went to Japan in the late 1930s, earned their second dan in karate-do before being drafted into the Japanese army in 1943, and later became famous karateka ("karate experts"). Hong-Hi Choi went to Japan in 1938, earned his second dan in karate-do at Tokyo University, and then taught at the Y.M.C.A. in Tokyo. After the war he returned to Korea and later became known as the "father" of t'aekwondo. Yong-i Choi went to Japan in 1937 to study at a boy's military academy and later at Takushoku University in Tokyo. He studied karate-do at Gichin Funakoshi's Shotokan dojo, served in the Japanese army, and then trained in Goju-ryu karate-do for two years under Neichu So. He went on to become the most famous karateka in the world, although Japanese immigration laws had forced him to take a new Japanese name. The name he chose was Masutatsu Oyama, and he became famous as the founder of Kyokushin-kai karate-do, who fought bulls with his bare hands. Ki-Whang Kim began judo in 1931 and earned his first dan from the Kodokan five years later. He went on to study karate-do at Nihon University in Tokyo, where he captained the team and was nicknamed "Typhoon." He later spent two years "studying kempo and kung-fu in China," probably as one of the draftees of the Japanese Army. Pyung-In Yun (b. 1918) was raised in Manchuria and studied quan-fa there before also attending college at Nihon University. He trained there with one of the faculty members, Kanken Toyama (1888-1966), who also happened to be the founder of Shudokan karate-do. Before Yun returned to Korea, Toyama recognized him as a fourth dan in his style.
The Japanese ban on martial arts in Korea was lifted in 1943, first for judo and then for karate-do and Chinese martial arts. For the two years before the surrender of Japan, the martial arts enjoyed a new popularity in Korea. The actions of Korean martial artists in Korea in those days remains largely unknown.
At least four Japanese martial arts remained popular in Korea after liberation, albeit under their Koreanized names. Koreans continued to study yudo (judo), komdo (kendo), yusul (jujutsu), and kongsudo (karate-do). The Korean Yudo Association was founded in October of 1945 by Mum-Suk Lee and Jin-Hee Han, and the Korean Komdo Association (K.K.A.) was organized in Seoul in 1948. The K.K.A. became affiliated with the Korean Amateur Sports Association on Nov. 20, 1953, and in the same year the Korean Yudo College was founded with Dr. Je-Hwang Lee as its first president. Both yudo and komdo remained virtually unchanged from their Japanese namesakes. On the other hand, the arts of yusul and kongsudo have changed greatly since Korean liberation. Yusul developed into hapkido and all of its derivatives (kuksul, hwarang-do, etc.), while kongsudo would eventually go through the greatest changes of all, developing into tangsudo and t'aekwondo.
The various kwans ("schools") of kongsudo retained much of the style of karate-do for many years, including the various kata or forms of karate-do. Many tangsudo schools today still retain the forms of karate-do. As late as 1965, Hong-Hi Choi (the "Father of Taekwon-Do") was still teaching Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu forms (including Heian 1-5, Empi, Rohai, Bassai, Kusanku, Jion, Tekki 1-3, Hangetsu, and Jitte) along with his own forms, called the Ch'ang Hon set. "Tae-kwon do is identical to Japanese karate," asserted Sihak Henry Cho in 1968. Cho also noted that "some of the Korean public still use the 'karate' pronunciation in conversation."
All authorities are agreed that at least five kwans ("schools") of karate-do appeared in Korea in the two years following liberation. According to John Corcoran, the Ch'ongdokwan, Mudokkwan, and Yunmukwan were the first to surface, but were quickly followed in 1946 by the Ch'idokwan, Changmukwan, & Sangmukwan. Kee Hwang says that the Mudokkwan, Yunmukwan, Changmukwan, Ch'ongdokwan, and Sangmukwan were all "in existence" at the end of the Japanese occupation. All of these schools were located in Seoul, with the exception of the Sangmukwan, which was first located in Kaesong but later moved to Seoul. At least two of these kwans -- the Ch'ongdokwan and the Changmukwan -- were founded by Koreans who had studied karate-do in Japan.
Won-Kuk Lee (aka. Won-**** Lee) founded the Ch'ongdokwan ("the true path hall") after his return from Japan in January, 1944. Lee's school was located in Yong Chun, Seoul. When Lee retired, Duk-Sung Son took over the kwan, which would become one of the largest and most important of the kwans. Son recalls that there were many gangsters and American soldiers in Seoul after the Second World War, and as a result, "Fighting was rampant." The kwans helped the police, and anyone with a black belt was given "an honorary badge."
