As it is literally translated from Korean, Tae means "to kick" or "to strike with the foot," Kwon means "fist" or "to strike with the Hand," and Do means "discipline" or "art." Taken together, Tae Kwon Do means "the art of kicking and punching"-"the art of unarmed combat." Modern-day Tae Kwon Do, as it has come to be developed over the years, is a unique martial art incorporating both the quick, straight-line movements that characterize the various Japanese systems and the flowing circular movements of most Chinese styles. But more than this, what truly distinguished Tae Kwon Do are its varied and uniquely powerful kicking techniques. It is this prominent use of leg and kicking techniques that set taekwondo apart from all other martial arts systems. Yet, taekwondo is far more than simply a system concerned with physical prowess, for it is also an art directed toward the moral development of its students.

Much of the history of taekwondo is based on legend. There is an Indian legend of a wealthy prince who became interested in the most effective methods of unarmed attack and defense and spent several years studying the anatomy of animals and humans in order to discover their points of strength and vulnerability. He then developed movements designed to aim blows at these critical points.

Another legend involves the Indian monk, Daruma Taishi, or Bodhidharma. To protect himself from animal and marauder attacks on a journey in which he was to spread the teachings of Buddha, he adopted and refined existing unarmed fighting techniques. When he arrived in the Hunan Province of China in 520 A.D., he taught the techniques he had learned to his followers at the Shaolin-Ssu monastery as part of their religious training. Buddhist monks from China then took these skills with them and introduced them to northern Korea in the sixth century.

There is evidence, however, that martial arts were already developing in Korea prior to Bodhidharma's journey to China. The earliest records of taekwondo practice date back to about 50 B.C. During this time, Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Koguryo, Silla, and Paekche. Evidence of the practice of Subak (the earliest known form of taekwondo) has been found in paintings of the ceiling of the Muyong-Chong, a royal tomb from the Koguryo dynasty. While there was a debate on whether it was Subak or the Korean form of wrestling known as "ssirum," there are details that show the use of the knife hand, fist and classical fighting stances, all components of modern Taekwondo. Only those images which were thought to protect or amuse the kings buried there were permitted in the tombs.

The history of Korea is very long and exciting as is the history of Tae Kwon Do. The legendary soldier-king Dongoon forged the various tribes into a unified kingdom 23 centuries before the birth of Christ. This kingdom, founded at the high point of Egyptian history and centuries before the Roman Empire was founded, lasted more than twelve centuries. Korea is a country with a much-varied history. Being at the crossroads of Asia, Korea was periodically invaded by the Mongols, the Manchurians, the Chinese and the Japanese. But the indigenous people of what is now known as the Korean Peninsula hung on to their own identity.

The necessity of political unification to expel foreign invasion led to the establishment of tribal federations leading to kingdoms. Among the Ma-han people of the southwest, the city-state founded by a contingent of the Puyu people in 18 B.C. grew to become the kingdom of Paekche. In the southeast corner of the peninsula, a confederation of six clans of the Chin-Han in 57 B.C. came to be the kingdom of Silla. Composed of tribal people who had been forced from their original homes in northwestern Korea and the Liao-tung peninsula by the expansion of Chinese power in the area, the Kingdom of Koguryo was founded in 37 B.C.



In the kingdom of Paekche (18 B.C. to 600 A.D.), which was located along the Han river in southwestern Korea, martial arts were sponsored by the Paekche kings. The ancient records show that horseback riding, archery, and barehanded fighting arts were very popular among both the military and common people of this era. Records which have survived from this time "have it that in ancient days there was self-defense using both the arms and legs."


In the kingdom of Koguryo (37 B.C. to 668 A.D.), founded along the Yalu River Valley, the governmental organization worked on a type of merit system where the best and brightest fighters and the most physically fit received high positions. One of the most prominent systems was formed as a warrior corps by the sixth King, King Taejo, and was called the "Sun Bae" which means a hermit or predator with supernatural powers, who never recoils from a battle. The men with superior skills were chosen, and called "Sun Bae." It is also said that "sunbaes lived in groups, learning history and literary arts at home and going out to construct roads and fortresses for the benefits of society, always devoting them to the nation." With its great neighbor China to the North, Koguryo had need of great military strength to survive. They were able not only to survive, but to grow strong, absorb tribes previously under Chinese control, and successfully stave off large armies sent to subdue them.


