Although the history of Korea’s martial art systems is as old and varied as those of Japan and China, the term Tae Kwon Do did not exist until 1955. After the Korean War, a movement to unite the nation’s martial arts schools under one umbrella arose in South Korea. This was partially a reaction to the painful, divisive, and ongoing period of civil war, but was also the first step in establishing a system of rules and standards to guide and evaluate all practitioners of the Korean hard-style arts. A distinguished general from the South Korean army, Choi Hong Hi, was able to unite many of the traditional schools under the name Tae Kwon Do.
Under the leadership of General Choi, and later a number of visionary successors, the Kukkiwon (and its international certifying organization, the World Tae Kwon Do Federation), has succeeded in increasing the art’s visibility both in Korea and across the globe. Tae Kwon Do is now the most popular martial art in the world — studied in over 140 countries and practiced by millions of people of all ages every day — and it has recently been added to the roster of Olympic sports. Today people know the art not only as a traditional fighting system but as a dynamic competitive sport.
In the 1960s the Korean master Choi Bong Young came to the United States and opened a Ji Do Kwan school in Berkeley, California. Although Mr. Choi believed in many of the benefits of unifying Korea’s martial arts systems, he did not support the trend towards an increasing emphasis on tournament competition. Throughout his life, Mr. Choi taught a conservative interpretation of Tae Kwon Do, which he referred to by its earlier name of Ji Do Kwan. This was an attempt to preserve the style’s traditional techniques and values, as he studied with his teachers. Mr. Choi’s students continue to practice in this spirit, and today our line of the Ji Do Kwan school is affiliated with the Kukkiwon but focuses on traditional Tae Kwon Do practice, based around technical rigor, forms practice, and noncompetitive sparring.
Ji Do Kwan translates as either “The Right Way” or “The Way of Wisdom.” This is not a claim to be the one true path or the best style for martial artists in general or for students of Tae Kwon Do. Rather it reflects Mr. Choi’s belief in setting high standards for martial artists and teaching with enough patience and rigor to allow students to grow through dedication and hard work. The techniques of Ji Do Kwan are similar to those of other Tae Kwon Do schools but they have not been modernized, simplified, or adapted to emphasize effectiveness in tournament sparring.
These differences might not be obvious to a beginning student, but become clear to those with experience. The stances of Ji Do Kwan are especially long, low, and stable. Its kicks, blocks, and strikes are longer and more circular than those of many Tae Kwon Do styles, and its footwork is especially fluid and graceful. Because of its traditional techniques, the school is physically demanding, but its practitioners experience the rewards of an especially beautiful, effective, and satisfying martial art.
Like all worthwhile martial arts styles, the Ji Do Kwan school demands much from its students, and following this Way is a difficult pursuit. The hardest journeys also offer the greatest rewards, and students who dedicate themselves to this path receive as much in return as they put into their study.