Kee Hwang (aka. Ki-Chang Hang) founded the Mudokkwan ("martial virtue hall") on Nov. 9, 1945. A railway worker, Hwang is said to have studied Chinese kuo-shu while working on the Japanese railroads in Manchuria in 1936 and after. Robert Shipley believes Hwang "probably studied a hard style of karate similar to shorin" as well. This is supported by Hancock, who notes that Hwang claimed Gogen Yamaguchi "as a personal friend." Yamaguchi, nicknamed "The Cat," was the founder of Japanese Goju-ryu Karate-do and was also in Manchuria in 1939, so Hwang could have studied with him at that time. Yamaguchi was a Japanese intelligence officer stationed near the Russian border, and Hwang also was near the Russian border during at least one point in his travels (he has mentioned being at the town of Man Chu Li). From an examination of his later writings, Hwang certainly seems to have been much more influenced by Japanese karate-do than by Chinese kuo-shu. The basic pumsae ("forms") of tangsudo are nearly identical to the kata ("forms") of Shotokan karate-do. They include the three Kijo pumsae (based on the three Taikyokyu kata), the five Pyong-Ann pumsae (based upon the five Heian kata), and "Basahee" (Bassai). On the other hand, the advanced pumsae are named after Chinese styles, including T'aigukkwon ("Great Absolute Fist", or Taijiquan) and Jangkwon ("long fist").
Besides these two famous kwans, there were four other early kwans about which little is known. Both Corcoran and Hwang agree that Sang-Sup Chun founded the Yunmukwan in 1945, but all we know about Chun is that he was lost during the Korean War. Corcoran & Farkas say that Yon-Kue Pyang (aka. Yun-Gae Byang, or Yun-Kwei Byong) founded the Ch'idokwan in 1946, while Hwang simply states that it existed before the Korean War. Pyung-In Yun (aka. Byung-In Yoon) established a club at Kyung Sung Agricultural High School in Seoul on Sept. 1, 1946. Yun then founded the Changmukwan teaching what he called kwonbop ("fist method") at the Y.M.C.A. in Seoul. Yun may have had some training in Chinese quan-fa ("fist method"), which he taught under its Korean name of kwonbop, but it is more likely that he taught the Japanese style of Shudokan karate-do, in which he was a fourth dan. The reason for this possible deception is that many of the members of the Korean Y.M.C.A. had been members of the independence movement during the occupation, and certainly they would have insisted that no foreign art be taught at the gym. On Mar. 5, 1947, a second club was opened at in the Ministry of Communications office, and taught by Nam-Suk Lee (b. 1925). When Yun was listed as missing during the Korean War and later declared legally dead, Lee gained control of the kwan. Yun's surviving instructors built a central dojang in Seoul on Oct. 5, 1953, with Nam-Suk Lee elected as its second president. Pyong-Chik Ro (aka. Byung-Gik No, or Yung-Chik Roh) founded the Sangmukwan in 1944 after earning his first dan in karate-do in Japan and then returning to Korea. He first tried to open classes in an archery school in Kaesong, but this attempt failed. He tried again in May, 1946, this time opening his own dojang, which was quickly forced to close because of the onset of the Korean War. At the end of the war in 1953, he finally opened a successful school in Seoul.
At least eight other schools appeared around the time of the Korean War (1950-1953). These schools included the Odokwan, Hanmukwan, Kangdukkwon, Kangmukwan, Chongmukwan, Chongkyongkwan, and the Kukmukwan. Kee Hwang claims that these were all present before the start of the Korean war, while Corcoran claims that the Odokwan and Sangmukwan were all founded in 1953-1954. The Odokwan was founded in 1953 and the Kangdukkwon was founded in 1956 (proving Hwang partially in error) but several sources claim that the Sangmukwan was founded in Kaesong before the Korean war (proving Corcoran was also partially incorrect). Therefore, the time that most of these schools appeared can as yet only be approximated as the late 1940s or early 1950s. Most of the new kwans were offshoots of the original five. The Hanmukwan developed from the Yunmukwan, and was founded by Kyo-Yoon Lee. The Kangdukkwon, Kangmukwan, and Chongmukwan were all associated with the Changmukwan, while the Chongkyongkwan, Kukmukwan, and Odokwan were all associated with the Ch'ongdokwan.
