Pattern History - Kwang-Gae Tul
Introduction to Gwanggaeto the Great

King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo (374–413) was the nineteenth monarch of Goguryeo, the northernmost of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. His full posthumous name roughly means "Very Greatest King, Broad Expander of Territory, buried in Gukgangsang.", generally abbreviated to Gwanggaeto-wang (King-Broad Expander of Territory) or Hotaewang. He selected Yeongnak as his era name, so is called Yeongnak Taewang (Yeongnak the Great) occasionally. Under Gwanggaeto, Goguryeo once again became a power in East Asia, having once enjoyed such a status in the 2nd century CE. Upon Gwanggaeto's death at thirty-nine years of age in 413, Goguryeo controlled the territory between the Amur and Han Rivers (two thirds of Korea, Manchuria, parts of Russia's Primorsky Krai, and Inner Mongolia). In addition, in 399, Silla submitted to Goguryeo for protection from raids from Baekje. Gwanggaeto captured the Baekje capital in present-day Seoul and made Baekje its vassal. Many consider this loose unification under Goguryeo to have been the only true unification of the Three Kingdoms. Gwanggaeto's accomplishments are recorded on the Gwanggaeto Stele, erected in 414 at the site of his tomb in Ji'an along the present-day China–North Korea border. It is the largest engraved stele in the world.

Birth and background

At the time of Gwanggaeto's birth, Goguryeo was not as powerful as it once had been. Just prior to his birth, Geunchogo of Baekje had soundly defeated Goguryeo, slaying Gogukwon of Goguryeo. Sosurim of Goguryeo, who succeeded Gogukwon upon the latter's death in 371, kept his foreign policy as isolationist as possible so as to rebuild a state gravely weakened by the Baekje invasion of 371. Gogukyang, who succeeded Sosurim, maintained a similar policy, opting to focus on the rehabilitation and remobilization of Goguryeo forces. After defeating Goguryeo in 371, Baekje had become one of the dominant powers in East Asia, whose influence was not limited to the Korean peninsula, but extended as far as Liaoxi in China. Baekje under Geunchogo's leadership also seems to have had a close relationship with parts of Wa (Japan) and established good relations with that archipelago's natives. Thus Goguryeo, surrounded by a powerful Baekje's forces to its south and west, was inclined to avoid conflict with its peninsular neighbor while cultivating constructive relations with the Xianbei and Rouran, in order to defend itself from future invasions, and even the possible destruction of its state.

Rise to power and campaigns against Baekje

Gwanggaeto succeeded his father, King Gogukyang, upon his death in 391. Upon his coronation Gwanggaeto granted himself the title "Supreme King Yeongnak", affirming himself as equal to the rulers of China and to the King of Baekje. He then began to rebuild and retrain Goguryeo's cavalry units and naval fleet, and they were put into action the following year, 392, against Baekje. In 392, with Gwanggaeto in personal command, Goguryeo attacked Baekje with 50,000 cavalry, taking 10 walled cities along the two countries' mutual border. This offensive infuriated King Asin of Baekje and he subsequently planned a counter-offensive against Gwanggaeto, a plan he was forced to abandon when his invasion force was defeated by Goguryeo in 393. King Asin again attacked Goguryeo in 394, and was again defeated. After several heavy defeats, Baekje began to politically crumble and the leadership of Asin came under doubt. Baekje was defeated by Goguryeo again in 395, and was eventually pushed back to a front along the Han River, where Wiryeseong was, then its capital city located in the southern part of modern-day Seoul. In the following year, Gwanggaeto led his huge fleet in an assault on Wiryeseong, approaching by sea and river. Asin was expecting a ground invasion and was caught with his defenses down. Gwanggaeto's forces burnt about 58 walled fortresses under Baekje control, and defeated the forces of King Asin. Asin surrendered to Gwanggaeto, even handing over his brother as a Goguryeo captive as condition for maintaining his own rule over Baekje. Gwanggaeto had finally gained superiority over its longtime rival Baekje on the Korean peninsula.

