Storming the Fortress: A History of Taekwondo

UFortress: A History of Taekwondo
By Eric Madis – March 10, 2015 0 150

Taekwondo Typo
The Korean people’s memories of decades of Japanese occupation and their mistreatment at the hands of Japanese colonialists are primary reasons for the anti-Japanese sentiment that is still prevalent in modern Korean society. Like their counterparts in Formosa and the Ryukyu Islands (other colonies seized by Japan between 1878 and 1895), many Koreans during occupation grew up believing that their destiny was to be second-class Japanese citizens (Ishide, 2000). As Lee Won-kuk (Korean karate pioneer and founder of the Chungdohwe) said, “I never thought that Korea would win its independence from Japan” (Lee, 1997). Nevertheless, World War II brought an end to the Japanese empire and Korea was freed from Japanese dominance. For decades to come, Republic of Korea (ROK) politicians used anti-Japanese sentiment to foster Korean nationalism. In the case of taekwondo, this was one of several political forces that would be used to consciously separate taekwondo from its origins in karate (Capener, 1995).

Japan’s unconditional surrender to the United States on August 15, 1945 resulted in an immediate power vacuum in Korea. The short-lived People’s Republic of Korea (PRK) was established within the next two weeks in an attempt to bring order and Korean control to the Korean peninsula. During World War II, socialists, communists, capitalists and nationalists were united against a common foe: Japan. Following the war, these former allies became enemies in a new, “cold war” between capitalist and communist powers, represented primarily by the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While the PRK was attempting to establish itself as a legitimate government, the United Nations was developing plans for a trusteeship administration, assigning temporary control of Korea north of the 38th parallel to the USSR and south of the 38th parallel to the US. Alarmed by the precarious geographic position of South Korea and the disunity between the PRK and the Provisional Korean government (that had been established in exile in 1919 in Shanghai, China), the US feared the possibility of South Korea falling under communist control. Therefore the US sent armed forces to Korea in September 1945, establishing the US Military Government in Korea (USAMGK), which to many Koreans’ disappointment reappointed many Japanese colonial administrators and their Korean police collaborators (Cumings, 1981: 126; Hart-Landsberg, 1998: 71-77). Although the PRK had lasted as a government for less than one month, it remained popular with Koreans and continued to function unofficially as an alternative to the USAMGK, until it was forcefully dissolved by the USAMGK in January 1946. Many Koreans felt that, after gaining independence from Japan, they were losing it again to two competing superpowers that viewed Korea as the “line in the sand” between their diverging ideologies. Therefore, despite the presence of considerable American and Soviet forces in a divided Korea, civil unrest continued throughout the Korean peninsula until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

Korea and 38th Parallel
Korea and 38th Parallel
Speaking of the social and political upheaval of this period, Lee Won-kuk said, “There was civil unrest and violence associated with the establishment of the independent government. Gangs and political groups fought each other in the streets.” (Lee, 1997). In response to gang use of tangsoodo (Korean: “China hand way” or “karate”) in street fighting, the USAMGK (US Military Goverment In Korea) declared martial law in 1946, suppressed the practice of tangsoodo, and “refused to allow the teaching of tangsoodo in government facilities such as schools” (Lee, 1997). During this time, tangsoodo continued to be taught in private facilities. For example, Lee taught tangsoodo at the Tae Go Sa, a Buddhist temple in Seoul (Lee, 1997, Massar & St. Cyrien, 1999).

Once order was restored in 1947, the use of public institutions for the practice and teaching of tangsoodo was allowed. The martial arts, particularly karate (Korean: tangsoodo or kongsoodo), experienced a surge in the popularity following a martial art exhibition that occurred at the Seoul YMCA gymnasium in 1947. Immediately students at Konkuk and Seoul Universities, military recruits and the staff of the National Police headquarters sought instruction in tangsoodo (Lee, 1997).

