THE HISTORY OF TAEKWON-DO
The history of Taekwon-Do begins with the name of one single solitary indivdual: Choi Hong-Hi. Any fair minded, thinking person that is informed of the actual events as they unfolded can only come to one conclusion after analyzing factual data. That conclusion is simply: If there was no Choi Hong-Hi there would be no Taekwon-Do.
Since the bold and brash statement above singles out this person, the telling of the history of Taekwon-Do begins with introducing Choi Hong-Hi, a name that many students of Tae Kwon Do may already know. Choi Hong-Hi is perhaps the Korean name that not only has wide global recognition, but it can be stated that perhaps no other individual Korean has ever done more to teach the world about Korea, its customs, culture and history. One of the tactics he used to accomplish this was to name the Korean Taekwon-Do Patterns or his Tuls after great Korean Patriots, significant events in Korea’s history or themes/spirit of the Korean people. He did this consciously, as he felt it would insure that any invading or occupying foreign force could never eradicate Korea’s history, as it would be disseminated internationally through his Original Taekwon-Do. In a 1999 interview conducted by Maria Heron of The Times, a U.K. publication General Choi stated:
Q. How did the patterns of TAEKWON-DO come about?
“When the Japanese invaded Korea they tried to remove the Korean nationality. You could not go to school and be educated if you were not Japanese. I was left a man with no country and therefore no national pride.”
“The Patterns of TAEKWON-DO represent the history of Korea from time in legend to this century. The propagation of TAEKWON-DO throughout the world has also enabled, through the patterns, a small part of Korean history to be learned by its practitioners. A part of Korea therefore now exists across the whole world and Korea’s nationality and history can never be removed by oppressors again.”
Choi Hong-Hi was born in the northeastern part of a unified Korea in 1918. At this time Korea suffered being under the control of the Japanese Empire, which ran Korea via a colonial government as Japan had annexed Korea, against the will of the Korean people. A young Choi grew up like many Koreans of the day, with anger towards the colonial Japanese and resisting their unfair control. As a youngster Choi became involved in a school protest spurred by the maltreatment of Koreans in Kwang Ju, a southern part of Korea. These protests spread throughout the Korean peninsular. As punishment for his independence fervor, he was expelled from school.
Choi’s father sought alternative educational opportunities for his son. His father had him learn Calligraphy and the Chinese Classics from a local teacher. Eventually the teacher suggested to the family that Hong-Hi be sent to a well-known Master of Calligraphy named Han Il-Dong. Master Han also told his young protégé about Taek Kyon and showed him some basic moves or exercises to bolster his confidence and weak physical constitution. Eventually Choi Hong-Hi would go to Japan to pursue higher academic education opportunities.
While in Japan Choi also trained in Karate. He reports of having earned a II Dan Black Belt. Independent sources confirm he actually taught Karate at a YMCA there. However there is no real solid evidence confirming exact Degrees earned by any of the Kwan founders. During this time Japan was fully engaged in the Second World War. As the War raged on, mounting pressure was applied to Korean males to join the war effort. Already multiple thousands of Korean females, including teenage girls were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Military. Since Japan did not get a sufficient amount of volunteers the pressure was increased and Koreans faced conscription like tactics, compelling Koreans like Choi Hong-Hi into a forced servitude through no volition of his own.
After completing the mandatory training he was assigned to Pyongyang Korea. As time passed these Korean student soldiers formed a group that plotted to overthrow the local leadership and join the Korean underground resistance movement. However a traitorous Korean collaborator discovered the plan and the leaders, including Choi, were arrested and convicted. They were spared on August 15, 1945 when Japan surrendered unconditionally ending WWII.
Shortly after the liberation Choi Hong-Hi moved south to Seoul and participated in the fledging democratic anti-communist movement taking hold. Mr. Choi enrolled in the first Republic of (south) Korea’s (ROK) Military Academy and was assigned serial number 44. The class was made up of 110 officer candidates and he successfully graduated this initial class, becoming a founding member of their Army. This opportunity allowed him to fast track his way up the promotional ladder. It also gave him access to many subordinate soldiers that also became his martial art students. As he advanced in military rank, the amount of soldiers he commanded increased accordingly.
While a 1-Star Brigadier-General in 1953 he was tasked with forming a new division on JeJu Island. Gen. Choi looked to expand the martial arts training to the new division that he was forming. To help accomplish this he recruited Lieutenant Nam Tae-Hi and Sergeant Han Cha-Kyo. Lieutenant Nam was a senior student of the Chung Do Kwan. He was also somewhat a legend for his exploits on the battlefield and his proficiency in deadly hand-to-hand combat skills. Sergeant Han was his junior at the Chung Do Kwan and one of his students. The 29th Infantry Division was nicknamed the “Fist Division” and the Division Flag contained an image of General Choi’s fist superimposed over an image of the Korean peninsular. This was an indication of General Choi’s deep desire to reunite his beloved homeland.
