History of the International Taekwondo Federation

The history of the ITF, cannot be told without telling the personal history of the acknowledged father of modern Taekwondo, and founder and president of the  ITF, General Choi Hong Hi.  It is because of his tireless effort and unflagging dedication that Taekwondo has the international status that it know receives.

General Choi Hong Hi was born on November 9th, 1918 in the rugged and harsh area of Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District in what is now D.P.R. of Korea. In his youth he was frail and quite sickly, a constant source of worry for his parents.   Even at an early age, however, the future general showed a strong and independent spirit. At the age of twelve, he was expelled from school for agitating the Japanese authorities who were in control of Korea, from 1910 to 1945. This was the beginning of what would be a long association with the Kwang Ju Student's Independence Movement.

After his expulsion, young Choi's father sent him to study calligraphy under one of the most famous teachers in Korea, Mr. Han Il Dong. Han, in addition to his skills as a calligrapher, was also a master of Taek Kyon, the ancient Korean art of foot fighting. The teacher, concerned over the frail condition of his new student, began teaching him the rigorous exercises of Taek Kyon to help build his body. In 1937, Choi was sent to Kyoto, Japan to further his education. In Kyoto, Choi met a fellow Korean, Mr. Kim, who was engaged in teaching the Japanese martial art, Karate. With two years of concentrated training, Choi attained the rank of first degree black belt. These techniques together with Taek Kyon, foot techniques, were the forerunners of modern Taekwondo

With the outbreak of World War II, Choi was forced to enlist in the Japanese army through no volition of his own. While at his post in Pyongyang, North Korea, Choi was implicated as the planner of the Korean Independence Movement, known as the Pyongyang Student Soldiers' Movement and was interned at a Japanese prison during his eight month pretrial examination. While in prison, Choi began practicing his art in the solitude of his cell. In a short time, his cellmate and jailer became his students. Eventually, the whole prison courtyard became one gigantic gymnasium.

The liberation in August 1945 spared Choi from an imposed seven year prison sentence. Following his release, the ex-prisoner traveled to Seoul where he organized a student soldier's party. In January of the following year, Choi was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the new South Korean army, the "Launching Pad" for putting Taekwondo in a new orbit.

Choi was soon company commander in Kwang Ju, where the young second lieutenant lit the torch of this art by teaching his entire company. Promoted to first lieutenant, Choi  was transferred to Tae Jon and put in command of the Second Infantry Regiment. While at his new post, Choi began spreading the art not only to Korean soldiers, but also to the Americans stationed there. This was the first introduction to Americans of what would eventually become known as Taekwondo. In 1947, Choi was first promoted to captain and then major. In late 1948, he became a lieutenant colonel. In 1949, Choi was promoted to full colonel and visited the United States for the first time, attending the Fort Riley Ground General School. In 1951, Choi was promoted to brigadier general.

1953 brought the organization of the crack 29th Infantry Division at Cheju Island, which eventually became the spearhead of Taekwondo in the military and established the Oh Do Kwan (Gym of My Way), where he succeeded not only in training the cadre instructors for the entire military, but also developing the Taek Kyon and Karate techniques into a modern system of Taekwon‑Do, with the help of Mr. Nam Tae Hi, his right hand man in 1954.

Technically, 1955 signaled the beginning of Taekwondo as a formally recognized art in Korea. During that year, a special board was formed which included leading master instructors, historians, and prominent leaders of the society. A number of names for the new martial art were submitted. On the 11th of April, the board summoned by General Choi, decided on the unified name of Taekwondo which had been submitted by him.  This single unified name of Taekwondo replaced the different and confusing terms, such as Dang Soo, Gong Soo, Taek Kyon, and Kwon Bup. 

In 1959, Taekwondo spread beyond its national boundaries. The father of  Taekwondo and nineteen of his top black belt holders toured the Far East. The tour was a major success, astounding all spectators with the excellence of the Taekwondo techniques. Also in 1959, Choi was elevated to two illustrious posts; President of the newly formed Korea Taekwondo Association, and the deputy commander of the 2nd Army in Tae Gu.

In the year 1960, the General visited Jhoon Rhee's Karate Club in San Antonio, where he convinced the students to use the name Taekwondo instead of Karate. Thus Jhoon Rhee is known as the first Taekwon‑Do instructor in America. This marked the beginning of Taekwondo in the United States of America. 

The 1960's brought the rapid spread of Taekwondo not only to the Korean populous and military, but to the United States, and many other countries throughout the world, with General Choi as the ambassador. This was the basis not only for establishing  Taekwondo associations in a great number of countries, but also the formation of the International Taekwon‑Do Federation as it is known today. In 1966, the dream of the sickly young student of calligraphy, who rose to Ambassador and the Association President of the most respected martial art in the world, came true. On the 22nd of March, the International Taekwondo Federation was formed with associations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, the United States, Turkey, Italy, Arab Republic of Egypt and Korea.

