Tang Soo Do

From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Tangsoodo or Tang Soo Do is a traditional Korean martial art.


Tang Soo Do (Hangul: 당수도) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters 唐手道. In Japanese, these characters mean "karate-do", but in contemporary Japanese karate-do is written with different characters (空手道). The Japanese pronunciation of both sets of characters is the same, but the newer version means "Way of the Empty Hand" rather than "Way of the T'ang (China) Hand", although it could also be interpreted as "Way of the China Hand".

Prior to the unification of the Kwans under the Korea Taekwondo Association, most of the major Kwans called their style Tang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do, or Kwon Bup. The first recorded use of the term "Tang Soo Do" in contemporary history was by Chung Do Kwan founder, Won Kuk Lee. The Chung Do Kwan, along with the rest of the Kwans, stopped using the name 'Tang Soo Do' and 'Kong Soo Do' when they unified under the name Taekwondo (and temporarily Tae Soo Do). The Moo Duk Kwan, being loyal to Hwang Kee, pulled out of the Kwan unification and remained independent of this unification movement, continuing to use the name 'Tang Soo Do'. Some Moo Duk Kwan members followed Hwang's senior student, Chong Soo Hong, to become members of a unified Taekwondo. Their group still exists today and is known as Taekwondo Moo Duk Kwan (Moo Duk Hae) with an office in Seoul, Korea.

In 1995 the late Hwang Kee officially changed the name of the Moo Duk Kwan style to Soo Bahk Do.

Most schools of Tang Soo Do use the transcription "Tang Soo Do". However, scientific texts apply the official transcription 'tangsudo', written as one word. Some authors write "Tang Soo Do" and give "tangsudo" or "dangsudo" in the parenthesis.


Tang Soo Do or Kong Soo Do was brought from Japan and thus could trace their founding back to Japan/Okinawa, depending on the Kwan. The most popular Kwan currently, the Moo Duk Kwan style of Tang Soo Do (from which the majority of all modern Tang Soo Do stylists trace their lineage) can be traced to a single founder: Grandmaster Hwang Kee. Hwang Kee learned Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria. He also was influenced by Japanese Karate, and the indigenous Korean arts of Taekkyon (택견) and Subak. Hwang Kee also was highly influenced by a 1790 Korean book about martial arts called the Muye Dobo Tongji (武藝圖譜通志 / 무예도보통지).

Early history

Much like Tae Kwon Do, historians have described ancient connections to Korean history to legitimize the art. According to texts published by Hwang Kee, the ancestral art of Korean Soo Bahk Do can be traced back to the period when Korea was divided into three kingdoms:hi

Goguryeo was founded in 37 BC in northern Korea. The Silla Dynasty was founded in 57 BC in the southeast peninsula. The third kingdom, Paekche was founded in 18 BC.

Finally, after a long series of wars, the Silla Dynasty united the three kingdoms in 668 AD. During this period, the primitive martial arts (including an art known as Soo Bakh) were very popular as a method of self-defense in warfare. This is evident in the many mural paintings, ruins, and remains, which depict Tang Soo Do in those days. Among the three kingdoms, the Silla Dynasty was most famous for its development of martial arts. A corps composed of a group of young aristocrats who were called "Hwa Rang Dan" (화랑단) was the major force behind the development of the art. These warriors were instrumental in unifying the Korean peninsula under the new Silla Dynasty (668 AD - 935 AD). Many of the early leaders of that dynasty were originally members of the Hwa Rang Dan. Most Korean martial arts trace their spiritual and technical heritage to this group. In fact, the names of some martial arts such as Hwa Rang Do or Hwa Soo Do, still reflect this origination.

The united Silla Kingdom was ultimately overthrown by a warlord, Wang Kun, in 918 AD. The new kingdom, "Koryo", lasted for 475 years (918 AD - 1392 AD). During the Wang Dynasty, the "Hwa Rang Dan" became "Gook Sun Dul" or "Poong Wal Dul." "Gook Sun" or "Poong Wal" is considered as modern army general, each could have several hundreds to several thousands private armies to protect the country and the region. This system was later adapted by the Japanese and became the Samurai(Hangul: 랑인, Hanja: 郞人) system. In 1392, the Yi Dynasty succeeded the Koryo kingdom. The Yi Dynasty remained intact for 500 years. During the 1000 year period of the Koryo Kingdom and the Yi Dynasty, what we today know as Tang Soo Do was increasingly popular with the military. More importantly however, the art also became very popular with the general public. During this period, Tang Soo Do was referred to as Kwon Bop, Tae Kyun, Soo Bahk, Tang Soo and other names. The first complete martial arts book was written at this time, the "Mooyae Dobo Tongji". It was written in 1790 and its illustrations show that Tang Soo Do (formally called "Soo Bahk Ki") had developed into a very sophisticated art of combat. Although it was popular among the public, it was eventually banned by the Yi Dynasty due to fear of rebels. Therefore, the Korean traditional martial arts were taught as one teacher has only one student throughout the teacher's life. Later, this force the Korean martial arts practitioners to retake the Japanese martial arts.

