By 1900, Taekkyon had become a game in which two partners squared off and tried to knock each other down using their feet. It was used to exact revenge for a slight or to win an opponent's concubine through betting. Due to its gambling and other unsavory aspects, most Koreans lost interest in their native martial arts, Taekkyon included. Taekkyon was forbidden and even youngsters seen playing it were chased with a switch by the village elders.
Like other Far Eastern countries, Japan had an early history of unarmed fighting styles. Jujitsu was one of the earliest arts and was the basis for Judo, which was founded in 1882 by Jigero Kano. Judo, after its decisive victory in a competition held in 1886 at the Tokyo Police department, eventually superseded Jujitsu.
After Japan's occupation of Korea, Japanese colonial rule tightened its grip on the Korean economy and the people. Its purpose was to suppress the Korean populace and to erase the Korean identity. Japanese businesses were given preferential treatment and they took advantage of Korea's natural resources. The country was renamed Chosen. The Japanese resident general officially prohibited all Korean cultural activities, folkloric games, and team sports, including Taekkyon, by native Koreans. Korean national dress was forbidden. The wealthy Korean aristocracy began changing their names to Japanese names. Koreans were forbidden to speak their own language, only the Japanese language could to be spoken. The Korean language press was banned and a Japanese educational curriculum was imposed on all Korean schools. This meant that all Korean schoolboys were taught the sportive forms of Japanese Judo and Kendo, not the Korean martial arts. However, even this training came to an abrupt end in 1909 when the Japanese banned the practice of any fighting arts in Korea for the next 36 years, until near the end of World War II.
Even under the Japanese colonial rule, some famous Korean writers, such as Shin Chae-Ho and Choi Nam-Sun, wrote of Taekkyon, saying "Present Subak prevailing in Seoul came from the Sonbae in the Koguryo dynasty," and "Subak is like today's Taekkyon which was originally practiced as martial art but is now played mostly by children as games." During the occupation, 14 types of techniques were used in Taekkyon: 5 kicking patterns, 4 hand techniques, 3 pushing-down-at-the-heel patterns, 1 turning-over kick pattern, and 1 technique of downing-the-whole-body. Also noteworthy was the use of the term "poom" which signified a face-to-face stance in preparation for a fight. Today, a poom is a beginner black belt. Since the masters of Taekkyon were under constant threat of imprisonment, Taekkyon eventually faded out as a popular game.
Taekkyon was kept alive by various masters who practiced it in secret with the local people. Buddhist monasteries and certain local schools trained young people in Taekkyon. These young people later coalesced into resistance armies or "independent armies." Some of the army members were those who came back from other countries where they had been living to join in the attempt to drive the Japanese from their homeland. These armies were active throughout the Japanese occupation. However, because of its underground nature, the resistance was disorganized and Korea could not free herself from Japanese rule without foreign intervention.
Taekkyon still exists. Its traditions were carried on by Song Tok-Ki (1893-1987), and it was organized as a sport in the 1970's. Taekkyon is unique to Korea. Other countries had martial arts around this time, however, Taekkyon was not influenced by other countries' martial art styles. Taekkyon was acknowledged as Korea's Traditional Martial Art on June 1, 1983, and held as the 26th Intangible Cultural Asset. Modern Taekkyon practitioners understand that its meaning is based on mutual prosperity through offense and defense within the boundaries of social ethics and moral codes. These codes include sound character, strong mind and strong body.
As an expression of respect, Up is used. Up is a half bow, done while training, because there usually was not enough space for a full bow. The other element of respect is chol. This was done at the start and end of training, in the direction of the flag, before the highest leader, and the opponent. Chol is based on the form listed in Karyejip'ram (Anthology of the Etiquettes), written by Kim Chang-Saeng in 1599.
Taekkyon is an art form that looks like a dance, but has much more power and agility. Some techniques are:
Pumbalbk'ki. The basic stepping motion, where the feet are moved in a triangular motion (from the Chinese character "pum"). This follows rhythm and pattern, but changes by situation. The actual movement is done by taking one step forward, shifting weight to the other leg, and continue, back and forth. This can be done on the right or the left side, and has many variations.
Hwalgaejit. This means, waving both arms. There are two intentions for this. First, is to prepare for the attack, and second to enhance the energy of the upper body. There are also many variations, such as othundulgi, cross-wave; kawijil, scissor like motion; matdulgi, simultaneous wave; tupal hundulgi, shaking both arms; and dolligi, spinning.