The martial arts training at the time was pretty much limited to basic karate with some of the beginning modifications and was called Tang Soo Do. After the completion of the recruit’s training the “Fist Division” relocated to the Korean mainland. Hence JeJu Island can be appropriately and accurately referred to as the “Womb of Taekwon-Do.” In September of 1954 2-Star Major-General Choi arranged for a celebration to commemorate the formation of the 29th Infantry Division that was to coincide with the birthday of Dr. Rhee Seung-Man, PhD, who was the first president of south Korea. The festivities were to include a martial arts performance.
This demonstration would become historic. Lieutenant Nam broke 13 roof tiles with his fore fist. This evidently impressed Dr. Rhee and prompted him to make inquiry of General Choi as to what part of the hand was utilized. It was reported that Dr. Rhee exclaimed this is Taek Kyon. General Choi however realized that this was Tang Soo Do, a name that was foreign in nature and lacking the Korean connection that Taek Kyon had. This provided the motivation to come up with a new name to better describe the Korean Martial Art that they were developing. This training was to be now taught to all the soldiers as per the comments by their President who was the Commander in Chief, Dr. Seung-Man Rhee.
General Choi used his extensive knowledge of Chinese gained through his Calligraphy training, learning the Chinese classics and higher education to conceive the new name of Tae Kwon Do. Once he had the name he realized that for such an important milestone, he needed to have it accepted by others and then seek presidential authorization. What was happening in Korea at the time was a national movement to re-instill Korean pride and reinvigorate Korean culture. In keeping with this movement, Korea needed to have their very own National Martial Art and General Choi’s vision was that Taekwon-Do would become just that.
The process for obtaining the all-important presidential approval began with a series of meetings that included elected officials, top military personnel, businessmen, those influential in the media and other leading members of Korean society. When they approved the name Taekwon-Do that General Choi submitted, research would then be conducted before the name was to be sent to Dr. Rhee for presidential approval. The process proved successful when General Choi convinced staff at the Blue House and the president to have the name written in Calligraphy using Chinese HanJa characters. Dr. Rhee eventually fulfilled the request using his own hand and signing the Calligraphy with his penname U-Nam. So Taekwon-Do was used officially since 1955. However the use was limited to the Military and those in the Chung Do Kwan following General Choi.
The soldiers in the military trained through the Oh Do Kwan, which was co-founded by General Choi Hong-Hi and Captain Nam Tae-Hi. They decided upon the name, as its use avoided the controversy of the battling Kwans. Oh Do Kwan translates as gym of my way, or my gym. So the Oh Do Kwan was now your place to train when you served in the military, regardless of any previous Kwan training or lack thereof. The name sent a message that all were welcome. The Director was General Choi, Captain Nam served as the Chief Instructor, while Sergeant Han was the Assistant Instructor.
THE FIRST 3 TAEKWON-DO MASTERS
2-Star Major-General Choi, Hong-Hi (Army Serial #10044)
Oh Do Kwan Director & Co-Founder
Colonel Nam Tae-Hi (Army Serial #210053)
Oh Do Kwan Chief Instructor & Co-Founder
Sergeant 1st Class Han Cha-Kyo (Army Serial #9430128)
Oh Do Kwan Assistant Instructor
The Oh Do Kwan can be considered the first Taekwon-Do gym. It was in the Oh Do Kwan that some of the first overt changes took hold that would lead Taekwon-Do into becoming a uniquely new Korean Martial Art of Self defense. These obvious changes were the creation of the first 3 Korean Tuls or Patterns, which some call forms and in Korea used to be called Hyungs. The first 3 patterns devised were Hwa Rang Tul, Chung Moo Tul and Ul Ji Tul. The first 3 Masters of Taekwon-Do, General Choi, Colonel Nam and Sergeant Han collaborated on all 3 Patterns. The Tuls were the brainchild of General Choi. He would go on to design 26 Tuls over his lifetime. He included a final total of 24 in the syllabus that he oversaw the creation of.
Hwa Rang Tul had General Choi envisioning movements, sort of like a director, with Captain Nam and Sergeant Han working out the movements, much like actors taking cues from a movie director. Chung Moo Tul had Captain Nam mostly working through the movements with General Choi. Ul Ji had Sergeant Han being the primary assistant helping General Choi or at times Captain Nam. The aforementioned order was also the chronological sequence of development, circa 1955-6. Prior to this the Korean Karate Kwans simply trained using Karate Katas, learned by Koreans in Japan or from Japanese sources. The Oh Do Kwan nurtured the early development of Taekwon-Do and as such can be rightfully considered the “Cradle of Taekwon-Do.”
Some of the 1st Military Taekwon-Do Instructors or Original Masters were:
Colonel Baek Joon-Ki (Army Serial #210430)
Grandmaster Hyun Jong Myun
Kang Suh-Chong (Military Intelligence Division)
Master-Sergeant Kim Bok-Man (Army Serial #0245228)
Corporal Kim Jong-Chan
Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Soo-Ryun
Lieutenant-Colonel Kim Suk-Kyu
Colonel Ko Jae-Chun (Army Serial #206717)
Lieutenant-Colonel Lee Sang-Koo
Sergeant Uhm Woon-Gyu
(2 Star) Major-General Woo Jong-Lim (Army Serial #209252)
Lieutenant-Colonel Hong Sung-In ROK 1st Army
Grandmaster Kim In-Mook ROK 1st Army
Grandmaster Lee Byung-Moo
General Choi had his instructors shout TAE KWON when they saluted during training in order to help cement the new name for the martial art that they were developing. While he insisted on respecting military ranks, during Taekwon-Do training all the soldiers were to respect the higher Black Belt Dans. The training began to spread throughout the Army. Master-Sergeant Kim Bok-Man was one of the instructors that would travel to different units to teach. Captain Nam would put some of his focus on training new instructors. Many of the early instructors were members of the highly influential Chung Do Kwan.
The Chung Do Kwan was a civilian gym that was founded by Grandmaster Lee Won-Kuk. It opened as the Chung Do Hwe in Seoul towards the end of the occupation on September 15, 1944. This was several months after the Song Moo Kwan opened on March 11, 1944 in Kaesong. Neither school was able to stay open continuously. Over the next several years 3 other schools opened, the Moo Duk Kwan, Jido Kwan and Chang Moo Kwan. The last two opened initially under different original names and their founders disappeared during the Korean Civil War. All five closed down in the midst of the terrible fighting and destruction that ensued.
Connection to the political power structure in Korea has seemed to help Taekwon-Do from its inception. At the same time opposition to the political powers to be, caused much heartache for those that were not in sync with the totalitarian regimes that were in place. For example Gen. Choi was a member of the ruling Liberal Party in Korea during the authoritarian rule of Dr. Rhee. So he enjoyed the trappings of power early on. However Grandmaster Lee, founder of the Chung Do Kwan suffered terribly during this heavy-handed rule. There were rumors of him being a Japanese sympathizer as he was actually granted permission to open his Korean Karate School during the occupation period. Grandmaster Lee claimed that he simply refrained from allowing the Ruling Party to use his students for their political means. In any event Grandmaster Lee claimed he was beaten, along with some of his students, arrested and jailed. So he fled to Japan in order to escape this political persecution.
U-Nam, the pen name of Dr. Rhee was a name Gen. Choi utilized for one of his early patterns to help garner favor of the president in hopes of securing continued support for his Taekwon-Do. Sam-Il Tul, which denoted the numbers 3 and 1 that is a common designation for March 1st, the Korean Independence Day, was another early pattern in place by 1959. Gen. Choi used his power and influence to build up a strong base and foundation for his Korean Taekwon-Do. Because of his position he was picked as the Honorary Director of the Chung Do Kwan after their founder (GM Lee) fled to Japan in 1950. As an active military General it was impossible for Choi to serve in any other capacity but an honorary one. However this did not prevent him from becoming a real driving force by operating behind the scenes.
General Choi became “sworn brothers” with the second Kwan Jang or head instructor of the Chung Do Kwan, Master Son Duk-Sung. They formed an alliance that would see the Oh Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan lead the fledging Taekwon-Do movement. It needs to be noted art this time, only these 2 groups were both training under the Taekwon-Do label and leading the development under Gen. Choi’s leadership. The other Kwans on the civilian side were operating under the Tang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do, Kwan Bup and Hwa Soo Do names. They also pursued their own agendas and respective points of focus as well as still using the Karate Katas.
In 1957 Gen. Choi and Grandmaster Son formed a short-lived Taekwon-Do Association of Korea. Gen. Choi served as the Vice President while Grandmaster Son was the Secretary General. The president of the Association was a non-martial artist and politician named Lee Jae-Hahk. As Gen. Choi exerted more influence in the Chung Do Kwan his relationship with Grandmaster Son soured. It was General Choi who led the first ever Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team in March of 1959 to Vietnam and Taiwan. Accounts have Grandmaster Son upset that he was not included on this historic trip or as he stated wasn’t consulted in selecting the members. However General Choi was the ranking officer that commanded this military initiative and it was not open to civilians.
Students of the Chung Do Kwan that were loyal to General Choi obtained new authorization Grandmaster Lee Won-Kuk naming Uhm Woon-Gyu, a former Sergeant in the military as the new Kwan Jang in early June 1959. About a week or so later, Grandmaster Son published a statement in a Korean periodical called Seoul Shinmoon, a Seoul newspaper, attempting to revoke an honorary certificate previously awarded to General Choi and expelling 3 key members of the Chung Do Kwan, Colonel Nam Tae-Hi Master Hyun Jong-Myun and Sergeant Uhm Woon-Gyu, who was by that time already in place as the new Kwan Jang. So in essence the declaration by Grandmaster Son had no effect as he had already been deposed. These 3 figures would go onto play pivotal roles in the continuing development of the 2 major styles or systems of Tae Kwon Do. It was Grandmaster Son only a short few years later would leave Korea and no longer play a prominent role in the development of Taekwon-Do in Korea, its birthplace. This was symbolic of the tensions and divisions within the growth period of Taekwon-Do.
On September 3, 1959 some of the tensions were eased when General Choi formed the first Korea Taekwon-Do Association (KTA). He was successful, at least temporarily in bringing together the 6 early Kwans to an agreement that included all.
General Choi represented the Oh Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan and became the first President.
Grandmaster Ro Byung-Jik founder of the Song Moo Kwan became a Vice President
Dr. Yoon Kwe-Byung, the 2nd Kwan Jang of the Jidokwan also became a Vice President
Grandmaster Hwang Ki founder of the Moo Duk Kwan became Secretary General
Grandmaster Lee Nam-Suk, the 2nd Kwan Jang of the Chang Moo Kwan became an Executive Director
However the unity was short lived as Grandmaster Hwang dropped out to focus on his Su Bak Do. Dr. Yoon further weakened the alliance when he eventually aligned with Grandmaster Hwang and supported his efforts. Over the passage of time this would also lead to a splits in both the Moo Duk Kwan and Jidokwan, with one side following the sports movement of the 2nd generation leaders and the other 1st generation leaders focusing on the Su Bak Do martial art discipline.
At this time great unrest and upheaval was taking place within the political structure governing south Korea. Dr. Rhee who was supported by the United States was in power since the forming of the Republic of (south) Korea in 1948, when the American Military occupation ended. The President over the passage of time became a more authoritarian leader and his administration was increasingly plagued by claims of corruption, including influencing the outcome of the 1960 presidential elections, giving an 85-year-old Dr. Rhee yet another term in office.
In April of 1960, less than a year after the Korea Taekwon-Do Association was formed, massive protests sprang up all over against the Rhee Administration. The scale and magnitude of the April 19th Movement was so widespread that by the end of the month the American CIA flew Dr. Rhee and members of his family out of Korea to Hawaii, where he lived his remaining 5 years of life in exile. The succeeding government proved to be somewhat unorganized and inept with running the country. Since Korea was a divided country, still recovering from the devastation of a civil war, which had no formal treaty (still to this day) in place, constant fear of renewed conflict with the north loomed large. As a result a Military Coup took place on May 16, 1961.
The coup d’état would go onto play a pivotal role in the continuing development of Taekwon-Do. The Coup, often referred to as the May 16 Revolution, was headed by Major-General Park Chung-Hee. General Park, an officer junior to General Choi, acted using the name of the ROK Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Chang Do-Young. However archival documents, including formerly confidential communications between the American Embassy in Seoul and the White House in Washington D.C. indicate that General Chang did not support the Coup and indeed requested U.S. military assistance in putting down the insurrection efforts. This evidence and other historical accounts do indeed support General Choi’s assertions with respect to how these events unfolded.
General Choi did believe in the Coup and he provided logistical support to help insure its success. However he stated he did so as he thought the Military could provide security and help stabilize the country so it could be turned over to a more competent civilian leadership. Since General Park was a junior general officer, with an association with General Chang, an assumption was that Park was the front man, shielding General Chang from exposure or harm, if the Coup did not succeed. But as we see from history, Chang was within a month removed from leadership and before 2 months passed, he was arrested by Park’s regime. U.S. Department of State records demonstrate while General Chang did not support the Coup, he did not employ resistance, as he did not want to see the struggle lead to bloodshed. Sadly much Korean blood was to be shed during the eighteen-year dictatorial rule of the military regime under General Park.
Many Koreans would come to appreciate General Park. Under his reign, south Korea would become a highly industrialized nation. The economic progress is often referred to as “The Miracle on the Han” as the Republic of (south) Korea would become the only country in history to move from being dependent on United Nations aide to becoming a leading donator of U.N. assistance. Park’s iron fisted rule would come under international scrutiny and global condemnation for terrible human rights abuses.
General Choi would quickly see himself being marginalized by Park’s ruling military junta. As far as the Coup goes, many believe the brain behind the movement was a young Lieutenant-Colonel by the name of Kim Jong-Pil. Colonel Kim was the nephew-in-law of General Park and a graduate of the 8th Military Academy class. This 8th Class formed the nucleus of the May 16th Revolution. General Choi was never in that inner circle. He was also hampered by several other strikes against him.
First General Choi was born in the northern part of a previously unified Korea, albeit under colonial rule by Imperial Japan. Since Korea was artificially divided by foreign powers, namely the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. some in the southern half did not fully trust those that came south from the north, as no one knew certain where their allegiances were. Second General Choi was a very senior general officer, as he graduated from the first Military Academy Class in 1946. Those that were instrumental in the Coup did not want to jeopardize their leadership roles to the senior officers. Also General Choi had enjoyed strong ties to authoritarian rule of autocrat Dr. Rhee, who only a year earlier was forced from power and flee Korea. Many of those with ties to that corrupt administration were purged from power.
Perhaps the greatest factor that would lead to General Choi’s diminishing power and influence is a little know fact that General Park conveniently suppressed during his reign of power. It was not politically expedient for Koreans to know he actually volunteered for service in the Imperial Army of the Empire of Japan during the colonial period time. Many Korean young men were forced into servitude, but Park joined a Japanese run military academy in Manchuria, which was then called Manchukuo. After that he completed officer training at the Imperial Army Academy in Japan and was a commissioned a Lieutenant. Park went by the Japanese name of Takagi Masao. So the historical record show that he volunteered not once, but twice for service with Imperial Japan.
