Korean history The history of the people living on the Korean peninsula is commonly divided in several periods, most of them named after the ruling dynasty on the peninsula. The Korean prehistory is divided in the Jeulmun and Mumun periods. These periods are named after the kind of pottery that date back to these earliest times. During the Mumun period the Gojoseon kingdom grew in power. After the fall of Gojoseon in the first century before Christ, several states appeared with three of them growing stronger. This period is known as the Three Kingdom era, with the three kingdoms being Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla. Eventually Silla conquered the other two kingdoms and ruled Korean peninsula from 668 to 918. Unified Silla had to give way to the Goryeo dynasty in 918 and the kings of Goryeo remained in power until the founding of the Joseon dynasty in 1392 by King Taejo. The Joseon dynasty has been the longest reigning dynasty in world’s history and lasted until 1897. In 1897 the last king of Joseon declared himself emperor and thus the Korean empire came to be. It didn’t last long because in 1910 Korea came under Japanese rule. The Japanese occupation lasted until the end of Second World War in 1945. After the war Korea was split up by the allied forces in both North- and South-Korea. Sadly, a war broke out between both Koreas in 1950. The division of both Koreas lasts until this day, with the border between both countries being the most heavily guarded border in the world. History of Korean martial arts Martial arts have existed in Korea since the earliest ages. Until modern times martial arts always had a link with the army. Although unarmed methods did exist they were not viewed as being crucial. It is only been since recent times that unarmed fighting methods are viewed as martial arts; armed fighting methods dominated until about one hundred years ago. Unarmed fighting methods were used to train soldiers or to entertain crowds during festivals where villages competed in wrestling matches. Pre-state times Nothing is known about the fighting methods from Korea’s earliest times. Polished stone swords and arrow tips dating back to the Mumun period have been found. These were presumably not only used for hunting, but for warfare as well. Later bronze tools and weapons were found and around 300 BCE the iron culture was imported from China. Subak It appears that during the Goguryeo dynasty (37 BCE – 668) Subak (empty-hand-fighting), swordsmanship, spear-fighting and horse riding were practiced. Paintings showing martial arts were found in 1935 on the walls of royal tombs, built for Goguryeo kings, sometime between 3 and 427. The nature of the techniques practiced is however something that cannot be determined from these paintings. References to Subak can be found in government records from the Goguryeo dynasty through the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). It should be noted that the term Subak was common in the East Asian area; China, Korea, and Japan. Ssireum (Korean wrestling), Sumo, Shuaijiao etc. were all referred to with this term 'Subak'. Although there is another term 'Gakjeo' for grappling techniques, but the names were not consequently used for the distinct techniques so many records are interpreted trading the terms for strike and grappling techniques. Hence, it would be more correct to state that Subak and Gakjeo were very common techniques that prevailed in different areas and different times in East Asian countries. Hwarang Goguryeo was one of the three kingdoms on the Korean peninsula next to Silla (57 BCE–668 CE) and Baekje (18BCE – 660). In 668 Silla conquered of the whole Korean peninsula with the help of the Chinese Tang dynasty. The history of these three kingdoms was written down in two books called Samguk Yusa and Samguk Sagi. These books however were written during the Goryeo dynasty (918 – 1392) more than two hundred years after the collapse of Unified Silla (668 – 918). It is believed that the warriors from the Silla dynasty learned Subak from the neighboring Goguryeo armies when they asked for their help against invading Japanese pirates. Practicing Subak became part of the training for Silla’s hwarang warriors and this contributed to the spread of Subak on the Korean peninsula. But again we do not know exactly which techniques the hwarang warriors practiced and it is safe to assume that the overall emphasis would be on armed fighting methods and not so much on unarmed fighting. Many swords from this period can still be admired in Korean museums. The hwarang did not only study warfare but Buddhism and Taoism as well. Often Buddhist monks instructed the hwarang warriors. Their greatest contribution to the development of Korean martial arts is probably adding a spiritual dimension to the training practices, something that Korean martial arts lacked before. It was the Buddhist monk Won Gwang who formulated the Sae Sok O Gye in the 7th century. This code for the hwarang warrior consisted of five rules: 1. Loyalty to one's king. 2. Piety towards one's parents. 3. Trust among friends. 4. Never retreat in battle. 5. Be selective in the taking of life. These five rules are still very popular in many Korean martial arts schools today. Sword techniques from this period are said to have survived after they were included in martial arts manuals that were written during the Joseon dynasty, where they are referred to as Bongukgeom, which means national sword. The Muyesinbo, written in 1759, tells the legend of a boy named Hwangchang from Silla who preformed a sword dance, Geommu. He had a remarkable talent and was invited by the king of Baekje to perform this dance at his court. The boy took this opportunity to kill the king of Baekje. Although subject to many changes the dance survived and is still performed in contemporary Korea. Goryeo In the age of the Goryeo dynasty the military played an important role in society. Not in the last place due to the many invasions it had to fight off in the North. During the reign of king Sukjong (1054 – 1105) a special army, Byeolmuban, was put together by Yun Gwan to fight off the Jurchen in the north. This army consisted of three divisions; the infantry called Sinbogun, cavalry called Sinmugun and an army of Buddhist monks called Hangmagun. This army consisted of approximately 17.000 men and defeated the Jurchen. The development of Subak also continued during the Goryeo dynasty (935-1392) more as a form of folk entertainment than for military training. Goryeo records that mention the martial arts include passages about Subak. Later the Goryeo government prohibited the practice of Subak by civilians because