When Japan became involved in World War II, many Koreans, particularly those living in Japan, were forced into the Japanese military. Over half a million Koreans were taken to Japan to work, primarily in mining and heavy industry. Sixty thousand of these died in Japan during the war. Korean women were forced to serve as "comfort women" (prostitutes) for the Japanese Army. The Japanese took some Korean masters to Japan and made them teach techniques to the Japanese military. This led to Taekkyon techniques being incorporated into the Japanese martial art of karate. Many Koreans were forced to flee Korea during the years before World War II; they predominately immigrated to the United States, China, Manchuria, and Siberia. The immigrants carried Taekkyon with them and taught the art to their new neighbors.
The Japanese ban on the martial arts was obviously not entirely effective. In fact, Yeon-Hee Park and Bong-Soo Han believe the ban actually increased their practice. Martial arts training moved to the Buddhist monasteries, a traditional place of refuge for out-of-favor warriors. Taekkyon continued to be practiced at Tan O Nol (youth festivals) until the art was outlawed in 1920.
The ban on martial arts did not include members of the Japanese army stationed in Korea, and several important martial artists began their careers there. About the time of the Russo-Japanese war, British Judo pioneer Gunji Koizumi studied kenjutsu and Jujutsu in Korea at a school run by Nobukatsu Yamada. Many years later, Teruo Yamaguchi began learning karate-do while stationed in Korea. The ban also did not include Koreans training in Japan.
At least nine Korean masters trained in Japan: Yong-Shul Choi, Geka Yung, Hyung-Ju Cho, Won-Kuk Lee, Pyong-Chik Ro, Hong-Hi Choi, Yong-i Choi, Ki-Whang Kim, and Pyung-In Yun. Yong-Shul Choi claims to have trained for many years in Daito-ryu Aikijutsu under Sokaku Takeda, although his claims are not recognized by the followers of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Choi later returned to Korea and taught Yusul (Jujutsu), which one of his students, Ji-Han Jae, later called Hapkido ("coordinated energy way"). The other eight Koreans trained in Karate-do. Geka Yung was the head instructor of the Kanbukan ("Korean martial arts hall") in Japan, which was later renamed the Renbukan ("training martial arts hall") under Norio Nakamura. Hyung-Ju Cho moved to Japan, changed his name to Neichu So, and trained in Goju-ryu Karate-do under Chojun Miyagi in high school, becoming a karate-do instructor in 1939. According to Hancock, Won-Kuk Lee learned Shotokan karate-do while attending school in Japan. Pyong-Chik Ro studied at a Japanese university during the Second World War, during which time he also studied under Gichin Funakoshi and earned his first dan (black belt rank) in Karate-do before returning to Korea in 1944. Hong-Hi Choi and Yong-i Choi both went to Japan in the late 1930s and later became famous martial art masters (see chapter 11). Ki-Whang Kim began Judo in 1931 and earned his first dan from the Kodokan five years later. He went on to study Karate-do at Nihon University in Tokyo, where he captained the team and was nicknamed "typhoon." He later spent two years "studying Kempo and kung-fu in China," probably as one of the draftees of the Japanese Army. Pyung-In Yun was raised in Manchuria and studied quan-fa there before also attending college at Nihon University. He trained there with one of the faculty members, Kanken Toyama (1888-1966), who also happened to be the founder of Shudokan Karate-do. Before Yun returned to Korea, Toyama recognized him as a fourth dan in his style.
Ki-Whang Kim (1920-1993) was able to begin Judo in Korea in 1931, despite the Japanese ban. Eventually the underground nature of the martial arts in Korea changed when the Japanese lifted the ban on martial arts in 1943 so it could fulfill military requirements during World War II. Judo and "Juken-jutsu" (bayonet art) began to be taught in 1941, and by 1943, Karate and kung-fu were officially introduced to Koreans. For the two years before the surrender of Japan, the martial arts enjoyed a new popularity in Korea. A select few still practiced Taekkyon, Subak, Kong-soo, and Hwa-soo but they did not share their expertise with the public. The actions of Korean martial artists in Korea in those days remains largely unknown.
It was not until Korea's liberation in 1945 that its own fighting arts finally took root and began to flourish.
Near the end of WW II, Americans invaded Korea to push back the Japanese. Japan finally surrendered unconditionally and, on August 15, 1945, Korea was finally liberated from Japanese colonial rule.
After liberation from the Japanese, the Korean people vowed never to allow another government to control their country again. Masters who had studied martial arts in other countries returned to Korea and blended these styles with Taekkyon to form new styles as methods to protect not only individual Koreans but also the country itself.