Conquest of the North

In 395, during a campaign against Baekje, the King himself attacked and conquered Beili, a small settlement of Kitan people on the Liao River, not far from the Songhua. In 400, Later Yan, founded by the Murong clan of the Xianbei in present-day Liaoning province, attacked Goguryeo. Gwanggaeto responded swiftly, recovering most of the territory seized by the Xianbei and driving most of them from Goguryeo. Then in 402, he decided to launch an attack on Later Yan itself, determined to protect his Kingdom from further threat. In the same year Gwanggaeto defeated the Xienpei, seizing some of their border fortresses. In 404, he invaded Liaodong and took the entire Liaodong Peninsula. The Xianbei did not watch idly as Goguryeo forces took over their lands. In 405, forces of the Later Yan crossed the Liao River, and attacked Goguryeo but were defeated by Gwanggaeto. The Murong Xianbei invaded once again the following year, but yet again the Goguryeo King was able to repel them. Gwanggaeto led several more campaigns against Xianbei as well as against Kitan tribes in present-day Inner Mongolia, which he brought under his control. In 408, the king sent a peace delegate to Gao Yun, then ruler of Later Yan/Northern Yan, to broker a settlement between the two dynasties, because Gao Yun descended from the Goguryeo royal house as well. Goguryeo control over the Liaoning region remained strong until the Tang Dynasty seized the area as a part of its war against Goguryeo in the late 7th century. In 410 Gwanggaeto began his conquest of the Dongbuyeo. The Dongbuyeo was no match for the massive army of Goguryeo, and it suffered a series of defeats, finally surrendering to Goguryeo after King Gwanggaeto conquered sixty-four walled cities and more than 1,400 villages. Gwanggaeto also attacked several Mohe and Ainu tribes further north, bringing them under Goguryeo domination.

Death and legacy

King Gwanggaeto died of unknown disease in 413, at the age of thirty-nine. Although Gwanggaeto ruled for only twenty-two years and died fairly young, his conquests are said to mark the zenith of Korean history. Except for the period of 200 years beginning with his son and successor, King Jangsu, and the later kingdom of Balhae, Korea never before or since ruled such a vast territory. There is evidence that Goguryeo's maximum extent lay even further west, in present-day Mongolia, bordered by the Rouran and Göktürks. Gwanggaeto is also given credit for establishing the reign titles that were recorded for the first time in Korean history, a symbolic gesture elevating Goguryeo monarchs as equals to their Chinese counterparts. Today, King Gwanggaeto the Great is one of two rulers of Korea who were given the title 'Great' after their name (the other one being King Sejong the Great of Joseon, who created the Hangul). He is regarded by Koreans as one of the greatest heroes of their history, and is often taken as a potent symbol of Korean nationalism. The Gwanggaeto Stele, a six-meter monument erected by Jangsu of Goguryeo in 414, was rediscovered in Jilin in 1875 by a Chinese scholar. The stele was inscribed with information about his reign, but not all characters are preserved. Korean and Japanese scholars disagree as to their interpretation in regards to the Wa (Japan).

Depiction in arts and media

In 2007, Taewang Sasingi (also known as The Legend of the King's Four Gods), a fantasy historical drama, based partly on the life of Gwanggaeto the Great and partly on that of the mythological king Tangun, broadcast in Korea. Yoo Seung-ho played the child version and Bae Yong-joon the adult version of the main protagonist. This drama became a huge success in Korea due to its high-profile lead actor, Bae Yong-joon, and its amazing CGI effects that incorporated Korean legend with the history. The drama spanned the time period from the birth of Gwanggaeto the Great, to the midpoint of his reign at the end of the 4th century AD.

The further legacy of Gwanggaeto is his immortalisation as the eponymous ITF Taekwondo Tul (pattern) created by General Choi Hong-Hi along with the creative influence of his right hand-man, Nam Tae-Hi.The diagram represents the expansion and recovery of lost territory. The 39 movements refer to the first two figures of 391 A.D., the year he came to the throne.
Above: A depiction of King Kwang-Gae the Great (Gwanggaeto).
Above: Entry to the tomb of King Kwang-Gae the Great.
Above: The Stele of Gwanggaeto, Independence Hall of Korea, South Korea.
Above: General Choi Hong Hi - Founder of ITF Taekwon-Do in the ready posture for the pattern (tul) - Kwang-Gae. Parallel Stance with a Heaven hand.
Above: The life of Gwanggaeto has been made into a major on-screen television drama series in South Korea. See the opening theme above. You can find the series on Youtube with English subtitles.
Above: The stele of Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo was erected in 414 by Jangsu of Goguryeo as a memorial to his deceased father. "May the mausoleum of the Great King be secure like a mountain and firm like a peak."