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Hwa Rang Do is a Korean martial art that was created by Joo Bang Lee and his brother, Joo Sang Lee. This martial art teaches and encourages fighting techniques, weapons, spiritual training, intellectual enhancement, and artistic pursuits. It has a very involved technique structure.
The name Hwa Rang Do is Korean for “The way of the Flowering Manhood”. It was named after the Hwarang, an elite youth order of the Silla kingdom during the Three-Kingdoms Period, in what is now Korea. The Hwarang were an order of youths, mostly from aristocratic families, who were educated in artistic, academic, and martial fields of study.
While the founders and practitioners of Hwa Rang Do claim that their techniques are inherited from the fighting methods used by the Hwarang, there is a great deal of controversy among modern historians regarding whether or not the Hwarang were primarily a warrior order. (For more information on this controversy, see the Hwarang article.)
According to Joo Bang Lee, in 1942, a monk named Suahm Dosa took in he and his brother, Joo Sang Lee, to be trained. (Note that “Dosa” is actually his title, and it is roughly equivalent to “hermit sage expert.”) They lived with him at the Suk Wang Sa Temple in the Ham Nam province of North Korea, before later escaping with him to Ohdae Mountain in South Korea during the communist take over. He had no formal syllabus to teach them, but rather taught whatever caught his fancy that morning.
After their training by Suahm Dosa, the two brothers spent some time learning other martial arts before they set out to create their own martial art. They generated the syllabus from scratch, based on the techniques from Suahm Dosa that they could remember, and then started to teach it to the public. At this time, Joo Sang Lee moved to the United States to spread the martial art there.
In January 1969, Suahm Dosa died. But before he did, he gave the Hwarang title of Do Joo Nim (“Owner of The Way”) to Joo Bang Lee. He gave it to the younger brother because he was the one still in Korea and, in Suahm Dosa’s eyes, the one who cared more about the art. This did not sit well with Joo Sang Lee, and led to a falling out in later years.
In 1972, Joo Bang Lee moved (taking the World Headquarters of Hwa Rang Do with him) to California. He currently claims the title of “Supreme Grand Master” of Hwa Rang Do; it is supposed that he is the 58th successive holder of the title.
The research of martial arts historians and testimony of contemporary martial artists dispute Joo Bang Lee’s assertion that Hwa Rang Do is a martial art derived from the fighting techniques of an ancient warrior order. In addition to the aforementioned dispute regarding the nature of the Hwarang order itself,  it is known that he and his brother were both educated in other martial arts, from which the techniques of Hwa Rang Do could have been derived. Likewise, their instructor, Suahm Dosa, was not a person of record or public renown and may not have existed.
Some assert that some modern Korean martial arts were influenced by the martial arts of other countries, primarily China and Japan. When Japan occupied Korea during World War II and attempted to destroy the indigenous Korean culture, martial arts techniques were passed on. Chinese styles were passed on since China took in Korean refugees during this same period. Joo Bang Lee’s detractors claim that Hwa Rang Do is an amalgamation of other martial arts Joo Bang Lee learned, namely Hapkido. Joo Bang Lee himself admitted that in 1961 his own school was advertised “hwarangdo and hapkido.” Photographs taken from demonstrations organized by his school in the late 1960s display logos commonly associated with kuk sool won and hapkido. In the 1960s Hwa Rang Do was not a well-known martial art so he advertised like a Hapkido name. Joo Bang Lee said he and his brother trained Hwarang martial skills from Su-Ahm Dosa. He also trained in Yu sool and Hapkido between 1960 and 1968. He is known as a hapkido founder as well as the Hwa Rang Do founder.
According to Kimm He-Young, Lee also studied under Kim Moo Hong, one of Choi Yong Sul’s students, who was a major innovator in the art of hapkido. Kim was also the teacher of Kim Woo Tak who founded the hapki kuk sool kwan and may also have been the teacher of Suh In-Hyuk, founder of Kuk Sool Won although this is disputed by Suh.
There is also controversy surrounding Joo Bang Lee’s former top student, Michael Echanis, who trained with Lee only briefly and was apparently promoted to high rank for commercial reasons involving his books and military connections.
Hwa Rang Do is a martial with over 4,000 techniques, as well as 108 weapons. These are taught in a progression as a student gains sashes (items to signify skill level attained), with many of the more difficult ones only taught after a black sash is achieved. Due to the extensive nature of the curriculum, typically attaining a black sash may take between 8 – 15 years. More dedicated students may possibly achieve it in less.