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Tang Soo Do & Moo Duk Kwan History

Occording to oral tradition, the history of Tang Soo Do goes back over 2,000 years, and is based upon techniques adopted from Chinese warriors of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 906 A.D.).  These techniques were then blended with native Korean fighting arts, such as Soo Bahk Ki and Tae Kyon, as well as military skills known as Kwon Bup.  However, modern Tang Soo Do bears very little if any resemblance to these ancient fighting systems.

Tang Soo Do is the generic term meaning "China Hand Way" and at one time was used to refer to a broad group of martial arts skills which were taught by various kwans (martial arts schools) in Korea.  These skills were based upon techniques which grew out of the T'ang Dynasty in China, and were further influenced by Okinawan and Japanese fighting systems.  In its modern connotation however, the term Tang Soo Do has come to refer to the style (ryu) of one particular martial arts school in Korea, known as the Moo Duk Kwan (House of Martial Virtue).

The ancient history of Tang Soo Do dates back to the period of the "Three Kingdoms" (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.).  During this time, the Korean peninsula and part of what is now China was divided into three rival kingdoms.  These were: Koguryo (37 B.C. - 668 A.D.), Paekche (18 B.C. - 660 A.D.), and Silla (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.).  As they grew and developed, each of these nations had periods of war and peace with each other and their other neighbors in Asia.  During the 7th Century, Silla began to grow in power, and had established a powerful fighting force known as the Hwa Rang Dan (Flowering Youth), a group of young, aristocratic warriors.

Silla formed an alliance with T'ang China and attacked and conquered Paekche and Koguryo, uniting the Korean peninsula for the first time in 668 A.D. under the Silla Dynasty (668 - 935 A.D.).  The Hwa Rang warriors of the Silla Dynasty absorbed many of the indigenous fighting systems of andcient Korea.  These were sometimes referred to as Tang Soo Ki (Tang Hand Techniques).   During this time, a monk named Won Kwa created a set of ethical precepts based upon Confucian principles, which were used for instruction by the Hwa Rang Dan.  These principles were codified and passed down through the generations as a kind of "warriors code", and are represented today in the Tang Soo Do Sae Sok Oh Kyae (Five Codes of Tang Soo Do).

In 935 A.D., Silla surrendered to the Koryo nation, forming the Koryo Dynasty (935 - 1392 A.D.).  During this time period in China, the T'ang fell to the Sung rule in 906 A.D.  The Sung Dynasty had a tremendous influence over the cultural and martial development in Koryo.  The Koreans began to refer to their indigenous fighting systems as Soo Bahk Ki (Hand Striking Techniques), while the Chinese arts were referred to as Kwon Bup (Fist Method).  Koryo stood until 1392 when it was overthrown by General Yi Song Key, and the last dynasty of Korea, known as the Chosun or Yi Dynasty (1392 - 1910) was formed.

It was during the Chosun Dynasty that Lee Duk Moo compiled the first known comprehensive text of Korean martial arts techniques, known as the Moo Ye Dobo Tong Ji (Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts).  During the later part of the Yi Dynasty, a fighting style known as Tae Kyon was developed, which emphasized many of the kicking techniques common in modern Korean martial arts.

In 1910, Japan invaded the Korean peninsula as part of its imperial expansion into Asia.  From 1910 - 1945, Korea was occupied by the Japanese, which exerted a tremendous amount of control over virtually all aspects of Korean culture.  During the occupation, the practice of indigenous Korean martial arts was banned.  The only martial arts that the Koreans were allowed to practice were Japanese martial arts.  Many Koreans traveled to Japan where they studied Japanese Karate, and brought it back to Korea.  Karate, meaning "Empty Hand", is a generic term used to describe the many systems of empty hand fighting that developed in Okinawa based upon fighting techniques of the T'ang Dynasty in China.  Karate was later brought to Japan by Funakoshi Gichen, founder of Shotokan.  These fighting arts were originally known to the Okinawans as "To-te" (China Hand), or simply "Te".

