Korean Martial Arts
Martial arts have existed in Korea since the earliest ages, although they were lost for a time during the 20th Century. Much of Korea's martial heritage disappeared during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of Korea, during which time the Japanese forbade the practice of Korean martial arts.
After the Japanese occupation, new Korean martial arts like hapkido and taekwondo blossomed, and interest in Korea's own ancient martial traditions grew. Today, Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea.
Going back to ancient times, during the Goguryeo dynasty (around the time of Christ) it is believed that subak (a general term for barehand martial arts imported from China), pronounced Shoubo, was practiced. Paintings showing martial arts have been found on the walls of royal tombs, which were believed to been built for Goguryeo kings sometime between 3 and 427 CE.
Subak is mentioned in government records from the Goguryeo dynasty through the Joseon (or Yi) dynasty, which lasted from 1392-1910. Practicing subak became part of the training for Silla's hwarang warriors and this contributed to its spread on the Korean peninsula. But again we do not know exactly which techniques the hwarang warriors practiced.
Quite often Buddhist monks, who added more spiritual aspects to the art, instructed the hwarang warriors. Their greatest contribution to the development of Korean martial arts is probably adding a spiritual dimension to the training practices, something that Korean martial arts lacked before.
In spite of Korea's rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, Korean martial arts faded into obscurity during the Joseon Dynasty. Martial arts were lowly regarded by the society’s scholar-kings. Remnants of traditional martial arts such as Subak and Taekyon were banned from practice by the general populace.
The art nearly vanished, but Taekyon survived through underground teaching and folk custom. As the Japanese colonization established a firm foothold in Korea, the few Koreans who were able to attend Japanese universities were exposed to Okinawan and Japanese martial arts. Koreans in China were also exposed to Chinese martial arts. By 1945, when the Korean peninsula was liberated from Japanese colonization, many martial arts schools reflecting foreign influence were formed and developed under various names.
By the end of the Korean War, nine martial arts schools (translated as kwan) had opened. These schools unified into one, "tae-kwon-do," submitted by General Choi Hong Hi, a general in the South Korean army and the founder of the Oh Do Kwan, for the new unified form. Following Taekwondo's official name submission on April 11, 1955, The Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in 1959 to facilitate the unification. Shortly thereafter, taekwondo made its debut in North America.