As is true of all countries, Korea's geography was a major factor in shaping its history. Geography also influenced the manner in which the inhabitants of the peninsula emerged as a people sharing the common feeling of being Koreans.
The name "Korea" is believed derived from the phrase "high mountains and sparkling streams." Korea's other name, "Choson," is often translated as "the land of morning calm."
The Korean Peninsula is a landmass in northeastern Asia that extends southward from the northeastern corner of the Chinese mainland. South Korea, officially known as the Republic of Korea occupies the southern portion of the peninsula. The Korean peninsula is elongated, irregular in shape, and is surrounded on three sides by large expanses of water. It is bounded on the north by North Korea, on the east by the Sea of Japan, on the southeast and south by the Korea Strait (which separates it from Japan), and on the west by the Yellow Sea (which separates it from China). The peninsula is about 320 km (200 mi.) wide, 965 km (600 mi.) in length, and has a total land area of about 99,300 sq. km (119,700 sq. mi.), including numerous off-lying islands in the south and west. The largest of the islands is Cheju with an area of about 1829 sq. km. (2200 sq. mi.).
South Korea has a predominantly rugged, mountainous terrain that looks like "a sea in a heavy gale." The principal mountain range is the Taebaek-San Maek, which extends in a generally north-south direction parallel to the eastern coast. The South Korea's highest peak, located on the island of Cheju, is Halla-san (1950 m. or 2340 ft.). Plains constitute less than one-fifth the total area and are concentrated in the west along the coast; the coastal plains in the east and south are very narrow. Apart from the eastern coast, South Korea has a highly indented coastline characterized by high tidal ranges. The two longest rivers, the Naktong and Han, rise in the Taebaek-San Maek Mountains, the former flowing south to the Korea Strait, the latter northwest to the Yellow Sea. Other major rivers include the Kum, Yongsan, and Tongjin. Due to Korea's geographic features, the majority of its population is concentrated along inland valleys and coastal plains, which open onto its Western Coast. The capital and largest city of South Korea is Seoul.
Only about twenty percent of the peninsula is suitable for cultivation and mass settlement. Mixed deciduous and coniferous forests cover about two-thirds of the land, but they have been thinned for use as fuel. Principal tree species include pine, maple, elm, poplar, fir, and aspen. Bamboo, laurel, and evergreen oak trees are found in the mild southern coastal areas. Large mammals such as tigers, leopards, bears, and lynx were once common throughout the Korean Peninsula, but they have virtually disappeared due to deforestation and poaching.
Although Japan is not far from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, in ancient times, events on the peninsula were affected far more by the civilizations and political developments on the contiguous Asian continent than by those in Japan. Because the Yalu and Tumen rivers have long been recognized as the border between Korea and China, some assume that these rivers have always constituted Korea's northern limits. However, this was not the case in ancient times. Neither river was considered sacrosanct by the ancient tribes that dotted the plains of Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. Because the rivers freeze in the winter, large armies were able to traverse them with ease. Even when the rivers were not frozen, armies build ships to cross them.
Now, let us investigate ancient Korea, the origin of Korean martial arts, and the development of taekwondo.