After the war, most martial arts schools in Korea were using the name karate and were using Japanese terminology to describe techniques. They used Japanese patterns and training methods. There were no techniques or terminology that resembled Taekkyon. This was a problem until after the Korean War when nationalistic and political motivations led to an effort to portray the martial arts that had developed in Korean as having ancient Korean origins.
At least four Japanese martial arts remained popular in Korea after liberation, albeit under their Koreanized names. Koreans continued to study Yudo (Judo), Komdo (Kendo), Yusul (Jujutsu), and Kongsudo (karate-do). The Korean Yudo Association was founded in October of 1945 by Mum-Suk Lee and Jin-Hee Han, and the Korean Komdo Association (K.K.A.) was organized in Seoul in 1948. The K.K.A. became affiliated with the Korean Amateur Sports Association on Nov. 20, 1953, and in the same year the Korean Yudo College was founded with Dr. Je-Hwang Lee as its first president. Both Yudo and Komdo remained virtually unchanged from their Japanese namesakes. On the other hand, the arts of Yusul and Kongsudo have changed greatly since Korean liberation. Yusul developed into Hapkido and all of its derivatives (Kuksul, Hwarang-do, etc.), while Kongsudo would eventually go through the greatest changes of all, developing into Tangsoodo and Taekwondo.
The various kwans ("schools") of Kongsudo retained much of the style of karate-do for many years, including the various kata or forms of Karate-do. Many Tangsoodo schools today still retain the forms of Karate-do. As late as 1965, Hong-Hi Choi was still teaching Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu forms (including Heian 1-5, Empi, Rohai, Bassai, Kusanku, Jion, Tekki 1-3, Hangetsu, and Jitte) along with his own forms, called the Ch'ang Hon set. In 1968, Sihak Henry Cho asserted "Taekwondo is identical to Japanese karate." Cho also noted "some of the Korean public still use the 'karate' pronunciation in conversation."
Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) was a very nationalistic Korean who went to the United States in 1904 and became the first Korean to obtain a Ph.D. from an American university. After returning to Korea, he found he could not work under the Japanese occupation, so he returned to the United States in 1912. Seven years later, he was elected in China as President of the Korean Provisional Government in exile and he held this position for the next twenty years. During WW II, he remained in the United States where he established his reputation with the Americans.
When the war ended, the United States made him the new President of the Republic of Korea. Rhee used strong-arm tactics to maintain his presidency in elections in 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960. He maintained dictatorial control over all levels of government until his downfall shortly after his obvious rigging of the 1960 election. Student riots, with heavy casualties, resulted in a call from the National Assembly for Rhee's resignation. Rhee resigned on April 27, 1960 and went into exile in Hawaii, where he died five years later. He was replaced by constitutional liberalism in the Second Republic, but instability in the new democracy led to a military coup on May 16, 1961.
General Park Chung Hee, who was a general under Rhee (as was General Choi Hong Hi), dominated the military junta and ended military rule at the end of 1962 to become President of the Third Republic. He was re-elected in 1967 and 1971. In 1972, in the face of growing popular unrest, he dissolved the National Assembly and suspended the constitution. Park expanded the powers of the presidency and, at the end of 1972, he was directly elected President of the Fourth Republic. Despite great unrest in the Korean population, he was re-elected in December 1978. Less than a year later, he was assassinated by the head of his own Central Intelligence Agency. In eighteen years, Park laid the base for Korea's economic success through state planning, capitalist incentives, strict control, and the abrogation of labor rights. His assassination caused another military coup on December 13, 1979 resulting in the May 1980 domestic uprising in Kwangju.
Brutally put down, the Kwangju uprising resulted in Chun Doo Hwan assuming the presidency and beginning the Fifth Republic in October 1980. Chun lifted martial law the following January and was elected president a month later. For the next four years, he ran a repressive regime until he nominated his successor Roh Tae Woo, a former General of the 1979 coup. Pressure from human rights activists, the United States, and the coming 1988 Olympics led to an election in December 1987 that resulted in Roh being elected President again.
From World War II until the early 1960's, Taekwondo consisted mostly of Japanese terminology and techniques. This was a problem for those asserting that Taekwondo had it roots in Korean history. The next generation of instructors solved this quandary by developing a method of competition that was radically different from Japanese competition. This made Taekwondo unique and different than Japanese karate. These changes were opposed by first generation Taekwondo instructors, such as Choi Hong Hi.
During the Korean occupation years, some early martial arts masters who had influence on the development of Taekwondo began to hone their skills.