1901: Itosu Ankoh (“the Father of Modern Karate”, 1831-1915) introduces Shorin-ryu-style karate into the Okinawan public school system. Itosu teaches karate to pioneers such as Funakoshi Gichin the founder of Shotokan karate, who’s style formed the basis of Chung Do Kwan, Song Moo Kwan and Oh Do Kwan syllabuses.
1945: Following the end of Japanese occupation many Koreans returned from Manchuria and Japan to Korea, including the pioneers of taekwondo’s original Kwans or schools: Byung Jick Ro opened Song Moo Kwan school, Won Kuk Lee (believed to be 3rd dan in Shotokan karate at this point) founds the Chung Do Kwan school, Hwang Kee founds the Moo Duk Kwan school, Byung In Yoon and Kim Soon Bae form the Kwon Bop Bu school, and Sang Sap Chun forms the Yun Moo Kwan school. These schools made up the Five Kwans.
1946: Then Second Lieutenant Choi Hong Hi first teaches his style martial art to the military unit under his command at the Kwang Ju military base. It is believed he held the grade of 2nd Dan in Shotokan Karate at this time, obtained during his studies in Japan which spanned 1938-1942. On his return to Korea in 1942, he had hidden to avoid conscription into the Japanese Army, but was eventually caught, and in October 1943 began his basic training. He was arrested during an attempt to escape and join the underground Korean Liberation Army. Sent to Pyung Yang prison for treason, he was due to have been executed on 18th August 1945, three days after Korea was liberated.
1950-1953: The Korean War divides the country into two.
1955: Now a Major-General in the South Korean Army, Choi Hong Hi, along with Nam Tae Hi, establish the Oh Do Kwan gymnasium for training the South Korean 29th Infantry Division. Around the same time Lee Kyo Yoon forms the Han Moo Kwan school, Park Chul Hee and Hong Jong Pyo form the Kang Duk Kwan school, and Lee Yong Woo forms the Jung Do Kwan school.
1955, April 11: The Chung Do Kwan Conference is organized by Won Kuk Lee. Representatives from most of the original kwans agree in principle to combine the arts and nominally rename the new Korean martial art Tae Soo Do, though the name Tae Kwon Do is favoured and promoted by General Choi Hong Hi, and by 1959 this name is commonly adopted.
1959: The Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) is formed and General Choi Hong Hi is the organisation’s first president.
1959, March: The nascent Korea Taekwondo Association sends instructors to demonstrate taekwondo on worldwide tours, and to help open taekwondo schools in other countries.
1959, October: Choi Hong Hi publishes his first reference, Tae Kwon Do Teaching Manual, available here for download.
1960: By 1960, there were 40 kwans throughout Korea, lead by students of the original 5 kwans. By 1974, the Korean Taekwondo Association had succeeded in consolidating the 40 kwans into what are now sometimes referred to as the 9 Kwans.
1961, May 16: The South Korean government is overthrown by the South Korean military in a coup d’etat. General Choi Hong Hi supported the coup, but did not find support from the new regime when General Park Chung-Hee emerged as the new president. In the late 1940s Park Chung-Hee received a death sentence from a military panel that had included General Choi, who was forced to retire from the military following the successful coup. When military rule ends in 1963, South Korea sees 27 more years of authoritarian rule, before transitioning to a democracy in 1988.
1961, September: The Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA) is renamed once-again to the Korea Taesoodo Association.
1962: From 1962 to 1965, Choi Hong Hi is sent as South Korean ambassador to Malaysia. While there, he develops many of his new Chang Hon taekwondo patterns during this time, with some authors attributing contributions from Nam Tae Hi and others as well.
1965, August: After returning to Korea, Choi Hong Hi briefly regained the presidency of the KTA and succeeded in renaming the organisation from the Korea Taesoodo Association to the Korea Taekwondo Association once again, but not in the adoption of the Chang Hon patterns. Amid internal disputes, Choi departs the KTA for the final time.
1966, March 22: Choi Hong Hi founds the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF). Its first members include schools from Vietnam, West Germany, Malaysia, Turkey, Italy, United Arab Republic, Taiwan, and the United States.
1967: Yong Chae Kim (of the Kang Duk Won) becomes the 5th president of the KTA and serves in this role until 1971. He is credited as the driving force behind the development of the Kukkiwon and also with the development of the hogu chest protector and the reformation of rules for tournament competitions, the beginnings of the rule-set that would become an Olympic sport.
1967: The KTA develops and adopts the Palgwae patterns for color belts, later replaced with the Taegeuk patterns in 1971.
1971: The South Korean President Chung Hee Park announces that Taekwondo will become the national sport of Korea and allocates funds for the completion of the Kukkiwon. Dr. Un Young Kim, a former assistant director of the Korean CIA, is elected 6th president of the KTA. Kim would go on to become the World Taekwondo Federation President, and later an International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice-President and Executive Board member, and became a key figure in bringing the Olympic Games in South Korea in 1988 and in taekwondo’s adoption as an Olympic sport. He also proved to be a controversial figure, being reprimanded by the IOC for nepotism, including misusing his position to secure a job for his son, and jailed in Korea for two years in 2004 for fraudulent use of funds totaling millions of dollars from the World Taekwondo Federation.