people used to bet at Subak games. Subak split into two separate martial arts, Taekgyeon and Yusul, probably in the last years of the Goryeo dynasty or the early years of the Joseon dynasty. It is believed that many of the existing techniques were lost at this time. Joseon era Books and official records from Joseon dynasty records often mention Taekgyeon as a folk game. Taekgyeon players are found on several paintings from that era. The most famous painting probably is the Dae Kwae Do painted in 1846 by YuSuk (1827-1873). It shows competitions in ssireum (Korean wrestling) and Taekgyeon. During the Imjin War (1592-1598), Korean armies fought off a Japanese invasion. The Japanese had imported guns from Portugal and wanted to conquer the mainland. With Chinese assistance, the Koreans fought back the invaders, but at a heavy loss of men and cultural heritage. It was also during this war that the famous turtle ships (geobukseon) from General Yi Sun Sin were used. These ships were covered with an iron shield, much like the shell of turtle, which could withstand the gun attacks of the Japanese. Despite many important developments the Joseon period is seen as one of decline for the Korean martial arts. The Joseon dynasty was build on the principles of neo-Confucianism, a doctrine that advocated academics rather than martial practice. On the plus side, Confucian scholars wrote several manuals for the Joseon military and it is in these books that we can first learn about Korean fighting methods. Martial arts manuals In 1593 the Koreans, with the help of Chinese armies under the command of Li Rusong, attempted to win back Pyongyang from the Japanese invader. Li Rusong was a Chinese general of Korean ancestry. During one of the battles the Koreans learned about a martial arts manual titled Jixiaoxinshu written by the Chinese military strategist Qi Jiguang. King Seonjo (1567-1608) took a personal interest in the book, and he ordered people in his court to study it. This eventually led to the creation of the Muyejebo in 1598 by Han Gyo who had studied the use of several weapons with the Chinese army. Prince Sado (1735-1762) took the initiative to revise the methods and added twelve additional fighting methods. These were published in the Muyesinbo in 1759 as the Bonjomuyesibpalban or 18 martial classes. Important additions are the chapters on Bongukgeom and on the admiral sword, called Jedokgeom, of General Li Rusong. In 1790, these two books formed the basis, together with other Korean, Chinese and Japanese martial art manuals, of the richly illustrated Muyedobotongji. The Muyedobotongji does not concern itself with Korean methods only. Actually most of the methods and weapons described in the book are of foreign origin, with the great exception of course being the chapter on Bongukgeom. The book mostly deals with armed martial arts like sword fighting, double-sword fighting, spear fighting, stick fighting and fighting on horseback. There is one chapter that deals with a style of empty-hand fighting called gwonbeop (fist techniques). The techniques shown are not those of Korea’s own native empty-hand fighting methods but have Chinese roots. According to the Muyedobotongji empty-handed fighting should be learned before armed fighting since it forms the basic of a martial education. It is also quite remarkable that it quotes "Art of the Internal School" by Huang Baijia stating that internal styles are better suited for fighting than external styles. Modern Korean martial arts From 1910 to 1945 Korea was under Japanese rule. This had a lasting impact on the Korean people and Korean culture, including the practice of martial arts. The Japanese government banned the practice of Korean martial arts and promoted the practice of Japanese martial arts like Judo and Kendo through the educational system which was modelled after the Japanese system. The history of every modern Korean martial art starts during or after the occupation, and was heavily influenced by Japanese martial arts. These Japanese arts were either introduced to Korea during the occupation or brought to Korea by Koreans who had practied in Japan. After the occupation, Korean masters claimed linkage to traditional Korean martial arts like Subak and denied any connection with Japanese martial arts, mostly because of the bitterness Koreans felt for the Japanese, especially in the first few decades after the occupation. Although the influence of Japanese martial arts is undeniable and still present, many modern Korean martial arts have diverged from their Japanese counterparts. Ancient manuals like the Muyedobotongji became popular reading and study material for Korean martial artists and influenced the development of many modern Korean martial arts. For example, Koreans who had studied Japanese kendo during the colonization period studied the Muyedobotongji to rediscover their own cultural heritage and recreated the traditional Korean martial arts, although this usually was nothing more than renaming techniques after those found in the Muyedobotongji. In this process the Muyedobotongji more than once was used unjustly as a link to Korea’s ancient martial heritage. This doesn’t mean that Korean martial arts from before the occupation completely disappeared. Masters of several styles survived the occupation or continued teaching their art even though the Japanese had put a ban on it. Taekgyeon had survived has a folk game and has grown in popularity in recent years. Also the techniques of the Muyedobotongji have survived the occupation and martial arts like sibpalki enjoy a renewed interest. Some Koreans claim that historically Japanese martial arts came from Korea and thus all Japanese martial arts should be viewed as traditionally Korean. Just as the Japanese turned the martial techniques in older ages into something distinctively Japanese, so too did the Koreans take the Japanese arts and turn them into something that suited their needs. Although martial arts like Taekwondo and Tangsudo have their roots in Japanese karate, they have taken their own route of development and transformed into quite unique Korean martial arts. A popular way to look at it is by saying that although one culture might have provided the timber, it was the other culture that built the house. It is also important to note that speaking about martial arts in terms of them being Chinese, Japanese or Korean is something that is from recent times and has grown this way under the influence of nationalistic views. The use of the suffix ‘do’, meaning way, to martial arts is of clear Japanese fashion. Traditionally Korean martial arts were called muye (martial art) or musul (martial technique).