Sunday, September 5, 2010

History of Taekwondo

Korea's National Sport and Martial Art
Korean martial arts were influenced by many techniques from Japan, Okinawa, and China, and were combined with taekkyon's (Korea's Original Martial Art) foot techniques to form new Korean martial arts styles. The many new masters of martial arts later established various schools, or "kwans" for the study of martial arts. The arts they taught were under various names: kong soo do, subak do, kwon bup, and tae soo do were just a few, and some schools claimed to teach the original subak or taekkyon. There were nine major schools that developed in Korea and these are often reffered to as the Nine Kwans. 
Despite the variety of schools and names, most of the Korean masters realized the importance of a unified system, and in 1953, a majority of kwan masters met and chose the term "tae soo do" (the way of the foot and hand) for the developing martial art. In April 11,1955, a special board met again to discuss the future of the art. It was here that General Choi Hong-Hi, now recognized as one of the greatest proponents of the movement for Korean martial arts, recommended the name "tae kwon do". This name was recommende dfor the accuracy in describing the art ("tae" means to kick or strike with the foot, "kwon" means to punch or strike with the fist, and "do" means the way) and also for its resemblance in sound and meaning to the original art of taekkyon. 

Being a completely Korean expression, the name of Taekwondo was unanimously adopted by the board. In 1959, various kwans united to form the Korean Taekwondo Association with Choi Hong-Hi (now general over the Korean army) elected as president. There was some internal conflict within the KTA, and in 1961, this organization was newly formed into the Korean Taesoodo Association, which is considered the "true" inauguration of the KTA, with Che Myung Shin elected as president. 
In 1965, Choi again served as president for one year, in which he convinced the board to change the name back to the Korean Taekwondo Association. In 1966, Nah Byung Jik, founder of song moo kwan, was elected president (this was soon after Choi made a good will trip to North Korea, which caused the government to look down on him, and he resigned as president of the KTA). 1966 was also the year when General Choi founded the International Taekwondo Federation, and in 1972 he moved out of Korea and headquartered in Toronto, Canada. In 1985, the ITF headquarters moved to Vienna, Austria.
With Choi Hong-Hi out of the country, many of the remaining martial arts academies joined to form another international organization to rival the ITF. President of Korea Park Chung Hee officially declared Taekwondo as Korea's national sport on March 20, 1971, and allocated funds to build the "Kukkiwon," which would serve as the central gymnasium and world headquarters for Taekwondo. The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was born, with Dr. Kim Un Yong elected as president. The Kukkiwon was completed on November 30, 1972.
There has been much rivalry between the ITF and the WTF since the two organizations came into existence. The ITF is considered to follow a more "traditional" role in the practice of martial arts, focusing on forms and techniques. The ITF is said to be more martial "art" oriented. On the other hand, the WTF is considered to be more progressive and dynamic, and its primary focus is on sparring and Olympic competition. Therefore, the WTF is said to be more martial "sport" oriented. However, it is an error to think that WTF Taekwondo is only focused on sport, and has no traditional focus.  

The emphasis of the school in the USA usually has less to do with WTF/ITF affiliation and more to do with the Instructor.  Some, like USA Martial Arts, choose to side step the politics and ideological differences and teach a more eclectic approach.  The students are the beneficiaries as they gain the strengths of each and train, compete and learn without limitations.
The forms used by the ITF are known as the "chun-ji" (Chon-ji) set of forms, as the first form is called chun-ji (literally translated "heaven and earth"). They are also known as the "Chung-hon" set (Chong-hon, meaning "blue cottage," was the pen-name of Choi Hong-Hi). The ITF forms are a set of 24 pre-arranged sequences accredited to have been created by Choi Hong-Hi. The quantity of 24 is significant as this set is symbolic to 24 hours in a day. Choi believed that a person's life, compared to the grand scheme that is time, can be considered no longer than a day. Each of the forms are named after a particular figure or asset in Korean history and culture, and the number of movements and floor diagrams for each form holds a particular meaning. Like the forms of shotokan karate, which many of the early masters of Taekwondo studied, the ITF forms are characterized by strong and deep stances. The techniques of the forms themselves also resemble those of kara-te. Another characteristic of the ITF style is the "sine-wave" (or knee-spring), which is an up-and-down movement aimed to increase the power of a technique.
When the WTF was formed, the "pal-gue" set of forms was createdfor colored belts. These forms were named after the eight trigrams of divination, which represent the cyclical flow of forces in the universe. However, even the pal-gue forms greatly resembled the forms of shotokan karate. Later, the WTF developed the "taeguk" forms, named after the taeguk, or eum-yang (yin-yang) symbol on the Korean flag. The taeguk forms introduced the radical "walking" stance, to emphasize the nimble and dynamic nature of Taekwondo. There are also nine additional forms for the black belt level. The techniques of WTF style Taekwondo are quick and often short. Sparring is done full contact (although hand techniques to the face are prohibited), unlike the "point" sparring done by the ITF.
Since the break-up of the WTF and ITF, there have been many attempts to reunite the two organizations, but they were without success. Their rivalry has existed to the present day. There are also other legitimate governing Taekwondo bodies in the world: the Global Taekwondo Federation, the International Taekwondo Association, and the World Traditional Taekwondo Union (with the affiliated Song-ahm Taekwondo Federation and American Taekwondo Association [ATA]) are just a few, but the WTF,  and the ITF are by far the largest, most central, and influential.
Regardless of whatever organization is involved, Taekwondo can be considered as both a sport and an art. Taekwondo is considered by many to be the world's greatest participating martial discipline, being practiced in approximately 200 countries by millions upon millions of students. For practitioners of all styles of Taekwondo, it is important to consider how Taekwondo came to be, what it was, what it is, and what it will become.
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