Martial arts in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.; North Korea) probably disappeared after the communists took control in the 1950s. They were certainly gone in 1981 when Karl Nicoletti visited the D.P.R.K. with a demonstration team led by Hong-Hi Choi and Chuck Sereff. Nicoletti reported that "the martial arts in general, and tae kwon do in particular, are virtually unknown in North Korea." The only martial art he could discover was an informal form of unarmed combat called "kuok sul" (kuksul) that was practiced by the military. Private instruction in the martial arts would tend to support resistance to the state, and like the Japanese before them, the communists did not allow such resistance. Official discouragement of private martial arts was definitely a pattern in the D.P.R.K.'s neighbour, communist China. Nigel Sutton has reported that private martial arts in the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) were largely reduced because the communists believed that "in our socialist society we do not need to fight or to be able to defend ourselves." In fact, at least one martial arts teacher in the P.R.C. was "beaten to death by a crowd armed with clubs, who urged him to use his 'gongfu' to defend himself." The loss of North Korean arts is regrettable, since they would have provided an excellent source of comparison for the development of t'aekwondo in South Korea.
It was during the Korean war that the first serious efforts were made in the R.O.K. to organize the various styles of kongsudo (Korean karate-do) under a single national organization. The first conference to discuss unification took place in 1946, but it was not until the 1950s that the Korea Kongsudo Association was formed. Chung claims the association was founded at Pusan in 1951, with Cho-Ryon Chi as its leader. Frankovich claims the date was May 25, 1953, and that "this association did not elect a president." Frankovich lists the Vice-President as Young-Joo Cho (a yudo stylist), with Pyong-Chik Ro (Sangmukwan founder) as the Executive Director. The various Directors were Kee Hwang (founder of Mudokkwan), Chong-Woo Lee (Ch'idokwan), Yon-Kue Pyang (Ch'idokwan), Jong-Myung Hyun (Ch'ongdokwan), Nam-Suk Lee (Changmukwan), and In-Hwa Kim (yudo). Pyong-Chik Ro was established as "the master instructor" and as "the chair of the rank promotion committee." Eventually dissension set in, and the association dissolved. Still, the movement had made an impression, for Shipley tells us that the Ch'ongdokwan continued to describe its art as kongsudo until about 1962.
Another contender for leadership of kongsudo was the Korean Tangsudo Association, which was founded in 1953 by Kee Hwang. Hwang's first manual was published in 1950. According to Shipley, the style taught by the Mudokkwan was first called hwasudo ("flowering hand way"), which was changed to tangsudo "in the early 1950's" to reflect "Korea's long cultural brotherhood with China." Hwang discovered a copy of the Muye dobo t'ongji (c1790s) in 1957 and began to study it extensively, using it to link tangsudo to the pre-occupation martial arts tradition of subak. This combination made tangsudo quite successful, as did a tournament that Hwang sponsored on Sept. 18, 1958, between the teams of the national railway in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the railway. The Seoul Railway team took first place, and by 1960 the Korean government had registered tangsudo as "the Korean traditional Martial Art."
A third contender for the leadership of kongsudo was Hong-Hi Choi's t'aekwondo. As mentioned before, Choi had been sent to Kyoto in 1938 for an education. Just before he left Korea, he fell afoul of a professional wrestler who promised to tear him "limb from limb" if he ever saw him again. Choi has explained that after this event, "I resolved to become a black belt holder in Karate while I was in Japan." He studied Japanese karate-do, eventually earning his second dan at the University of Tokyo. He then taught the art at the Tokyo Y.M.C.A. until he was drafted into the Japanese army. While stationed at P'yongyang in northern Korea, Choi was implicated as "the planner of the Korean Independence Movement, known as the Pyongyang Student Soldier's Movement" and interned at a Japanese prison camp for eight months. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, during which time he taught karate-do to both jailers and prisoners. Choi was freed when the war ended in August of 1945, after only a few months of imprisonment by the Japanese. His sentence probably helped his subsequent career in the Korean army, which he joined in January of 1946 as a second lieutenant. He became the company commander of the Fourth Infantry Regiment in Kwangju, where he taught karate-do to both Koreans and Americans. According to Choi, "I began to teach Karate to my soldiers as a means of physical and mental training. It was then that I realized that we needed to develop our own national martial art, superior in both spirit and technique to Japanese karate."
