The martial art of Taekwondo, literally meaning "art of hand and foot fighting," is more than two thousand years old. Yet its physical and spiritual content have never been so vigorously sought after and practiced as it is now.

Taekwondo is considered the oldest self-defense martial art in the world and uniquely developed in Korea. It was first recorded in the Koguryo dynasty founded in 37 b.c. of whose vast territory included the Korean Peninsula north of the Han River and the Manchurian territory of China.

Taekwondo Power Stems from Body Systems

Taekwondo is a sport that responds to survival needs in a powerful and rational manner and maintains, as well, an orderly system uniformly related to the inner and outer spheres of the human being. The immense power of Taekwondo stems directly from the scientific use of the body systems. The power is so formidable that several bricks, roof tiles, or wooden boards can be broken merely with the bare hands or fists. Taekwondo employs almost every part of the body in defensive and offensive moves. Its techniques comprise units combined together for maximum efficiency in free fighting. These practice units are body drill in postures, punching, kicking, striking, blocking, combinations of these moves in formal patterns, pre-arranged attacks and counterattacks, and more. Conscientious training in these areas not only results in the ultimate self-defense techniques, but also in a mental discipline, which creates the strength of character necessary for success in many fields of endeavor.

Some History of Taekwondo

Taekwondo may be considered as old as history itself. Since man first learned to protect himself, it could be said that the primitive features of Taekwondo had spontaneously arisen. This form of self-defense became such an essential part of daily life that was gradually streamlined and organized into a unique and powerfully efficient weapon for survival.

In the process of the development of Taekwondo, a new sense of awareness of both physical and mental potential in the human body was discovered. Through a myriad of thought stimuli, experimentation, and experience, this skill of unarmed combat became what is today, a martial art technically moralized and scientifically formalized.

Before the birth of Christ, the three kingdoms of Koguryo, Baek-je, and Silla had been established on the peninsula now known as Korea. In each of these kingdoms, the skills and techniques of su su bak or kwon bupsu, later on called tae kyon, the predecessors of Taekwondo, were already highly sophisticated. They were a basic component of the military training of soldiers as a weapon based solely on fists, hands, and feet.

Royal Tombs Depict Fighting Stances

Some of the earliest known features of Taekwondo can be found in the murals of the royal tombs of Kakjeochong and Mooyongchong of the Koguryo period. These murals clearly show physical combat movements and fighting stances.

From the murals, we can visualize that Taekwondo was then already familiar to the people of Koguryo. And because it was such a highly respected sport among the people, it was thus depicted in murals and paintings in tombs.

Substantial documentary evidence of the martial arts spirit in Baek-je also exists. In that era, the sport was officially encouraged, and not only the military had their soldiers trained in Taekwondo, archery and horse riding, the general populace too were warriors who excelled in the arts.

The temples and shrines during the Silla dynasty produced a great many stone engravings depicting a variety of Taekwondo forms. During the reign of Chin Heung, twenty-fourth king of Silla, Korean culture and martial arts rose to flourishing heights. Silla, at the time, was a mere weak and tiny kingdom constantly harassed and threatened by its more powerful neighbor kingdoms of Koguryo and Baek-je. But Silla did not stir and proving itself with national character of strength and integrity, existed for 992 years.

At the time the most outstanding contribution to the development of the martial arts emanated from an elite officer corps called Hwa Rang Do—a military and social organization for noble youths formed by King Chin Heung. The Hwa Rang Do were well trained not only in the usual sports of archery, target practice, and horsemanship, but also practice of mental and physical discipline, as well as many forms of hand and foot fighting. Through their unrelenting efforts to conquer turbulent rivers and rugged terrain, the group of young knights grew strong and fearless. Their merciless strife to defend their country and their refinement of their souls became well known throughout the peninsula. Their victories helped to advance the movement for the unification of the three separated kingdoms for the first time in the history of the Korean Peninsula.

The Koguryo dynasty (a.d. 935–1392) further popularized the study of unarmed combat. It was during this period that the martial arts were scientifically analyzed and systematized. They were later adopted into the Yi era (a.d.1392–1910). However, strong anti-military sentiment soon pervaded among the ruling classes and tae kyon was generally and openly debased. By the end of the Yi dynasty, the martial arts appeared to have lost all traces of their original vigorousness and liveliness in the midst of the period of civil enlightenment.

For several decades after the turn of the twentieth century, the Japanese occupation of Korea forbade the practice of any of the martial arts. Only in secrecy were the arts passed on to a small number of students and kept alive by ardent proponents, such as Song, Duk Ki and Han, Il Dong.

After Korea was liberated in 1945, many dojang (martial arts institutes) sprang forth, each announcing its presence with its own particular standard of style and method. It was nevertheless the dawning of a new day for the ancient art of tae kyon. Its revival in various forms can explain that it has successfully remained deeply implanted in the fabric of Korean society to be able to flower and blossom once again to its full colors. A decade later, Taekwondo was selected as the new name of the national martial art. The name resembles the old name of tae kyon and it perfectly describes the art (do) of hand (tae) and foot (kwon).

This brings us to the interesting aspect regarding the distribution of the variety of strikes. A strike, whether by kicking, punching or other use of body parts for attacking, produces a direct effect on the known target. And it is the effect, such as the extent of target damage, tissue injury, contact time, area of displacement, etc. which ultimately determines the characteristic of the strike itself.

In striking a target, if contact time and displacement are zero or minimal, the strike would be of the First degree, as it is in free sparring. A Second-degree strike renders the target maximal extent of damage for the gravity of the force used. The total energy is dispersed instantaneously. For a Third-degree strike, contact time is relatively longer than the First- and Second-degree strikes because this time the attacking force pushes a target for a variable distance whereby all of the power is administered throughout the total displacement.