The earliest records of Martial Arts in Korea practice date back to about 50 B.C. It was then known as "Taek Kyon". Evidence that Martial Arts was being practiced at that time can be found in tombs where wall paintings show two men in fighting stances. Others reject this evidence, saying that the men could have been dancing as well.
At that time there were three kingdoms:
Silla unified the Kingdoms after winning the war against Paekje and Koguryo. The Hwa Rang Do played an important role at this unification. The Hwa Rang Do was an elite group of young noble men devoted to cultivating mind and body and to serve the kingdom, Silla. The best translation for Hwa Rang is "flowering youth". The Hwa Rang Do had an honor code and practiced various forms of Martial Arts, including Taekyon and Soo Bakh Do. The honor code of the Hwa Rang is the philosophical background of modern Tae Kwon Do.
What followed was a time of peace and the Hwa Rang turned from a military organization to a group that specialized in poetry and music. Later, Wang Kon founded the Koryo Dynasty, an abbreviation of Koguryo. The name Korea is derived from the name Koryo.
During the Koryo Dynasty, the sport Soo Bakh Do became popular. The sport was then used as a military training method. During the Yi Dynasty, the emphasis on military training disappeared. The King replaced Buddhism with Confucianism as the state religion. According to Confuscanism, the higher class should read poetry and play music. Martial Arts was something for the common, or even inferior man.
Modern-day Tae Kwon Do is influenced by many other martial arts. The most important of these sports is Japanese Karate, because Japan dominated Korea during 1910 until the end of W.W.II. Many Korean soldiers were trained in Japan. After the war, Korea became independent. During the occupation of Korea, the Japanese tried to erase all of the Korean culture, including the martial arts. The influence that Japan has given to Tae Kwon Do is the quick, straight line movements that characterize the various Japanese systems.
At the end of W.W.II, several Kwans arised. These Kwans were "Chung Do Kwan", "Moo Duck Kwan", "Yun Moo Kwan", "Chang Moo Kwan", "Oh Do Kwan", Jo Do Kwan", Chi Do Kwan" and "Song Moo Kwan". The Kwans united in 1955 as Tae Soo Do. In the beginning of 1957, the name Tae Kwon Do was adopted by several Martial Arts Masters, for it's similarity to Tae Kyon.
General Choi Hong-Hi required the Army to train in Tae Kwon Do, so the first students were Korean soldiers. The police and the Air Force had to train in Tae Kwon Do as well. At that time, Tae Kwon Do was a Korean version of Shotokan Karate. In 1961, The Korean Tae Kwon Do Union arose for the Soo Bakh Do Association and the Tae Soo Do Association. In 1962, the Korean Amateur Sports Association acknowledged the Korean Tae Kwon Do Union, changing the name to Korean Tae Kwon Do Association (KTA) in 1965. General Choi, President of the KTA left Korea and established the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF) in America.
Demonstrations were given all over the world. It took a while before real progress was made, but eventually, in 1973 the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) was founded. In 1980, WTF Tae Kwon Do was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and became a demonstration sport at the Olympics in 1988. There have been several attempts to unify the ITF and the WTF. Unfortunately, these have failed.