Although Subak is believed to have first appeared in the Koguryo Kingdom, it is Silla's warrior nobility, the Hwarang, who are credited with the growth and spread of the fighting art throughout Korea. Silla (57 B.C. to 936 A.D.) was the smallest and least civilized of the three kingdoms. Its coastline under constant harassment from Japanese pirates, Silla appealed for help from the Koguryo Kingdom. King Gwanggaeto, the 19th in the line of Koguryo monarchs, sent a force of 50,000 soldiers into neighboring Silla to help the smaller kingdom drive away the Japanese. It is at this time that subak is thought to have been introduced to Silla's warrior class, handed down in strict secrecy to a few Sillan warriors by early masters of the Art.

A price accompanied Koguryo's assistance in repelling the Japanese. For a number of years that followed, Koguryo insinuated itself into Silla's internal affairs, a situation that Silla could not tolerate. Silla and Paekche (also under constant threat of Koguryo domination) forged an alliance and proceeded to shake off the influence of Koguryo.

As the sixth century progressed, the military and political situation for all three of these kingdoms became even more complex. The alliance between Paekche and Silla ended, with Paekche forging a new alliance between itself and Koguryo. Silla was able to form an alliance with the Chinese T'ang dynasty. Through this alliance, Silla was able to conquer first Paekche in 668 A.D., then Koguryo in 670 A.D. Thus, Silla had accomplished what had not been done before: the unification of the Korean peninsula under one banner. The peninsula remained united until the mid-twentieth century when a civil war divided the country between the Democratic south and the Communist north.



Silla's Subak-trained warriors played a major role in the unifying of the Three Kingdoms. Founded initially by King Jin Heung as a military academy for the young nobility of Silla, the society of Hwarang-do ("the way of flowering manhood") was an elite group and assimilation of Koguryo's "sonbae" system. This group numbered between 200 and 1000 at any given time and consisted of the Hwarang, or leaders, who were selected from among the sons of royalty between the ages of 16 and 20, and the Nangdo, or cadets, who were assembled from the rest of the young nobility. The young men within the society were educated in many disciplines, including history, Confucian philosophy, ethics, Buddhist morality, riding, archery, swordplay, military tactics and, of course, subak. The guiding principles of the Hwarang-do education were based on the Five Codes of Human Conduct, as established by the Buddhist scholar Wonkang. These axioms are:

Be loyal to your country
Be obedient to your parents
Be trustworthy to your friends
Never retreat in battle
Never make an unjust kill

Subak was taught in conjunction with the Five Codes of Human Conduct so that it became a way of life for the young men, a code of moral behavior that served to guide their lives and the use to which they put their training in subak. Today, these codes are reflected in the so-called 11 commandments of modern Taekwondo. As with the original codes of conduct, these modern axioms are used to guide the moral development of students of the art, and no student who does not fully understand these tenets can ever hope to master the true essence of the Art.

Loyalty to your country
Respect your parents
Faithfulness to your spouse
Respect your brothers and sisters
Loyalty to your friends
Respect your elders
Respect your teachers
Never take life unjustly
Indomitable spirit
Loyalty to your school
Finish what you begin

Along with their training in fundamental education and military skills, the Hwarang were also skilled in poetry, singing, and dancing, and were encouraged to travel throughout the peninsula in order to learn about the regions and people. From Taoism, they borrowed the practice of ordering the management of affairs in a seemingly paradoxical but unique manner (the doctrine of action by non-action, the teaching of communication by non-discourse). From the teachings of Buddha, they accepted the commitment to reject evil and to effectively act for the good. These traveling warriors were responsible for the spread of subak (hand techniques), along with the kicking techniques of early "tae kyon" throughout the Silla dynasty, which lasted from 668 A.D. to 936 A.D.

Of the outside influences that helped to form the core of Korean religious philosophy, Confucianism and Buddhism played the most significant roles.

The Confucian element in Korean philosophic and religious growth stressed social and scholarly virtues. Confucianism upheld the values of correct conduct and filial piety. It taught that the peace, happiness, and security of the people was the moral responsibility of the rulers. Confucius also believed in the power of ritual for its own sake, because men in antiquity had left us the traditions of a "Golden Age" which, of course, ties into a reverence for ancestors. Thus, Confucianism was by its very nature conservative, emphasizing man's duties to his fellow men and the social order. It was, by and large, a social code, concentrating on ethics and teaching by example, rather than by precepts. While Buddhism also extolled compassion and charity, evidenced in Buddhist hostels for pilgrims, in dispensaries and hospitals and in the humane treatment of animals and men, it was a more dynamic and individualistic form of religion than Confucianism.


