Prior to 1945 there was a long historical decline of the martial arts of Korea commencing with the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) and finishing with the Japanese occupation (1910-45) where they were all but stamped out.
In many cases the ancient martial arts of Korea were kept alive by just a few scattered individuals, often living in seclusion in the mountains with perhaps just one or two disciples.
Since the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945 there has been a rediscovery by the Korean people of their culture and martial arts in particular.
Korea and the Hwarang
The first patriarch of Son (Zen in Japanese, Chan in Chinese) Buddhism and the 28th patriarch of Buddhism, Bodhidharma (480-528 AD) made an epic trip across the Himalayas and arrived at Song Shan Shaolin temple, China in 520 AD where he began to teach the monks Son.
Many people credit Bodhidharma with forming the nucleus of martial arts but this proposition is almost certainly a myth. He may have introduced a particular form of the martial arts but the ability to organise fighting methods is a feature known in many parts of the world and certainly before this date.
Under the reign of King Bophung, Buddhism became the sanctioned state religion of Silla and this patronage spawned a period of monastic order, the construction of monasteries and the development of the arts.
Large numbers of Korean monks travelled to China for instruction with ninety percent of them coming from Silla.
King Chin Hung came to power in Shilla in 540 AD and one of the most significant acts he performed was the creation of the Hwarang warrior. He called upon a famous Buddhist priest, Won Kwang Bopsa who had developed a system of martial arts based on harmony with the laws of nature to establish a state sanctioned martial art.
Young members of the nobility were taught martial arts with the Buddhist faith to become warrior-intellectuals who embodied culture and chivalry.
Chinese civilisation spread into Korea and Japan heavily influencing the indigenous peoples of these lands. All three of these countries in turn have had important influences on each other.
Korean travellers brought many skills with them to Japan including Buddhism and certain martial arts skills. From 668 AD the Shilla kingdom dominated the Korean peninsula and there was a florescence of martial arts along with many other cultural developments.
Oral sources in Korea tell of a Paekje kingdom prince who travelled to Japan to escape political persecution and brought with him a martial art that was based mainly on defensive techniques, circularity and the use of an opponent’s force against them called Yu Sul.
After World War II
From 1910 until 1945, Korea was under the control of Japan and only the occupier’s arts of Judo and Kendo were permitted.
After centuries of obscurity it was only under the new post World War II Korean government that the native Korean martial arts could resurface without persecution. In some ways it was a renaissance, with the general public studying the new/old art made up of the strongest elements that had survived Confucianism and the Japanese occupation.
Very soon there were many different schools all with different names and ideas. To provide unity to all these schools the government gave them all one name, Tae Kwon Do, and formed a national governing body.
However there was one exception to this unification process, Hapkido. Because Hapkido principles were so unique, Hapkido was allowed to operate independently.