History of Taekwondo

The name Taekwondo comes from three separate Korean words: “Tae” meaning foot, “Kwon” meaning hand or fist, and “Do” meaning way or art. Altogether, the literal meaning of Taekwondo becomes “Way of the Hand and Foot.” Taekwondo is known not only as a sport but also as a way of life, and this thought has evolved throughout its history.

While weaponless martial arts developed as a natural self-defense, Taekwondo especially developed during the Three Kingdom (Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla) period in Korea during the 6th century A.D. During this period, the 3 kingdoms of Korea were at constant war with each other, fighting for new ground on the Korean peninsula. Silla, being the smallest of the kingdoms, took pivotal action in developing and evolving weaponless martial arts in order to protect itself from the larger kingdoms.

King Jin Heung of Silla established a group of warriors called “Hwarang,” which consisted of carefully selected sons of nobles. These warriors were trained specially in the more primitive, unarmed martial art of Tae Kyon and Su Bak. Not only were these warriors trained in combat, but also in daily life skills and humanities as well. The Hwarang warriors were taught a code of ethics which later became the fundamental tenets of Taekwondo. This evolution of martial arts and character development going hand-in-hand has been passed down in generations since.

Following the unification of Korea by the Silla dynasty, the unarmed martial arts practice of Tae Kyon and Su Bak became popularized in the Koryo dynasty. They became organized sports with detailed rules, competitions, and awards. Winners of contests in Tae Kyon and Su Bak contests were given positions in the military and court offices, causing the unarmed martial arts to become a requisite for all soldiers. The unarmed martial arts naturally spread as soldiers learned and practiced them while traveling throughout the nation.

Beginning in the 1940s, leaders of various unarmed martial arts styles attempted to unify and standardize the many martial arts schools of thought. This culminated in the formal naming of “Taekwondo” in 1955.

Taekwondo Today

Following the nomination of Taekwondo as the national martial art in 1971, the present Kukkiwon was founded in 1972 to be the headquarters as well as the site of various competitions of Taekwondo.

In 1973, the first World Taekwondo Championships was organized. In the same year, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was established to preserve and promote the study of Taekwondo all over the world.

Today, Taekwondo has grown into an international art and sport with 208 national member associations, spanning five continents.

In addition, Taekwondo was accepted as an official sport in the U.S. Amateur Athletes Union (AAU), General Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF), and the International Council of Military Sports (CISM).


Now, Taekwondo is an official event in the Olympic Games and is practiced by over 20 million people around the world.