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Detailed History of Taekwondo

Koguryo and Silla Dynasties

The origin of Taekwondo can be traced back to the Koguryo dynasty founded 37 B.C.  This is evidenced by the mural paintings found in the ruins of the royal tombs built by the Koguryo dynasty which show scenes of Taekwondo practice.  Taekwondo was also practiced during the Silla dynasty.  Korean culture and martial arts of the period were strongly influenced and enriched by the Hwarangdo, a military, educational, and social organisation of noble youths of the Silla dynasty.  The code of honor on which the Hwarang was based was loyalty to the nation, respect and obedience to one’s parents, allegiance to one’s friends, courage in battle, and avoidance of unnecessary violence and killing.


Archaeological findings such as mural paintings on the royal tombs of the Koguryo dynasty, the stone sculptures of pagodas and temples produced during the Silla period, and scattered descriptions in written documents show that many fighting stances, skills and formalised movements closely resemble the present stances and forms of Taekwondo.  Accordingly, it can be inferred that people in the three kingdoms practiced an art very like the one we study today.


Koryo and Yi Dynasties

In the history of Koryo, Taekwondo which was then termed ‘Subak,’ was encouraged as a martial art of considerably high value.  Subak is believed to have gained its highest popularity during the reign of King Uijong, between 1,147 and 1,170 A.D.  This period roughly corresponds to the era that includes part of the Chinese Song and Ming dynasties, during which Kungfu became widely popular.  This is worth noting as it further shows that Taekwondo is not only of pure Korean origin, but that it has achieved independent development throughout the long history of Korea.

It is important to note that during the Subak period a book was published to teach Taekwondo, and that Taekwondo’s popularity increased significantly amongst the general public.  This contrasts with the preceding Koryo dynasty where Taekwondo was mainly practiced by the military.  King Chongjo, published ‘Muye Dobo Tongji,’ an illustrated textbook on martial arts, which included Taekwondo as one of the major chapters.  It is obvious, therefore, that Subak became an important national sport and attracted much attention from both the royal court and the general public during the Yi dynasty.

Conversely, in the latter half of the Yi dynasty, the importance of Subak as a martial art began to decline due to negligence of the royal court (which was constantly disturbed by strife between feuding political factions).  As a result, Subak remained merely a recreational activity for ordinary people.


Taekwondo in the first half of the 20th century:

Along with the deterioration of national fortunes, the fall of the military was accelerated by the dismantling of the army; finally, Japanese imperialists colonised Korea through an oppressive forceful invasion.  The oppression of the Korean people by the Japanese imperialists worsened, and the practicing of martial arts, which could have been used as a means of revolt, was forbidden.

However, Taekwondo persisted in the spirit of the Korean people as a physical and spiritual training method of anti-japanese organisations such as the Indepedence Army and the Liberation Army, and as a legacy to pass on to the younger generation.



After liberation from the Japanese invasion on August 15, 1945, those with an aspiration to revitalise the traditional art of Taekwondo taught their followers, and at last, on September 16, 1961, the Korea Taekwondo Association was established. On February 25, 1962, the Korea Taekwondo Association became the 27th affiliate to join the Korea Amateur Sports Association. On October 9, 1963, Taekwondo became an official event for the first time in the 44th National Athletics Meet.  Its great leaps in the development of competition rules and protective equipment started with that meet.

Korean instructors began going abroad to teach Taekwondo in the 1960s, which marked a turning point in the history of Taekwondo.  The 1st World Taekwondo Championships were held in Seoul, Korea in May 1973 with participation from 19 countries.  At this time representatives of those countries established the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).



In 1996, member countries of the WTF totalled 144 and the global Taekwondo population was estimated at 30 million people.  Spurred by the recognition of Taekwondo by the IOC at its 83rd General Session in 1980, Taekwondo has rapidly developed into an international sport.  It was adopted as a demonstration sport of the 24th Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the 25th Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Taekwondo was adopted as an official sport of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games at the 103rd Session of the IOC held in Paris, France on September 4, 1994.  Taekwondo has consolidated its position in world sport faster than any other martial art.  Four member regional unions of the WTF host continental championships.  There are World and Women’s World Championships, World Cup Taekwondo, CISM Taekwondo Championships and FISU World University Championships. Taekwondo is being played as an official sport in most international multi-sport games such as World Games, Pan American Games, All Africa Games, Southeast Asian Games and Central American Games.


Chinese Kungfu and Japanese Karate

Some people believe that Taekwondo originated from Kungfu, the Chinese self-defence art. According to a Chinese document, the Chinese art of self-defence is believed to have been initiated as a sort of physical exercise when the Bodhi Dharma taught the monks of Hsiaolin Temple in Tungpung County, Honan Province, China.  Bodhi Dharma, a great Indian Buddhist Zen master, came to China in 520 A.D.and spent nine years at Hsiaolin Temple where he introduced the art of self-defence.  However, if we recall that the mural paintings of Taekwondo in the ancient tombs of Koguryo belong to the period 3 A.D. to 427A.D., it cannot be said that the Korean Taekwondo owes its origin to the Chinese Kungfu.

No detailed record is available when Karate, the Japanese self-defence art equivalent to Taekwondo, was initiated.  There are two explanations about it.  One explanation is that a Chinese Master named Chen Yuanpin, who lived in the late Ming dynasty, was naturalised as a Japanese citizen and imparted the Chinese ‘Kungfu’ to the Japanese people.  The other explanation says that Karate is a developed form of “Okinawate,” a self-defence art indigenous to Okinawa.  However, when Okinawate began is not known either.  In order to trace the origin of Okinawate, we might rely on “The Historical Record of Chosun (another name for the Yi dynasty) which only says that envoys from the Ryukyu Island made frequent visits to bring tribute to the Kings of Chosun.

At that time in Korea, “Subak”, an old name of Taekwondo, had gained great popularity among the people, and therefore, it is not unlikely that the envoys from Okinawa learned and introduced to their people.  This speculation is not too absurd when we recall the fact that “Nul”, the Korean see-saw, was also adopted by the people of Okinawa from Korea.  It may therefore be concluded that Karate, derives from Taekyon or Subak, the primitive form of Taekwondo.