Martial Arts Index

Meanings of the Hyung of Taekwondo

These are the meanings of the first ten Hyung of Taekwondo, named by General Choi Hong Hi, the father of modern Taekwondo. These forms were named to commemorate famous leaders and events in Korea. I have added material on each, so this is an expansion on the official explanations.

Chon Ji in Korean means literally "Heaven and Earth". It is, in the Orient, and according to the first book of the classic I Ching, which explained all processes of growth and change in the natural world, interpreted as the creation of the world or the beginning of human history, therefore, it is the initial pattern played by the beginner. This pattern consists of two similar parts--one to represent the Heaven and the other the Earth. The downblock points to the Earth, and the inner forearm block points to Heaven. According to the ancient philosophers, the universe came into being through the interaction of two opposing elements which when combined formed the basic elements of matter in the universe. They conceived that nothing in this life is permanent, yet nothing is destroyed. This life is based on a changing changelessness, within which all aspects of reality possess the elements of their opposites. Many of the basic techniques of Tae Kwon Do are based on the interaction of opposite forces. When performing this pattern, the beginning student should concentrate on uniting his mind with his body, shelving all peripheral thoughts and striving to make his body movements flow as a continuation of the inner self. By learning to achieve these things he will gradually acquire the necessary self control and spiritual discipline required of a serious martial arts student. The concept of duality is first presented in the meaning of this form. Duality is the religious idea that God is responsible for both good and evil, and that for the world to function properly, both must be present. It is the idea of balance between opposites: black and white, good and evil, night and day, male and female, and so forth. It is this idea which is symbolically represented by the figure in the center of the Korean flag, the Taeguk. The Korean name of this yin yang symbol, "taeguk," means "ultimacy." 19 movements.

Dan Gun is named after Dan-Gun, the legendary founder of Korea in the year 2333 BC. According to the legend, Hwan Ung came down from heaven to rule the universe. At that time a tiger and a bear, who lived in a cave, begged Hwan Ung to change them into humans. The tiger couldn't comply with the commandments of Hwan Ung, so he lost his chance to become human. However, the bear could, became a woman, and prayed under an altar to become pregnant. Hwan Ung was moved by her plea, changed himself into a man, and married her. They had a son, Dan Gun. This myth became respected by all, particularly after the Silla unification and in the era of the Yi Dynasty. The Yi Dynasty was founded by the Jeonju Yi family, and by Yi Seonggye in particular. Though his father was a former Mongol official, Yi Seonggye was of ethnic Korean origin. He seized the throne of Korea in 1392. General Yi actually repelled the remnants of the Mongol invasion of Korea, as well as Japanese pirates. During the Koryo Dynasty, there was considerable antagonism toward the Mongolian tribes because in the past they had invaded and conquered Korea several times. The Koryo Dynasty viewed Dan Gun as the sole founder of the Korean kingdom and used this legend to show Korean superiority to the Mongolian tribes. The myth of Dan Gun played a very important role in protecting the Korean kingdom from invasion by maintaining the Korean culture. October 3rd is celebrated as a national holiday, commemorating Dan Gun. 21 movements.

Note: if you have any information about the Yi Dynasty on your web site, you will probably hear from a "student organization" called VANK. If you do, ignore their emails. If you pay any attention to them at all, they will hound you to death demanding that all reference to the Yi Dynasty be removed. They are located in North Korea and appear to be trying to obliterate any reference to this important information about Korean history. It reminds me of the way the Communist Chinese tried to obliterate the Chinese culture in China, and largely succeeded.

Do San is the pseudonym of the patriot Ahn Chang Ho (1876-1938). A farmer's son, he became a member of the "Independence Association" at the age of 18. This association was formed to promote independence, to reform domestic affairs, and to reduce dependence on foreign countries. In 1910, when the Yi Dynasty, a minor kingdom, was forcefully absorbed into the Japanese Empire, Ahn Chang Ho started underground activities focused on regaining Korean independence. He advocated freedom of choice in education, culture and speech. Do San exiled himself several times to China and the United States of America, but always returned. He was finally arrested by the Japanese, and died in jail. The 24 movements represent his entire life, which was devoted to furthering education in Korea and its independence movement. The number 24 represents completion, as in a 24 hour day.

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Ministries, had this to say of Ahn Chang Ho:

Another Asian country whose independence is largely owed to Christianity is Korea. For the first 140 years of Christian presence there, Christians were persecuted and often martyred. By the time Japan occupied Korea in 1910, only 1 percent of Koreans were Christians, often worshipping in secret.

