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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.
TKD in Chinese HanJa written by President Dr. Seung-Man Rhee using his pen name U-Nam.
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