The next several years saw the exponential growth of ITF Taekwondo, with General Choi tirelessly traveling the world to teach and expand his art. During these travels, the General Choi has been especially interested in promoting Taekwondo among the youth of the world. The President of the International Taekwondo Federation has been instrumental in introducing the art to numerous universities in Europe, America, the Middle East and the Far East.

In 1972, General Choi moved the headquarters of the International Taekwondo Federation, with the unanimous consent of member countries, to Toronto, Canada, envisaging to spread this art eventually to all countries throughout the world. In 1985, the founder of Taekwondo strengthened his desire to spread his art to the entire world, especially third world and politically disadvantaged countries by moving the International Taekwondo Federation to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, where it is still located.

Throughout his life, General Choi's greatest desire was to spread Taekwondo, his art, to all people, no matter race, creed or political view. With the foundation of the ITF, General Choi's vision of establishing Taekwondo as a worldwide non-political organization and martial art, not just a sport, has come true. General Choi states in his book, "Taekwondo:"

"All things are governed by the law of Yin and Yang, dark and light... happiness can often stem from catastrophic moments... My life has been a turbulent one, riddled with lonely fights and unfortunate adventure that few would envy... a life of self-exile thousands of miles distant from my beloved country. Even so it has truly been a worthwhile endeavor.

It is one of nature's ironies that delicate plants such as orchids or tulips require extreme care while weeds flourish with no attention at all. Wild panic grass, easily mistaken for wheat or rice, can actually prevent the growth of the genuine article. I cannot help but despair over the tainted image of Taekwondo recently created by practitioners of sham Taekwondo, who have nothing in common with the origin and art form except for a borrowed name.

I console myself with this thought: Like a counterfeit diamond that cannot cut glass, fraudulent Taekwondo is appearance without substance and like a summer shower that quickly dries from the earth or a hurricane that rapidly passes from the sky, phony Taekwondo practitioners and imitators cannot endure. It exists solely on the strength of political influence and is totally devoid of fundamental philosophy or technique based on logic. As such it is destined for an early exit. The issue lies in our ability to differentiate between the true and the false.

My dream has at last been realized... the ultimate fantasy of spreading and teaching Taekwondo with no regard to considerations of religion, ideology, national boundaries, or race. I can say without hesitation that I am the happiest man alive.

It is my earnest desire that Taekwondo should retain its original concept and technique. It is also my sincere hope that Taekwondo's emphasis on promoting a healthier body and mind will provide a significant contribution to human progress for many generations to come."


                                        HISTORY OF Taekwondo

Introduction to Taekwondo: Taekwondo  is a system for training both the body, soul and spirit, with an emphasis on the development of moral character.  Modern Taekwondo is a combination of the (hyung) patterns of its ancestral combative arts, Tae kyon and Subak, and the kata (formal movements of the Okinawan Shuri and the Naha schools of karate). Taekwondo incorporates the abrupt linear movements of karate and the flowing circular movements of kung-fu with native kicking techniques.  In modern times, hand techniques have become increasingly more important in Taekwondo.  However, the use of the feet remains its trademark and beauty.  When a new student enters a dojang, he becomes part of a family in which he is the youngest member.  The instructor is the head of the family, and all the students are children at different levels of development, but each with the same importance to the family. The levels of development are designated by means of colored belts.  All grade levels below Black Belts are called gup or yup.  Taekwondo kicking techniques are divided into direct and circular movements.  Unlike Okinawan karate systems, Taekwondo advocates a broader array of kicks, with an emphasis on the spinning kicks.  Taekwondo is famous for its flying kicks.  All the basic kicks of Taekwondo can be delivered with a jumping technique. 

Recent Historical Significance: The Yi Dynasty rulers held scholarship and learning in high esteem.  The martial arts were generally practiced secretly and passed on by forms from father to son.  In 1909 the Japanese annexation of Korea occurred.  During this occupation, which lasted 36 years, the Resident General banned the practice of martial arts and imprisoned many patriots.  Patriotic young men secretly visited Buddhist temples in rural mountain areas, learned martial arts, and organized underground revolutionary groups.  Other Koreans went to China and Japan to work and study, where no restrictions regarding the arts were in place.  There were exposed to kung fu, and in the 1920's to karate in Japan.  They became the first to harmonize Korea=s style with others that they had experienced.  Back in Korea, Duk Ki Song and Ii Dong Han managed to keep taekyon alive.  In 1943 judo and Japanese karate and kung fu expanded in Korea until 1945.  As part of the national movement to restore Korean traditions, the martial arts were revived and many experts established schools.  Various names which emphasized one part taekyon became common: kwon bop, bang soo do, kon soo do, soo bahk gi, and tae soo do.  Dojangs differed in technique and style, each synthesizing karate, kung fu, and earlier Korean self-defense methodology.  Thus, the kwans of Korean martial arts were born.  The kwans were the most important institution in the post-World War II, beginning the evolution of Korea's fighting arts between 1945-1955.  Master Won Kook Lee opened the first postwar dojang in 1945 in Yong Chun Seoul; he called it chung do kwan.  Soon after, Hwang Kee established the moo duk kwan in Seoul teaching tang soo do.  Many other schools started in the 1950's and 60's but they were fragmented by the prewar secrecy of their teachings and postwar reconstruction.  It took ten years to partially consolidate them into one Korean style, Taekwondo.  The Korean Armed Forces were formed in 1945, and in January 1946, Choi Hong Hi, a second Lieutenant in the Korean Army, began teaching taekyon to the military in Kwang Ju.  In 1949, Choi, now a lieutenant colonel, attended Ground General School at Fort Riley, Kansas, gave a public taekyon demonstration, the first demonstration of this art in the United States.

