Tang Soo Do

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Tangsoodo or Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art.

Tang Soo Do (Hangul: ???) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters ???. Tang Soo Do literally means “The Way of The Tang Hand” (derived from a term for Chinese, in term derived from the Chinese Tang Dynasty) and has roots in various styles of martial arts including those found in Korea, China, and Okinawa. These roots started in Korean Tae Kyon, Chinese Shaolin and Japanese Shotokan.[1] According to World Tang Soo Do Association, it sounded like a Chinese martial art, because the first word “Tang” could be interpreted as representing the Chinese Tang Dynasty (617-907 AD).[2]

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.

The late Hwang Kee officially changed the name of the art of the Moo Duk Kwan style to Soo Bahk Do as early as 1957, shortly after his discovery of Korea’s indigenous open hand fighting style of Subak. This change was officially registered, and the Moo Duk Kwan refiled with the Korean Ministry of Education on June 30, 1960. The organization was officially reincorporated as the “Korean Soo Bahk Do Association, Moo Duk Kwan.”

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.

The origin of Tang Soo Do can not be definitively traced to any single person. Lee Won Kuk is credited as being one of the first instructors of Tang Soo Do in Korea. Lee Won Kuk had an established dojang in Korea during the Japanese occupation of Korea. This school was called the Chung Do Kwan. He claimed to have studied Taekkyon on the street An Gup Dong in Seoul, Korea and Kung Fu in Henan and Shanghai, China. Kee claims he learned the philosophy of Okinawan Karate from Gichin Funakoshi’s books.

The history of the Moo Duk Kwan (from which the majority of all modern Tang Soo Do stylists trace their lineage) can be traced to a single founder: Hwang Kee.[3] Hwang Kee claimed to have learnt Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria. He also was influenced by the indigenous Korean arts of Taekkyon (??) and Subak. Kee claims he learned the philosophy of Okinawan Karate from Gichin Funakoshi’s books. Hwang Kee also was highly influenced by a 1790 Korean book about martial arts called the Muye Dobo Tongji (?????? / ??????).[4]

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: Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo.

Goguryeo was founded in 37 BC in northern Korea. The Silla Dynasty was founded in 57 BC in the southeast peninsula. The third kingdom, Baekje (sometimes written “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 Taek kyon 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” (???) 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 Soo Do, still reflect this origination.

The united Silla Kingdom was ultimately overthrown by a warlord, Wang Kun, in 918 AD. The new kingdom, Goryeo(koryo eg. korea), lasted for 475 years (918 AD – 1392 AD). During the Wang Dynasty, members of the “Hwa Rang Dan” became instead “Gook Sun Dul” or “Poong Wal Dul”, where “Dul” is simply the Korean plural form. The title “Gook Sun” or “Poong Wal” was equivalent to modern army general; each could command 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: ??, Hanja: ??) system. In 1392, the Yi Dynasty succeeded the Goryeo kingdom. The Yi Dynasty remained intact for 500 years. During the 1000 year period of the Goryeo Kingdom and the Yi Dynasty, what we today know as Taek kyon was increasingly popular with the military. More importantly however, the art also became very popular with the general public. During this period, Taek kyon 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 Taek kyon 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 to only one student throughout the teacher’s life. During the Japanese occupation, students were forced into training in secret. Hwang Kee left Korea at this time and ventured into China. There he came into contact with Tai Chi-like art. Hwang Kee eventually incorporated the flowing and graceful motions of the Chinese system with the linear, strong movements of Soo Bahk and Karate Do and the diverse kicking of Taekkyon. This blend resulted into what is currently known as Soo Bahk Do (see below).

During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), some Koreans were exposed to Okinawan versions of Chinese martial arts such as Karate. As the Japanese moved deeper into the continent, Karate was adopted and practiced from the philosophical perspective that reflected the traditional Korean martial arts such as Taekkyon, Soo Bahk, as well as traditional Chinese martial arts studied by Koreans in Manchuria and China.