Controversial Taekwondo Frequently Asked Questions


Beck Martial Arts - Controversial Taekwondo Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What makes you think *you* know the answers?

It's difficult to know what the actual facts are -- even when there are written records, sometimes the writers are biased. Although I've used books, web sites, mailing lists, questions to my teachers, etc, I am not a trained historian, and I don't claim that these answers are the be all end answers to these questions. But they are MY answers to these questions based on what I've experienced, seen, and heard from multiple sources in three decades of studying martial arts. If something I say makes you mad, I'm easy to find. :)

Most of these questions involve differing views of history. To me this is all pretty unimportant. One, both Hapkido and Taekwondo are martial arts that have changed and continue to change with the times. Two, the term 'art' in martial art implies creativity and individual expression. Every instructor teaches a little bit differently, and every student will find certain techniques just work better for them than others, so every martial art becomes an individual martial art. I can teach you my interpretation of Hapkido and/or Taekwondo, but I encourage you to use that as a base and eventually develop your own interpretation. What matters is that you train to meet your goals, not who created that particular method of training.

I have capitalized family names and used the Western approach of placing them last; you'll often see them reversed.

David N. Beck, Richardson Texas

Q. What is the difference between Taekwondo and Hapkido?

Sometimes not all that much; there has been a LOT of cross-pollinization.
Virtually everyone in Korea gets some Taekwondo training (it's their national sport - ever know an American boy who'd NEVER played baseball?). The specialty jumping spinning kicks of Hapkido proved very useful for demonstration and breaking purposes and got adopted into Taekwondo. Any Hosinsool (self-defense) techniques involving joint locks or throws you see in Taekwondo got adopted in from out of Hapkido. Even though TKD is more known for kicking than HKD, HKD has a wider variety of kicks. But on the flip side, any HKDists that want to spar tend to do so under TKD rules and adapt their techniques accordingly. There's a lot of mixed versions out there; although typically a LOT heavier on the TKD side; TKD is easier to learn and easier to market. Go far enough in either and you'll learn some of the other one, so how much does it really matter? In general, if sport oriented, it's Taekwondo; and if self-defense oriented, it's Hapkido.

Q. What's the difference between Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwon-do, Tang Soo Do, Tae Soo Do, Kong Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do, Su Do, and Korean Karate?

Essentially politics, what set of forms are done, and what rules of sparring are followed. Really all these arts come from the same background, the Koreans that studied Japanese/Okinawin Karate and opened schools (Kwans) after World War II that (mostly) cooperated with each other to achieve more success.

Kong Soo Do = Korean pronounciation for karate-do. Tang Soo Do = Korean pronounciation for way of the Tang hand. Karate Do = Okinawin way of the Kara (Tang dynasty Chinese) hand.

Of the arts pronounced 'tie kwahn doe', if they're spelled: Taekwondo - probably World Taekwondo Federation, with the kind of sparring you'll see in the Olympics, the largest organization
Taekwon-do - probably International Taekwon-do Federation, following Hong Hi Choi
Tae Kwon Do - probably with one of the small federations, an independent, and probably calling themselves 'traditional' with little changes in the last 50 years.

All of these are kicking/punching arts that have placed more stress on the kicking aspects than did their forebears. How much stress is placed on competition, sparring, forms, etc in a particular school varies much more with the particular instructor than with what it's called or what organization the school is affiliated with.

Q. So Taekwondo isn't 2000 years old or older?

No. It's true people have always been fighting, and some have always been better at it, and some taught others passing down techniques from generation to generation. There are cave murals in Korea from ~50 BC showing men in poses that *MIGHT* be from a martial art, although to an unbiased observer they look more like they are dancing. There are historical references to the Hwarang - a group of young Silla noblemen - practicing a kicking punching art called 'soo bakh' during the 3 kingdoms (Koguro, Paekje, Silla) period of Korean history, well before the trip in 520 AD of the famous Buddist monk Bodhitsuharma from India to the Shaolin temple that began the development of kung fu. And the Paekje royalty (the losing side) moved to Japan when the Korean peninsula was conquered by Silla in 668, possibly becoming the J apanese culture. (Japan means 'land of the rising sun', which is how it'd be seen from Korea.) So it's *conceivable* that systematic martial arts arose first in Korea. But the evidence is pretty scant.

In any case, the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) strongly discouraged any sort of martial art during the time that kung fu was spreading through China and becoming karate in Okinawa. Between that and the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1909-1945, indigenous Korean arts were lost. It is conceivable that some were practiced in secret, and many historical records *were* lost in the Korean War, but realistically, *all* the founders of the Kwans that cooperated to form Taekwondo had studied Japanese/Okinawin martial arts, and that is what they taught. Claims of having studied Soo Bakh, Korean royal court martial arts, Tae Kyon, or with some monk up in the hills in secret with techniques passed down through 50+ generations came later; after WW II was long over and it was politically expedient to sever any hint of Japanese influence.

