I have heard two things about Taekwondo from different sources:

A) The founder of TKD (Choi Hong Hi) trained in Shotokan Karate and TKD is based on Shotokan.

B) Taekwondo is based on pre-existing Korean martial arts, i.e. Taekkyon.

From what I've read, both things are probably true to one extent or another. I'm looking for a more complete understanding of the history of TKD's development. What is the history of Shotokan's incorporation into Taekwondo?

5 Answers 5


See the translation of Taekwondo entry in Japanese Wikipedia. According to this article, in 1940s during the Japanese rule of Korean Peninsula, Karate (空手) was taking hold under the name Kongsoodo (공수도, 空手道) and Tangsoodo (당수도, 唐手道).

To backtrack on these namings, we need to understand the origin of Karate. Sakukawa Kanga (佐久川寛賀) from Ryukyu Kingdom (today's Okinawa) studies in China and developed martial arts called 唐手 (read "Tudi"), which translates to Chinese (Tang) hands. When Ryukyu Kingdom incorporated into Japan, Tudi faced extinction, but Anko Itosu kept it going by introducing it to local elementary and junior high schools. At the time, Tudi was renamed to Karate, which is the Japanese way of reading 唐手. As an educator Itosu thought emphasis should be placed more on 型 (kata).

As Karate gained popularity in mainland Japan, Gichin Funakoshi (船越義珍) of Shotokan (松濤館) changed the Chinese characters of Karate from 唐手 (Chinese hands) to 空手 (empty hands). The character 道 (way; read "doh") was appended, similar to Judo. This reflects the consideration to militaristic time in the 20s. By the way Funakoshi was also school teacher from Okinawa and he was also really into 型 (kata).

When Karate was introduced to Korean Peninsula, some used politically correct 空手道 (Kongsoodo), and others the original 唐手道 (Tangsoodo). In 1944 Won Kuk Lee (이원국, 李元國) a pupil of Funakoshi opens Chung do kwan (청도관, 靑濤館) the first Tangsoodo school in Korea. Apart from the known fact that Lee studied under Funakoshi, the fact that 靑濤館 borrows a letter from Shotokan (松濤館) signifies that it's meant to be a direct lineage from Shotokan Karate. Choi Hong Hi (최홍희, 崔泓熙) also studied Shotokan Karate in Japan and has 2nd dan.

Choi kept practicing Karate after he went back to Korea, and later in Korean Army. In 1954, at the height of Korean War, Choi with 29th Infantry Division performed a demonstration in front of President Syngman Rhee. The legend goes that President praised the demonstration convinced that it was Taekkyeon. Fully aware of anti-Japanese sentiment, Choi had said that it was his original martial arts. Other account says that President has ordered the kwan leaders to unify to a single system so it could be introduced to Korean military. On April 11th of 1955, President Rhee certifies Taekwondo as the name selected by a committee headed by Choi, and on September 3rd of 1959 Choi renames Korean Kongsoodo Association to Korea Taekwondo Association. In other words, Karate was renamed to Taekwondo for political reasons, like Japanese renamed Chinese hands to Karate.

This by no means is meant to undermine the originality of Taekwondo relative to Shotokan Karate. As noted above, the lineage of Shotokan was influenced by educators who wanted to turn Karate into exercise. Meanwhile Taekwondo was introduced as practical combat martial arts to Korean army. So I'd imagine many modifications were needed.

Another interesting twist is the post-war internationalization and attitude difference towards sports. While the Japanese Karate stuck to traditions and kata, Taekwondo did not shy away from sparring and turning it into point-based sport, especially the South Korean WTF branch. This allowed Taekwondo to be included into Olympics wearing gloves and all while Karate remains not included.

  • 1
    +1 For those more interested in the real history of TKD, read A Killing Art by Alex Gillis Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 8:42
  • @Eugene Yokota very detailed answer. The analysis of the kanji was especially appreciated. Thanks. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 13:32
  • @SeanPatrickFloyd Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look into it. Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 13:32

Sorry I'm not able to give a more academic answer to your question. As a former black belt in TKD and a bit of a martial arts history buff, I took an interest in this question myself at one point in my past. Here are my observations and thoughts on the matter.

Taekwondo forms used to be entirely from Shotokan karate. This comes about because many Koreans who served in the Japanese military during the occupation of Korea returned to Korea after the occupation and brought with them their knowledge of Japanese martial arts. These early TKD forms were actually the same ones as Shotokan karate, just with Korean-ized names. So "Bassai" becomes "Passai", "Tekki" becomes "Chulgi", etc.

