Korean Karate, often referred to as "Taekwondo," has a complex origin story that intertwines with the martial arts history of Korea and influences from Japanese Karate. The development of Korean martial arts is a long and evolving process, significantly impacted by Korea's historical, social, and political changes.

What are the Origins of Korean Karate

Historical Background

1. Ancient Korean Martial Arts: Korea has a rich history of martial arts dating back to ancient times, with practices like "Taekkyeon," "Subak," and "Gwonbeop" being recorded in historical texts and murals. These arts were primarily focused on foot techniques, hand strikes, and throws, laying the groundwork for future martial arts development in Korea.

2. Japanese Occupation (1910-1945): During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the practice of Korean martial arts was suppressed, and Japanese martial arts, including Karate, were introduced and widely practiced. Many Koreans trained in Karate during this time, either in Korea or in Japan, where they were exposed to various Karate styles.

Development of Korean Karate (Taekwondo)

1. Post-World War II Era: After Korea regained its independence in 1945, Korean martial artists who had trained in Karate and other martial arts began to open their own schools, known as "Kwan." These Kwans taught styles that were influenced by Japanese Karate but also sought to reincorporate traditional Korean martial arts elements.

2. Unification and Naming: In the 1950s and 1960s, efforts were made to unify the various Kwans under a single national martial art. In 1955, a committee of martial arts masters and scholars selected the name "Taekwondo" (태권도) to represent this unified Korean martial art. "Taekwondo" translates to "the way of foot and fist," highlighting the art's focus on kicking and punching techniques.

3. International Spread: Taekwondo's formalization and the establishment of the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) in 1959 helped promote the martial art both nationally and internationally. The founding of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in 1973 and Taekwondo's inclusion in the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport in 1988 (and as an official medal sport in 2000) further elevated its global status.


While the term "Korean Karate" might be used to describe early forms of Taekwondo that were influenced by Japanese Karate, Taekwondo has developed into a distinct martial art with its own philosophy, techniques, and international recognition. It reflects a blend of traditional Korean martial arts principles and the influence of Japanese Karate, symbolizing Korea's resilience and cultural identity.