Choi rose quickly through the ranks and retained his interest in unarmed combat. He taught martial arts to both Koreans and Americans stationed at Tae-Jon in 1946-1947. By the time Choi became the martial arts instructor for the American Military Police School in Seoul in 1948, he had achieved the rank of major. One year later he was a colonel, visiting the Ft. Riley Ground General School in Kansas. It was during that visit that Choi gave the first public demonstration of kongsudo (Korean karate-do) in the United States.
The Korean War increased attention on Korean martial arts, and gave a further boost to Choi's career. President Syngman Rhee watched a thirty minute demonstration by Korean masters in 1952. He was so impressed by Tae-Hi Nam's breaking demonstration (thirteen roofing tiles) that he questioned Nam's superior, Hong-Hi Choi, about the arts and then ordered all soldiers to receive training in kongsudo. Haeng-Ung Lee later recalled that "there was an instructor shortage" in Korea in the early 1950s, and "it was hard to find a dojang," probably both because of the youth of the art in Korea and because many instructors were in the military. Various military units trained in kongsudo distinguished themselves in the war, including the Korean Twenty-Ninth Infantry Division (formed by Choi in 1953) and the Black Tigers, an elite unit involved in espionage and assassination missions behind enemy lines. Many lives were lost in the conflict. Sang-Sup Chun (founder of the Yunmukwan) and Pyung-In Yun (founder of the Changmukwan) were both listed as missing in action. Chong-Woo Lee took over control of the Yunmukwan, while Nam-Suk Lee took over the Changmukwan. Covert operations in the D.P.R.K. continued after the war, and once again Korean martial artists (including Haeng-Ung Lee) took part. Hong-Hi Choi founded the Odokwan in 1953, supported by Tae-Hi Nam. The new kwan was based upon the principles used by the Ch'ongdokwan (which Choi also commanded in late 1954). After Choi fell into disfavor in the R.O.K. in the mid-1970s, official histories of the World Taekwondo Federation (W.T.F.) began giving Tae-Hi Nam -- whom Choi called "his righthand man in 1954" -- sole credit for the founding of the Odokwan.
The t'aekwondo movement began in 1955, when a conference of masters assembled on Apr. 11 to again attempt to unify kongsudo. According to both Choi and Duk-Sung Son, the conference chose the name of t'aekwondo ("smashing-kick fist way"). Aside from Maj.-Gen. Choi, the other members of the board were Hwa-Chung Yoo, Duk-Sung Son, Gen. Hyung-Kun Lee, Kyun-Kyu Cho, Sen. Dae-Chun Chung, Chang-Won Han, Kyung-Rok Chang, Soon-Ho Hong, Kwang-Rae Ko, and Jong-Myung Hyun. Both Son and Choi claim credit for invention of the name t'aekwondo. Choi claims he chose the name because of its similarity to t'aeggyon, and because the names tangsudo and kongsudo "connoted Chinese or Japanese martial arts." Son, on the other hand, claims that he was "directly responsible for searching out and popularizing the original name of Tae Kwon Do." Choi claims the name was chosen on Apr. 11, 1955, while Son claims it was chosen at the first meeting of the Ch'ongdokwan board of directors on Dec. 19, 1955.
Despite the evidence of Choi and Son, it is this author's belief that t'aekwondo was originally called "t'aesudo" ("smashing-kick hand way"). Both Kee Hwang and Pyong-Chik Ro (through Frankovich), as well as Kim Soo (through the Dussaults) give "t'aesudo" as the early name for the art that came to be t'aekwondo. Jong-Rok Kim of the Kukkiwon also supports this view by stating that the Korean Taekwondo Association (K.T.A.) was originally "the Tae Soo Do Association." Also, Shipley recalls that "The earliest organization that I personally experienced using this name [taekwondo] was the Chongdo-Kwan association around 1962 (they had previously gone under kong soo do)." Since the head instructor of the Ch'ongdokwan was Duk-Sung Son, his use of the name "kongsudo" seven years after he supposedly introduced t'aekwondo is paradoxical. For this reason, "t'aesudo" will be used instead of t'aekwondo during the discussion of the next few years, even though Choi and Son (both important authorities of the era) do not acknowledge the use of "t'aesudo."
Contention among the kwans continued for several years following the 1955 meeting. For a time, Kee Hwang's Korean Tangsudo Association was quite successful and Hwang's efforts to connect tangsudo with the older art of subak seemed to have paid off. After a July 1959 meeting, the Korean Kongsudo Association and the Korean Tangsudo Association merged to form the Subakdo Association, with the aim of petitioning the Korean Amateur Sports Association (K.A.S.A.) for membership. They hoped that renewed solidarity would win admittance, since the Subakdo Association "contained all of the original kwans in one united group." K.A.S.A. rejected their petition.