Modern Changes

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), many Koreans were exposed to Japanese versions of Chinese martial arts such as Karate. As the Japanese moved deeper into the continent, Karate was adopted and mixed with more traditional Korean martial arts such as Taekyon, as well as traditional Chinese martial arts studied by Koreans in Manchuria and China.

Around the time of the liberation of Korea in 1945, five martial arts schools were formed by men who were mostly trained in Japanese Karate. They taught an art they called Kong Soo Do or Tang Soo Do, and their schools were called the Kwans. The Kwans and their founders were the Chung Do Kwan (LEE, Won Kuk), Jidokwan (CHUN, Sang Sup), Chang Moo Kwan (YOON, Byung In), Moo Duk Kwan (Hwang Ki), and Song Moo Kwan (ROH, Byung Jick).

Around 1953, shortly after the Korean War, four more annex Kwans formed. These 2nd generation Kwans and their principle founders were; Oh Do Kwan (CHOI, Hong Hi & NAM, Tae Hi), Han Moo Kwan (LEE, Kyo Yoon), Kang Duk Kwan (PARK, Chul Hee & Hong Jong Pyo) and Jung Do Kwan (LEE, Young Woo).

In 1955, these arts, at that time called various names by the different schools, were ordered to unify by South Korea's President Syngman Rhee. A governmental body selected a naming committee's submission of "Taekwondo" as the name. Both Sun Duk Song and Choi Hong Hi both claim to have submitted the name. The name sounds like the ancient Korean martial arts of Taekkyon. However, Taekwondo has no direct relation to Taekkyon in its techniques.

In 1959, the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) was formed in an attempt to unify the dozens of the kwans as one standardized system of Taekwondo. The first international tour of Taekwondo, by General CHOI, Hong Hi, and NAM, Tae Hi founder of the Oh Do Kwan (founded, 1953-4), and 19 black belts, was held in 1959. In 1960, Jhoon Rhee was teaching what he called Korean Karate (or Tang Soo Do) in Texas, USA. After receiving the ROK Army Field Manual, which contained martial arts training curriculum under the new name of Taekwondo, from General Choi Hong Hi, Rhee began using the name Taekwondo.

Despite this unification effort, the Kwans continued to teach their individual styles. The Korean government ordered a single organization be created and, on September 16, 1961, the Kwans agreed to unify under the name Korea Tae Soo Do Association. The name was changed back to the 'Korean Taekwondo Association' when Choi became its president in August 1965).

Current state

Tang Soo Do continues under numerous organizations separate from the Moo Duk Kwan, the largest offshoot being the World Tang Soo Do Association, which currently has more than 500 sanctioned studios and more than 100,000 students worldwide. In spring of 1984, the International Tang Soo Do Federation was founded by Chun Sik Kim, whose main school is located near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, USA.

Another significant Tang Soo Do organization is the American Tang Soo Do Association, based in Malden, Massachusetts, which was founded by Grandmaster Richard Byrne. He was introduced to Tang Soo Do while stationed at the Osan Air Force Base in Korea, and went on to continue studying the art from its Korean masters, including Grandmaster C.S. Kim. As of 2001, American Tang Soo Do Association has promoted over 600 black belt ranked students, and currently teaches thousands of gup-level students. They also hold an annual tournament in March open to anyone practicing Tang Soo Do, and a summer Tang Soo Do training camp. The Association also supports Grandmaster Benedetto Stumf's German Tang Soo Do Federation based in Schwertz, Germany as well as a number of other associations around the world, and various studios in Korea.

Today, there are more 'Tang Soo Do' schools in the United States than anywhere else when you factor in the various eclectic branches, some of which are three generations removed from their connection to the Moo Duk Kwan.

Most recently the Moo Duk Kwan has begun a campaign in order to reunite the Tang Soo Do community.

Tang Soo Do continues to evolve and grow. Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo still exists in Korea as a friendship club and holds its annual celebration every year in Seoul, Korea, where both Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo Moo Duk Kwan members gather from all over the world.

Grandmaster Kang Uk Lee of the United Kingdom Tang Soo Do Federation is currently the highest ranking Tang Soo Do Grandmaster in the world. Grandmaster Lee is 10th Dan and one of the founders highest ranking students, Moo Duk Kwan dan number 70.

Legal Issues with Moo Duk Kwan and Soo Bahk Do

The Moo Duk Kwan as a school no longer teaches Tang Soo Do. Legitimate members of the Moo Duk Kwan practice Soo Bahk Do an offshoot or evolution from Tang Soo Do. Recently, H.C. Hwang as head of the Moo Duk Kwan has made efforts to squelch the use of Soo Bahk Do proprietary names, materials, etc.


While many Tang Soo Do schools continue to use the belt system instituted by Jigoro Kano, many schools also replace black belt with midnight blue. It is also traditional for 4th degree black belts and up to have a red stripe through the middle of their black or midnight blue belts.


See also

External links