Elections were held in July 1948, shortly after completion of a constitution for the new Republic of Korea (ROK). In August 1948, a US-educated and supported, right wing politician named Rhee Syng-man was elected the first president of the ROK. Some Korean political leaders began to view the larger martial arts schools as potentially powerful political assets. The following account, which appeared previously in the second article of this series, illustrates this point. Yun Cae, the head of ROK’s national police under President Rhee, offered Chungdohwe leader Lee Won-kuk an appointment as Minister of Internal Affairs if he would convince his entire 5000-member association to support Rhee’s political party. Lee refused and later explained: “I was concerned that the government’s motive for enrolling 5000 martial artists in the president’s party was not to promote justice, so I politely declined the offer” (Lee, 1997). Almost immediately, Lee, his family and several of his top students were accused of being a pro-Japanese assassin group, arrested and held until 1950. This is ironic because, according to noted Korean historian Chungdohwe, “during the 12 years of Syngman Rhee’s administration (1948-1960), 83% of 115 cabinet ministers were Japanese agents or collaborators under Japanese colonial rule” (Lee, 2002).

President Syngman Rhee
President Syngman Rhee (right)
From 1947 until the onset of the Korean War in 1950, attempts were made by some of the leaders of the five major schools of Korean karate (Korean: Oh Geh Ki Kwan) to establish common standards and offer interschool competitions. Whether for political, stylistic or personal reasons, these initial attempts were unsuccessful (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 1).

On June 25, 1950, after months of border skirmishes between People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (PDRK) forces in the north and ROK forces in the south, Chinese-reinforced North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Many Koreans, including martial arts school leaders, fled southward to the coastal city of Pusan. Training and instruction in tangsoodo continued on a limited basis in Pusan during the Korean War. As Chungdohwe senior instructor Song Duk-sung said, “When the Korean War broke out, the members were separated as refugees, but I gathered a few members and continued to teach” (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 3).

Grandmaster Duk Sung Son
Grandmaster Song Duk-sung
By early 1953, rumors of an armistice between the hostile powers prompted leaders of the five major schools to discuss plans to cooperate after the war (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 2). The Korean Kongsoodo Association (KKA), established on May 25, 1953, discussed the setting of quality standards, official dan (Korean: “degree of black belt”) rank certification and interschool tournaments (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 2; The first president of the KKA was Jo Young-ju, not a tangsoodo instructor, but a judo practitioner and a former president of the mindan (Japanese: “public group”), the Korean resident’s association in Japan. The KKA chief director, Songmookwan leader Ro Byung-jik, led the group’s discussions on testing and grading standards. Despite this initial interschool cooperation, within two months Hwang Kee of the Moodukkwan and Song Duk-sung of the Chungdokwan (formerly the Chungdohwe) withdrew from the KKA for not being appointed to the association’s central testing committee (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 2).

After an armistice brought an end to the Korean War on July 27, 1953, martial arts instructors returned to Seoul from their temporary homes in Pusan. Almost immediately, Moodukkwan leader Hwang Kee unilaterally formed his own organization called the Korean Tangsoodo Association. However, his application for membership in the Korean Amateur Athletic Association was denied following petition by leading members of the KKA. The KKA continued toward its goals, conducting a series of four testings, two at the Chungdokwan’s central dojang and two at the Changmookwan’s Chae Shin Bu dojang. Hwang Kee was invited, but did not attend these testings (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Subchapter 2). Despite efforts to sustain this spirit of cooperation and unification, the KKA dissolved in less than a year.

The first article in the present series discussed the September 1954 martial arts demonstration conducted by the ROK Army 29th Division, its impression on President Rhee, and Rhee’s directive to 29th Division leader General Choi Hong-hi to change the names of Korean karate from tangsoodo and kongsoodo (both Korean versions of “karate-do”) to a new Korean name. Choi and his selected committee of martial arts, business and political leaders agreed on the name taekwondo (Korean: “kicking and punching way”), in part because of its similarity to the old Korean martial sport taekyon. Despite Choi’s authority as a ROK Army general and his support by President Rhee, Choi was unable to gain universal acceptance of this new name. Therefore, in early 1955, the name taekwondo was implemented at only two schools over which Choi had direct authority: the Army’s Odokwan and its related civilian school, the Chungdokwan. Other schools, including the Jidokwan, Jungdokwan, Songmookwan, Moodukkwan, Kangdukwan, and Hanmookwan, would continue to use the terms tangsoodo or kongsoodo for years to come.

In the late autumn of 1959, Choi invited leaders of the four largest Korean karate schools to his home. Despite strong insistence on retaining the term tangsoodo by Moodukwan leader Hwang Kee, Songmookwan leader Ro Byung-jik, Jidokwan leader Yun Kwei-byung, and Changmookwan leader Lee Nam-suk, Choi eventually persuaded everyone to accept the term taekwondo and to join the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA). Choi was elected as president, Ro and Yun as vice presidents, Hwang as board of governors’ director, and Lee as testing committee director. However, Hwang Kee withdrew from the KTA in early 1960, just as he had from the KKA in 1953 (Kimm, 2000; Kang & Lee, 1999; Chapter 2, Subchapter 4). This was not the only challenge to the KTA, as much stronger winds of change were soon to come to Korea.