Yet, it was mostly Christians like Ahn Chang-Ho who were the "architects" of Korean independence and who led the resistance to Japanese rule. They endured arrest, torture, and even crucifixion to secure its freedom. Today, Korea has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world thanks, in part, to their legacy.

Won Hyo was the noted monk who introduced Buddhism to the Silla Dynasty in the year 686 AD. He was recognized as a great scholar by the Tang Dynasty of China, although he never studied there, and was highly respected by the people of Korea. Won Hyo hated the idea of different religions arguing with each other over their different beliefs. Instead, he established his own system of ideology in which the conflicts between various religious sects could be reconciled. Won Hyo's most remarkable achievements were his activities in relieving the poverty and suffering of ordinary people. After Won Hyo left his monastery, he traveled around the country and taught Buddhism to the people. Sometimes he played a homemade musical instrument, and used song and dance to communicate. As an example to the people, he lived as he preached. 28 movements.

Yul Gok is the pseudonym of a great philosopher and scholar Yi I (1536-1584 AD) nicknamed the "Confucius of Korea." He was so brilliant that he passed the national civil service examination at the age of 13. He participated in national affairs and held various government appointments. Later on, he resigned from government service and returned home, devoting himself to writing. He published many books on philosophy, Confucianism and public administration. Yul Gok pointed out various shortcomings of the governmental system, and suggested reforms which had tremendous impact on social policy in the Yi Dynasty. Anticipating the Japanese invasion, he also advised maintaining an army of 100,000 soldiers. The 38 movements of this pattern refer to his birthplace on the 38th parallel and the diagram ± represents the character for the word "scholar".

Chung Gun (Joong Gun) is named after the patriot Ahn Chung Gun (1879-1910). On October 26, 1905, when Korea had been invaded and colonized by Japan, Ahn Chung Gun sneaked into the Halbin railroad station, which was then under heavy security, and assassinated Hirobumi Ito, who had stopped there on his way to China. This man was the first Japanese governor-general of Korea, and played a leading role in the Korea-Japan merger. For this patriotic act, Chung Gun was eventually arrested. The 32 movements represent Mr. Ahn's age when he was executed at Lui-Shung prison in 1910. After this date, the Japanese engaged in a campaign of cultural genocide, including forbidding the speaking of Korean in public. Classes were taught in Japanese. The university established by the Japanese had only 10% Korean students. Martial arts were forbidden. Weapons were gathered and melted down, including antiques.

Toi Gye is the penname of the noted scholar Yi Hwang (1501-1570), also known as Swan Lee. In 1534 Toi Gye passed the national civil service examination, and was eventually appointed to the highest position in the civil service. He later resigned and returned to his hometown, where he became a scholar. He founded the Do San Learning Institute where he spent the rest of his life educating his young disciples and developing many intellectual theories. His interpretation of Confucianism (Joo Ja Hak), known as Toi Gye Hak, is today the subject of study in both the western and eastern worlds. The 37 movements of the pattern refer to his birthplace on the 37th parallel, and the diagram ± represents the character for the word "scholar."

Hwa Rang is named after the Hwa Rang Do, a National Institute sponsoring a youth group which originated in the Silla Dynasty during the Three Kingdoms era, which extended from 18 BC to 918 AD. Hwa Rang means "flower of youth." The group was formed to cultivate moral and patriotic ideals among Korean youth. The youth were taught to be brave, to love their country, and to be cooperative. Membership was restricted to educated young men of noble birth. A Hwa Rang candidate had to be a man of character, virtue, and countenance. The members were trained to improve their moral principles and military skills. They entertained themselves by listening to music and poetry, and traveled around the country visiting famous mountains and rivers. Their moral code, known as Sesak O Kye, resembled the Budo code of Japan and the code of chivalry of Europe. It was devised by a Buddhist monk named Wun Kwang Dae Sa. Buddhist monks played a major role in educating the Hwa Rang youth.

The tenets were as follows:
1. Loyalty to the king.
2. Faithfulness to one's friends.
3. Devotion to one's parents.
4. Bravery and absolute obedience on the battlefield, never to retreat in battle.
5. A prohibition against wanton killing of any form of life.

