Tang Soo Do

Tang Soo Do
Tang Soo Do
Founder Hwang Kee (Founded Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do)
Ancestor arts Shotokan Karate, Subak, Taekkyeon, Kung Fu
Descendant arts Chung Do Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo,Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan, Chun Kuk Do, Soo Bahk Do
Tang Soo Do
Hangul 당수도
Hanja 唐手道
Revised Romanization Dangsudo
McCune–Reischauer Tangsudo

Tang Soo Do (Hangul: 당수도, pronounced [taŋsudo]) is a Korean martial art promoted by Hwang Kee that has roots in various martial arts, including taekkyeon and Subak.[1]



Tang Soo Do is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters 唐手道 (Tang Shou Dao).[2] Tang Soo Do literally means "China Hand Way" (the "Tang" refers to the Tang Dynasty). Similar characters are pronounced karate-dō in Japanese. The first character, 唐 (which initially referred to China), was later changed to 空 by Gichin Funakoshi to mean "empty" rather than "China" (空手道, or Kong Shou Dao; the Korean pronunciation of these characters is "Kong Soo Do"). Outside of the Far East, the term "Tang Soo Do" has primarily become synonymous with the Korean martial art promoted by grandmaster Hwang Kee.


According to books published by General Choi Hung Hi in 1965, and Hwang Kee in 1978, Tang Soo Do is one of a number of generic Korean terms for fighting with bare hands and feet. As such, Tang Soo Do cannot be said to have a founder. Rather, the name of "Tang Soo Do" was adopted by Hwang Kee, the founder of the Moo Duk Kwan, as a descriptor of the art he promoted.

The history of the Moo Duk Kwan (from which the majority of all modern Tang Soo Do stylists can trace their lineage) can be traced to a single founder: Hwang Kee.[3] Hwang Kee learned Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria. He also was influenced by what he claimed were the indigenous Korean arts of taekkyeon and subak.


During the Japanese occupation (1910–1945), Hwang Kee left Korea and ventured into Manchuria. There he came into contact with an art similar to T'ai chi ch'uan. Hwang Kee eventually incorporated the flowing and graceful motions of the Chinese system with the linear, strong movements of Karate Do and the diverse kicking of taekkyeon. This blend resulted into what is currently known as Soo Bahk Do.

Around the time of the liberation of Korea in 1945, five martial arts schools called the kwans were formed by men who were primarily trained in some form of karate, but also had exposure to taekkyeon and kungfu. The five prominent kwans (and respective founders) were: Chung Do Kwan (Lee Won Kuk), Jidokwan (Chun Sang Sup), Chang Moo Kwan (Lee Nam Suk and Kim Soon Bae), Moo Duk Kwan (Hwang Kee), and Song Moo Kwan (Ro Byung Jik). These schools taught what most Americans know as "Korean Karate." However, there were some philosophical differences in technique application and more of an emphasis on kicking in the Tang Soo Do Jido/Chung Do/Chang Moo/Moo Duk/Song Moo Kwan systems.

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 and Nam Tae Hi), Han Moo Kwan (Lee Kyo Yoon), Kang Duk Won (Park Chul Hee and 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 Son Duk Sung and Choi Hong Hi claim to have submitted the name.

In 1959, the Korea 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 (founders of the Oh Do Kwan) 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, Rhee began using the name Taekwondo. There are still a multitude of contemporary Taekwondo schools in the United States that teach what is known as "Taekwondo Moo Duk Kwan". This nomenclature reflects this government-ordered kwan merger. Modern Taekwondo schools with the Moo Duk Kwan lineage often practice the early Tang Soo Do curriculum, a curriculum that was more closely associated with Karate-Do Shotokan.[citation needed]

Despite this unification effort, the kwans continued to teach their individual styles. For instance, Hwang Kee and a large constituent of the Moo Duk Kwan continued to develop a version Tang Soo Do that eventually became what is now known as "Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan". This modified version of Tang Soo Do incorporates more fluid "soft" movements reminiscent of certain traditional Chinese martial arts and kicking techniques rooted in Korean taekkyeon. Other modern Tang Soo Do systems teach what is essentially Korean Karate in an early organized form. The World Tang Soo Do Association and the International Tang Soo Do Federation, for instance, teach systems of Tang Soo Do that existed before the Taekwondo "merger" and before the development of modern Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. These versions of Tang Soo Do are heavily influenced by Korean culture and also appear related to Okinawan Karate as initially taught in Japan by Funakoshi Gichin. As mentioned above, the term "Tang Soo Do/Dangsudo" was initially a Korean pronunciation of "The Way of The Chinese Hand". In Japan, 唐手道 was pronounced "karate-do" ("The Way of The Chinese Hand"). These characters initially reflected historical origins of the arts. However, the term "Tang Soo Do" (mostly in the United States and Europe) has evolved to currently describe a form of Karate that is distinctly Korean, but is different than both Taekwondo and Soo Bahk Do.

To restore national identity after the protracted occupation of Korea by Japanese forces, the Korean government ordered a single organization be created. On September 16, 1961, most kwans agreed to unify under the name 'Korea Tae Soo Do Association'. The name was changed back to the "Korea Taekwondo Association" when General Choi became its president in August 1965.