By the end of the 1950s, the regime of President Rhee Syng-man was nearing its end. During his tenure, Rhee’s regime was “..obsessed with using the fear of communism to purge opponents and so maintain its authoritarian rule” (Ha & Mangan: 224). The untimely and suspicious death of Democratic Party leader Cho Pyong-ok (Rhee’s only serious political challenger) at Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in the US and the widespread belief that the March 1960 elections had been rigged resulted in widespread opposition to Rhee’s election. On April 19, 1960, a student uprising ignited a successful revolution that would force Rhee to step down. This was followed by establishment of a new government and legislative elections in June 1960, resulting in a landslide victory for Democratic Party candidates. Within months, bitter factionalism within the Democratic Party, economic problems, high inflation, food shortages and high crime rates would motivate ROK military leaders to conduct a coup d’etat on May 16, 1961.

During the chaotic early months of 1960, Moodukkwan leader Hwang Kee enlisted the help of a powerful friend to officially register Hwang’s own newly formed Korean Subahkdo Association with the Korean Amateur Sports Association (KASA) . Subahkdo was Hwang’s modern variation of subahk, a term referring to unarmed fighting methods in the late 18th century military text called the Mooyae Dobo Tongji, and his vision of a uniquely Korean art. A collectively signed petition to the KASA and the Ministry of Education from the KTA officially criticized Hwang’s unilateral decision, admonished the Moodukkwan for being “a hotbed of gangsters”, tolerating bullying of the public by its students, awarding dan (Korean: “black belt”) ranks recklessly and selling ranks for high prices to undeserving students for the purposes of profit and school expansion, and demanded that both agencies deny Hwang’s registration. The agencies were not legally able to do so, but acknowledged that they also could not recognize two organizations for one sport (Kang and Lee, Chapter 2, Subchapter 5).

Since his establishment of the Moodukkwan in 1947, Hwang had often been accused by the collective Korean karate community of misrepresenting his martial arts background, opening his own school without substantial martial art experience, taking advantage of his position at the Ministry of Transportation to open numerous dojangs along railroad lines and staffing his schools with instructors who had been prematurely promoted to dan ranks. In fact, in a June 2000 interview, Lee Won-kuk said that, in 1947 Chungdohwe senior instructor Son Duk-sung “chased down Hwang in the street and beat him up” because of claims that Hwang was making about himself (Uesegi,, June 2000). Throughout chapter two of their groundbreaking 1999 book A Modern History of Taekwondo, authors Kang Won-sik and Lee Kyong-myong include numerous examples of Hwang’s obstinacy to interschool cooperation. Many Korean karate leaders, recognizing a need to unify in order to distinguish Korean martial arts from others and to recover Korea’s indigenous martial arts traditions, expressed frustration with Hwang throughout the 1950s and 1960s for numerous cases of reneging on his agreements to cooperate with the standards of the Korean Kongsoodo, Taesoodo and Taekwondo Associations. Therefore, it is not surprising that Hwang became the major nemesis of Choi Hong-hi during taekwondo’s first decade: 1955-1965 (Kang & Lee, Chapter 2, Section 9; Gillis, 76). Despite this, Hwang’s Moodukwan was a force to be reckoned with, since from the late 1950s until its height in 1965, it had by far the largest enrollment of all Korean karate institutes. According to Hwang, the Moodukkwan’s membership at its height comprised 70% of the Korean martial arts community (Hwang, 1995, 43-44). Despite this, a majority of the Moodukkwan’s membership forsook Hwang in March 1965 to join the newly unified Korean Taekwondo Association (Kang and Lee, Chapter 2, Section 9; Hwang, 1995: 45-46).

Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee
The May 16, 1961 coup d’etat in the Republic Of Korea resulted in a military government with General Park Chung-hee (1917-1979) as the acting President. As General Choi Hong-hi later explained, he supported the coup because he had been advised that (Army Chief of Staff) General Chang Do-young was the leader of the coup. Choi later found out that Park and his supporters had used Chang’s name, as well as Park’s extensive network in the military from his attendance at the Japanese Military Academy, the Manchurian Officers School and the Korean Military Academy, to gather support for the coup. Park then accused Chang of plotting against him and had him arrested in July, forcing Chang to flee to the US. Choi explained that, since Park had promised he would resign the presidency and return to the Army once order was restored, he advised Park to keep that promise (Kimm, 2000). However, Park planned to occupy the presidency permanently, and “was fiercely opposed by those of democratic persuasion” (Ha & Mangan, 234). Choi said, “I knew Park, Chung-hee better than anyone else. I did not believe that Park was qualified to be president and I never thought that Park was a legitimate president” (Kimm, 2000). As a result of Choi’s advice to Park, he was forced to retire from the Army and then appointed as Ambassador to Malaysia in 1962 to get him out of the country (Kimm, 2000). This took place while Choi was still the leader of the movement to unify Korean karate into taekwondo.

In 1962, Choi organized a meeting of kwan (Korean: “institute”) representatives and the Korean Sports Union, but had to leave the meeting before it was adjourned. In Choi’s absence the participants agreed on the term taesoodo, a compromise between Choi’s taekwondo and the older tangsoodo, renamed the organization the Korean Taesoodo Association and elected Choi as President (Kang & Lee, Chapter 2, Section 6; Kimm, 2000). When Choi received this news, he declined the presidency because of his commitment to the term taekwondo. After accepting the position in 1965, Choi was successful in changing the name to the Korean Taekwondo Association (Kimm, 2000).

While Choi was Ambassador to Malaysia, he continued to work on developing taekwondo as a separate art from karate, employing technical assistance from some Chungdohwe and Odokwan masters, particularly Nam, Tae-hi and Han Cha-kyo, but including Woo Jong-lim, Kim Bok-man, Choi Chang-keun, Park Jung-soo and others (Graham Noble Interviews, 2005-2010). He traveled throughout Asia, promoting taekwondo and using elite taekwondo practitioners to demonstrate the art’s superiority to karate and Chinese chuan-fa (Chinese: “fist art”/kung fu)(Kimm, 2000). By 1965 Choi, with technical advice from Nam and others, finished designing the tul (Korean “patterns”, also hyung, poomsae; Japanese: kata) known specifically as the Chang-hon forms, which were modeled closely on sequences from Shotokan karate forms (Thomas, 1988). Although these new forms retained traditional karate movements and techniques, they were given names based on Korean historical and nationalistic themes, and this practice has continued with the modern World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) forms (Yates, 1988; WTF, 2013b).

On March 22, 1966, Choi established the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). At this point, Choi’s influence had diminished considerably in the ROK; he had been forced to resign the presidency of the KTA, and yet still had a large and growing international following (Burdick, 1997/1999; Gillis, 78-79; Kimm, 2000). By the mid-1960s, a new generation of tangsoodo and taekwondo leaders were emerging, willing to unite and becoming increasingly impatient with the obstinate tendencies of Choi, Hong-hi and Hwang Kee (Kang & Lee, 1999: Chapter 2, Sections 9 & 10).

ROK President Park Chung-hee is viewed by some as a great leader who transformed South Korea from an impoverished country into a modern, economic miracle, and by some as a military dictator whose legacy halted the development of Korean democracy for nearly three decades (Ha & Mangan, 226). Yet, his role was crucial in taekwondo’s tranformation to the Korean national sport and an international Olympic sport.

As a youth, Park had been weak, but developed his strength from dedicated training in kumdo (Korean: “Way of the Sword”; Japanese “Kendo”). After completing middle school, he attended a teacher training college, and after graduation became a teacher. By the time he was accepted to the officer program at the Japanese Military Academy, he excelled academically, artistically (in poetry, painting, music performance and composition, and calligraphy), and athletically. Later, as an adult, he would also excel in horsemanship, archery, swimming, golf, hunting and tennis. Underlying all of these passions was Park’s dedication to a “martial frame of mind” (Ha & Mangan, 227). As the leader of the ROK, he would view “the political value of sport as an extension of the political value of the martial spirit” (Ha & Mangan, 228). His philosophy was new and in contrast to the Korean tradition of admiration for scholarly pursuit and denigration of aggressive and military thinking; one that had been fostered for centuries by Korea’s Yi Dynasty (1392-1910). Park envisioned a new, economically and militarily self-reliant Korean nation.

