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Korean Martial Arts History

Like many other countries’, Korean martial arts history begins outside Korea. The first martial art to be practiced in Korea was a form of Mongolian wrestling called ssirum, which was created in 770 B.C. and introduced to Korea by the Chinese in the late 400s B.C.

Hundreds of years later, during the Tang dynasty in China and the Three Kingdoms period in Korea (57 B.C.-A.D. 668), fighters called Forest Devils helped the Chinese-backed Silla defeat the Japanese-backed Paechta and became known as sulsa assassins. The Silla honored the Tang emperor by creating tangsu martial arts, the forerunner to tang soo do. Tangsu was then taught to the fabled Korean Hwarang warriors, prompting the birth of hwa rang do.

During Korea’s Yi period (900-1050), the Chinese introduced two more martial arts to Korea: subak, eventually renamed taekyon; and kwonbeop, which became the standard art for Korean warriors. Taekwondo arose in the 1950s when several Korean martial artists combined Japanese karate with taekyon. And when Korean martial artist Choi Yong-sul returned from Japan after World War II and taught a style of karate, it was later renamed hapkido.

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  1. From Hapkido to Kuk Sool: Exploring Korea’s Martial Arts

    From Hapkido to Kuk Sool: Exploring Korea’s Martial Arts

    “Adults from abroad may have trouble keeping up with Korean martial artists, especially those who started training when they were kids — which pretty much includes everybody,” says our correspondent regarding training in Korea.
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  2. Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 2)

    Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 2)

    In South Korea, two sword arts with claimed ancient roots — kumdo and haedong kumdo — have different ties with the nation’s martial past. Learn how they fit into Korean history, as well as that of Japan.
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  3. Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 1)

    Ancient Korean Swords and Sword Arts (Part 1)

    If you’re a martial artist with plans to visit South Korea, this article will help you enjoy the time you spend in any museum with a sword display. If you’re just a martial artist who loves history, it will help you understand the China-Korea-Japan connection.
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  4. Taejoon Lee: Hwa Rang Do Sword-Fighting Demo

    Taejoon Lee: Hwa Rang Do Sword-Fighting Demo

    From July 30 to August 7, 2010, the World Hwa Rang Do Association held its 50th-anniversary celebration in Los Angeles. It included black-sash testing; a tournament that attracted practitioners from as far away as Italy; and lectures by Dr. Joo Bang Lee, the art’s founder, and Taejoon Lee, the art’s
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  5. Hwa Rang Do: The Untold Story (DOCUMENTARY DVD)

    Hwa Rang Do: The Untold Story (DOCUMENTARY DVD)

    In 2010, the World Hwa Rang Do Association published a DVD documentary detailing the genesis and evolution of the Korean martial art of hwa rang do to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the art and the organization. Watch the untold story of hwa rang do founder Dr. Joo Bang
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  6. Hwa Rang Do Founder Joo Bang Lee on the History of Korean Martial Arts

    Hwa Rang Do Founder Joo Bang Lee on the History of Korean Martial Arts

    Korean martial arts history has never been a simple matter. Many of its twists and turns resulted from the painful Japanese occupation that lasted from 1910 to 1945, but others stemmed from matters as mundane as the Korean-English language barrier. Meanwhile, practitioners and scholars have argued, struggled and fought about
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