Tang Soo Do continues to expand and flourish under numerous federations and organizations that, for various reasons, separated from the Moo Duk Kwan. It can be argued that Tang Soo Do is one of the most widely practiced martial arts in the United States, although Moo Duk Kwan as founded by Hwang Kee is the only martial arts organisation that systematically enumerates its dan members sequentially, and has done so since its founding in Seoul in 1945. Due to political in-fighting and splintering, Tang Soo Do has seen several members break off from their origin, though the Moo Duk Kwan as founded by Hwang Kee continues to represent Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) worldwide, and is headed by Hwang Kee's son, Hyun Chul Hwang. The Amateur Athletic Union Taekwondo recognizes Tang Soo Do ranks, permits Tang Soo Do hyeong in competition and also hosts non-Olympic style point-sparring to accommodate the various traditional Korean stylists.

Chuck Norris, the famous actor, popularized Tang Soo Do in the United States, and evolved the martial art Chun Kuk Do from it.

Ranking system

By and large, Tang Soo Do uses the colored belt system that was instituted by Jigoro Kano and first used in Karate-Do by Gichin Funakoshi. However, minor deviations according to organization and/or individual school are commonplace. One differentiating characteristic of the Moo Duk Kwan style is that the traditional black belt, or dan rank, is frequently replaced by a Midnight Blue Belt for students who attain Dan rank. The reason for the midnight blue belt is due to the belief in Korean culture, that black symbolizes an ending or a finishing point. It was also a belief of the founder of Moo Duk Kwan, Hwang Kee, that black is a color to which nothing can be added, signifying that a dan holder is still learning. [4] Many schools and organizations still opt to use the black belt. The Moo Duk Kwan lineage of Tang Soo Do incorporates a red-striped midnight blue (or black) belt to denote individuals who have reached the rank of Sah Beom Nim (사범님/師範님), or 4th dan. In other systems, the 7th-10th dan ranking is signified with two red stripes or a single golden stipe running along the length of a midnight blue (or black) belt to denote individuals who have reached the rank of “kwang jang nim” or (grandmaster). The original non-dan, or gup, belt colors established by Hwang Kee were: white belt; green belt; and red belt. In the 1970s, an orange belt was added after the white belt along with either one or two stripes onto the orange, green and red belts, encompassing ten gup (student) levels, and is currently the system in use in the Moo Duk Kwan. In the mid 1980's a yellow belt was placed between the white and orange belt in some other organisations. Many variations of this ranking system are still used and typically employ other colors (e.g., yellow, brown, purple, blue, etc.). However, this is primarily a western influence.

According to the World Tang Soo Do Association the rank system is a colored belt system starting at White and ending with Black. There are 2 groups in the ranking, the gups and the dans. The gup ranks vary from organization to organization but generally are as follows: White 10th gup, White Stripe 9th gup, Yellow 8th gup, Orange 7th gup, Green 6th gup, Blue 5th gup, Brown 4th gup, Purple 3rd gup, Red 2nd gup, Red Stripe 1st gup. The tag (stripe) on a belt signifies a higher rank of the belt. Between the Gups and the Dans is the Dark Blue belt called a Cho Dan Bo, or Black belt candidate. The Black belts are called Dans and each degree has its own specific name. The Dan rank ranges from 1st-10th degree. First Dan is known as Chokiyonim, second Dan being Kyosanim (instructor), the third dan is Poo Sabunim (junior master or master candidate) and the 4th-6th Dan are Sabom nim (master), 7th-10th Dan Kwanjanim. In the Moo Duk Kwan, Dan level is known by its Korean numeration, such as Cho Dan, Ee Dan, Sam Dan for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Dan respectively, and onward. The ranks of Kyosa and Sa Bom are separately awarded after successfully demonstrating ability, knowledge, understanding and character for that level in a Dan Shimsa, or test. One may not test for Kyosa (Certified Instructor) until 2nd Dan, or Sa Bom (Master Instructor) until 4th Dan or above. Dans levels from 4th Dan onward are known as Ko Dan Ja, whether Sa Bom or not. In the Moo Duk Kwan there is only one Grand Master, or Kwan Jang Nim, a successor to the founder of modern Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan. Currently this is Hyun Chul Hwang, Hwang Kee's son. Also in the US, a simple timing structure was created for the Dan ranking system, where if in constant study, then it was easy to measure when testing for the next rank would began where the next dan was equal to the number of years that must be spent training. For example a First Dan would have two years before they could be candidate for Second Dan, etc.

Forms (hyung)

Forms (hyung) varies on the founder or head of the different federations of Tang Soo Do. Tang Soo do forms are a set amoung of moves demonstrating a defensive or aggressive action for every movement. They are based on a offender attacking and one demonstrating the form reacting to there attack. They are generally memorized and demonstrated at a test for rainking up or a tournament.

One-step sparring

One-step sparring (Il Su Sik Dae Ryun) techniques are best described as a choreographed pattern of defense against the single step of an attack. Usually performed in pairs, this starts with a bow for respect. One partner then attacks, often with a simple punch, and the other person will perform a series of premeditated techniques, often in a block-attack-takedown sequence.

