Times | Middle Age
| Modern Times | Present
Taekwondo in ancient times
The historical background of teakwood development will
be explained following the chronological order of 4
different ages; ancient times, middles ages, modern
ages and present times.
A. The origin of Taekwondo
Man by nature has instinct to preserve his own life
as well as his race, and therefore engages in physical
activities either consciously or unconsciously. Man
cannot do without physical motions that he grows and
developed on them, regardless of time and space. In
ancient times people had no means other than the bare
hands and body to defend themselves; so they naturally
developed the bare-hand fighting techniques. Even at
times when arms were developed as defensive or offensive
means, people continued to enjoy the bare-hand fighting
techniques for the purpose of building physical strength
as well as showing off through matches at rituals of
In the early days of the Korean peninsula, there were
three tribes, each enjoying warrior's martial art contests
during the ritual seasons. At the time, people learned
techniques from their experiences of fighting against
the beasts whose defensive and offensive motions were
also the subject of analysis. It is believed that this
was exactly the true grounding of today's Taekwondo,
which names have descended from "Subak", "Taekkyon"
and so on.
In the latter part of ancient times on the Korean peninsula,
three kingdoms were rivaling among them for the hegemony.
They were Koguryo, Paekje and Shilla all indulged in
growing national strength with trained warriors. Therefore,
the Korean history tells that there were military personalities
among the well-known prominent national leaders of the
three kingdoms, which proves the military tendency of
As a result, youth warriors were organized, such as
"Hwarangdo" in Shilla and "Chouisonin"
in Koguryo, which both adopted martial art training
as one of the important subjects of learning. A known
martial art book of the days, called "Muyedobo-Tongji"
wrote "Taekwondo is the basis of martial art, enabling
one to build strength by using the hand and foot freely
and training arms and legs as well as the body to adaptable
to any critical situations," which means Taekwondo
was already prevalent in that age. Thus, it can be easily
assumed that Taekwondo was originated from the days
of tribal communities on the Korean peninsula.
Shilla kingdom founded in B.C. 57 on the southeastern
part of Korea, and Koguryo founded in B.C. 37 on the
northern part of Korea along Yalu river, both made great
efforts to raise their youngsters into strong warriors
called "hwarang" and "sunbae" respectively,
certainly with Taekwondo as one of the principal subjects
of physical training.
B. Koguryo's "sonbae"
Koguryo was founded on the northern part of Korea, surrounded
by hostile Han [Chinese] tribes in the north. Therefore,
in its early days, the kingdom organized a strong warrior
corps called "Sunbae" in its attempt to consolidate
According to the scholars, a man of virtue who never
recoils from a fight means "sunbae", which
is a member of the warrior corps. Later, the chronicle
of the Old Chosun Dynasty described the lift of Koguryo
days, saying; "people gathered on march 10 every
year at a site of ritual, where they enjoyed a sword
dance, archery, Taekkyon contests and so on," implying
that Taekkyon was one of the popular events for the
ritual in the Koguryo days. It also said "sunbae"
lived in groups, learning history and literary arts
at home and going out to construct roads and fortresses
for the benefits of society, always devoting themselves
to the nations.
Therefore, it was natural that Koguryo put the priority
of interests on the Taekkyon which was the basis of
martial arts, as can be proven by the wall paintings
discovered at tombs of Koguryo days. A mural painting
at the Samsil tomb shows two warriors engaged in a face-to-face
match in Taekkyon stance, and a third at the same tomb
shows the scene of Korean wrestling bout [Ssireum],
clearly distinguishing it from Taekkyon. It can be assumed
from the painting of Taekkyon match that the dead were
either a Taekkyon practical or the subject of condolence
with dances and martial art.
C. Silla's "Hwarang"
The Kingdom of Shilla was founded on the southeastern
part of the Korean peninsula where there were no immediate
threats from outside, but along with the birth of Paekje
Kingdom on its west flank and the start of invasions
by Koguryo from the north, Shilla was impelled to arm
itself with development of martial arts.
In fact, "hwarangdo" is the typical example
of Shilla's martial arts, which is an assimilation of
Koguryo's "sunbae" system. The youth group
hwarangdo were well trained with the senses of filial
piety, loyalty to the kingdom and sacrificial devotion
to society to become important personalities for the
rein of the kingdom. Notable among them were Kim Yu-Shin
and Kim Chun-Chu that made definite contributions to
the unification of those three kingdoms.
The chronicle of Old Chosun described the life of hwarangs,
members of hwarangdo: "hwarang were selected by
the kingdom through contests and, after selection, they
lived together in a group, learning, exercising subak,
fencing and horse-riding, and sometimes enjoyed various
games of communities, working on emergency aids and
construction of fortresses and roads, and they were
always ready to sacrifice their lives at the time of
Hwarangs were particularly influenced by the Buddhistic
disciplines and therefore the bronze statues of a Kumgang
Yoksa [a man of great physical strength] currently exhibited
at the Kyongju Museum clearly indicate that martial
arts were practiced at temples by showing a strong man's
bare-hand defensive and offensive stances.
Especially the shape of a fist shown on the statue of
Kumgang Yoksa exactly resembles that of a "jungkwon"
[proper fist] in the contemporary term of Taekwondo.
The statue also shows "pyon jumok " [flat
fist] and the use of legs, which are seen in today's
It is really noticeable that in the Shilla epoch the
terms "subak" [hand techniques] and "taekkyon"
appear together, signifying that both hand and foot
techniques were used in martial arts as shown in today's
D. Taekkyon transmitted from
Koguryo to Shilla
as the art of taekkyon was popularized in Koguryo, it
was also handed down to Silla, which is justified by
the following points of view;
- "Hwarang"(or sonrang) in Silla has the
same meaning with the word "sonbae" in Koguryo
by indicating both the youth warrior's corps from
their etymological origins
- both Hwarang and sonbae had the same organizations
and hierarchical structure with each other.
- according to historical, as sonbaes in Koguryo used
to compete in taekkyon games at the time of their
national festivals, Hwarangs in Silla also played
taekkyon games (subak, dokkyoni or taekkyoni) at such
festivals as "palkwanhoe" and "hankawi"
, thus systematically developing the ancient fighting
techniques into the taekkyon(or sonbae) as the basis
of martial arts by around a.d.200. from the 4th century
the Hwarangs took the takkyon lesson as a systemized
martial art at their learning houses to make it also
popularized among ordinary people so much so that
their techniques were depicted on the mural paintings
of ancient warrior tombs. Again, it is also true that
taekkyon, coming down to Silla, was further developed
into a school of martial art with the division of
techniques, i ,e bare-hand techniques and foot techniques,
which can be proved by the fact that both hand and
foot techniques art clearly shown in the ancient sculptures