It was not until the Koryo dynasty (935 A.D. to 1392 A.D.) that the focus of the art was changed from a system designed primarily to promote fitness into a fighting art. During the reign of King Uijong (1147-1170), subakhi ("Su" meaning hand, and "bak" meaning to strike, and "hi" means play or game), had reached its greatest early popularity. The kingdom under these rulers was strictly militaristic in spirit, a fact dictated by the necessity of defending the country against continual foreign invasions. The technique and power of subakhi/subak grew to become effective weapons, even lethal. In the military, a pattern of collective practice, called "obyong subak hui," was introduced so that it might be used in real war tactics.

Subak became the only requirement in the selection of military cadets. An average soldier who mastered subak could reach the rank of General, with winners of subak contests selected as military officers and officials. References in history tell of a man named Doo Kyung Song entering the special military branch guarding the king's palanquin for his skill in subak. Another tells of practitioners shaking the beams of a roof with a hand strike and punching through clay walls. The soldiers of the Koryo dynasty were among the finest the country has ever produced, and their martial spirit and bravery has been a source of inspiration ever since,

It was during this time that "the science was first technically organized and systematized by the leading masters of those times," and became practiced not only as a martial art but also as a skill to enjoy competitively as a sport. It was from the Koryo dynasty that the peninsula gained its modern name, Korea.

As time passed, Koryo's aristocracy began indulging itself and its servants, at the expense of the military. As a result, the military rose and overthrew the regime in 1170. This marked the establishment of military rule in Korea, which continued through a series of popular uprisings, and invasions by both the Mongols and the Japanese, until the late fourteenth century.

At that time, a Koryo general by the name of Yi Songye seized political power in a perfectly timed, near-bloodless coup, and established the Joseon dynasty (a.k.a. Yi dynasty). In one form or another, this dynasty ruled Korea until the twentieth century.


During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1907), there is some speculation that envoys from Okinawa learned subak and introduced it to their people as the forerunner of Okinawa-te karate. The Historical Record of Joseon (also pronounced as Chosun) mentions these envoys and their frequent visits to bring tribute to the kings of Joseon, and of these envoys as the means of Okinawa's adoption of "Nul", the Korean see-saw game.

In 1790, King Chongjo ordered General Lee Duck Muy to compile an official textbook on all martial arts then practiced in Korea. This volume, known as Muye Dobo Tongji, is now considered a definitive early classic of the martial arts of Korea. Prior to this, the art had been restricted primarily to the military nobility. The publication of this book and the subsequent popularizing of the art among the general public were responsible for the survival of subak during the era.

Another Joseon dynasty record indicates that in order to pass a certain degree of martial examination, one had to defeat three or more persons by means of subak. A war history also shows that during the Hideyoshi Invasion in 1592, some 700 volunteer soldiers of the Kumsan area fought Japanese invaders with bare fists by means of subak. Another record shows that subak matches were held time to time among villages of Chungcheong Do.

In was around this time that the hand techniques of subak were combined with dynamically diverse kicking techniques, along with Traditional Korean folk dance movements. This new, incorporation of techniques became known as "Taek-kyon," and is first mentioned as such in a book on Korean customs and practices of the time entitled "Chaemulbo."

The movements of Taekkyon are fluid, with the practitioners constantly moving. One of its most striking characteristics is the motion called gumsil or ogeum jil: It is a constant bending and stretching of one's knees, giving the art a dance-like appearance. This motion is also used in the Korean mask dance talchum, so both arts look similar in a way. Taekkyon does not make use of abrupt knee motions. The principles and methods used to extend the kick put more emphasis on grace and alignment for whole-body strength, as with the arm motions.

A book written in 1923 by historian Choi Yong Nyon entitled the "Hasdongjukchi" gives a description of the systemization of taekkyon. This systemization emphasized difficult kicking techniques in which players would engage in a differential skill level contests from lowest (leg height), to shoulder height, with the highest recognition given for kicking the opponent's topknot. The comparison to modern Olympic taekwondo competition is obvious.

