I study ITF Taekwondo, and our patterns are named for significant people, places, groups, or events in Korean history. I was trying to learn more about the Neo-Confucian beliefs of Yi-Hwang ( Toi Gye)and Yi I (Yul Gok). I posted this on the Philosophy forum as well— I know it isn’t a martial arts technical question, but I posted it here in hopes a Taekwondo instructor can recommend a resource with a basic-level explanation of their different views. I understand if this question needs to be deleted due to its academic focus vs physical focus most questions on here have.

The standard explanation that we are taught in Taekwondo is that Yul Gok was “nicknamed the Confucius of Korea” and that Toi Gye was a “noted scholar and expert on Neo-Confucianism”. I’m not a philosophy student and on digging deeper, the online descriptions of their teachings that I’ve found don’t make much sense to me. I need something very basic, for my own growth as well as explaining to 10 year olds why these two men are honored in our style of Taekwondo, other than what I’ve been telling them— “they were very smart men”.

Thank you in advance for any help or recommended resources. :)

  • 1
    Please do not cross post. I personally would expect you get better answers on martial arts than philosphy.
    – mattm
    Apr 3, 2018 at 20:26
  • My apologies. I did not know if this question would be allowed to post on this forum. I can delete it from the philosophy page if it will stay on here.
    – ksp08
    Apr 3, 2018 at 20:45
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    If you can handle the commitment, I recommend visiting Kukkiwon, the headquarters for the body of the style that is adopted by WTF / Olympic Taekwondo. There, they not only have libraries, and a training hall for anyone to train at, but, the instructors there are known to be very helpful to researchers looking for information that currently is only available in Korean. And that, I think, may be your problem: there isn't much out there that you can read, and they can help.
    – Andrew Jay
    Apr 4, 2018 at 12:06
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    Perhaps secondary to a Korea visit would be a visit to New York City, and visit the NYC public library; or the Library of Congress in Washington DC. In the latter, you won't have access to many of the archives there, you'll need to be a registered researcher, and that is out of my area of expertise to guide you. But, they are good resources for questions like this.
    – Andrew Jay
    Apr 4, 2018 at 12:08
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    Thank-you for the suggestions. While all of those trips would be amazing, they probably do exceed the limits of my interest in this subject! :) But I think you’re correct in that I have yet to find much “Korean Neo-Confucianism for Dummies” level information, in English, on these men. One resource I have found that is manageable for TKD students is Stuart Anslow’s “From Creation to Unification” history text. Highly recommend!
    – ksp08
    Apr 4, 2018 at 13:58

1 Answer 1


As a really basic overview:

Both Yi I and Yi Hwang studied/followed the teachings of the Chinese Philosopher Zhu Xi

They differed slightly in their beliefs around the interaction of Chi and Li. (spellings differ from Chinese to Korean and then to English)

Yi Hwang set up a school and academy of Confucianism

Yi I wrote many highly regarded literary works and spent much of his life in public office.

Its worth noting that Yi Hwang (Toigye) - whilst taught in ITF taekwondo after Yi I (Yul Gok) - was born 35 years before Yi I - and much of their differing views and teachings of Confucianism were actually happening simultaneously.

  • Thank you for the information. Can you recommend a resource that explores their differing views? I know that a split developed in Korea, heightened by geography, between their two viewpoints and was trying to find more information regarding the chi and Li differences. I have also read a little about Yi Hwang and the 4 beginnings/7 emotions, and that Yi I urged the creation of a standing army in face of the threat from Japan and wondered what they each thought of the other’s ideas. Thanks again for your input!
    – ksp08
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:20
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    @ksp08 That gets a little away from TKD and more onto Korean History, in the wikipedia links in the answer there are lists of their more famous literary works - I imagine those are the place to really understand their thinking. I am struggling to find any directly translated into English (though there are some Korean/American takes on YulGok in English which may be worth a read). Note also with the main 24 patterns that the inspiration is from General Choi's view of Korean History (influenced by the other pioneers) - books by those (Bok Man Kim recently released one) may be worth reading also
    – Collett89
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:53
  • Thank you, @Collett89. I will look for the Bok Man Kim book. :)
    – ksp08
    Apr 4, 2018 at 14:01
  • @ksp08 having had a quick amazon for the Bok Man Kim book it looks like a nice book for any ITF practitioner but not actually containing as much history as I hoped. I will have a scour around for books by other pioneers soon - I just happened to be at a championships with Bok Man Kim last year where his book was discussed (and signed if you had a copy). I have not had a chance to look through Rhee KH's "This is Taekwondo" (they ran out of copies when I went to see him) - but it looks like a manual. I'll have too much ITF memorabilia before long
    – Collett89
    Apr 4, 2018 at 14:39
  • thank you very much for checking. I was just asked the other night by an adult color belt and I told him the basic stuff and the little bit extra I’ve found and that philosophy just wasn’t my area. I was hoping to be able to expand my answer a little bit more. That’s neat that you have a collection. If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am, what Dan rank do you hold?
    – ksp08
    Apr 4, 2018 at 15:28

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