After Hwang's failure, Gen. Choi emerged as the new leader of Korean karate-do. His style of t'aesudo derived much of its power through its association with the military. All Korean men were required to serve three years in the military, and the military taught t'aesudo, not tangsudo. The Korean T'aesudo Association (K.T.A.) was founded in 1959, with the help of Gen. Choi. The Subakdo Association, after its rejection by K.A.S.A., turned to Hong-Hi Choi for political support. A conference between the two groups took place in Sept. 1959, which resulted in the creation of the new organization. When Hee-Il Cho (b. 1940) joined the army in 1961 as a fourth dan in tangsudo, he became a t'aesudo instructor and learned the Ch'ang Hon forms designed by Gen. Choi. As a result, he is today known as one of the foremost t'aekwondo instructors. The influence of the military had always been quite strong in the martial arts community, and Choi reaped the benefits of that influence. In addition, the impact of the R.O.K. military was about to become even stronger.
On May 15, 1961, a military coup d'etat ousted the Second Republic and placed Gen. Chung-Hee Park in charge of South Korea. At the end of 1962, Park became the President of the Third Republic and he was re-elected in 1967 & 1971. In 1972, he dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the constitution. He then expanded his powers and was elected President of the Fourth Republic at the end of the year. He was re-elected in Dec. 1978, but was assassinated in 1979 by the head of his own intelligence agency. Until then, Park reigned as a dictator over the R.O.K. for eighteen years, and his military background had an enormous impact upon t'aekwondo's development.
Following the coup d'etat, the K.T.A. met on Sept. 14, 1961, to elect Gen. Hong-Hi Choi as its new president, since Choi's support of the coup had garnered him much influence with the new military government. Kee Hwang and Yon-Kue Pyang (founder of the Ch'idokwan) protested the decision and left the organization permanently. The Ch'ongdokwan, which was by then "the largest civilian gym in Korea," also fought unification under the K.T.A., instead supporting Kee Hwang's organization, the Korean Subakdo Association.
Resistance proved futile. The K.T.A. became an affiliate of the K.A.S.A. on June 25, 1962 and in January, 1964, it joined the Korean Athletic Association. On Oct. 24, 1962, t'aesudo also became an official event in the forty-third annual National Games of the R.O.K., although the K.T.A. did not establish match rules until Nov. 3 (these rules would be amended four times by 1967). Many instructors rejoined the K.T.A. in 1962 when the K.T.A. decided to retest all black belts to establish national standards, an action that seemed ominous given the obvious support of the Park government.
Kee Hwang, founder of the Mudokkwan, remained the most visible opponent of the K.T.A., and as a result he was often harrassed by K.T.A. supporters. The K.T.A. attempted to have the Mudokkwan's charter with the Ministry of Education revoked, but Hwang won the case under the Korean Supreme Court. According to Robert Shipley, Hwang's house was also "partially burned by 'persons unknown'" as a result of his resistance to the t'aesudo movement. Hwang eventually moved to the U.S. (in May, 1974), where he continued to teach tangsudo.
National unification of t'aesudo was accompanied by a drive for its internationalization. T'aesudo demonstration teams visited South Vietnam and Taiwan in 1959, and the art was then established in the United States (1959), South Vietnam (1962), Thailand (1962-3), Malaysia (1962), Hong Kong (1962-3), Canada (1964), Singapore (1964), West Germany (1964), Italy (1965), Turkey (1965), and the United Arab Emirates (1965). Hong-Hi Choi, then a retired two-star general and ambassador to Malaysia, had himself introduced t'aesudo to Malaysia in 1962.
Internationalization efforts became even more fervent after the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. On Aug. 5, 1965, the K.T.A. was renamed the Korean Taekwondo Association and in that same year, Hong-Hi Choi led a "Good-Will Mission of Taekwon-Do" on a tour of fourteen countries. The Tokyo games also inspired Gwan-Sik Min, President of K.A.S.A., in 1966 to propose that a training center be built to prepare Korean athletes for international competition. President Park assented. In response, the International Taekwon-Do Federation (I.T.F.) was founded on Mar. 22, 1966, with Hong-Hi Choi appointed as president of the new organization. Under the I.T.F., t'aekwondo was spread to the Netherlands (1966), Taiwan (1967), the United Kingdom (1967), and elsewhere. 1967 marks the apex of Gen. Choi's career in Korea, since it was in that year that he invited Masutatsu Oyama, by then one of the most famous karateka in Japan, to come to Seoul to discuss eventually changing Oyama's Kyokushinkai karate-do to t'aekwondo.