It was into this environment of strict Japanese control that the founder of the Moo Duk Kwan, Hwang Kee was born, on November 9, 1914.  He was born Hwanh Tae Nam, son of Yi Dynasty scholar Hwang Yang Hwan.  Hwang's first exposure to the martial arts occured at the age of seven, when he wittnessed a tavern keeper defending himself against several young hoodlums.  He overheard several bystanders describing the techniques that the man used as being Tae Kyon.  Hwang Kee was so impressed by the tavern keeper's performance, that he sought him out and asked him to become his teacher.  Hwang was turned away however, because he was too young.  Hwang was not easily discouraged though and found a vantage point upon a hilltop from where he could peer into the man's inner courtyard and observe his practice.  There, Hwang imitated the man's various hand and foot movements.  It is unclear how long Hwang actually maintained this practice regimen, or how much he may have learned.  This would be Hwang's only martial arts training until he was in his early 20's.

Hwang Kee had a strong desire to have a formal teacher, and to study traditional martial arts.  However, this was very difficult due to the restrictions put in place during the Japanese occupation.  In 1935, after graduating from high school, Hwang found employment with the railroad and traveled to Manchuria.  In May of 1936, while working at the Chao Yang Ch'uan Railway Station in Manchuria, Hwang had a chance encounter with a Chinese martial arts master whom he referred to as Yang Kuk Jin.  It is thought that this may have been Yang Zhen-Gou (Yang Jeng-Kou) of the famous Yang family of Tai Chi Ch'uan.  Under Yang's guidance, Hwang Kee studied DhamDoi Sip E Ro (12 Step Springing Legs) and Tae Geuk Kwon (Grand Supreme Fist).  Hwang remained in Manchuria until 1937, when he returned to Seoul, Korea.  Hwang Kee returned to China only once in 1940 to again train with Master Yang for a period of about three months.  He never saw or spoke with Master Yang again after that.

Hwang Kee had his first exposure to the Japanese style Karate Do (Tang Soo Do) forms in 1939, when he discovered Japanese texts on Okinawan Karate while studying in the library of the Cho Sun Railway Bureau.  Hwang Kee eventually incorporated the forms that he had studied from these textbooks into his particular version of Tang Soo Do and refined them through his later encounters with other Koreans who had studied Karate in Japan.

On November 9, 1945, Hwang Kee opened the first Moo Duk Kwan Dojang (Way Place) in a space located at the Ministry of Transportation in Yong San Gu (Dragon Mountain District).  He called his art Hwa Soo Do (Flowering Hand Way), a clear reference to the Hwa Rang warriors of ancient Korea.  His teaching was based primarily upon the Chinese systems that he had learned from Master Yang.  Hwang's initial attempt to open a school were largely unsuccessful, as his first two groups of students all eventually quit.  The Koreans, having lived under Japanese rule for 35 years, were unfamiliar with non-Japanese martial arts, and therefore, Hwang had a difficult time attracting and retaining students.

In 1946, Hwang Kee had a chance meeting with two Koreans who had both earned dan (black belt) ranking while studying in Japan, and who were both operating schools teaching versions of Japanese Karate.  These were Chun Sang Sup of the Yeon Moo Kwan and Lee Won Kuk of the Chung Do Kwan.  Impressed by the success of these two gentlemen, Hwang Kee began to rethink his approach.

In 1947, Hwang Kee made a final attempt to open the Moo Duk Kwan, this time teaching a blend of Chinese and Japanese styles and using more familiar Japanese/Okinawan style forms.  In addition, Hwang Kee now begain to refer to his art as Tang Soo Do (China Hand Way), a term coined by Lee Won Kuk.  This name was more familiar to the Korean people, as it was simply a Korean pronunciation of the characters for the term "To-te".  With these changes, the Moo Duk Kwan began to experience tremendous success.

In 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the Moo Ye Dobo Tong Ji (Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts) at the National Library in Seoul, Korea.  Based upon references within the text, Hwang Kee began to use the descriptor Soo Bahk Do (Hand Fighting Way) along with Tang Soo Do to refer to his art.  The two names were used interchangeably intil 1995 when Hwang Kee officially dropped the Tang Soo Do label.