Then in 1948 Park was arrested and charged with being a communist and rumors that he have been a Japanese collaborator flourished. Park was found guilty by a military tribunal and sentenced to death. However he was spared after he informed on others in the group and pleas were made on his behalf to commute the death penalty. Apparently General Choi served in those court proceedings that prosecuted Park and recommended the death penalty. Naturally this would become a major point of contention between the two. The outbreak of the Korean Civil War allowed a pathway for Park to rehabilitate his Army career.
When it came to outright purge of people in certain positions, General Choi may have been somewhat fortunate in this regard. He did support the Coup and was a somewhat popular or influential leader. His name was put forth for promotional consideration for his 3rd Star, with many thinking it was a fait accompli. In fact a ceremonial plaque had already been made for the celebration that never came. If the ruling military council perceived someone to be problematic, or somehow in the way, they were simply removed. Many were arrested, kicked out of office, while some suffered a worse fate. Others that were in a more favorable position like General Choi were reassigned. In General Choi’s case he was relieved of his military command, which by then had him in charge of approximately 100,000 soldiers, including some elements of the American forces. He then was dispatched to Malaysia as the first Korean Ambassador to that Southeast Asian country. Tactics like these allowed General Park the time to consolidate his power.
While in Malaysia Ambassador Choi literally turned the Korean Embassy into a Dojang and utilized his government staff to work on his Taekwon-Do that he was somewhat obsessive about. The Ambassador used his calligraphy talents to spark the interest of the local media. Once he had their attention at his formal gathering he used the opening to introduce Taekwon-Do to them. He hoped that if the Malaysians would come to train in his Korean Martial Art, it would help him raise the stature of Korea. We must remember that in 1962, Korea was a divided Country that existed less then 20 years from moving from under Japanese domination that began at the turn of the century. So few even knew of Korea. In fact at the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, the last Olympics prior to the 2nd World War, the marathon was won by a Korean, who was forced to compete under a Japanese name, Kitei Son. Olympic champion Sohn Kee-Chung suffered humiliation when in the moment of glory; he had to stand under the Japanese flag when it was raised as he stood on the podium, while the Japanese national anthem was playing.
Since Korea was also a poor country at the time, Ambassador Choi looked to use his “Original” Taekwon-Do to help further his diplomatic mission and that as many Embassies do utilizing cultural education programs of outreach. To further this agenda he summoned Military Taekwon-Do Instructors, retired Master-Sergeant Kim Bok-Man and former Lieutenant Woo-Jae-Lim to Malaysia. They arrived in the Spring of 1963 and at first lived in a room they shared in the Ambassador’s official residence, which was on the Embassy grounds. By July of 1963 they successfully formed the Malaysian Taekwon-Do Federation. Hence Malaysia has become known as the Second Home of Taekwon-Do.
As a result of their collective efforts Taekwon-Do spread like wildfire throughout Southeast Asia. In 1964 they formed the Singapore Taekwon-Do Association. In December of 1962 Grandmaster Nam Tae-Hi, then a Major in the Korean Army was officially dispatched as the officer in charge of a 4-man team of Military Taekwon-Do Instructors to deployment in Vietnam to teach the Vietnamese military Korean Taekwon-Do. This marked the first time in history Taekwon-Do instructors were sent overseas for the sole purpose to teach Taekwon-Do, the Korean Martial Art of Self Defense. Captains Seung Kyu Kim, Kyo Il Chu and Young Hwe Jung accompanied Grandmaster Nam. Captain Kim stayed with Colonel Nam for a full year, returning home to Korea on Christmas Eve in 1963. During the course of the Vietnam Civil War approximately 700 Military or “Original” Taekwon-Do Instructors were deployed to teach in Vietnam. By 1965 their collective efforts on both the military and civilian side there, led to the Vietnam Taekwon-Do Association was being formed in 1965 under the leadership of Colonel Baik Joon-Gi, the then Chief of the Military Taekwon-Do group. Colonel Baik served as the Honorary President.
In 1964 the next instructors to be sent overseas were Masters C.K. Choi (Chang-Keun) and Rhee Ki-Ha. They were both former soldiers who taught Military Taekwon-Do under General Choi. This marked the first time in history Koreans were dispatched abroad with Taekwon-Do Instructors listed as their occupation in their passports. After arriving in Malaysia Master Choi eventually settled in Penang and Master Rhee in Singapore. It was here that Master Rhee also taught service men of the Royal Air Force, which later (1967) would officially invite him to introduce Taekwon-Do to the United Kingdom.
While serving as the Korean Ambassador to Malaysia, General Choi also worked on completing the first ever-English language book on Taekwon-Do. He was assisted in this endeavor by Master-Sergeant Kim Bok-Man, who because of his efforts would earn the title of the Father of Taekwon-Do in Southeast Asia. This book would include 20 of the Korean Patterns General Choi had been devising since 1954/5. But what was going on back in Korea, with respect to Taekwon-Do?
The Korea Taekwon-Do Association (KTA) formed by General Choi on September 3, 1959 with him as President was weakened when, as stated above Grandmaster Hwang Ki and Dr. Yoon went out on their own in order to focus on bolstering their version of Korean Martial Art they called Su Bak Do. The Military Coup or May 16th Revolution in 1961 resulted in the military junta issuing government decree #6. This order directed all social organizations to reorganize, consolidate and registered with the new military dictatorship. So in September of 1961, the 2nd generation leaders decided to operate under a new compromise name of Tae Soo Do. As a result, it was pretty much only the military and the Oh Do Kwan who continued to use General Choi’s Taekwon-Do name. It should be noted that only Colonel Nam Tae-Hi, who General Choi would call his “right hand man” and Grandmaster Uhm Woon-Gyu, a former Military Sergeant who General Choi supported as the 3rd Kwang Jang of the Chung Do Kwan who argued unsuccessfully for the Taekwon-Do name, as they were already using it for years by that time.
The 2nd generation leaders on the civilian side rejected yet again General Choi’s Taekwon-Do name. The compromise name they decided on used the TAE from Taekwon-Do, the SOO from both Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do and the DO from all of them. The majority of the civilian leaders voted for the Tae Soo Do name, while it was reported that Colonel Nam and former Sergeant Uhm did not. The new KTA would put together testing requirements that used some of General Choi’s new Korean Tuls and some of the older Karate Katas. They were also successful in getting Tae Soo Do into the prestigious Korean National Sports Festival in 1963 by virtue of their acceptance into the Korean Amateur Sports Association as their 28th sport on February 23, 1962.
The Oh Do Kwan held the first ever Taekwon-Do tournament in 1962. Grandmaster C.K. Choi (Chang-Keun) became the first Taekwon-Do heavyweight champion in the world, when he took top honors in that historic initial Taekwon-Do tournament. The Oh Do Kwan and Military Taekwon-Do continued to issue certifications and teach under the Taekwon-Do, both in Korea and Vietnam.
The focus on sport and General Choi’s emphasis on a martial art for self-defense, along with his new Korean Patterns whose names were drawn from Korea’s history, started to symbolize the growing divide that would sadly keep Taekwon-Do apart. However at least then, there was less confusion, as the different groups were operating under different names. This would of course change when Ambassador Choi returned to Korea at the end of 1964 after completing his diplomatic assignment in Malaysia.
General Choi would state in order to effect change, he must become involved by being on the inside. As such he campaigned to be President of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association. His efforts proved successful when he was voted in as their 3rd President in January of 1965 for a 1-year term of office. Of course his agenda included not only changing the name to Taekwon-Do, but to get them to accept his syllabus and focus of training. In August of 1965 General Choi was indeed successful in getting them to accept his Taekwon-Do name. However by this time his authoritarian leadership ways had him overstay his welcome and the 2nd generation leaders on the civilian side pushed him out when his term ended. He was succeeded by Grandmaster Ro Byung-Jik, the founder of the Song Moo Kwan.
As part of the process in getting General Choi out of the KTA, some of the civilian leaders supported him in creating the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) on March 22, 1966. Grandmasters Uhm Woon-Gyu served as Secretary General, Lee Chong-Woo as Director of Technique and Lee Nam-Suk as a subsequent Secretary General. While the dual organizational solution eased some of the tensions, it did not solve the problems. General Choi, while losing official government power and influence, still maintained some strong relationships with several people in key positions in the military dictatorship. He maneuvered for a time, until his interference resulted in more problems. Coinciding with this was his increasing opposition to the dictatorship. This combination would prove to eventually become too much for him to safely manage or allow him sufficient ability to manipulate matters as he thought it required.
In 1972 General Choi fled for his safety from what many historians describe as the height of the brutality under Park’s dictatorial regime. General Park suspended the constitution yet again, declared martial law, cracked down tighter on dissenters and insured he would be president for life. His rule was only ended when his own KCIA Director shot and killed him on October 26, 1979, ironically 70 years to the day Lieutenant General Ahn Chung-Gun, the Korean Patriot immortalized by General Choi’s Chung Gun Tul, assassinated the Japanese Resident General placed by Imperial Japan to rule over Korea.
With the ITF moved from Seoul Korea, the new President of the KTA, the 6th was Dr. Kim Un-Yong. Dr. Kim dissolved the KTA’s relationship with the ITF. While Dr. Kim was not a martial artist, he was a high-ranking government official. He served the military dictatorship as counsel to such high profile overseas posts as the Korean Embassies in both London and Washington, D.C. He also served at their Mission to the United Nations in New York City. Dr. Kim, highly educated, speaking 6 languages eventually returned home to Korea. While there he served as the Deputy Director of the Presidential Security at the Blue House in Seoul. General Choi long maintained the Dr. Kim was KCIA and this was born out by the investigative journalists in North America and Europe that confirmed this through the records of the American Government’s extensive investigation into the KoreaGate scandal conducted by their Congress, the F.B.I. and other Federal agencies.
Dr. Kim assumed control over the KTA in January of 1971. At first, General Choi, thinking that Dr. Kim, a former Army subordinate with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, would make a better colleague to work with for the betterment of Taekwon-Do. However Dr. Kim quickly moved along another path and increasingly ignored General Choi and marginalized him. Dr. Kim’s plan, which proved to be highly successful, included 3 main parts. The first was to make Taekwondo the Korean National Sport. He would then continue the internationalization of it with the third part being the goal of making it an official Olympic sport.