The 5 original kwans:
Chung Do Kwan - founded in 1944 by Won Kyuk LEE who'd studied Shotokan karate and called his art Tang Soo Do.
Moo Duk Kwan - founded in 1945 by Hwang KEE. Kee had studied Tai Chi and some types of Kung Fu with Kuk Jin YANG in China and opened a school. His first two attempts were unsuccessful, he then met with Won Kyuk Lee and visited the Chung Do Kwon periodically. Lee claims Kee was his student, Kee says that is not true, Kuk Jin Yang was his only teacher. Kee says he learned the Shotokan forms from Gichin Funakoshi's books. Kee started teaching the Shotokan forms and his school became successful. Kee was close friends with some noted Japanese karate people as well. Regardless of the source of his skills, what Kee taught was obviously very influenced by Japanese karate. Kee originally called his art Hwa Soo Do, then Tang Soo Do, then Soo Bakh Do.
Song Moo Kwan - founded in 1944 by Byung Jick RO, who'd studied Shotokan karate and called his art Tang Soo Do.  His first school closed within a few months, but he was able to reopen in 1946 after WW 2 ended the Japanese occupation of Korea.
Kwon Bop Bu/Chang Moo Kwan - founded in 1947 by Byung in YOON who had studied Chinese kung fu (chu'an-fa, or 'fist law') in Manchuria and Shudokan karate with Kanken Toyama in Japan, originally called Kwon Bop Kong Soo Do (meaning fist method of karate). Yoon disappeared during the Korean War. Yoon's teachings were carried on by his top student Nam Suk LEE, who changed the name of the school to Chang Moo Kwan.
Yun Moo Kwan - founded in 1946 by Kyung Suk LEE (judo) and Sang Sup CHUN (karate), called originally Choson Yun Moo Kwan (The Choson Yun Moo Kwan had been the original Japanese Judo school in Korea for over 30 years previous ly). Lee became missing and Chun died during the Korean War, and this kwan essentially became the Ji Do Kwan.

Later important kwans:
Ji Do Kwan/Chi Do Kwan - founded in 1953 by Dr. Kwa-Byung YUN, who had studied Shito-Ryu karate in Japan. Yun became the head of the Chosun Yun Moo Kwan after its leaders were lost and renamed it.
O Do Kwan - founded in 1954 by Hong Hi CHOI, offshoot from Chung Do Kwan
Jung Do Kwan - founded in 1954 by Yong Woo LEE, offshoot from Chung Do Kwan
Han Moo Kwan - founded by Kyo Yoon LEE in 1956, offshoot from Yun Moo Kwan
Kang Duk Kwan - founded in 1956 by Chul Hee PARK offshoot from the Kwan Bop Bu Kwan.

Hong Moo Kwan - founded by Jong Pyo HONG, offshoot from the Kwan Bop Bu.

Again, *every* founder of the original kwans had studied or been heavily influenced by some sort of karate.

It is no disservice to TKD to admit that it is not 2000 years old and came primarily from karate. Karate came from kung fu. Kung fu came from whatever Indian art Bodhitsuharma studied before travelling to the Shaolin temple. All have developed into something quite different from their source.

Q. Who founded Taekwondo?

There is no single person who deserves credit as the founder. (Major) General Hong Hi CHOI claimed to be. But in reality taekwondo is the result of many people working together to resolve their differences and develop and promote a unified Korean martial art.

Q. Why would CHOI be considered the founder?

Because he (supposedly) came up with the name, was the head of the Korea Taekwondo Association (which later became the World Taekwondo Federation), did much to spread the art throughout the Korean military and the world, and (supposedly) created the Chang Hon forms used in many of the TKD organizations.

I would say that Choi deserves a certain amount of credit for spreading the art, and that he could legitimately call himself the founder of the Oh Do Kwan and of arts that spell themselves as Taekwon-do and belong to the ITF, but he was not the only person involved even in his own kwan, and he certainly was NOT the founder of the majority of arts that call themselves 'tie kwan doe'. He was given an HONORARY 4th Dan ranking by Duk Song SON, the 2nd head of the Chung Do Kwan in 1955 at the request of Tae Hi NAM, which was rescinded by Son in a statement published on 6/15/59 in the Seoul Shinmoon newspaper (yes, an actual document you can look up!).

