Teakwondo The History of an Art As it is translated from Korean, Tae means “to kick” or “to strike with the foot,” Kwon means “fist” or “to strike with the hand,” and Do means “discipline” or “art.” Taken together, Tae Kwon Do means“the art of kicking and punching”—“the art of unarmed combat.” Modern-day Tae Kwon Do, as it has come to be developed over the years, is a unique martial art incorporating both the quick, straight-line movements that characterize the various Japanese systems and the flowing circular movements of most Chinese styles. But more than this, what truly distinguishes Tae Kwon Do is its varied and uniquely powerful kicking techniques.
It is this prominent use of leg and kicking techniques that set Kwon Do apart from all other martial arts systems.
Yet, Tae Kwon Dois far more than simply a system concerned with physical prowess, for it is also art directed toward the moral development of its students. The earliest records of Tae Kwon Do practice date back to about50 b.c. During this time, Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, which was founded on the Kyongju plain in 57 b.c.; Koguryo, founded in the Yalu River Valley in 37 b.c.; and Baekche, founded in the southwestern area of the Korean peninsula in 18 b.c.
Evidence of the practice of Taek Kyon (the earliest known form of Tae Kwon Do) has been found in paintings on the ceiling of the Muyong-Chong, a royal tomb from the theKoguryo dynasty. These and other mural paintings show unarmed combatants using techniques that are virtually identical to those of modern-day Tae Kwon Do.
Of particular interest are details that show the use of the knife hand, fist, and classical fighting stances, all components of modern Tae Kwon Do
.Although Tae Kwon Do first appeared in the Koguryo kingdom, it is Silla’s warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who is credited with the growth and spread of the art throughout Korea. Of the three kingdoms, Silla was the first to be formed, but it remained the smallest and least civilized.
Its coastline was constantly under attack by Japanese pirates. After Sillaappealed for help against the continual harassment by the Japanese pirates, King Gwanggaeto, the 19th in the line of Koguryo monarchs, sent a force of 50,000 soldiers into neighboring Silla to help the smaller kingdom drive out the pirates.
It is at this time that Taek Kyon is thought to have been introduced to Silla’s warrior class, handed down in strict secrecy to a few select Sillan warriors by early masters of the art.
These Taek Kyon-trained warriors became known as the Hwarang.
Founded initially as a military academy for the young nobility of Silla, the society of the Hwarang-do (“the way of flowering manhood”) adopted Taek Kyon as a part of its basic training regimen. The society was
an elite group, consisting of the Hwarang, or leaders, who were selected from among the sons of royalty between the ages of 16 and 20, and the Nando, or cadets, who were assembled from the rest of the young nobility and who totaled between 200 and 1000 at any given time. The young men within the society were educated in many disciplines, including history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, riding, archery, swordplay, military tactics, and, of course, Taek Kyon.
The guiding principles of the Hwarang-do education were based on the Five Codes of Human Conduct, as established by the Buddhist scholar Wonka.
These axioms are:
Be loyal to your country
Be obedient to your parents
Be trustworthy to your friends
Never retreat in battle
Never make an unjust kill
Take Kyon was taught in conjunction with the Five Codes of Human Conduct so that it became a way of life for the young men, a code of moral behavior that served to guide their lives and the use to which they put their training in Taek Kyon.
Today, these codes are reflected in the so-called 11 commandments of modern Tae Kwon Do. As with the original codes of conduct, these modern axioms are used to guide the moral development of students of the art, and no student who does not fully understand these tenets can ever hope to master the true essence of the art.
Loyalty to your country
Respect your parents
Faithfulness to your spouse
Respect your brothers and sisters
Loyalty to your friends
Respect your elders
Respect your teachers
Never take life unjustly
Loyalty to your school
Finish what you begin
Along with their training in fundamental education and military skills, the Hwarang were also skilled in poetry, singing and dancing, and were encouraged to travel throughout the peninsula in order to learn about the regions and people. These traveling warriors were responsible for the spread of Taek Kyon throughout Korea during the Silla dynasty, which lasted from a.d. 668 to a.d. 935. During this era, Taek Kyon remained primarily a sports and recreational activity designed to improve physical fitness (although it was nonetheless quite a formidable system of self-defense). It was not until the Koryo dynasty, which began in 935 and lasted until 1392, that the focus of the art was changed. During this time, Taek Kyon became known as Subak, and during the reign of King Uijong (between the years of 1147 and 1170) it changed from a system designed primarily to promote fitness into a fighting art.