many accounts of the history of the martial arts in books, articles and
on the web. Often they are biased in favor of the particular style of
the author—for example some Tae Kwon Do histories claim that their art
is "over 2000 years old." Although Korea has a long history of martial
practice, as do other Asian nations, TKD is actually a style created in
the 1950s after the Korean War.
So, it is hard to piece together a truly accurate historical account
because victorious societies and powerful organizations usually write
their histories to put themselves in the best light. Still, we can try
to present a simple picture of the development of the martial arts over
China is by most considered the birthplace of martial arts
however; records are rare so determining this to be fact is relatively
impossible. The most popular story centers on an Indian Buddhist monk
named Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese) who is said to have traveled to
China around 525 AD and began teaching a system of physical and mental
exercises at the Shaolin Monastery. Over the decades many traveling
monks followed his lead and introduced their own divisions of this
original art into other countries further modifying the arts into
today’s differing systems.
Okinawa is actually a group of islands off the coast of Japan. Karate
was born here in the 17th century from the influence of those Chinese
monks. The fighting arts were originally known simply as "Okinawa Te,"
or "hand," but soon they became known as "China-hand" or "kara-te." Some
of the Okinawan schools added use of farm implements as weapons since
the government had outlawed use of swords and knives. So the sai,
nunchaku and bo became part of the present Okinawan curriculum.
Because Japan had occupied the islands for hundreds of years before
finally annexing them in 1856, Karate had no doubt been taken to the
Japanese mainland. However empty-hand and simple weapon fighting was
considered lower-class by the highly trained samurai with their
elaborate sword skills.
About 1916 an
Okinawan Karate teacher named Gichin Funakoshi traveled to Japan to
demonstrate his art. It is said that he is the one who changed the
translation of kara-te to "empty hand" in order to make the art more
acceptable to the Japanese. His school became known as Shotokan and he
awarded the very first karate black belts in 1922. Funakoshi is often
credited as being the "father" of modern Karate. Today there are many
styles of both Japanese and Okinawan Karate.
Generally the Okinawan styles are softer and more traditional in their
approach and the Japanese schools are more sport-oriented.
As we said, the roots of Tae Kwon Do reach far back into ancient
history. 1300 years ago the Hwa Rang warriors (young soldiers often
compared to the Japanese Samurai) developed an unarmed fighting art
known as Subak and later, Taekyon. The fighting arts eventually became
less popular and at one point were actually banned and survived only by
being practiced in secret.
In 1910 Japan overran Korea and outlawed Korean customs and martial
arts. Many Koreans left the country to try and find better conditions in
China or even in Japan itself. They were exposed to other fighting arts
such as Chinese Kung Fu and Japanese Ju-Jutsu and Karate. At the end of
World War II Korea was liberated from the Japanese occupation by the USA
and her Allies. Thousands came back home to openly practice both the
traditional Korean systems and the other Asian styles creating many new
martial arts schools throughout Korea.
In 1955 the
leading masters met to try and unify the many schools under one name.
Korean army general Choi Hong Hi suggested the name Tae Kwon Do (the
"way of kicking and punching") and it was eventually accepted by many
Korean teachers. Some schools refused however and continued to practice
under their previous names—most notably Tang Soo Do (the "way of the
China hand in Korean).
The late General Choi (pronounced chay) also made up the first Tae Kwon
Do training patterns or hyungs (also known by the Japanese term, kata).
Coming to the USA
In 1948, Robert Trias, a returning American serviceman who had studied
Karate in Okinawa started the first Karate class in the USA in Phoenix,
In 1956, a South Korean named Jhoon Rhee arrived in Texas and introduced
America to the Korean martial arts. He taught the aforementioned Tang
Soo Do. But since no one in this country had ever heard of the Korean
arts Mr. Rhee used the more popular name Karate. (This is one reason the
Korean arts became known as "Korean Karate.") Mr. Rhee soon started
using the term Tae Kwon Do and in 1962 moved to Washington D.C. where he
still teaches and is recognized as the "Father of American Tae Kwon Do."
Rhee's first American black belt was a Texan named Allen R. Steen who
built the Lone Star state into one of the first strongholds of Karate in
the USA. Steen opened the first Karate school in Texas in 1962 in the
Snider Village shopping center close to SMU in Dallas. Mr. Steen's
reputation as a champion and instructor of champions in the '60s and
'70s was rivaled only by California's Chuck Norris (whom Steen defeated
to earn the 1966 International Karate Championships.)
The Americanization of the Martial Arts
Steen, Norris and the other pioneers of American Karate did what the
Japanese and Koreans themselves had done only a few years before. They
took bits and pieces of different styles and molded them into a uniquely
American system of martial art.
Not only were there different groups springing up in the USA in the
1960s and early '70s but in South Korea as well. General Choi's
International TKD Federation (known as the ITF) was forced to leave
South Korea by his political rivals. The World TKD Federation (WTF)
replaced the ITF in South Korea and they devised a new set of training
patterns to distinguish themselves from the old organization. Although
the WTF is the group officially recognized by the South Korean
government, many instructors in America do not belong to it. Through
this government-sponsored organization Tae Kwon Do has been included as
a permanent event in the 2000 Olympics.
To make Tae Kwon Do different from Karate, the South
Korean/Olympic-style (often referred to as "kuki taekwondo" has
de-emphasized hand techniques to feature kicks — especially head-high
kicks. In fact punches to the head are not allowed in Olympic Tae Kwon
Do. Most American stylists however, prefer a more balanced and realistic
approach with an equal combination of hands and feet. In fact, American
"open" tournament rules allow for hand and foot strikes to all target
Americans often just call their approach "American Karate" whether they
come from a Chinese, Okinawan, Japanese or Korean background. While it
is confusing to have so many different kinds of Karate and Tae Kwon Do
it does promote new ideas and philosophies as all of the martial arts
continue to develop both in America as well as back in Asia.
Texas Karate Do Specifically
Texas Karate Do specifically comes from General Choi’s ITF branch off of
modern Karate, meaning that our kata’s (forms in English) are
traditional ITF or Tae Kwon Do forms. However, in keeping with the
tradition of the ever evolving martial arts styles our school has also
developed its own version of American Karate. We incorporate Kenpo, Tae
Kwon Do, Judo, Hapkido, and various other arts into our style in order
to create our own version of American Karate. We like many American
Schools however, are still very proud of our deep and distinct roots in
General Choi’s Tae Kwon Do.