The roots of Taekwondo can be traced back to the earliest recorded history of ancient Korea. Known at various historical epochs as Soo Bak or Taekyon, the art of unarmed self defense was widely practiced among the military and social elites of the day. Over the course of the centuries, different styles emerged, and all were subject to influences from China and Japan. At times, these arts were nearly lost, and only a relative handful of practitioners handed down the skills from generation to generation.
The roots of modern Taekwondo were markedly influenced by war and its aftermath. In 1919, Korea was annexed by the Japanese empire. Korean martial arts were banned, and an effort made to suffocate native Korean culture. Many Koreans were forced to labour for the Japanese, and many were displaced to Japan. During this period, those who kept the purely Korean arts alive in secret were exposed to karate, judo, and a host of other Japanese martial arts. Some elements of these styles were adopted by Korean instructors, who nonetheless yearned to freely teach their own historically unique arts.
Upon liberation at the end of the Second World War, a wave of intense nationalism swept over Korea. A great number of martial arts schools opened, teaching a vast array of techniques. The subsequent outbreak of the Korean War only served to distill the desire to bring together the remaining elements of Korean martial arts and to standardize the techniques, training and grading systems. In 1955, the majority of the largest independent Korean martial arts’ representatives met and after considerable work arrived at the birth of the modern art, officially dubbed Taekwondo.
By the late sixties and early seventies, Oriental martial arts had become firmly established in the Western world. In 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation was established to regulate international competition and has since established national associations in over 160 countries around the globe. Today Taekwondo is not only present as an art from, but also as a competitive sport in such international events as the Olympic Games.
The technical content of the art and grading criteria are determined by the Kukkiwon, or World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. It is here that applications for black belt status are considered, and where very senior black belts must travel to be tested for higher rank. Every successful candidate around the world will have mastered the same content, and will be granted certification from the same source. The Kukkiwon black belt or Dan certificate is a very prestigious achievement by any measure.
Taekwondo is considered a “hard style” martial art involving forceful blocks, kicks and hand strikes. The very name translates roughly as “The art of hand and foot combat”. The most distinguishing feature of Taekwondo is the variety, complexity and devastating power of the kicking techniques. This is often demonstrated in the breaking of boards or concrete slabs.