Many people walk to the corner mall, walk into their Korean Martial Arts dojo, and train in nice, neat uniforms, watching themselves in wall sized mirrors, hit bags in between sips of their designer water, and think that they are doing the die hard Tae Kwon Do. What these people should know is some of the history of Korean Karate, and particularly of Korean Karate. They will find that that polite kick punch combination they are practicing was born in hell, perfected in hades, and then things got nasty.
Just to let you know, this article is speaking of the history of the kwans from Korea of the fifties. This includes the nine major kwans, which are sung Moo Kwan, Chung Du Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, Yun Moo Kwan, Han Moo Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan. There are other Kwans, and schools that grew from these nine, but these nine are the main ones.
Korea is a rugged, little peninsula, about half the size of California, jutting from the Asian continent. It is a land constructed half of plains, and half of rugged, eternal mountains. It experiences extremes of siberian cold, stifling heat, and monsoon rains.
Throughout its history, Korea has been embroiled in countless wars. The Japanese held sway during the first half of the last century, and in the early fifties Korea became the battleground between the free world and communist forces. Thus, this small bit of land came under the boot heel of million man armies, and the people were in constant flight, or killed outright.
The communist forces attacked first, causing a mass exodus the length of the peninsula. Peasants were made part of the vast communist army, given no weapons, and put into massive meat grinder attacks. If the peasants survived the exodus, or being forced to fight, they had to endure a winter with temperatures often at 30 degrees below zero.
Those that managed to survive the winters, and the spring offensive of the United Nations armies, continued with their study of the martial arts. That’s right, during all the death and disease, in spite of the weather and starvation, the nine kwans survived. Indeed, they thrived.
One tale that made me shake my head in awe of these incredible warriors was that, when the war front approached, the students would pick up the boards of their dojos and head south. That’s right, they didn’t even nail the boards down, because they knew they would have to flee, and they perfected their spinning, jumping kicks on unsecured, splintered, weathered boards. Got a splinter up your foot…pick it out and keep going, because that’s the martial arts.
So enjoy your matts and mirrors, and sip your designer water in appreciation. That Tae Kwon Do you are practicing was forged by supermen, and it is a legacy dripping with blood and sweat and hardship. And when you bow…bow extra low, your ancestors deserve it.