In order to see his plan become a reality he first obtained authorization via a calligraphy penned by General Park in Korean HanGul denoting the approval as Korea’s National Sport. The calligraphy stated Kukki Tae Kwon Do and was signed on March 21, 1971, just 2 short months after Dr. Kim assumed the presidency of the KTA. What is a little known fact was that General Choi had also used the Kukki Taekwon-Do label when he led the Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill Tour around the world in 1965. This Goodwill Tour was sponsored by the same ROK Military government, but it was 6 years earlier.
Perhaps even more importantly was the fact that General Choi had already obtained Presidential approval for Taekwon-Do as Korea’s National Martial Art from Dr. Seung-man Rhee, PhD, who was elected in 1948. General Choi received the authorization via a calligraphy penned in Chinese HanJa characters after General Choi conceived the Taekwon-Do name in 1955. However this fact was obscured even more so, as Dr. Rhee fled Korea in 1960. Since Dr. Rhee’s rule became increasingly authoritarian and his Administration was plagued by corruption, connections to that Blue House were problematic after the military junta that took over via a coup and looked to purge that close to those scandals.
Dr. Kim also looked to continue the efforts to build a training center for the KTA. This effort was begun by his predecessor Mr. Kim Yong-Chae, the 5th President of the KTA. It was Dr. Kim who was able to complete the task. Before the Kukkiwon became the World Taekwondo Academy it served as the Central Training Gymnasium for the KTA. But again General Choi had previously envisioned an international training center already. The designs were outlined in the first Taekwon-Do magazine called the Human Weapon. The ITF published this magazine in January of 1969. Another part of Dr. Kim’s plan was to host a world championship, which he did at the newly constructed Kukkiwon in May of 1973, when the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was formed. General Choi had also planned a world championship in Seoul back in 1970, as evidenced by the announcement in the Human Weapon magazine. But by this time he simply did not have the support needed to host such an event. Therefore the 1st ITF World Championships were held in 1974 in the Canadian City of Montreal, under private sponsorship.
With the ITF out of Korea and the new WTF being formed, the Tae Kwon Do divide was cemented. It remains so today, although new efforts by the current leaders hold out hope for more cooperation and a closer unity than what has been the case in the turbulent past. With the telling of the history, the divide in Taekwon-Do also contributed to the confusion and distortion. The WTF would assert that Taekwondo was 2,000 years old. Many of the books written by those associated with the WTF or aligned with the Kukkiwon would essentially follow the same template.
On the ITF side, the history centered around mostly one person, General Choi, who was promoted or portrayed as “The Founder” of Taekwon-Do. While it is safe to state and irrefutable so, that if there was no General Choi, there would be no Taekwon-Do! However the historical record teaches us that he was not a one-man show. The evidence clearly shows that General Choi was the “principle founder” of the Original Taekwon-Do. The use of the word original is to denote the first Korean Martial Art that applied the Taekwon-Do name to it as a label to describe what they were doing. This took place initially in the ROK Army and would spread to the other branches of the south Korean armed forces and can be referred to as Military Taekwon-Do. The use of the Taekwon-Do label was continuous among General Choi’s soldiers and followers. This was not the case with most others.
Perhaps a secret to understanding the history of Taekwon-Do is to have an understanding of the political climate and context the development took place in. It is important to know part of Korea’s history itself, if one hopes to make sense of the confusion. Naturally students must also appreciate the complexity of the leaders that were involved, from General Choi on the Original Taekwon-Do side and Dr. Kim on the Olympic Taekwondo side. Then it is most important to realize that while all Tae Kwon Do has common roots, the development away from the Karate influence was essentially conducted along two major paths. These paths are often simply referred to as the ITF and WTF. While both these major styles of Taekwon-Do, Chang Hon and Kukki are much different today; they came from the same past. While there are indeed many differences, there are also many similarities. Perhaps today, a better way forward is to focus on the shared traits and then help each side gain more, by sharing the different ways, methods, or training in such a way that every student of Taekwon-Do benefits, as well as the Art itself.
Since Tae Kwon Do today has evolved into two different sides or systems, one most also understand that there are at least two different histories, as what happened historically on one path is naturally going to vary from the other path. This can be likened to parents who give birth to more than one child. While each of their children has common roots or the same start, there are many influences and experiences that have shaped who they grow into along their respective journeys in life. Their own children become cousins and the family grows. This may be a better way to look at Tae Kwon Do history.
Today it is becoming more apparent that the WTF or Kukki side of Taekwondo is not only now making mention of General Choi, but they at times are even crediting him with conceiving the name Taekwon-Do. Some sources add that General Choi played an important part during the early days in Korea. Others go onto state how he was instrumental in the global spread at the start or that he was the one who actually started the internationalization of Taekwon-Do. Even the new Taekwondowon’s Museum prominently displays his 1959 textbook, which was the first book written about Taekwon-Do. They go onto to list some of his early accomplishments and leadership roles. This truly is a marked improvement over the Kukkiwon’s Museum, which makes neither a mention of General Choi or displays a single picture of him!
