The roots of Taekwondo belong to Taekkyeon, a traditional martial art form. In turn, the roots of Taekkyeon can be traced as far back as tribal times in Korea. Taekkyeon has been known under different names throughout the ages and found quick growth during the age of the three kingdoms (a period during the 4th to 7th century when the Goguryeo, Silla, and Baekje kingdoms fought with each other for dominance of the Korean peninsula).
Afterwards, Taekkyeon would see more development and evolution during the Goryeo era (AD918∼ 1392), a time in which those skilled in the military arts were much respected. During that time, Taekkyeon was used as a way to determine promotions in the army. But things changed with the arrival of the Joseon era (AD1392 ~ 1910), in which the sword began to be viewed as a lowly thing. As a result, Taekkyeon slowly receded into obscurity. Currently Taekwondo, a descendent of Taekkyeon, is loved as a world class sport as a result of the painstaking effort of many individuals.
The reason why Taekwondo has been able to gain such success in modern times as a competitive sport (when compared to other Asian martial art forms) can be attributed to the fact that there has traditionally been a strong competitive aspect to Korean martial arts culture. Taekkyeon was enjoyed in past times at many folk festivals, a healthy competition between neighboring villages. There are records showing that men liked to place bets on the outcome Taekkyeon matches.
The late Joseon era’s ‘Haedongjukji’ text provides the most accurate description of Takkyeon available from past records, and writes this about Takkyeon: “There is something called ‘Gaksul’ (an old name for Taekkyeon) in the old ways, where two opponents face each other and places kicks in order to fell the other. There are three levels to this. The least skilled man goes for the legs, and a good man kicks the shoulders. The best man can kick as high as the head. Our ancestors used this in order to gain revenge, and even to win a woman through a bet.”