Not too long after Taekwondo was born, the founder (general Choi) decided that TKD needed its own, unique set of forms (under pressure to disassociate with anything Japanese). So he made them up. But he based them all on the original Shotokan karate forms. You'll see individual techniques up to a series of 3 or 4 movements strung together in each form that can be traced back to one of these Shotokan karate forms. They're often jokingly referred to by others as the "blender forms". These earlier TKD forms demonstrate almost none of the kicking style that TKD is famous for.

Some TKD schools still practice the original Shotokan forms, usually in addition to the new forms. Other TKD groups created their own unique forms after parting ways with general Choi and forming their own brand of TKD. These TKD groups typically emphasize kicking and other aspects of Korean style that were lacking in the early TKD and original Shotokan karate forms.

As for Taekyon, I think its influence on TKD is overemphasized by the Koreans who want to further distance themselves from Japanese karate and other styles. Was there direct transmission? Maybe, but in a very limited way.

It's hard knowing what the historical facts are, though. That's because during the Japanese occupation of Korea, much of Korean culture, especially martial arts, were suppressed or wiped out. The Koreans resented the Japanese for it, and many still do. As a result, there was and still is a good amount of historical revisionism taking place in Korea, downplaying Japanese influences on their culture and over-emphasizing or outright inventing links to their own cultural heritage prior to the Japanese occupation. That's from my observation anyway.

So whatever you do, take everything with a grain of salt. And check the sources, twice. My advice to you.

  • "the founder (general Choi) decided that TKD needed its own, unique set of forms (under pressure to disassociate with anything Japanese). So he made them up." - calling him the founder is dubious - he had the distinction of being a military officer with transient backing from the government to unify martial arts practices despite being a relatively junior exponent, and he largely delegated the "making up" of the patterns to Nam Tae Hi, Han Cha Kyo, Choi Chang Keun, Park Won Ha, Woo Jae Lim, Kim Bok Man and Cho Sang Min.
    – Tony D
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 2:59
  • @TonyD Yes, it's true that Choi Hong Hi gets all the credit in general, unfairly. It wasn't just him making the decisions and bringing knowledge to the table. It was indeed a popular sentiment among the founders (plural) of TKD that their forms should be different from the Shotokan forms. Choi is just the one people most remember. Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 3:31

If you can find a book from the 1960s about Tae Kwon Do, you will find your answers. TKD comes from Shoto Kan. I am not being dismissive. TKD has evolved, and it is up to the practitioners to care and evolve it farther.

  • Identifying the book(s) would be helpful.
    – mattm
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 2:33

I cannot provide historical information, only that karate originated taekwondo to response to necessity of military training. Thus, taekwondo was based on karate. But by simply practicing both fights I learned there are many similarities in the stances, patters, and many knocks are equal or a variation of those used in karate. At least at a basic level.

"Karate practitioners tend to practice forms or kata. In that sense, it is similar to taekwondo." (https://www.thoughtco.com/taekwondo-vs-karate-2308292 "[1]")

"Karate and taekwondo both start with beginners learning fundamental rules and basic moves. These form the foundation for learning the more advanced moves. In each martial art form, you’ll learn different “stances” and ways to punch, kick, and block an opponent." (https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/karate-vs-taekwondo#history "[2]")


I agree that Taekwondo appears to have its roots in Shotokan Karate.

Having trained in Shotokan Karate, and Chung-do-Kwon Taekwondo I believe there are reveling similarities in techniques and Forms. While both styles have seemingly purposeful designed opposites in forms, and in philosophy.

I have found few seniors (Masters or Grand Masters) in martial arts that will agree with my hypothesis.

In the long run instructors just teach your students traditional basic self defense for basics then add what you do best after.

SaBum / Sensei Barnes

  • 1
    This is a terrible answer. You do not provide any justification for your opinions, allude to unspecific sources of authority, and finish with some off topic material. However, there is the potential to turn this into a good answer! Provide evidence of the "revealing similarities in techniques and forms". Provide example of the "purposeful designed opposites in forms, and in philosophy". And, if some masters/grand master agree with you: name them. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:19
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    Welcome to the site! Please do not get discouraged by my earlier down vote. I just want the answer to be a good. I suggest you looked at our tour to learn how this site works. Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 8:21

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