The history of Taekwondo is generally thought of as short, merely back to mid last century. This, in fact, is not the case. The history of Taekwondo stretches not just through the millenniums, but through the various martial arts that have come to Korea through the ages.
A couple of thousand years ago, when Korea was still three different kingdoms, young men were selected for special training in warfare. This training consisted of all aspects of training for combat, including archery, equestrian arts, military strategy, and so on. These men were the top of line, selected because of their fantastic athletic and mental abilities.
These young warriors were called the Hwarang, and they specialized in a martial art called Subak. The various styles of Subak were combined to give high training in footwork and fistwork. The most popular of the Subak arts was called taekkyeon.
During the middle ages martial arts training faded. This was because of the influence of Chinese Confucianism. The thrust of society was more towards manners, learning how to be polite and get along, and the practice of the martial arts was more confined to backyards.
Then World War Two arrived, along with the Japanese influence. The Japanese stamped out anything resembling Korean culture, and any traces of Taekyyeon or Subak were ruthlessly suppressed. While this was cruel and oppressive, there was a bright side, for the Japanese introduced their own martial arts to Korea.
Koreans accepted the hard core concepts of Karate joyously. The martial arts grew, and were manifest in the nine Kwans, or houses. After the war, the nine kwans were brought together under the Taekwondo banner.
Still, the Koreans wanted their own cultural identity, and the Japanese forms, and even the accompanying Chinese influences, were pushed aside in favor of new forms. These new forms, though lacking in power, were easier to teach, and taekwondo began to be exported to the rest of the world. Currently, Taekwondo is one of the most popular martial arts in the world, being taught in over 123 countries with over 30 million practitioners.
The final step in this history of Taekwondo is beginning. Koreans are beginning to search for the power and beauty of their original arts, and even appraising the heavy duty influences of the Japanese inspired kwans. Ultimately, the Korean martial art of taekwondo will reabsorb the power of the Japanese forms, the unique concepts of the Chinese arts, and create a link with the original Subak arts that were taught so long ago.
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