Tang Soo Do free sparring

Though variation is extensive, Tang Soo Do free-sparring is similar to competitive matches in other traditional Okinawan and Korean striking systems and often shows elements of American freestyle point karate. Tang Soo Do sparring consist of point matches based on the three-point rule (first contestant to score three points wins) or a two-minute rule (a tally of points over one two minute round; but see also AAU taekwondo point sparring handbook). Lead and rear-leg kicks and lead and rear-arm hand techniques all score equally (one point per technique) and to encourage the use of jump and spin kick two points are awarded for these, and three points are awarded for a jumping spin kick. Open-hand techniques (see AAU taekwondo point sparring handbook) and leg sweep take-downs are typically not allowed.

As in karate-do kumite, scoring techniques in Tang Soo Do competition should be decisive; that is, all kicking and hand techniques that score should be delivered with sufficient footing and power so that if they were delivered without being controlled they would stop the aggressive motion of the opponent. This rule means that many techniques may not be given points because of a lack of demonstrable intent and control. Judging is partly based in the concept of Son Sok Mi (line-speed-beauty) and contestants who clearly show their control and intent are more likely to score with their techniques. Much of the footwork is the same, but the position of the body when executing blows is markedly different between the styles of competition. Rapid fire pump-kicking seen in American freestyle point sparring is sometimes used in Tang Soo Do competition. However in order to score, the final kick in the pump-kick combination should be delivered from a solid base and with sufficient power or the technique is not considered decisive. Consequently, the pace of a Tang Soo Do match can be somewhat slower than would be seen at a typical NASKA-type tournament, but the techniques (theoretically) should be somewhat more recognizable as linear, powerful blows that are delivered from reliably stable stances and body positions.

Variation between Tang Soo Do competitions is extensive unless they are members of the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, which is operated under strict and codified rules and procedures. Because modern Tang Soo Do was developed at the same time as Tae Kwon Do and because many Tae Kwon Do practitioners enjoy Tang Soo Do competition, the powerful rear leg and spinning kick techniques used in both ITF and WTF Tae Kwon Do are commonplace traditional Tang Soo Do competitions, but are not delivered with full contact to the head.

Tang Soo Do sparring is a semi-contact event. Though often billed as "light" or "no-contact", the typical level of contact is controlled to the body and none to the head. Some level of contact in Tang Soo Do sparring is considered essential in understanding proper technique and developing mental preparedness and a level of relaxation critical to performance in stressful situations. Lessons learned from contact sparring can be applied to all aspects of life. That said, unnecessarily or disrespectfully harming your opponent in Tang Soo Do sparring is not tolerated. Originally, under Hwang Kee, protective pads were not allowed, in order to foster the discipline and control necessary to demonstrate good technique under fighting conditions, but by the 1980s light cloth pads were allowed. By the 1990s full foam pads were permitted in the interest of contestants safety, but with no contact to the head allowed anymore. Health and longevity of practitioners are major goals of Tang Soo Do practice. Consequently, serious injuries are counterproductive because they retard a level of physical training that is needed to foster emotional and intellectual growth. However, minor injuries, such as bumps, bruises and the occasional loss of breath, may be invaluable experiences. Each match should begin and end with respect, compassion and a deep appreciation for the opponent. Contestants waiting their turn in the ring sit in classroom fashion and respond with a bow when they are called to the ring. They must bow before entering and exiting the ring, and to the judges and their opponents before and after each match. Though Tang Soo Do sparring is competitive, competitions are more of an exercise, or way to develop the self, than they are a truly game-like competitive forum. Introspection and personal growth are fostered through this semi-contact competitive forum.

Korean commands

In Tang Soo Do, as in Taekwondo, commands to students are often given in Korean.

Famous Practitioners

  • Grand Master Robert Kovaleski - 7th Dan and chair of the I.T.M.A.
  • Cynthia Rothrock - Martial arts film star, 6th Dan under Kovaleski
  • Pat E. Johnson - Martial arts film choreographer, 9th Dan and President of the National Tang Soo Do Congress
  • Chuck Norris - Martial arts film star, 10th Dan

See also


Further reading

  • Complete Tang Soo Do Vol. 1 From White Belt to 1st Degree Black Belt, Ho Sik Pak,Jack Pistella, and designed by Ursula Escher
  • Complete Tang Soo Do Vol. 2 From 2nd Degree Black Belt to 6th Degree Black Belt,Ho Sik Pak, Jack Pistella, and designed by Ursula Escher
  • Byrne, Richard and Mitchell, Penny. This Is Tang Soo Do. Malden, MA:American Tang Soo Do Association. 2001. Library of Congress Control Number 2001116262
  • Hwang, K. (1995). History of Moo Duk Kwan celebrating the 50th anniversary, 1945-1995. United States: s.n. ISBN 0-9631358-7-2.
  • Jones, Glenn (2006). Korean Martial Arts Handbook. Maryland: Hermit Kingdom. ISBN 0-9787598-0-X. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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