The earliest records of Martial Arts practice in Korea date back to about 50 B.C. These earliest forms of korean martial arts are known as 'Tae Kyon'. Evidence that Martial Arts were being practiced at that time can be found in tombs where wall-paintings show two men in fighting-stance. Others reject this evidence and say that these men could be simply dancing. Thus, the exact beginning of the practice of martial arts in Korea is still debated, but most believe that Chinese monks introduced the martial arts into the northern provinces of Korea during the fourth century.
The art flourished at first only on temple grounds with spiritual aspects intricately intertwined with the physical techniques. In the seventh century, due to intense fighting and violence between the three kingdoms Koguryo, Paekje, and Silla, the skills were passed on to the general public for self protection.
After winning the war against Paekje in 668 A.D and Koguryo in 670 A.D., Silla unified the kingdoms under a central government. The Silla period lasted until 935 A.D. and was a time of building and creativity. An elite group of young noble men emerged during this time, calling themselves the Hwa-Rang Do. They traveled throughout the country training their bodies and spirits through the practice of various forms of martial arts including Tae Kyon and Soo Bakh Do. Their moral code is the philosophical background of modern Tae Kwon Do.
In 935 A.D. the kingdom of Silla was overthrown by the warlord Kyonghum who established the kingdom of Koryo from which the Western name of Korea was derived. Koryo remained strongly martial in spirit and produced some of the nation's finest soldiers.
The Koryo Dynasty declined after five hundred years of rule and was replaced by the Yi Dynasty, which held learning and scholarship in highest esteem causing the practice of Tae Kyon to decline as well. Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the state religion and military arts fell into disrepute. For four centuries, the political fortunes of Korea declined along with its interest in Tae Kyon.
The final blow came when the Japanese overran Korea in 1910. During this occupation of Korea, the Japanese tried to erase all of the Korean culture, including a ban on practicing Tae Kyon. Though Tae Kyon was barely alive at the time, this order was not as detrimental as one might expect. Finding life oppressive at home, many Koreans left to study and work in China and Japan, where there were no restrictions on the practice of martial arts. As a result, the practitioners of Tae Kyon were exposed to and influenced by other forms of martial arts. After World War II, when Korea gained independence, interest in self-defense methods was revived and many experts opened dojangs. They returned from all parts of the Orient and proceeded to blend the various new and old styles into the modern Korean system practiced today. In 1955, General Choi Hong Hi suggested the name Tae Kwon Do, for the Korean art of self-defense, which was quickly adopted by the masters of the art.