When Korea was liberated from the Japanese at the end of World War II in 1945, several Korean martial arts schools, known as "kwans" began to emerge.  Initially, there were five kwans.  These were: (1) Chung Do Kwan, founded by Lee Won Kuk, (2) Moo Duk Kwan, founded by Hwang Kee, (3) Yeon Moo Kwan (later changed to Ji Do Kwan), founded by Chun Sang Sup, (4) Chang Moo Kwan, founded by Yun Byong In, and (5) Song Moo Kwan, founded by No Byong Jik.  Bitter rivalries and political infighting eventually developed among several of the various kwans in the years of internal stability following the Korean War (1950 - 1953).  On April 11, 1955, a conference of several of the kwan leaders was held in an effort to bring all of the kwans together under one umbrella organization.  The kwans eventually decided to refer to their arts generically and collectively as Tae Kwon Do (Fist Foot Way), a name suggested by General Choi Hong Hi, a very influential political and military leader at the time.  On September 14, 1961, the member kwans were officially consolidated with the backing from the Korean government as the Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA), and they established their headquarters at the Kuki Won (National Technique Organization) in Seoul, Korea.

Hwang Kee did not agree with the decision to consolidate and having withdrawn from the negotiations early on, remained autonomous, countinuing to call his art Tang Soo Do.  Some time later, the Ji Do Kwan also withdrew from the Tae Kwon Do movement and joined Hwang Kee's Moo Duk Kwan under the banner of Dae Han Soo Bahk Do Hoi (Greater Korean Hand Strike Way Association).  A small faction of the Moo Duk Kwon, headed by Hong Chong Su, broke away from Hwang Kee's school to form a branch of the Moo Duk Kwan within the KTA.  This branch, which would come to be known as the Tae Kwon Do Moo Duk Kwan, was never recognized or approved by the organizing school or its founder.  Because the term Tae Kwan Do was being used by all of the other kwans, the only school that continued to use the Tang Soo Do name was the original Moo Duk Kwan and a few Ji Do Kwan schools.  Thus, the term Tang Soo Do became almost synonymous with the particular lineage and style of the Moo Duk Kwan school.

Rivalries developed between Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do.  Factions within the Tae Kwon Do movement supported by the government, attempted to block the Soo Bahk Do Hoi from operating.  In 1975, this dispute went before the Korean Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Hwang Kee and his Moo Duk Kwan.

The Moo Duk Kwan continued to grow and expand, and eventually began to establish schools within the United States through U.S. Servicemen who had trained at one of the several Moo Duk Kwan dojangs in Korea.  Shin Jae Chul was sent to Springfield, N.J. to officially establish a branch of the Moo Duk Kwan in the United States known as the U.S. Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation.  Later, in 1978, Hwang Kee sent his son, Hwang Hyun Chul to the U.S. to take over as the head of the Federation.  Shortly thereafter, in the early 1980's, Shin broke away from the Moo Duk Kwan and formed his own organization, which is now known as the World Tang Soo Do Association.  Following Shin's departure, numerous other Korean and American run schools began to leave the parent organization, sometimes in groups, sometimes individually.  Many other organizations were established and Tang Soo Do was no longer under a single banner.

In 1995, the Moo Duk Kwan began to refer to the art it teaches as Soo Bahk Do, instead of Tang Soo Do, and officially changed its name to the U.S. SooBahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation.  In addition to the change in name came a change in technique, as new forms more indicative of the Chinese influence began to be practiced.  These forms are the Chil Sung (Seven Star), and Yuk Ro (Six Path) series, and Hwa Sun Hyung (Pure Flower Form).  These changes only increased the trend of senior yudanja (dan members) to break their ties with the Moo Duk Kwan and go their own way.

Failing in health, the founder of the Moo Duk Kwan, Dojo Nim Hwang Kee finally succumbed peacefully on July 14, 2002, leaving his son Hwang Hyun Chul as heir to the Moo Duk Kwan.   His impact on the martial arts world will not soon be forgotten and his legacy continues to live on through the thousands of Tang Soo Do and Soo Bahk Do practitioners worldwide.

Ladd Family Martial Arts - Tang Soo Do At Its Best 7340 Creedmoor Rd, Raleigh NC 27612 / (919) 606-3081
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