The Hwa Rang spirit eventually became the driving force for the unification of the three Kingdoms of Korea. This was accomplished because Silla was able to defeat both Ko Ku Ryo and Bak Jai, with the help of China, in 688. China then annexed a large portion of the former Ko Ku Ryo kingdom, which later became known as Manchuria. Eventually, the Hwa Rang Do, with its tenets, merged with Tae Kyon, the precursor of modern-day Tae Kwon Do. The Hwa Rang spirit has survived through the ages, and today it is used as the motto for youth. The 29 movements refer to the 29th Infantry Division, where Taekwondo developed into maturity, under the leadership of General Choi Hong Hi. Taekwondo became the national sport of Korea in 1955.

In the Ko Ku Ryo Dynasty, it was said that in the movements of the bong, or staff, mountains represented offense or attack, and rivers represented defense because the rivers provided speedy escape routes. Rivers also inspired deceptive defensive techniques. This was the reason people visited famous mountains and rivers to study them. (It is not known if this was a factor in the practice of the Hwa Rang youth visiting famous mountains and rivers.) Korea was the only country where Buddhist monks were permitted by their religion to carry weapons for offensive purposes. These monks were known as defenders of the nation. They used staff, cane, joint-locking, and pressure point techniques to bring attackers into submission because wanton taking of lives is prohibited.

Chung Mu (1545-1598) was the given name of the great Admiral Yi Sun-Sin of the Yi Dynasty (1392 to 1910), also known as Admiral Soong Shin Lee of the Lee Dynasty. He was in charge of naval operations and was reputed to have invented the first armoured battleship (Kobukson "turtle boat") in 1592 AD, which is said to be the precursor of the present day submarine. He anticipated a Japanese invasion, and in preparation had his armed forces trained for war. In 1592 when the Im Jin Uae Ran conflict broke out, Admiral Yi led the Kobukson against the Japanese invaders. His naval forces reigned supreme over the sea during the 7-year conflict. For this reason, he almost single-handedly protected his country. However, Admiral Yi was imprisoned and almost sentenced to death due to the plotting of his rival Won Keun, the Naval Commander in Kyong San District. Won Keun was killed during the battle, and the King reluctantly pardoned Admiral Yi and assigned him to the battlefield as a scholar because of the urgent need for his expertise. He wrote a book entitled "The Diary During the Conflict." On November 8, 1598, Admiral Yi was shot to death during a sea battle against the Japanese Navy. He was 54. Admiral Yi showed true allegiance to his country, and had a noble character and excellent leadership ability. This pattern ends with a left hand attack to symbolize his regrettable death having no chance to show his unrestrained potentiality or his complete loyalty to the King. 30 movements.

Kwang Gae honors the famous Kwang Gae T'o Wang (375-418), the 19th King of the Ko-Ku-Ryo Dynasty, who regained all the lost territories including the greater part of Manchuria. He was known as a great conqueror. He was very bold and ambitious when he was young. When he succeeded to the throne, he undertood the great task of expanding the land holdings of the Dynasty. According to the record embedded in his great tombstone, he attacked and conquered 64 castles and 1400 villages. At the time of his conquest of Manchuria, it was dominated by the Chinese Hwo Yun. Kwang Gae's expansionist philosophy was inherited by his son, Jang Soo Wang, the 20th king of the Dynasty. Jang Soo Wang strengthened the army, and invaded nearby nations. He further expanded the land of the Ko-Ku-Ryo Dynasty, and made it into a great Empire. The diagram ± represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to his reign for 39 years and to the first two figures of 391 AD, the year he came to the throne.


Master Hee Il Cho, THE COMPLETE TAE KWON DO HYUNG, West Los Angeles, CA: 1984, 1989.

In Hyuk Suh, Jane Hallander, THE FIGHTING WEAPONS OF KOREAN MARTIAL ARTS, Burbank, CA: Unique Publications, 1988.

Jhoon Rhee, CHON-JI OF TAE KWON DO HYUNG, Burbank, CA, Ohara Publications: 1970.

Jhoon Rhee, WON-HYO and YUL-KOK OF TAE KWON DO HYUNG, Burbank, CA, Ohara Publications: 1971.

Jhoon Rhee, CHUNG-GUN and TOI-GYE OF TAE KWON DO HYUNG, Burbank, CA, Ohara Publications: 1971.

Jhoon Rhee, HWA-RANG and CHUNG-MU OF TAE KWON DO HYUNG, Burbank, CA, Ohara Publications: 1971.


History of Korea

Martial Arts index

Background graciously provided by: