This study examines the historical significance of Jang Gwon’s activities in the sport promotion carried out by Korea’s YMCA. At its birth, the Korean YMCA’s sport promotion was closely linked with the Korean nationalist movement under Japanese colonial rule, and this link was most evident around 1920, when Jang Gwon worked as a judo master. Citing the Sokol movement in Czechoslovakia, Jang Gwon took initiatives to enlighten Korean people’s consciousness and popularize sports, including judo and basketball, across the country through the Korean YMCA’s sport promotion. In particular, Jang Gwon introduced modern judo—formally known as Gangdogwan (Kodokan judo), initiated by Jigoro Kano—in Korea and took initiatives to establish the Korean Basketball Association and the Korean Basketball Referee Association. Through the Korean YMCA’s sport promotion, Jang Gwon motivated the Korean people to aspire to liberation and independence from Japanese colonial rule. Moreover, amid the prevailing social climate, in which physical activities were discouraged due to the influence of Neo-Confucianism, he provided a paradigm shift that called for “sport for all,” which enabled the modernization of sports and physical education in Korea.
Baseball was introduced to Korea in 1905 by Philip Gillette, a YMCA-affiliated American missionary. The sport spread to schools through games played against the YMCA team. However, baseball games were banned until the end of World War II due to the Baseball Control Proposal, enacted in 1932, and the war mobilization effort due to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Immediately following the end of World War II, baseball was restored in Korea along with the desire of the Korean people to establish an independent country. The US Military Government tried to propagate the idea that their governing system was based on “liberty,” unlike the empire of Japan, by hosting cultural projects such as the “Jomi Baseball Game”. From this perspective, cultural forms, such as a baseball, were inseparably linked to the political strategy of the US Military Government during the outset of the Cold War, which led to the establishment of a liberal democratic independent country.