T'aekwondo continued to gain in importance in Korea in the 1970s. Construction of the Kukkiwon, the Seoul headquarters of the t'aekwondo, began on Nov. 19, 1971, and the building was inaugurated on Nov. 30, 1972. On Feb. 14, 1972, t'aekwondo became a part of the official curriculum of Korea's primary schools. It entered the middle school curricula on Aug. 31 and on Dec. 5, the National High School and Middle School T'aekwondo Federation was established, followed by the National Collegiate T'aekwondo Federation on Dec. 28, 1972.
A schism between Hong-Hi Choi and the K.T.A. appeared in 1973. Choi planned to move to Toronto in 1974, and take the I.T.F. headquarters with him. Young-Wun Kim (President of the K.T.A.) was dismayed by this move, because he believed that the international headquarters of t'aekwondo should remain in Korea. As a result, Kim severed the K.T.A.'s ties to the I.T.F. and supported the formation of a new organization, the World Taekwondo Federation (W.T.F.), which was founded during the first World Taekwondo Championships held at the Kukkiwon from May 25 to May 28, 1973. The first meeting of the W.T.F was on May 26, and the organization was officially established on the last day of the championships. Choi responded by having J.C. Kim host the I.T.F.'s World Taekwon-Do Championships in Montreal in 1974, marking his determination to compete with the W.T.F. in Seoul.
The distance between the I.T.F. and W.T.F. widened with the years. Hong-Hi Choi publicly denounced R.O.K. President Chung-Hee Park in September, 1977, claiming that that Park was "using Taekwon-Do for his political ends." Choi also made several peace overtures towards the D.P.R.K., and in 1981 he took a demonstration team of sixteen black belts to that country for ten days. While there, he met with not only his brother (whom he had not seen for more than twenty years) and one of his aunts, but also President Il-Sung Kim, who gave such audiences only on very rare occasions. Choi today is responsible for the spread of t'aekwondo to the D.P.R.K., and works for the re-unification of Korea. As a result of his work with North Korea, some South Koreans regard him as a traitor.
These then, were the formative years of t'aekwondo, which began as kongsudo. Nearly identical to the Japanese karate-do learned during the occupation of Korea, kongsudo developed new nationalistic paradigms in the 1950s, including Kee Hwang's tangsudo and Hong-Hi Choi's t'aekwondo. Hwang tried to link tangsudo with the Chinese-influenced art of subak, while Choi tied t'aekwondo to the indigenous art of t'aeggyon. Both subak and t'aeggyon represented for many Koreans the purity of the land before the Japanese invasion. With the military coup of 1961, Choi's dream took precedence and by 1973, t'aekwondo had spread across the world and flowered into a unique kicking style.
Many Koreans dislike admitting their debt to the Chinese and Japanese martial arts, because they feel that their earlier dependence invalidates the current standing of t'aekwondo. This is not so. First, if t'aekwondo were invalidated by its debt to China, then so would be Okinawan kempo and Japanese karate-do, both of which likewise stem from Chinese quan-fa. T'aekwondo's position as an important martial art is secure. While it is true that t'aekwondo was once simply Korean karate-do, it has since evolved into a uniquely Korean form, under the guidance of the W.T.F. and other organizations. Secondly, much of the karate-do now practiced in the United States began as kongsudo. Atlee Chittim studied kongsudo in Korea in 1948 and joined the U.S. Karate Association when he returned home, eventually sponsoring entry of the "father of American taekwondo," Jhoon Rhee, into the United States in 1956. Another of Rhee's students, Allen Steen, is called a "pioneer" of "American karate" by John Corcoran, although Steen was trained in kongsudo. Steen's students have included such notables as Pat Burleson ("the 'grandfather' of open tournament fighting in America"), Skipper Mullins (an "American karate champion"), Fred Wren (another "American karate champion"), and Mike Anderson (an "American karate pioneer"). Ernest Lieb studied kongsudo under Il-Sup Chun, and went on to become the first chairman of Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.) Karate and then the President of the American Karate Association. It is obvious from all these examples that Korean instructors were largely responsible for the rise of karate-do in America, and therefore merit the respect of their fellow karateka. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, t'aekwondo's meteoric rise to fame and its de facto position of prominence are themselves validations of its techniques.
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