After seizing power in 1961, Park called for a revival of Korean nationalism, resulting in Korean education taking on a new philosophy with the catchphrase “education linked to nationality”, with its goals being “to provide for the hard-working”, “to foster the healthy”, and “to develop an associated physical and mental toughness” (Ha & Mangan, 215). Common slogans of the Park regime were ‘Physical Fitness is National Strength’ and ‘A Strong Body, a Strong Mind and a Strong Country’ (Ha & Mangan, 230). The School Health Law, the School Physical Examination Law, the Physical Fitness Badge System, and the School Physical Education Facilities Standards Order were implemented to provide platforms to develop physical fitness in young people (Ha & Mangan, 215-216). During his 18 years and 5 months in power, Park promoted elite and popular sports policies. These, particularly the elite, were perpetuated by the Chun Doo-hwan and Ro Tae-woo regimes, thus greatly expanding sports in Korea from the 1960s through the 1980s; with the goal of raising Korea’s international image as a modern nation through Olympic competition. The plan to bring the 24th Olympics to Seoul in 1988, devised by ROK Olympic Committee Chairman Kim Jong-kyu, was officially announced on October 8, 1979, ironically just two weeks before Park’s assassination (Ha & Mangan, 232, 241). “Undoubtedly (Park) thought of his national sports movement as a militaristic nationalist movement” and “he viewed elite athletes sent off to participate in international games and tournaments as warriors symbolizing the vitality, self-respect and self-confidence of the nation” (Ha & Mangan, 230).

On March 20, 1971, President Park proclaimed taekwondo as Korea’s national sport, designating its full name as kukki (Korean: “national”) taekwondo (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 3). Just before doing this, he appointed Kim Un-yong (born 1931) as President of the Korean Taekwondo Association on January 23, 1971. At that time, Kim was an assistant director of both the Korean CIA (KCIA) and the Presidential Protection Force (Jennings, 1996: Chapter 9; Kang and Yi, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 2). As Kim explained, “I accepted the position of KTA president because the Korean government told me to correct the way taekwondo was at that time” (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 2).

Kim Un-yong
Kim Un-yong
In February 1971, the Korean Ministry of Education issued a requirement that all taekwondo schools have private school permits, thereby subjecting them to government regulation (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 5). This allowed recalcitrant kwan leaders to be punished for retaining karate-based art names and traditions, and for refusing to comply with government policies. Punishment ranged from media blacklists, suppression of school publications, the inability to renew teaching contracts at public educational institutions (particularly military and police academies), problems obtaining passports, threats of imprisonment, and even assassination attempts (Hwang, 1995: 45-50; Gillis, 76-85, 103-110; Kim, 2000). This move marginalized many Korean karate and taekwondo pioneers, such as Choi Hong-hi (moved to Canada), Yun Kwei-byung (whose death in 2000 was virtually unnoticed by the taekwondo community), and Hwang Kee, Ro Byung-jik and Son Duk-sung, all three of whom moved their organizations to the US.

Meanwhile, Park and Kim sought to bring Choi’s considerable following in the ITF into the KTA. According to Choi Hong-hee, “Park wanted access to the ITF. He saw it could be a powerful muscle for his dictatorship” (Jennings, 1996: Chapter 9). At a meeting of the leadership of the ITF in August 1971, Choi said, “My dear members, the International Taekwondo Federation’s president is a Korean, but this does not mean that the ITF should be controlled or directed by the Korean government. It is an international organization that can let no country influence our decisions through undue pressure” (Kimm, 2000). Choi said that Park promised him a prominent governmental cabinet post, and later sent friends of his to persuade him to cooperate. Choi’s refusal of Park’s offers resulted in the kidnapping of his son and daughter, in which their lives were threatened. Eventually his refusal to hand over the leadership of the ITF to the KCIA resulted in Choi being personally threatened with imprisonment, prompting him to relocate to Canada in 1972 (Gillis, 110; Jennings, 1996: Chapter 9; Kimm, 2000).

The Kukkiwon, the KTA’s Central Gymnasium, was established in November 1971. It’s first director, Kim Un-yong proclaimed, “The Kukkiwon will be the monumental symbol of a nation. The objective of the Kukkiwon is to promote taekwondo as a means of general exercise for the benefit of public health as well as to spread taekwondo as a symbol of Korea and its traditions” (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 4, Section 2).

