Evolution of Taekwondo

Evolution of Taekwondo

The history of taekwondo is told differently by different people but most agree that General Choi had a major role in the success of the art. Although we have a well-defined syllabus now, there has been a large amount of evolution in Choi’s texts between 1959 and 1999 which can be seen through a series of books he produced. The following article highlights some of the changes seen throughout the 40 years Choi was developing the art.

1959 “Taekwondo”

Available as a PDF from https://historyoftaekwondo.org/

This book was Choi’s earliest work on compiling a comprehensive document, the book was published in Korean HanGul with use of Chinese HanJa but with photos similar to those seen in later works. This makes reference to body parts, training aids techniques, techniques and patterns which form the basis of what we know as Taekwondo today. There are influences from Karate (and indeed students were said to be practicing Karate katas at the time before the patterns as we know it were formalised) and also some stylistic differences which bear resemblance to kung fu, see pictures below.

A detailed analysis of the text is not possible due to the language barrier but one point of note is pattern U-Nam (42 moves) which has since been dropped by Choi. U-Nam was similar to Choong Jang and was a reference to the pen name of Syngman Rhee (South Korea’s first president) who, following a demo in 1952, encouraged the unification of various schools which led to the ultimate agreement on taekwondo.

Juche vs Ko Dang would be the other pattern to face this fate resulting in a final 24 patterns in our syllabus from the original 26. Various pioneers lay claim to developing/supporting the development of the patterns with Choi during the early years.

There is some other interesting information on the historyoftaekwondo.org website including the 7 month course to introduce taekwondo into North Korea which saw nineteen 4thdegree and thirty five 3rd degree black belts promoted, a nice 12 year short cut versus today’s training requirements.

1965 Taekwondo (reprint in 2007)

  • Tenets: Courtesy and Integrity were missing and Modesty was in their place.
  • Theory of Power: Mass and Speed were missing from the theory of power
  • Belts and grades:
    • White belt was used for two grades (3 step sparring started from the first grading)
    • Then blue belt for 2 grades
    • Then brown belt for four grades
    • Then black belt for the 9 dans

Grades may be achieved every 3 months and degrees every 2 years (Choi was a 9th Dan at 45 years old when the book was written)

  • Doboks: The uniform finished half way down the shin and forearm rather than today’s fully covered approach also
  • Stances:
    • Walking stance was called forward stance, L stance was called back stance, Sitting stance was called riding stance. No attention, bending, vertical
    • Inner/outer open stance and crouched stance are described but were later removed
    • Low stances was described for forward and back stance
    • Measurements were in feet and inches not shoulder widths for stances etc.
  • Sections
    • Target is normally philtrum for high and due to the stance you are lower so you use eyes as a guide
    • Target is normally solar plexus for middle and due to the stance you are lower so you use shoulder as a guide
    • Target is normally genitals for low and due to the stance you are lower so you use abdomen as a guide
  • Techniques
    • Once you hit a target pull back
    • Single fist vertical punch is performed low down like an upset punch but with the fist rotated
    • U shaped punch is chiefly used against someone pulling your hair
    • Double side elbow is an attack not a posture move
    • Back fist was described as Flat fist when sideways (rather than front/back strike)
    • Drop the blocking shoulder lower than the other shoulder
    • Twisting block and pulling/pushing block is described to pull an opponent off balance after a hooking/grasping block
    • Sweeping block is also described
    • U shape block was mongdungi makgi (not digutja) and U shaped grasp was mongdungi japgi
    • Turning kick showed and described the static leg pointing at the target not away
    • Side thrusting kick is performed with the footsword (not ball of the foot) and used against attackers to the side of you (never diagonal)
    • Back thrusting kick is a reverse side kick and back snap kick is what we call a back kick
    • Reverse turning kick is described as straight or arced which may be a reverse hooking kick
    • Tackling kick (Koro Chagi) is described for a takedown
    • Spot turning was called Stationary turning
    • Body dropping (ducking) is described to avoid high section kicks
    • Destroying kick (including front kick) are described as well as thrusting kicks (including side kick)
  • Patterns

Describing pattern origins – “They are classified into three main groups : The Sorim School, Soryong School and Ch’ang-Hon School.”

The Ch’ang-Hon (‘Blue Cottage’ which was Choi’s pen name) style of patterns are what we now know as the 24 patterns of taekwondo. In thie early text, only 20 of the patterns were complete but Sho Rin and Sho Rei patterns were presented (Karate patterns!).

The same 9 colour belt patterns but only 8 ranks (saju ijrugi wasn’t tested and choong moo was a black belt pattern)

Chon Ji

Dan Gun

Do San

Won Hyo

Yul Gok

Joong Gun

Toi Gye

Hwa Rang

Choong Moo

The black belt patterns as follows:

Kwang Gae

Po Eun

Gae Baek

Yoo Sin instead of Eui Am (missing altogether)

Choong Jang

Ul Ji instead of Ko Dang

Sam Il

Choi Yong

Ko Dang instead of Yoo Sin


It gets a bit trickier at this point too, Choi’s later books finished with Yon Gae, Ul Ji then Moon Moo followed by So San, Se Jong and Tong Il. 

The TAGB changed this to Tong Il, Ul Ji, Se Jong then Yon Gae, Moon Moo, So San.

In the 1965 book, 4th degree black belts were expected to learn the last 2 patterns which were Se Jong and Tong Il. There was no Yon Gae, Moon Moo or So San


  • Karate Patterns

The Sho-Rin (or ‘Shorin’ or ‘Shorin ryu’) is Japanese for Shaolin which was said to be the birthplace for Okinawan Karate. Bodhidharma is said to have combined Chinese Shaolin learnings with Okinawan ‘Te’ to form karate. This style of karate was associated with fast, nimble movements.

Sho-rei was a style developed in Naha and is more focussed on slower forceful movements well suited to those with a heavier frame. Kung fu have a similar segregation into fast/light and heavy/strong styles. You can see why kung fu, karate and taekwondo (amongst others) have a blurry history!

The 9 patterns of Japanese/Karate origin were: Hei-An (Shorin), Bat-Sai (Shorin), En-Bi (Shorin), Ro-Hai (Shorin), Kouh-shang-Jouh (Shorin), Tet-Ki (Shorei), Jit-Te (Shorei), Han-Getsu (Shorei), Ji-On (Shorei).