Translated from Korean, “TAE” literally means to jump, kick or smash with the foot, “KWON” means to punch or destroy with the hand or fist and “DO” means art, way or method. Therefore Taekwondo means foot, hand, way.
Choi Hong Hi is widely regarded as the ‘Founder of Taekwondo’. Taekwondo was developed by Choi in Korea during the 1940s as a combination of Korean Taek Kyon and Japanese Karate. Taekwondo is a method of unarmed combat for self-defence based on self-discipline,
humility and a sense of right and wrong.
Before Taekwondo, Korea’s first fighting system wasknown as Soo Bak Gi which was practiced about 600 AD in the Silla Kingdom (South Korea). Soo Bak Gi developed into Tae Kyon, the Korean art of foot fighting, which the early dynasties used for training their armed forces. Tae Kyon declined during later dynasties and in 1909 the Japanese occupied Korea and outlawed the practice of Tae Kyon and many other Korean traditions.
Choi Hong Hi was born on 9th November 1918 in Hwa Dae, in the Myong Chun district of what is now North Korea, which was then under Japanese rule. A sickly but wilful child, he was expelled from school at the age of 12 for leading a protest against the occupying Japanese.
At the age of 12 Choi started to study Taek Kyon, the ancient Korean art of foot fighting. Choi’s father sent him to study calligraphy under Han Il Dong, who was also “a master of Taek Kyon. His teacher, Han ll Dong had been secretly practicing Tae Kyon during the Japanese occupations.
Then in 1937 Choi was sent to Japan to continue his education where he studied karate. In Kyoto, he met a fellow Korean who was a karate instructor and taught Choi this martial art. Choi also learned shotokan karate under Funakoshi Gichin. Just before he had left Korea, Choi apparently had a disagreement with a wrestler named Hu, and the possibility of a future confrontation inspired him to train in karate; Choi said “I would imagine that these were the techniques I would use to defend myself against the wrestler, Mr. Hu, if he did attempt to carry out his promise to tear me limb from limb when I eventually returned to Korea”. Choi attained the rank of 2nd dan in karate.
Choi was forced to serve in the Japanese army during World War II. He was posted to Pyongyang where he was imprisoned, following an attempt to escape and join the underground Korean Liberation Army. To maintain his good physical and mental health while in prison, Choi practiced karate, alone at first, then by teaching it to the staff of the prison and the other prisoners.
Following the war Choi became an officer in the new Korean Army. He continued to teach his martial art to his soldiers as well as to American soldiers serving in Korea. From 1946 to 1951, Choi received promotions and was promoted to major general in 1954.
Choi said that he combined elements of taekkyeon and Shotokan karate to develop the martial art that he called “Taekwon-Do” which means “foot, hand, the way” or “the way of hand and foot”.
On 11 April 1955 Choi gave it the name Taekwon-Do, comprising Tae (which means to kick with the foot), Kwon (to strike with the fist), and Do (art or way).
In 1953, Choi formed the crack 29th Infantry Division where Taekwon-Do developed into maturity. The 29 movements of the Taekwondo pattern Hwa-Rang refer to the 29th Infantry Division.
During the 1960s, Choi led the original masters of taekwondo in promoting their martial art around the world. On March 22nd 1966, General Choi created the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF). As the Founder of Taekwon-Do and President of the ITF Choi spread Taekwon-Do training around the world.
Taekwon-Do was brought to the UK by Master Rhee Ki Ha in 1967, who set up the first Taekwon-Do school on Coventry.
ITF taekwondo organizations credit Choi with starting the spread of taekwondo internationally by stationing Korean taekwondo instructors around the world, and claim that ITF-style taekwondo is the only authentic style of taekwondo
Choi was also the author of the first English taekwondo syllabus book, Taekwon-Do, published by Daeha Publication Company in 1965.
In 1972, Choi went into exile in Canada and the South Korean government formed the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in 1973.
Choi lived in Toronto until he returned to North Korea in 2000.
Choi died from cancer on 15th June 2002 in Pyongyang, North Korea aged 83.