During the Korean War many Korean masters were killed acting as commando.  By war's end founders of some of the kwans were missing.  In 1953-54, three more kwans emerged: kee do kwan, sang moo kwan, and Choi Hong Hi developed oh do kwan.  There were now 8 kwans, each espousing a different style.

Early Historical Significance:  The origins of Taekwondo can be traced to the Koguryo Dynasty, founded in 37 B.C.  A royal tomb painting of that period depicted two men facing each other in Taekwondo practice and wrestling.  The construction of other tombs dates to the period between three and 427 A.D. where Taekwondo was apparently taught and used.  Taekwondo was also practiced during the Silla Dynasty (668-935).  Silla was famous for its Hwarang warriors.  These knights trained by devoting themselves to hunting, studying, and the martial arts.  Hwarang-do (the way of the flower of manhood) was an essential part of Silla=s struggle to unify the country.  The Samguk Yusa, the oldest Korean document, shows that the Hwarang practiced Taekwondo in their basic training.  Taekwondo maintained its popularity after the Koguryo and Silla dynasties, through the Koryo Dynasty (935-1392).  During this time, Taekwondo, as subak was practiced as a skill to improve health, as well as a martial art.  Subak's popularity peaked between 1147 and 1170, the period of the Sung and Ming dynasties ( the period of Chinese kung fu). 

People who aspired to be employed by the military of the royal government were eager to learn subak, because it was one of the major subjects the test taken by the applicants. It was in 1945 that a move was made to unify the fighting arts of Korea under one name, in an effort to revitalize the traditional Korean art of subak.  Ten years later, in 1955, a conference of chung do kwan masters decided to standardize the term Taekwondo, which had been submitted for acceptance by General Choi Hong Hi.  The name was chosen because of its resemblance to taekyon.  In 1952, during the Korean War, a demonstration before President Syngman Rhee turned into the most significant turning point for Korean martial arts.  Rhee watched a 30 minute performance by Korean martial arts masters, and was impressed when Tae Hi Nam broke 13 roof tiles with a single punch.  When the demonstration was finished, Rhee asked Choi Hong Hi some questions regarding the art.  Rhee was so impressed that he ordered his military chiefs to have his soldiers receive training in these arts.  This accounted for a great surge in the number of schools.  Nam, who had impressed Rhee with his tile breaking was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for training.  On April 11, 1955, it was decided to adopt the term Taekwondo as a means of providing continuity to the arts of Korea. According to Jhoon Rhee, dissension among the various kwans lasted for six years until September 14, 1961 when the groups once again organized into a single association (the KTA or Korean Taekwondo Association), with General Hi as the elected president.  On March 22, 1966, the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) was formed and General Hi served as president.  General Hi moved the ITF headquarters to Montreal, Canada, from where he has concentrated on organizing internationally.  Taekwondo's international expansion began with the Republic of Vietnam in 1962, then to Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong in 1962-63, Europe in 1965, West Germany and the Netherlands in 1966, and Taiwan in 1967.  Mass expansion began in the United States in the early 1960's.  In 1968 the United Kingdom Taekwondo Association was formed followed by many other countries.  Young-wun Kim was elected the new KTA president.  He dissolved the relationship between the KTA and the ITF on May 28, 1973, and formed the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).  By 1980 under the expansion of General Hi's programs, a reported 15,000,000 were studying Taekwondo  in 62 countries!  The WTF is the body recognized by the Korean government. 

General Information: Taekwondo develops the power to disable an antagonist with the bare hands and feet.  But it is also a study in discipline.  The Korean word do (do in Japanese and tao in Chinese), translates, Away.  One must practice the techniques relentlessly to develop a responsiveness that is instantaneous and correct, an intuitive reflex, requiring no hesitation or preparation.  Taekwondo has its limitations because it is only human beings that seek to develop the art.