Korean Martial Arts - History - Early History

Early History

Further information: Subak and Taekkyeon

Wrestling, called ssireum, is the oldest form of ground fighting in Korea. While, Taekkyeon or subak was the foot soldiers upright martial art. Weapons being an extension of those unarmed skills. Both Tradition martial arts, besides being used to train soldiers, were also popular among villagers during festivals for dance, mask, acrobatics, and sport fighting. These martial arts were also basic physical education. Koreans, as with the neighbouring Mongols, relied more heavily on bows and arrows in warfare than they did on close-range weapons.

It appears that during the Goguryeo dynasty, (37 BC – 668) subak/taekkyeon or ssireum (empty-handed fighting), swordsmanship, spear-fighting and horse riding were practiced. Paintings showing martial arts were found in 1935 on the walls of royal tombs, believed to been built for Goguryeo kings, sometime between 3 and 427. Which techniques were practiced during that period 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 is believed that the warriors from the Silla Dynasty (57 BC-668 AD) learned subak/taekkyeon from the neighboring Goguryeo armies when they appealed for their help against invading Japanese pirates. Practicing Taekkyeon became part of the training for Silla's hwarang, and this contributed to the spread of Taekkyeon on the Korean peninsula. But again, it is not known exactly which techniques the hwarang practiced. Buddhist monks, who added more spiritual aspects to the art, often instructed the hwarang.

The Buddhist influence on the hwarang is most notably seen around 600 AD when the moral code Sae Sok O-Gye (세속오계), written by Won Kwang (원광, 圓光), consisting of five rules were documented:

  • 사군이충 / 事君以忠 – Loyalty to one's king.
  • 사친이효 / 事親以孝 – Respect to one's parents.
  • 교우이신 / 交友以信 – Faithfulness to one's friends.
  • 임전무퇴 / 臨戰無退 – Courage in battle.
  • 살생유택 / 殺生有擇 – Justice in killing.

The development of Taekkyeon continued during the Goryeo Dynasty (935–1392). Goryeo records that mention the martial arts always include passages about Taekkyeon. The Goryeo government, however, outlawed the practice of Taekkyeon by civilians because people used to bet at Taekkyeon games.

Joseon Dynasty records and books often mention taekkyeon, and taekkyeon players are portrayed on several paintings from that era. The most famous painting is probably the Daegwaedo (Hangul: 대괘도, Hanja: 大快圖), painted in 1846 by Hyesan Yu Suk (혜산 유숙, 1827–1873), which shows men competing in both ssireum (씨름) and taekgyeon.

Read more about this topic:  Korean Martial Arts, History

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