TAEKKYON….FOLKLORE OR THE GRANDFATHER OF TAE KWON DO?
Almost everybody has heard of Taekwondo and Hapkido these days, but Taekkyon, the original martial art of Korea, practiced by Korea’s ancient warrior dynasties is practically unheard of. Almost wiped out during the Japanese colonization of Korea, it is now making a revival.
The Tae Kwon Do that is taught today is not a unique and exclusive product of Korean culture. People tend to get Tae Kwon Do and Taekkyon, an ancient Korean martial art mixed up. Tae Kwon Do is a combination of Taekkyon and Japanese Karate, the style mandated during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Taekkyon IS the original bare hand martial art style that’s unique to Korean history and is the subject of much confusion and argument among historians even though cave drawings and early writings confirm these facts.
The history of Taekkyon goes back to the mid Joseon Dynasty, around the 1700s, where it was practiced as a competitive sport. It’s believed that Taekkyon evolved out of an even older, but now lost, extinct combat art called Subak. Very little is known about Subak, but it’s believed that it may have been the martial art of the Hwarang warriors of the Silla Dynasty, the elite military and religious young men of that kingdom, (57BC-935AD). During this time martial arts were reserved for the ruling class, but after the fall of the Silla it became popular among the common folk. The terms “subak” (hand technique) and “taekkon” (foot technique) appear together in the writings of the Silla dynasty. This seems to confirm that hand and foot techniques were both used in Korean martial arts as they are used today in Tae Kwon Do.
During the Joseon Dynasty, (1392/1897) it fell out of popularity among the elite, who thought that educated people should stay away from martial arts and focus on scholarly topics, leaving Taekkyon to the commoners. It was probably around this time that the competitive “game” version came about as an activity for the farmers and peasant classes.
TAEKKYON: AS A GAME & IN COMBAT
In Korean towns, these popular competitions were held by villagers who gathered in large crowds to watch the performances. Taekkyon has both a competitive, game-like version, and a combat version. The game was played with two teams where each winner stayed on the mat until the other team was completely wiped out. This game had a dance like feel, as players in constant motion, stepped around each other while drums were played. Players had to either throw the opponent, or kick them in the head to win. Like modern day sports martial arts, a player could tap out to surrender admitting he had lost.
A slight change in the game version of Taekkyon techniques can create deadly kicks and strikes, especially when these strikes are delivered to the opponent’s vital areas. During a sporting match, however, hitting the vital parts is strictly prohibited. Combat-style Taekkyon is often used today in street fights. In combat, some of the game like moves are used. The main difference though are the target areas and the power used. Pressure point techniques, eye gauges and locks are common. The dance like steps and constant motions of the hands distract the opponent, setting up for a kick or sweep. Unlike Tae Kwan Do, in Taekkyon combat, flying or spinning kicks weren’t often used. Instead, low kicks to the shins or knees, sweeps and trips, and direct push kicks to the body were more common.
JAPANESE OPPRESSION AND INFLUENCE
In 1910, the unthinkable happened: Japan invaded Korea. Japan dominated Korea from 1910 until the end of World War II. During this time, the Japanese colonial government outlawed all folkloric games, including Subakki and Taekkyon. Not because the Japanese feared Korean Martial Arts, after all they had weapons, but they discouraged all large gatherings. They feared that any big crowds could cause trouble. Subakki and Taekkyon were then practiced in secret. Japan even outlawed the Korean language and the use of Korean family names! The oppression of the Korean people ended only through the defeat of Japan in World War ll.
During the occupation, there was a basic effort to teach the Korean people the Japanese way of life and culture. One way of doing this was to train the Korean people in the Japanese form of Martial Art known as Karate. Many locals DID train and became very skilled in it. After the liberation of Korea, many schools or “kwans” were formed. It’s widely agreed that the influence of Japanese Karate combined with the foot techniques from Taekkyon combined to form modern day Tae Kwon Do, and despite historical evidence, there is still much dispute about this even though Korea has deemed Taekkyon a “Natural Treasure”.
TAE KWON DO TODAY
From the Koguryo Dynasty of ancient times to the United States today, Tae Kwon Do has been an ever-evolving art of beauty and strength. Although Tae Kwon Do has suffered tremendous amounts of oppression, the passion for it has only gotten stronger. Its past will hopefully influence a bright future. The history of the Sonbae, the Hwarang, and the Soo Sa, all elite, ancient warrior youth groups, are great examples of the lasting quality of this art, and the dedication of its many participants around the world who keep it alive today.
Tae Kwon Do is more than a sport — it’s an activity that is made up of a philosophy to form excellence of character. So, if you find yourself wondering when, where or how Tae Kwon Do came into being, daydream a little about the ancient history and people of Korea, while we at Karate World bring you into the present and future of a Martial Art with a proud heritage. We welcome you to visit us in Kenilworth at any time to see the combination of the physical and moral practice of Tae Kwon Do starting with our Knee High Ninjas to our Kickboxers. KARATE WORLD, come, be a part of history every day!
*On June 1, 1983, Taekkyeon was given the classification as Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 76″ by the Korean government. It is the only Korean martial art which possesses such a classification.
*In November 2011, Taekkyeon was recognized by UNESCO and placed on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, being honored as the first martial art on UNESCO’s list.