While this may be a good sign that things are changing, it surely is not enough as it is still sorely lacking in so many ways. Today the Taekwondo Universities and college programs in Korea are all much more open about General Choi and younger students are beginning to learn of his many contributions. So it is conceivable that future generations will be the driving force to correct the record and undue the harsh silent treatment of Taekwon-Do’s most important figure.
The new Taekwondowon, which is being promoted as the “mecca’ of Taekwondo can start by adding General Choi into their “Greats in Taekwondo History” section. The Museum listed 10 Taekwondo leaders by the official opening in September 2014. But if you added the contributions of 9 of them together, you may not equal the footprint of General Choi. Additionally the WTF side can cease ignoring the ITF post 1966. The accounts that do even address the ITF seem to let it fade away, like it ceased to exist, became part of the Kukkiwon or was superseded by the WTF.
General Choi because of the unfortunate and volatile political situation in Korea in 1972 was forced to flee to a life in exile apart from the Korea he loved. However that political climate or situations no longer exist today. So in the spirit of the truth and as a way to reconcile the troubles of the past, these accounts can start to list what General Choi did all over the world, his contributions, written publications and other formats that captured his teachings. The record can be updated to reflect not only what he did from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, but what he did in the 1970s, when he moved to Canada, until he passed in 2002.
It was the ITF under General Choi that also started to introduce Taekwon-Do to the communist and socialist countries during the “Cold War” era. The ITF, as a non-governmental entity was possibly better positioned to do this, as they were now located in Canada, free from political control or influences. During that time period, south Korea had no real connections to the Eastern Bloc of the Soviet Union or what was called “Red” China. The introduction of Taekwon-Do into these places laid the foundation for Taekwon-Do becoming a truly global Art. This non-political posture by the ITF under General Choi was exactly what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required. Once General Choi introduced Taekwon-Do to the Democratic People’s Republic of (north) Korea (DPRK). The DPR Korea’s Taekwon-Do Committee assisted the ITF in staffing many countries with certified ITF International Instructors.
The ITF continues to flourish today. While fragmentation has occurred, it can be taken as a sign of its popularity and strength, with the growth being nurtured by the voices of many. Likewise the various leaders of the ITF can also make their historical accounts more inclusive. Imagine a time when all Tae Kwon Do champions can be listed together. Better yet envision a time when all students can compete in one championship. History is there for all to learn from in order to move forward positively or suffer the peril of not learning its many lessons, doomed to repeat mistakes and remain mired in the problems of the past, a past long gone.
Dr. Kim Un-Yong can be rightfully seen as the Father of Olympic Taekwondo.” Many ably assisted him, including Grandmasters Lee Chong-Woo, Lee Nam-Suk and Uhm Woon-Gyu. Grandmaster Uhm also served as the 2nd Kukkiwon President. Dr. Kim was the gifted political leader that successfully maneuvered the effort to gain Olympic recognition for Taekwondo. Dr. Kim did it in record time. These three iconic martial arts figures that handled the Kukki Taekwondo technical side also played early pivotal roles in establishing the ITF in 1966, all holding several key positions at a time.
Of course the ITF recognizes the Founders of the original five Korean Karate Kwans: Grandmasters Ro Byung-Jik – Song Moo Kwan, Lee Won-Kuk – Chung Do Kwan, Hwang Ki – Moo Duk Kwan, Yoon Byung-In – YMCA Kwon Bup Bu and Chun Sang-Sup – Chosun Yoon Moo Kwan Kong So Do Bu. These Founders put in motion a drive to reestablish Korean Martial Arts. They produced the 2nd generation leaders that went onto assist General Choi and Dr. Kim into making Tae Kwon Do what it is today.
Honorable Mention by the ITF should also go to:
Son Duk Sung – 2nd Kwang Jang of the Chung Do Kwan, leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer & Author
Hyun Jong-Myun – Subsequent Kwan Jang of the Oh Do Kwan
Lee Yong-Woo – Founder of the Jung Do Kwan
Captain Rhee Jhoon Goo – Founding member of ITF, leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer & Author
S. Henry Cho (Si-Hak) – Leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer & Author
Captain Jack Hwang (Sae-Jin) – Leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer, Publisher & host of the 2nd ITF WCs
Kim Ki-Whang – Leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer
Dr. Richard Chun – Early Pioneer, WTF Leader & Author
Shim Sang-Kyu – Leading Tae Kwon Do Independent Pioneer & Author
Hank Lee (Haeng-Ung): Founder member of ITF, Pioneer & Founder of ATA, the most successful Independent Tae Kwon Do group
Lee Chong-Soo – Early Pioneer & WTF Leader
Park Sun-Jae Early Founding member of ITF, early Pioneer & WTF Leader
Lee Kyong-Myong – Early Pioneer, Author & WTF Leader
Lee Kyo-Yoon – Founder of the Han Moo Kwan
Kang Won-Sik – 3rd Kwang Jang of the Song Moo Kwan, Author & former Kukkiwon President
Hong Chong-Soo – Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo Leader
We wish to add to this list as appropriate. We admit that this list is not complete. The Tae Kwon Do community needs assistance in trying to insure the record is more inclusive. Please consider sending in documented support for possible inclusion of other noteworthy individuals.