The Korean Karate Academy of Alaska is a traditional martial arts club teaching Tang Soo Do in Juneau, Alaska.

History of Tang Soo Do

The origin of Tang Soo Do coincides in time and place with the origin of mankind. The nature of man is filled with conflict, and the struggle between good and evil. Our higher and lower selves are constantly embattled for the domination of individuals and of nations. No man or nation can claim to have invented the martial arts. They are an integral part of what we are and thus the story of the martial arts cannot be separated from the history of man.

The Chinese character for military is made up of two parts. The first part is translated as sword or spear which means war. The second part of the character means prevention or not willing. So the word for military means to “not want war”. In a more personal sense the primary mission for a martial artist is to not want to fight. This is the true spirit of Tang Soo Do.

When it comes to actual combat this ancient adage is wrought with wisdom. “The winner of a combat will have other tests to face, the loser has faced his test.”

While researching the history of martial arts, we find variations recorded in Greece, India, and China. In ancient Greece, Panjuracion, was popular. It prohibited only biting and putting out the opponent’s eyes in their games. This has developed into the wrestling and boxing of the present. There is some evidence of martial training in India about 2000 years ago. Practitioners put milk on a rock and practiced conditioning their hands, similar to modern “iron palm”. In China, progress has continued from the beginning of the Age of Systematic Movement, down through the present.

In old China, there were originally two major schools of martial arts; the northern school or Chang Sam Bong School, and the southern school or Soo Rim Temple School. At that time, the North and South were divided by the Yangtze River. The northern school consisted mainly of larger and stronger people who studied passive, defensive motion with strong blocks and counters. A good example of this is the Nai-Ahn-Chi forms. The people of the southern school, on the other hand, being small in structure and not as strong, developed light, speedy, aggressive motions. A good example of this is the form Bassai. As time progressed into the Tang Dynasty about 1,500 years ago, the two major schools of China merged together to form a more perfect and well-rounded martial art. Thus, we see the beginning of Tang Soo Do as we know it today.

In Korea, the art was developed from the Chang Sam Bong School through Man-Chu, just north of Korea. We are able to find traces to exist at the time of the Three Kingdoms of China (AD 220-264), but have no single book concerning this.

Tang Soo Do is both a hard and soft style, deriving its hardness in part from Soo Bahk and its soft-flowing movements from the northern Chinese systems. Soo Bahk Do means, “hand-striking way”. Soo Bahk was first developed during the Silla Dynasty (AD 618-935), but enjoyed its flowering during the Koryo Dynasty (AD 935-1392). both of these dynastic references apply to Korean rule.

About 800 years ago we do find written references to Tang Soo Do in the historical books known as the 18 volumes of Ko Ryo, and the 14 volumes of Yul Chun. “There was a man named Ui Moon Yi, who was a favorite of Ui Jong, the 16th King of Kourye. He enjoyed the king’s favor because he excelled at Soo Bahk Ki.” He was Dai Jung, which means “commander of the military”. Later in the period, Ui Moon’s martial skills were credited with defeating a rebel army that attacked the kingdom during the time of the 19th king, Myong Jong. Judging from this, it is historically true that martial arts centered as military arts from ancient times.

500 years ago King Sang Wang had a big party in which the King and his family watched soldiers perform in a Tang Soo Do demonstration. This is according to the 32nd volume of the Korean history book “Tae Jong Sil Rok”.

Thus, we can show, historically, that Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) is Korea’s native traditional martial art. We can see that Soo Bahk Do (attack with hand technique) developed continually after this.

Toward the end of the Yi Dynasty in Korea (AD 1392-1907), a style of fighting developed called Tae Kyun, which employed only foot techniques. Tae Kyun was a form of street fighting and it developed a bad reputation as a fighting skill for criminal use. Tae Kyun developed from ancient Tang Soo Do, and modern Tang Soo Do has benefited by incorporating the superb foot techniques into its style. The culture of Tae Kyun is said to remain only through a legend called “The Evening Story” which is still handed down by word of mouth.

Translated literally, Tang Soo Do means, “China Hand Way”. ‘Tang’ taken form the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-937) when the art flourished, ‘Soo’ meaning “hand” and ‘Do’ translates as “the way” or “path one takes”. It is more than just that; it is the scientific use of the body in methods of self-defense, a body that gained the ultimate use of its facilities through intensive physical and mental training.

The man who developed Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, Grand Master Hwang Kee, is a martial arts prodigy, having mastered Tae Kyun and Soo Bahk Do. In 1936 at the age of 22, he traveled to northern China and studied under Master Yang Kuk Jin for three years. He encountered a Chinese variation of martial artistry called the Tang Method and developed what was to be known as Tang Soo Do. Tang Soo Do is a composite style, being 60 percent Soo Bahk Do, 30 percent northern Chinese, and 10 percent southern Chinese.

Originally, in the study of Tang Soo Do, there were no Geicho forms. Grand Master Hwang Kee developed these three forms because through experience, he found the Pyung Ahn forms too difficult for the beginner. Also, in the early study of Tang Soo Do, Pyung Ahnn forms One through Five were taught as one form. This one form was broken up into five different parts to simplify the study of the art. One must keep in mind that when our Grand Master studied the art of Tang Soo Do, there was no classroom as we know it today. Grand Master Hwang Kee lived with his instructor in the mountains; trained all day - every day - and was his only student. Pyung Ahn #1 and #2 were originally reversed, but the master found #1 to be the easier of the two forms, so they began to teach this form first.

Korea was forced to stop the practice of Tang Soo Do during the Japanese occupation, but began again with the Korean liberation from Japan on August 15, 1945.At this time, Mr. Hwang Kee established Tang Soo Do of Moo Duk Kwan as a continuation of Korea’s native traditional martial arts.

One of the most obvious things that separates Tang Soo Do from other styles is the fact that the instructors wear midnight blue belts instead of black. Black is a perfect color, nothing more can be added to it. It is also often associated with death. These are not ideals that Tang Soo Do finds attractive in instructors. As with the color blue, our instructors can always have something new added to their ideas and abilities. Perfection is sought but never acquired.

Tang Soo Do is not a sport. Its purpose is to develop every aspect of the self in order to create a mature personality who totally integrates the intellect, body, emotions, and spirit. This total integration helps to create a person who is free from inner conflict and who can deal with the outside world.

Now, Tang Soo Do has spread and developed as a special skill throughout the world, and will continue to grow in the future.

For information on Tang Soo Do and the Martial Arts, the following books are a good place to start: