The modern version of taekwondo is loosely based on a much older form, Taekkyon. This was created in the 6-12th century. During the Japanese colonial period, Taekkyon was banned. It was hidden as a child's game that was played but had high kicks and punches used in taekwondo. Here is a link to read more. It is a very interesting read to understand the politics and culture that creates the uniqueness of this martial art.
General Choi Hong Hi
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), karate greatly influenced martial arts. Many practitioners adopted this style as Korean Karate. In fact, Master Choi's school in New Brunswick had a sign for "Korean Karate", not Taekwondo.
This ancient, bare knuckled style was at the foundation of modern day taekwondo. Tae Kwon Do literally means foot-hand-art. More eloquently it is the way of the smashing foot and crushing hand. Poetic!
Traditional Taekwondo came from nine original kwons, or schools. Here is great pictorial summary of the origins of Tkd:
An excellent summary can also be found here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taekwondo
This training emphasized the military application for fighting and self defense over the newer style used for sport.
There were several pioneers in this time that brought forward these kwons, or schools, into practice in Korea after World War II. Kim Un-yong and Choi He hong were two of them.
There is a fascinating book, A Killing Art, by Alex Gillis. Here the author chronicles the growth of our version of taekwondo from karate, tang soo do, moo do kwang, the Korean CIA, Church of Moon and tensions between North and South Korea.
In our style, General Choi Hong Hi (Korean surnames are listed first followed by their given name) is generally credited with the founding of our current form of taekwondo. Here is a article that summarizes his life. Here is an original news clipping.
He founded the original International Taekwondo Federation. There are an original 24 patterns, or forms in this classification. The newer World Taekwondo Federation was formed afterwards.
For a very granular look at the history of ITF taekwondo here is a link. The first class photo includes several of the Masters I had the privilege of meeting, including GM Choi Ye Bong. It is quite a comprehensive review of the Masters that learned directly from the founder of taekwondo, General Choi Hong Hi.
January 2011 Grandmaster Robert Zuczek (now 7 dan), myself on 6 dan test, Grandmaster Choi Ye Bong
General Choi taught extensively in South Korea and sent out his students to all parts of the world, himself relocating in Canada. The headquarters of the International Taekwondo Federation still is in Canada. One of his proteges is our GM Choi.
Master Choi (pronounced Chae) has schools in many parts of Middlesex County in New Jersey. he has taught in several countries, has instructed special forces units across the Middle East and Europe. He has a long list of master students.
Too long to list, he has about half a dozen seventh Dan masters, at least five sixth Dan masters, dozen fifth dan masters, countless second through fourth dan black belts.
CLASSES IN THE NEW BRUNSWICK SCHOOL
Classes at his main school in New Brunswick were taught just the way General Choi instructed. Respect for the flag, obedience to the head instructor of the class, and killer calisthenics.
The linoleum floors would become slick with our collective sweat, the large picture windows fogged with the heat of our breath. In the beginning, we started in the back of the class, barely able to see the headmaster through the rows of higher belts. But we could hear the count and the snap of the uniform. And we were inspired to do everything he showed us.
We could feel the ki flowing from the front lines back to our lines. When we turned around in line exercise, we could see our reflection in the wall to wall mirror kicking, punching, and fighting. The floorboards would creak under our collective steps, the walls would shake with our kiyap in unison.
Sparring was done with bare feet, bare knuckles and no protective gear. Grandmaster would tell the black belts to show control. But he didn't tell the young gups to go slow or control. So we attacked the higher belts. We tried anyway. I can still remember those matches with the new 1 dan black belts, and the lessons from the higher dan black belts. Each was a lesson in how to attack and defend, often without any words exchanged. Once in a while, a advanced dan would give advice in the changing room. Slowly, but surely, we advanced in rank, moving forward in the class.
And then I clearly remember the matches with Grandmaster.
With each advancement of belt rank, we were allowed to stay in the sparring line longer and longer. We would spar higher ranked gup belts and then the higher dan black belts. When we became black belt we were allowed to spar each other and then Grandmaster would pick one or two of us to "do a demonstration".
To do a demo with Grandmaster was truly an honor. We had the opportunity to learn from one of the founders of taekwondo. Without words, just movement I learned so much. One second Grandmaster was three feet away and the next I felt his spin kick heel just touch my neck. It was like a father giving his son a firm pat on the side of the head. Just enough to let you know that it could have been so much harder but for the love he had for you. And he would smile saying, "Hands up!" His movements were graceful and effortless.
Grandmaster trained constantly. From the weight room in the basement to his chilly swims in the winter river, he taught by example how to be a Master.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Circa 1994 with my New Jersey Medical School TKD after testing. Pictured in center left to right GM David Martin, GM Robert Zuckek, David Depinho 2 dan
GM Choi has had thousands of students over his 60 years of teaching. He has several senior Masters. Here are the ones I had the honor of training with:
Robert Zuckek, 7 dan
Dr. Anthony D'Amico, MD, 7 dan
Sarah Murchinson, 7 dan
David Martin, 7 dan
Grandmaster Zuckek was given one of GM Choi's branch schools in South River where I trained extensively for over 10 years. He is still my mentor and close friend. He has recently retired from teaching.
Another of his senior masters, Grandmaster D’Amico (7 Dan), has a nice list of students that he has taught who now have their own schools. Some other schools including our dojang are listed here as well.
I myself earned my 6 dan from Grandmaster in 2011. I am honored to have trained and tested in front of GM Choi, having direct instruction from one of the first generation instructors of taekwondo. So that makes me a second generation master! I am proud of this lineage. It gives a sense of perspective and history. My own students can thus trace their instruction from the founder of taekwondo, making up the next generation to carry forward the tradition.
Where do you see yourself in the history of TKD? How will you contribute to it? This is the exciting part of the continuing saga. It will be up to us to shape it for the future generations.