On December 23, 1971, Kim announced that he would popularize taekwondo internationally, and that he would soon publish new taekwondo materials in English. These included a new history and training concepts suitable for distribution in foreign countries (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 3). The new, revised history attributed taekwondo to ancient tribal communities on the Korean peninsula and claimed that taekwondo had been chronicled in the 18th century book Mooyae Dobo Tongji (Korean: “Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts”) (WTF, 2013a; Kang & Hart, 1981).

In 1973, President Park designated the Kukkiwon as the World Taekwondo Headquarters and not surprisingly appointed Kim Un-yong as President of the newly organized World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). During the inaugural meeting of the WTF, Kim selected all of the organization’s officials and announced, “We are going to promise that taekwondo must become our national sport, as well as an international sport which represents Korea” (Kang and Lee, 1999: Chapter 3, Section 2).

In 1974, the Korean Taekwondo Association consolidated more than 40 existing kwan into just 10 kwan, which were identified by numbers rather than their traditional names. On August 7, 1978, presidents of the 10 remaining kwan signed a proclamation stating, “Taekwondo will strive hard to unify and will eliminate the different kwan of the past thirty years” (Kang and Yi, 1999: Chapter 5, Section 2), further erasing taekwondo’s connections to its karate roots.

Kim Un-yong has been a very controversial official, having presided over the WTF, the Korean Taekwondo Association, the Korean Amateur Sports Association, the Korean Olympic Committee, and the Kukkiwon. Eventually he became an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) (Jennings, 1996: Chapter 9). Through his tireless lobbying, he was successful in bringing the 1988 Olympics to Seoul (in which taekwondo was an exhibition event) and in getting taekwondo admitted as an official Olympic sport in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The value of this to the ROK was that the Korean victories in the taekwondo competition catapulted the ROK into tenth place in overall medal counts, an impressive achievement for a country with a population of just 47 million ( However, Kim soon came under immense international scrutiny for bribery, fight fixing and other scandals, and was unsuccessful in his run for IOC President in 2001 (Gillis, 147-178).

Making taekwondo an Olympic sport required that it be converted into a spectator sport. Other martial sports, including sport karate and kickboxing, had lobbied for inclusion in the Olympics. Fighters in these sports often execute the mandated number of kicks in the first half of a round, and then resort to boxing. However, taekwondo would distinguish itself from these sports by emphasizing kicking, especially high kicking, which would perpetuate a Korean tradition and hopefully make a more exciting spectator sport. To this end, an Olympic scoring system was devised, awarding two points for a kick to the head, but only one point for a kick or strike to the body.

Emphasis on controlled free sparring has naturally led to the adaptation of techniques from boxing, a sport in which Koreans have competed admirably since the late 1920s (Svinth, 2001b). The rules used during point fighting are similar to those used in amateur boxing. Modern sparring uses more upright stances similar to those used in boxing, allowing the mobility needed for point-fighting competitions in which throws and grabs are not allowed. This trend even influenced modern taekwondo forms, which utilize more upright stances than were seen in taekwondo’s early, karate-based years. This emphasis on free sparring contributed to the development of the foam rubber sparring equipment used (and often required) today during taekwondo and karate competition, developed in part by Korean American Jhoon Rhee. In the early 1980s, a distinctive pullover uniform jacket was introduced to taekwondo, designed to not gap (as traditional karate jackets had) and to eliminate lulls during competition.

Many changes have transformed modern taekwondo from its roots as a martial art to a modern, combative sport. Opinions on these changes contrast greatly. According to Kim Un-yong, “We must continue to develop taekwondo into a sport” (Dohrenwend, 2002). According to the late Choi Hong-hi, “The WTF simplified the complicated (traditional) moves into a full-contact sparring event convenient for Olympic bouts and television coverage” (Jennings, 1996: Chapter 9). Despite the technical and philosophical changes that accompanied taekwondo’s transition into an Olympic sport, the desire to maintain Asian traditions still anchors taekwondo to its karate heritage. Taekwondo schools exist that still teach traditional karate forms. Modern taekwondo forms, including ITF forms and newer WTF forms use movement patterns and entire sequences of techniques taken directly from Shotokan karate (Nixdorf, 1993; Thomas, 1988; WTF, 2013b). Even modern taekwondo still retains much of its DNA from karate, which is clearly seen in its philosophy, training methods, basic techniques, forms and protocol characteristics.


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