1972: General Choi emigrates from South Korea, moving his ITF headquarters to Toronto, Canada. Sources differ on the circumstances of his move, some claim he received threat of imprisonment if he did not turn over control of the ITF to the KTA, while other suggest it was his dissatisfaction with the Korean government and the politicization of taekwondo in support of anti-communist propaganda that led to his move.
1973: The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) is established to promote Kukkiwon-style taekwondo as an international sport. Dr. Un Young Kim becomes the organisation’s first president.
1973: The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) organise their first World Championships, held within the Kukkiwon, South Korea.
1974: The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) organise their first World Championships, held in Montreal, Canada.
1975: The WTF affiliates with the GAISF (General Association of International Sports Federations)
1979: Choi Hong Hi secretly visits North Korea and arranges a taekwondo goodwill tour to North Korea for the following year (1980).
1980: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes the WTF at the IOC’s 83rd session in Moscow.
1980, September: Choi Hong Hi visits North Korea. Shortly after this he develops the new Chang Hon series pattern Juche and elaborates on his sine wave technique. Choi leaves Canada with his family in early 1982 to live in Pyongyang, North Korea (or in 1979 as sources differ), a move considered controversial for a former South Korean Army General.
1981: South Korea wins their bid to host the 1988 Olympic Games.
1983: Choi Hong Hi publishes an updated and expanded version his Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, with later editions being produced up until 1999. Choi’s sine wave technique proliferates.
1986: The Federation International du Sport Universitaire (FISU) adopts taekwondo as an event in the World University Championships, including both WTF rules sparring and Kukkiwon Poomsae.
1986: The British Student Taekwondo Federation (BSTF) is formed.
1987: The British Student Taekwondo Federation (BSTF) organise the first inter-university UK Student National Taekwondo Championship.
1988-1992: WTF rules sparring is an exhibition sport in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
1992: The British Student Taekwondo Federation (BSTF) updates their existing annual championship to create the first multi-discipline inter-universities championships in the UK with the addition of ITF rules sparring, Kukkiwon patterns (Poomsae) and Chang Hon patterns (Tul) disciplines.
1994: WTF rules sparring is adopted as a full medal sport from the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
2002: Choi Hong Hi dies and the selection of a successor is controversial. The ITF splits into three branches: ITF Vienna, headed by Tran Trieu Quan; ITF North Korea, headed by Chang Ung; and ITF Canada, headed by Choi Jung Hwa.
2004: Dr. Chung Won Choue is elected as the new president of the WTF, succeeding Dr. Un Young Kim.
2006: The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) organise the first World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships, held at the Olympic Gymnasium, Seoul, South Korea.
2009: The European Universities Sport Association (EUSA) adopts taekwondo as an event in the European Universities Games and European Universities Championships. The first European Universities Taekwondo Championship was held in Braga, Portugal in WTF rules sparring. Poomsae is also added to the programme in 2013.
2015: The ITF (the Chang Ung branch) and WTF sign a Protocol of Accord agreeing to allow competitors from the two federations to compete in each other’s events, overseen by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, a significant thawing of relations between the two organisations.
2015: Para-Taekwondo is announced as an event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
2016: The British Student Taekwondo Federation (BSTF) celebrates its 30th anniversary in the same year it becomes a registered charity.
2017: The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) organise the first World Beach Poomsae Championships, on the island of Rhodes, Greece.
2017: The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) renames itself to World Taekwondo (WT).
2017: Guinea-Bissau announced as the 209th member national association of World Taekwondo (WT), confirming its status as one of the most universally practiced martial arts and sports in the world.
2018, February: Taekwondo athletes from both North and South Korea – under the auspices of the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) and World Taekwondo (WT) respectively – perform a joint demonstration at the pre-show of the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeong Chang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, South Korea. Furthermore, for the first time since the Korean war a Unified Korean Olympic Team competes in the Games.
Present day: Taekwondo is a hugely popular martial art and combat sport, with millions of practitioners globally. Each year sees hundreds of thousands of athletes participating in WT rules sparring, ITF rules sparring (in a number of slight variations depending on the branch), Kukkiwon patterns (Poomsae), freestyle patterns and Chang Hon patterns (Tul) competitions worldwide. Taekwondo within universities is massively popular worldwide, with around 70 institutions hosting an active club in the UK alone. The British Student Taekwondo Federation is a registered charity providing a range of multi-discipline competition across its annual tournament series, as well as training camps and courses for many hundreds of student athletes each year.
Sources differ on a number of the dates and details provided, and this abridged timeline should be viewed with this in mind. A number of individuals involved in the early promotion of taekwondo are controversial figures remembered as peacemakers, malefactors or somewhere in between depending on the source. We recommend readers seek out peer reviewed journal articles to help separate history from myth, with the 2016 iACT Conference proceedings and The Making of a Modern Myth: Inventing a Tradition for Taekwondo as useful starting points. Despite the complexity of taekwondo’s development, its practitioners of all styles and syllabuses are undoubtedly connected by a common root. Moving forward it is 2015’s protocol of accord and 2018’s joint North and South Korean Olympic demonstration which express the incredible potential of taekwondo to bridge divides and to unite people.