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History of Tae Kwon Do by James Hong


During the first century BC, there were three kingdoms in Korea - Koguryo, Paekje and Silla. Koguryo was the oldest and most powerful of them all, always in competition with the Chinese, and conquering more and more land to the west of Korea and into Manchuria. While Koguryo was busy with matters up north, the two other kingdoms Paekje and Silla farther south were able to develop more or less discreetly. However, an attempt on Koguryo by Paekje was unsuccessful, and led to the southern expansion of Koguryo, while Paekje was forced to move even farther down near Silla. Silla at this point was the least developed kingdom of them all and was a tributary state to Koguryo. However, as Paekje's population blended amongst Silla's people, this small kingdom attacked its ally, Koguryo. After allying itself with the Chinese on the mainland, conquered and unified the whole peninsula as the Unified Silla Dynasty. This dynasty lasted until 936AD, when it was overthrown and replaced by the Koryo Dynasty.



As far back as 50BC, historians have found paintings on cave walls, next to tombs, which is typical of traditional Koguryo burials. On these paintings, there are men in fighting poses, specifically, in "Taekkyon" poses. "Taekkyon" is the ancestor of Taekwondo. It is the Korean national version of "Subak" which is a martial art derived from other forms of combat. "Taekkyon" imposed a heavy influence on ancient Korean military training. The "hwarang" learned the ways of the "Taekkyon" and eventually the art was named after these elite warriors, as "hwarangdo". However, as firearms came into existence, they replaced this traditional hand-to-hand combat. First the military, then royalty and at last even some of the common fold abandoned "Taekkyon." Only a few practiced it out of self-cultivation and some for sport. During the Japanese invasion, this martial art was announced illegal to practice or to learn, the Japanese soldiers wanted to erase anything related to Korea's culture during the occupation. Even after the liberation of Korea in 1945, "Taekkyon" remained very unknown and only became public in 1968. Even today, it struggles to stay alive, in direct competition of its much more popular offspring, Taekwondo.



The "hwarang" are a corps of elite soldiers loyal to their kingdom and their superiors. The term "hwarang" means 'young peaceful men', as 'hwa' means 'flower' and 'rang' means 'young man'. The Silla dynasty built this new military command structure and the fighting technique of "Taekkyon" was adopted. To become part of the "hwarang," a man had to be physically fit, have good moral values, be loyal, have respect and be educated in the arts, literature and sciences. The "hwarang" were especially taught combative skills, and it is with their aide that the Silla dynasty was able to conquer Paekje and Koguryo. "Through this development of strong mental, physical and spiritual training they were taught to act as models of their culture and chivalrous warriors. They were Silla's elite warriors." The Hwarang live by a code that does not allow them to show any signs of weakness, cowardliness or disloyalty to their king.