HISTORY OF TAEKWON DO AND THE INTERNATIONAL TAEKWON DO FEDERATION (ITF)

Tae Kwon Do was officially formed on April 11, 1955, when most Korean martial arts masters tried to unite all the various fighting styles (such as Gong Soo, Taekyon, Kwon Beop Soo Bahk Do, Tang Soo Do, etc.) under the name "Tae Soo Do." Although not every art joined in the resulting organization, an organization was created with many of the participants and the backing of the government. Its name was suggested by 1957 9th degree black belt General Choi Hong Hi as Taekwon-Do. When said together, the words “tae” (foot), “kwon” (fist), and “do” (art) mean the art of kicking and punching. The similarities between Taekyon and Tae Kwon Do are the high flying kicks and various other foot actions, but this style wasn't completely unified until the 1960s. Tae Kwon Do also integrated various aspects of Karate. Choi Hong Hi was a 2nd degree black belt in karate (the Shotokan variety), so it was natural to utilize karate techniques in Tae Kwon Do. However, many Koreans had an influence in the development of karate, an example from among them would be Choi Yong-I (Mas Oyama) who created Kyokushin Karate. In 1965, the South Korean government declared Taekwon-Do as Korea’s National Martial Art. General Choi led the Taekwon-do Goodwill Mission on a demonstration tour of Europe, the middle East, Africa and Asia. A year later, the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) was founded and established by General Choi in Seoul, Korea. Taekwon-Do most likely came to America in much the same way that karate and kung fu came to the US, being carried there by Korean immigrants, who were not very populous in the US until the 1970s and 1980s, and by American military personnel, who most likely learned the art while stationed in Korea during and after the Korean War. Taekwon-Do is taught almost everywhere in the US and Canada, and may be the most popular martial art in North America.

 

Although there are many different federations and associations, Tae Kwon Do can be broadly divided into two schools: International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF, founded 1966), and Kukkiwon, World Taekwon-Do Federation (founded in 1973). Kukkiwon-WTF was created in Korea when General Choi Hong Hi left Korea for Canada, moving the headquarters of ITF in 1972. The WTF is recognized as the international governing body for the sport of taekwondo by the International Olympic Committee. Adherents of the ITF branch spell the martial art "Taekwon-do" and those of the WTF as "Taekwondo". "Tae Kwon Do" is often used as a generic spelling of the martial art in a general or historic sense to avoid these divisions. (My note: we are descendents of the ITF) Apart from its history, one difference between ITF Taekwon-Do and Kukkiwon-WTF Taekwondo is the patterns (the pre-set, formal sequences of movements students learn). ITF has 24 patterns (called tuls) which represent the 24 hours in a day, or the whole of a person's life, while Kukkiwon-WTF uses the Taegeuk forms (which originate from the Chinese book, I Ching. The main difference between these two styles of pattern is that ITF patterns use a "stepping motion" (known as the "sine wave") -- drawing on Newtonian physics -- for hand techniques and some kicking techniques, which include moving the body in a motion in order to use bodyweight to increase the effectiveness of the techniques. Many people consider the Kukkiwon-WTF style to be more of a sport, focusing on competition sparring, while ITF is considered a true martial art, which includes competition-style sparring. In practice, however, it is the instructor that will have the most influence on what and how a student practices. The ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation) had considerable success in bringing its art to the world through the '60s and early '70s. They currently maintain millions of members in 120+ countries worldwide. Beginning in 1972-73, Kukkiwon and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) became the first (1980) Tae Kwon Do organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Kukkiwon-WTF is the only Tae Kwon Do body recognized by the South Korean government and its rules have been adopted by the International Olympic Committee. Only students whose training is recognized by the Kukkiwon-WTF can take part in the Olympic games, highlighting the consideration of the Kukkiwon-WTF form as a sport. In addition to the forms recognized for modern competition, there are also a large number of traditional forms, associated with a rich lore and history. These are becoming relatively rare in competition yet are being kept alive by some traditional masters and their students. Students trained in these traditional forms, which emphasize powerful kicks, punches, and blocks, pacing appropriate to the form, fierce concentration upon imaginary opponents, and accurate and stable stances, can do quite well when bringing these skills to their performances of the poomse style forms. Since the death of General Choi Hong Hi, the International Taekwon-Do Federation has splintered into three major groups and several smaller ones. Choi's son, Choi Jung Hwa, is head of one headquartered in Canada; a second is headquartered in Austria; the third has its headquarters in North Korea. All three groups claim to be the legitimate successor to Gen. Choi. Various court actions are now in process. This is why Foothills Taekwon-Do is only associated with the USTF and the USTF is no longer associated with the ITF.

  

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Site last updated January 15, 2018.