The history of taekwondo is a little bit muddy, as there is little in the way of official records from the time of its inception. It is believed that taekwondo originated in Korea in around 50 B.C. The term taekwondo comes from the Korean words tae (foot), kwon (fist) and do (way of), making taekwondo translate into "the way of the foot and fist."
There were three kingdoms in Korea in these ancient times; Koguryo, Silla and Baekje, and they are each responsible for developing and spreading taekwondo. The Koguryo kingdom is credited with the foundation of taekwondo, while the Silla kingdom spread it across Korea.
Tae Kyon, or Subak, was the most popular form of taekwondo during this time. It was adapted by the Silla kingdom from the Koguryo kingdom when they fought together. The Hwarang, or Sillan fighters, spread taekwondo as they traveled the country. They emphasized the Five Codes of Human Conduct, which today is known as the Eleven Commandments of taekwondo.
During the Joseon Dynasty, taekwondo began to fade. The Korean people of the time, in line with Confucianism, favored academics over the martial arts. Taekwondo was saved for the battlefield, with the military being primarily the only ones still practicing it. Some Koreans continued to practice taekwondo, but it was an underground art.
It wasn't until the 1900s that taekwondo began to make a public comeback. Japan had been occupying Korea and had taken over nearly every aspect of the Korean culture. As Japan left Korea, martial arts schools began to open. It is unclear whether these teachings represent pure tae kyon, as many Koreans had been studying other martial arts forms under Japanese ruling. As more schools opened, the variance of martial arts in Korea increased, prompting President Syngman Rhee to order they consolidate in 1955. Leaders from nine of these styles of martial arts met and agreed to consolidate them to one art: taekwondo. This became the main form of martial arts in Korea, though smaller versions of the art were performed until 1961 when they were forced to conform. Taekwondo and the subversions of taekwondo unified in 1961 as the Korea Taekwondo Association (KTA).
In 1963 taekwondo officially came to the US, and the US Taekwondo Association was formed. This would be replaced by the US Taekwondo Federation in 1974. Its popularity throughout the world is widespread, with over 70 million participants. In 2000 it became a part of the Olympic games.
What's the measure of taekwondo effectiveness? Can it keep you safe on the street? Like any martial art, it can and it cannot.