The popularity of Subak/Taekkyon waned in the second half of the Joseon dynasty, due to the negligence of the royal court, which was constantly torn by strife between feuding political factions. With the absence of hostile neighbors, military training and national defense was neglected. King Taejo substituted Confucianism for Buddhism as the state religion, holding scholarships and learning in high esteem and military-related pursuits in disrepute. During this period, examples of martial arts training are rare and little is known of them. The martial arts, for the most part, were passed on from father to son in the form of patterned techniques (forms), usually in secrecy.

The Joseon Dynasty was to last until 1907, with various Kings introducing many social and cultural changes. Generally, it was a period of diplomacy more than continual war, with Korea looking for assistance from Japan when threatened from the north, and looking to China when threatened from the south. Even so, Korea did spend many decades under the control of foreigners, particularly China. From the late 17th century through to the early 19th, Korea was known as the "Hermit Kingdom" because it turned away foreigners, particularly the Europeans who were expanding their own empires at this time. Towards the end of the 19th century, Korea set up relations with many Western Nations in an effort to offset the Japanese influence. In 1894 the Tonghak Rebellion brought both Japanese and Chinese troops onto Korean soil in an effort to protect their interests and to influence the Korean Monarchy. The final Joseon dynasty King was on the throne for only 24 days when a new treaty with Japan stripped him of all power. Thus the annexation of Korea by Japan was merely an acknowledgment of what had already happened.


The Joseon Dynasty came to a close in 1910 with the Japanese invasion of Korea, who occupied the country for 36 years. This occupation was partly initiated under the pretense of helping to defend Korea against Russian aggression during the Russo/Japanese war. In actuality, it was an attempt to turn Korea into a colony of Japan. The Japanese colonial government, using military force, banned all cultural activities, including team sports and the practice of martial arts. In an attempt to destroy the Korean identity, the Japanese banned the teaching of the Korean language in schools and attempted to change Korean family names. Some martial arts instructors continued to practice their skills in secrecy, and in this way, the Korean martial arts were kept alive. One man, in particular, Master Song Duk Ki(1893-1987), learned Taekkyon during the later part of the Joseon dynasty from Master Yim Ho and continued to teach during the Japanese occupation.

Eventually, the Japanese lifted the ban on martial arts to fulfill military requirements during WWII. In 1943, following Judo, Japanese karate and various Chinese forms were introduced into Korea. The teachers of Taekkyon further developed and incorporated these foreign techniques into the Korean forms already being practiced. There were those who even left Korea to work and study in China and even Japan, itself. A hybrid form developed utilizing Taekkyon as its core and included techniques from the Chinese kung fu martial arts and Japanese karate-do. This new style was called Tang Soo Do, that is, "the art of the China hand." Other styles included Soo Bak Do and Kwon Bop. There were also those who claimed to teach traditional taekkyon. Modern Taekwondo incorporates the abrupt, linear movements of Okinawan karate and the flowing, circular patterns of Chinese Kung Fu with its own incomparable kicking techniques to form an integrated system unique to Korea.

Toward the end of World War II, the Americans invaded Korea to press back the Japanese, but also in an effort to control the post-war occupation of the Korean Peninsula by the Soviets. In 1948, the Americans and Soviets proclaimed the division of Korea into the Republic of Korea (South), with Syngman Rhee as President, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North). In 1950 the North Korean military invaded the South, resulting in the "Korean War" lasting until the 27th of July, 1953.


The first Kwan ("school") to teach a native style of martial art was opened in 1945 in Yong Chun, Seoul. This dojang (gymnasium) was named the Chung Do Kwan (a.k.a. Chong Do Kwan, "Gym of the Blue Wave") under master Won Kuk Lee. Soon After, Hwang Kee established the Moo Duk Kwan in Seoul, teaching Tang Soo Do. Later that year, Sup (Jun) Chun Sang established the Yun Moo Kwan in Seoul. And finally, in 1946, Yoon Pyung founded the Chang Moo Kwan at a YMCA. These were believed to be the original kwans.

In 1952, during the Korean War, a demonstration before President Syngman Rhee evolved into the most significant turning point for Korean martial arts. So impressed was Rhee he immediately turned to his military chiefs of staff and ordered that all Korean soldiers receive training in these arts. This dictate ultimately accounted for a tremendous surge in schools and students, including the formal inclusion in the athletic curriculum of elementary and secondary schools of education.

During the War between the Communist government in North Korea and the Republic of Korea in the South, the Russians actively searched for and eliminated famous Taekwondo masters. Among those founding masters were Grand Master Sup Chun Chang (Yun Moo Kwan), and Master Yoon Pyung (Chang Moo Kwan). These were great losses to the Korean people. It is believed that North Korea had no surviving masters until 1972. Many good masters in South Korea were also killed while participating in special commando groups trained in martial arts to fight the North.

In 1953-54, Kwe Byung Yoon and Chong Woo Lee opened and ran Yun Moo Kwan under the new name of Ji (Chi) Do Kwan ("Wisdom Way School"). Byung Chik Ro founded the Song Moo Kwan at Kae Sung, and Hong Hi Choi, with the help of Tae Hi Nam, the Oh Do Kwan ("Gym of My Way"). Counting the original schools, there were now six kwans, all apparently espousing a different style.

In 1954, General Hong Hi Choi organized the 29th Infantry on Che Je island, off the Korean coast, as a spearhead and center for taekkyon training in the military. Choi had been teaching his martial art to his soldiers throughout his military career and had become an instructor for the American Military Police School in Seoul as early as 1948. In 1949 he visited Fort Riley in the USA and introduced the American people to "Korean Karate". Given fast promotion within the Korean Armed Forces, Choi was named Chief of Staff in 1952 as a Brigadier General and a man of considerable influence in the wartime forces of then-President Syngman Rhee.

Between the period of the Japanese occupation and the Korean War, from the turn of the century to 1950, the name for the Korean martial art changed several times. It was first known as Kong Soo ("empty hand"), then Tang Soo ("Tang hand"), then Hwarang Do ("warrior spirit"), and then Tae Kyun ("kicking, punching').

On April 11, 1955, at a pivotal conference of Kwan masters, historians, and taek kyon promoters, it was decided to adopt the term "tae kwon do" as the standard, which had been created and submitted by Gen. Choi (often considered the "father of Tae Kwon Do"). The name was approved because of its resemblance to taek kyon, and so provides continuity and maintains tradition. Further, it describes both hand and foot techniques. The number of kwans which then consolidated into tae kwon do is the subject of much debate and historical confusion. With the addition of Han Moo Kwan (Ji Do Kwan's representing annex), founded by Kyo Yoon Lee, it is believed that seven kwans merged to officially form the single art of Tae Kwon Do. It has never been clear which of the original Kwans did, in fact, merge in 1955, but of those who did not, only Hapkido remains as a recognized separate Korean art unto itself.

According to Jhoon Rhee (the founder of taekwondo in America), dissension among the various kwans carried on for six years, and it wasn't until Sept. 14, 1961, that the groups once again organized into a single association, as ordered by an official decree of the new military government. It was called the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA), with Gen. Choi elected its first president. The new association soon gained official recognition by the major kwans, but not for long. Hwang Kee, the founder of tang soo do maintained the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association and became a competing body to the KTA. The Ji Do Kwan Association also seceded. By 1962, however, many of the individual instructors rejoined the KTA, possibly because that year the KTA was ordered by the South Korean government to re-examine all black belt ranks to determine national standards, and they did not wish to be omitted.

President Syngman Rhee was deposed on April 27th, 1960, by a constitutional democracy that was short lived. A coup led by Park Chung Lee (Park and Choi were generals under Syngman Rhee) on May 16th, 1961, saw Park become President by the end of 1962.

Under the KTA leadership, masters traveled all over the world to spread the art. (Gen.) Hong Hi Choi also supported expanding taekwondo links with the Communist north, a position the South Korean government did not advocate. On March 22, 1966, Gen. Choi founded the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), for which he also served as president. He later resigned as KTA president and moved his ITF headquarters to Montreal, Canada, from where he concentrated on organizing taekwondo internationally. His emphasis was on self-defense methodology, not particularly on the sport. General Choi's Chong Han forms became the official patterns of the ITF.

The primary Forms (styled techniques patterned against an imaginary opponent) practiced in Korea prior to 1953 were the Shotokan karate based forms of Pin-an (a.k.a Pyung-an). These patterns, also known as "kata" and "poom-sae", were originally developed by Gichin Funakoshi and were based upon traditional Okinawan philosophy and the forms learned from his own instructors. These forms were first introduced to Japan in the early 1920s, and then subsequently to Korea. In 1967-68, a Korea Taekwondo Association committee was formed with representatives from all the major kwans ("schools"). Utilizing the traditional Shotokan patterns along with techniques from their individual styles, they worked together to create the standardized Taekwondo Kyobon, Pal-Gwe and Black belt forms officially recognized today. The "modern" Tae Geuk forms followed in 1972.

On February 23, 1963, the Tae Kwon Do Association joined the Korean Athletic Association and began to participate in national tournaments. Since then, Taekwondo has flourished and spread in popularity, becoming the national sport of Korea. It is now included as part of the school curriculum from first grade through college and is required for military service.

Taekwondo's international expansion started with the Republic of Vietnam in 1962 by Hong Hi Choi. It next migrated to Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong in 1962-63. Taekwondo was pioneered in Canada by Chong Lee in 1964, the same year it hit Singapore. The art was introduced to Europe by Park Jong Soo in 1965, first in West Germany, then in the Netherlands in 1966. Taekwondo entered the Middle East in 1966, and Taiwan in 1967. Meanwhile, in Korea, taekwondo spread from military posts to universities and high schools. Public dojangs proliferated, all with abundant student enrollment.


In January of 1971, Dr. Un Yong Kim was elected the new president of the Korea Taekwondo Association. Dr. Kim felt that Korea was the mother country of taekwondo and that there should be a world headquarters located there. In 1972, Dr. Kim was instrumental in helping to organize the building of the Kuk Ki Won in Seoul. The Kukiwon, literally the Institute for a National Sport, has become the "mecca of World Taekwondo" and the main educational and training center for the Korea Taekwondo Association. Under the auspices of the KTA, the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters) is now primarily responsible for international Black belt rank standardization and certification, as well as a research, development, and training center.

The popularization of sport taekwondo led to the need for standardized rules and a governing body to enforce those rules. In May of 1973, representatives from seventeen nations gathered at the Kukkiwon to form the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The WTF is primarily responsible for the promotion of taekwondo as an international sport. The Kukkiwon/WTF is the only international regulating body recognized by the South Korean government.

Un Yong Kim was the first President of Kukkiwon and resigned from the position on November 15, 2001. Woon Kyu Uhm of the Chung Do Kwan was elected President on March 2, 2004. The President in late 2005 was Yong Gye Um. On December 10, 2009, Seung Wan Lee of the Jidokwan was elected as the Kukkiwon's next President. In mid-2010, Won Sik Kang became the president. Sik was also the current president of Song Moo Kwan, Korea. President Kang stepped down at the end of his term of office in early 2013. After him, the interim president while awaiting an election was Grandmaster Kyu Sok Lee, who also serves as Secretary General for the Asian Taekwondo Union. Kim Chung Gun later acted as the Chair-in-Office. The next president was Grandmaster Lee Kyu Hyung (9th dan). After being provisionally named by the Director of the organization's board on August 20, 2013, he resigned after a short period, claiming he was unable to perform the role to the best of his abilities due to political issues. The current president is Grandmaster OH Hyun Deuk, who was elected on June 3, 2016.

On August 7, 1978, the existing kwans at that time came together and signed a Unification Proclamation pledging their support for the Kukkiwon, with the Kwan names being replaced by serial numbers. The kwans (some of which considered affiliates of others), in order from 1st Kwan to 9th Kwan, are Songmookwan, Hanmookwan, Changmookwan, Moodukkwan, Odokwan, Kangdukwan, Jungdokwan, Jidokwan, and Chungdokwan. With the KTA placing more emphasis on the sport applications of Taekwondo, many Korean masters traveled abroad to America to retain their individual styles and self-defense methodology.

In the short space of a few years, Dr. Kim and the World Taekwondo Federation has made major progress toward taekwondo receiving official status as an international amateur sport, both in the U.S. and other countries. Since the formulation of the WTF and its charter, a major effort has been made to standardize tournament rules and procedures and to organize world-class competitions. This standardization made it possible for taekwondo to enter the Olympic Games first as a demonstration sport in 1988, followed by full medal recognition in the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia.


The interest in Asian martial arts has greatly increased in the United States over the last thirty years. Many American servicemen returning home after being stationed in Japan or Korea, and studying karate or taekwondo there, brought their interest in the martial arts home with them. There were very few qualified Taekwondo instructors in America, however, until the late 1950's and early 1960s. Jhoon Rhee introduced taekwondo in the United States in 1957 when he began teaching a non-accredited course at the San Marcos Southwest Texas State College. Rhee founded his first public Taekwondo club in San Marcos in 1958. Other Korean masters followed, due to the growing interest in taekwondo among Americans. Among these early pioneers offering highly qualified instruction were Ki Whang Kim in the Northeastern States, Dae Shik Kim in Georgia, Henry Cho and Richard Chun, as well as approximately twenty-five other master instructors.

In 1969, Haeng Ung Lee founded the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). The ATA is one of the largest martial arts organizations in the U.S., along with the U.S. Taekwondo Federation (an ITF affiliate), the Amateur Athletic Union Taekwondo organization, and the U.S. Taekwondo Union (a WTF affiliate). The ATA is headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. Its organizational structure offers training resources in each individual school from higher-ranking masters and offers its own unique ATA patterns (forms).

From this beginning in the late 1950s, the practice of taekwondo has increased dramatically, both as a sport and self-defense ideology. Today, there are over 1,200 Korean master instructors in the U.S., and the total number of students has increased accordingly. A number of regional Taekwondo associations were formed in the early 1970s to handle organizational problems and promote local tournaments. In addition, colleges and universities in the U.S. formed associations of their own. In 1972, the American Collegiate Taekwondo Association was formed to sponsor tournaments and ensure quality taekwondo instruction at American universities.

When karate was accepted as an official sport of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1972, the karate leaders required taekwondo participants, instructors, and students to follow karate tournament rules and administrative guidelines. Ken Min, of the University of California at Berkeley, and a few other taekwondo leaders approached the AAU to request independent recognition. In 1974, the AAU National Taekwondo Committee was created, electing Ken Min as chairman.


The U.S. Congress passed the Sports Act of 1978, following the lobbying efforts by the National Committee for Amateur Athletics (NCAA). At the time, the AAU was the sole National Governing Body (NGB) for all amateur sports with the recognition and sanctioning of the U.S. Olympic Committee. According to the new Bill, any organization involved in multiple amateur sports would no longer be able to receive NGB status.

In November of 1981, Ken Min and leaders of the AAU Taekwondo organization broke off to form a National organization for Taekwondo as a WTF affiliate. This new organization was renamed the United States Taekwondo Union in 1982 (now the USA Taekwondo Union (USAT), with Dr. Dong Ja Yang as President. On April 7, 1984, during the House of Delegates meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), the USTU was approved as a "Group A" member. As such, the USAT sanctions tournaments and meets administers national championships and reports to the WTF and USOC as the National Governing Body for Taekwondo in the United States.

Each state in the Union has its own representative USAT organization, such as the California Taekwondo Association (CTA). The qualifying tournaments for the U.S. National team and Olympic team tryouts are made up of competitors who before qualified in the Championships held by their respective State Associations.

In the years following the loss of NGB status for amateur sports, the Amateur Athletic Union began the re-formation a number of its former sports committees, such as the AAU Judo Committee and the AAU Gymnastics Committee. In 1991, under the leadership of Mike Friello, the AAU Taekwondo Committee was re-formed. While continuing to focus primarily at the local level, the AAU began holding Regional and National level Taekwondo championships of its own.

While recognized primarily for its Point-style sparring methodology, the AAU Taekwondo program has recently made major strides in the development of International/Olympic style sparring competition. In 1998, following the lobbying efforts of Taekwondo masters such as Prof. Bill Dewart of the AAU Pacific Region, the AAU National Committee adopted Olympic style Taekwondo rules and procedures that paralleled those standardized by the WTF and USAT. In 1999, the AAU received "Class B" recognition status within the NGB and the USOC. As such, competitors who qualify in the AAU Nationals are now eligible to compete in the U.S. National Championships. And in the year 2001, the AAU sent its first Taekwondo team abroad to compete internationally.


In the short time since the inception of the WTF in 1973 and the first World Taekwondo Championships, taekwondo has grown with unprecedented rapidity as a worldwide sport. Today, Taekwondo is one of only two martial arts systems (the other being karate-do) to be practiced all over the world, boasting an international membership of more than 70 million practitioners in over 150 countries, making it the most practiced martial art style in the world.

Considering the unparalleled growth of the art of taekwondo and its acceptance into the circle of Olympic sports, there seems to be little doubt that it will continue to enjoy its rapidly expanding popularity around the world. Taekwondo is a highly complex system composed of many elements, and it is in this diverse nature where the true strength of the art lies.



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