Q. Why 'supposedly' on the name?

Bear with me, this gets confusing. The founders of the first five kwans had tried and failed to form an association between World War II and the Korean War. On April 11, 1955 Choi presided at a naming committee meeting at which 'tae kwon do' was first proposed. Duk Sung SON says that he passed a piece of paper to Choi suggesting it and Choi took credit for it. No one other than those two would really know. Regardless, although the committee accepted the name, the kwans did not, because only the Chung Do Kwan and Oh Do Kwan (a Chung Do Kwan offshoot) were represented at the meeting. Most of the other kwans wanted to use the name Kong Soo Do. During the war a Korea Kong Soo Do Association was formed by most of the kwan heads. But Hwang Kee (Moo Duk Kwan founder) left and formed his own Korea Tang Soo Do Association, later renaming it Korea Soo Bakh Do Association. Choi in 1959 created a Korea Taekwondo Association but again there was lots of political infighting (there were 14 kwans by this time), and despite the desire to unify all the kwans were basically doing their own thing. The Ministry of Defense requested that a single organization be formed, and finally in September 1961 a series of unification meetings were held. The compromise name 'tae soo do' was agreed on (tae from taekwondo, soo from kong soo do), and the Korea Tae Soo Do Association was created. This time the unification took, despite Hwang Kee again leaving after a while to do his own thing. (So you have Moo Duk Kwan TKD and Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do and Moo Duk Kwan Soo Bakh Do organizations depending on who stayed or split along with Hwang Kee and when.) Finally TKD had the organization it needed to become the national sport of Korea.

During all this time Choi was in charge of teaching for the entire military (ie EVERY able-bodied male) and grew a lot in political power. When Choi became president of the KTA in 1965, he was able to get its name changed to the Korean Taekwondo Association (which is NOT the same as Choi's Korea Taekwondo Association.) So you had 3 different KTAs, none existing at the same time!

Circa 1966 Choi formed the International Taekwon-Do Federation and left Korea and the KTA, and eventually in 1973 the KTA changed its format, essentially becoming the World Taekwondo Federation. (Actually the Korean TKD Association still exists as a national governing body for TKD in Korea; the World TKD Federation is the worldwide parent organization and each country has its own national governing body. In the U.S. this is USA Taekwondo, formerly the United States Taekwondo Union.)

So, whether he originated the term or not, Choi's political muscle *is* the reason we call it 'tie kwan do' instead of Kong Soo Do or Tae Soo Do.

Q. Why 'supposedly' on the forms?

The Chang Hon set of forms one in the ITF *may* have come from Choi, but more likely come from Tae Hi NAM, who had much more experience and training in the martial arts than Choi, his commanding officer. Nam is the person that performed the break of 13 roofing tiles that so impressed President Syngman Rhee in 1952 that he ordered the study of Tae Kwon Do by all Korean military personnel. With Choi in charge of the TKD training in the military, that set of forms spread widely, and they are seen in many of today's TKD organizations. Choi's introduction of the 'sine wave' type of movement into the ITF forms circa 1980 is particular to the ITF.

Q. What is this 'sine wave'?

In their forms the ITF practice a little up and down motion that adds power to their punching techniques. Generally it doesn't carry over to their sparring because adding the upward motion slows the technique and telegraphs what's coming. The downward motion is the same kind of 'sinking' technique many Chinese styles do, the idea being rooting to the ground and letting gravity help you add power. It's not a new idea, but the emphasis they place on it is not seen in any other versions of Taekwondo.

Q. How is Taekwondo different from Japanese Shotokan Karate?

When it started it was basically the same. As the years have passed, it has placed more and more stress on developing kicking and sparring skills and sporting aspects of the art, the forms have changed, teaching methods have changed... The most obvious difference is that modern TKD has a greater variety of and stress on kicks.

Q. What about Tae Kyon?

Tae-kyon is a native Korean kicking based martial art in which contests were held by common people in the same way that boxing matches were held at English country fairs. But it was associated with uneducated peasants and undesirable activities such as revenge fights, and was made illegal during the Japanese occupation. It almost died out completely, being reduced to a single known master in the 1950's, Duk Ki SON. Its existance made the name Taekwondo more attractive than some of the other names such as Tang Soo Do or Kong Soo Do because of anti-Japanese feeling. Currently there has been a resurgence of Tae-kyon in Korea all coming from Son, who's been declared a cultural asset by the government. Many TKD 'histories' now claim that the kwan founders had all studied Tae Kyon or use it as a different name for soo bakh. But they're almost certainly revisionist; from the examples I've seen most of the techniques are sweeps, reaps, kicks to unbalance, and throat strikes. The techniques differ from those in TKD.

Q. What's the difference between CHOI's ITF Taekwon-do and WTF Taekwondo?

Technically, there tends to be more kicking and competition emphasis in WTF Taekwondo, and more forms emphasis in ITF Taekwon-do.

In size, the World Taekwondo Federation is much bigger, with many more people involved worldwide all committed to spreading the art. WTF schools vary widely in what forms are practiced, how much stress is given to self-defense versus competition, testing requirements, etc. Its history is that of tolerating differences and sharing credit. The ITF is a small (although worldwide) organization driven by one man, who made sure the entire organization did the same forms in the same way. Since Choi's death the ITF has started to splinter, with several different people claiming to be in charge.

Politically, Choi has received much criticism for his trips to North Korea and support of the Communist dictator Il Jung KIM. In particular Choi's creation and use of the 'Juche' form is onerous, because Kim's political ideal of 'juche (self-reliance)' has been blamed for the starvation deaths of millions in North Korea, which refused all humanitarian aid for years.