Tang Soo Do

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Tang Soo Do
Also known asDang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do
FounderWon Kuk Lee, Hwang Kee
Ancestor artsSubak, Chuan fa, Shotokan Karate, Shūdōkan
Descendant artsOh Do Kwan, Taekwondo, Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, Chun Kuk Do, Soo Bahk Do, Kajukenbo
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Tang Soo Do
Also known asDang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do
FounderWon Kuk Lee, Hwang Kee
Ancestor artsSubak, Chuan fa, Shotokan Karate, Shūdōkan
Descendant artsOh Do Kwan, Taekwondo, Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, Chun Kuk Do, Soo Bahk Do, Kajukenbo
Tang Soo Do
Revised RomanizationDangsudo

Tang Soo Do (Hangul: 당수도, pronounced [taŋsʰudo]) is a Korean martial art incorporating fighting principles from subak (as described in the Kwon Bup Chong Do), as well as northern Chinese kung fu.[1] The techniques of what is commonly known as Tang Soo Do combine elements of shotokan karate, subak, taekkyon, and kung fu.


"Tang Soo Do" (당수도) is the Korean pronunciation of the Hanja 唐手道 (pronounced Táng shǒu dào in Chinese),[2] and translates literally to "The Way of The Worthy Hand".

The same characters can be pronounced "karate-dō" in Japanese. In the early 1930s, approximately 55 years after Japan's annexation of Okinawa,[3] Gichin Funakoshi in coordination with others changed the first character, 唐, which referred to the Chinese Tang Dynasty, to 空, signifying "empty"; both characters can be pronounced "kara" in Japanese.[4] Funakoshi ostensibly wanted to avoid confusion with Chinese Kenpō. Funakoshi claimed Okinawan Karate could "now be considered a Japanese martial art" and found the China reference "inappropriate" and "in a sense degrading."[5] The Chinese pronunciation of 空手道 is kōng-shǒu-dào, and the Korean is pronounced [koŋsʰudo](공수도).

Outside of the Far East, the term "Tang Soo Do" has primarily become synonymous with the Korean martial art promoted by grandmaster Hwang Kee.


Between 1910 and 1945, Korea fell under Japanese occupation. During this time, the practice of native Korean martial arts was banned.[1]

Korean martial arts, however, were still practiced secretly, influenced by Japanese karate practitioners willing to share their knowledge during that time.[citation needed] Eventually, when the Japanese domination was lifted, martial arts schools began to appear across Korea, the first of which was the Chung Do Kwan, whose founder was Won Kuk Lee.[citation needed] Lee is regarded as the first to use the term "Tang Soo Do" to describe what became the Korean fighting art that has been influenced by so many other styles. The term "Tang Soo Do" (or "Dang Soo Do") is the Korean pronunciation of the characters 唐手道, "The Way of the Chinese Hand," which was in widespread use in Okinawa and Japan in the early 1900s.[6]

Beyond Won Kuk Lee, several other practitioners formed kwans in the area. By the 1960s, there were nine major kwans, which were based on an original five: 1) the Chung Do Kwan (Won Kuk Lee), 2) Moo Duk Kwan (Hwang Kee), 3) Song Moo Kwan (Ro Byung Jick), 4) Chang Moo Kwan (Yoon Byung-In), and 5) Jidokwan (Chun Sang Sup). Chun's original style, Yun Mu Kwan karate ("kongsudo" in Korean) became "Jidokwan" when his students found new teachers after his disappearance in the Korean War and the new name (meaning "Hall of Wisdom's Way") was adopted.

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,[7] who learned Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria.


During the late 1930s, Hwang Kee had mastered the native Korean martial arts of Soo Bahk Do and Taekkyeon.[1] It was during this time that the Japanese occupied Korea, and the resident general, in an attempt to control the population, banned the practice of native martial arts, setting the penalty at imprisonment. In 1936, Hwang Kee attracted the attention of the Japanese secret police, forcing him to pack his bags and set out on foot for Manchuria,[1] where he experienced scenes of lawlessness and destruction whilst working as a railroad worker. As a result, Hwang Kee decided to enter China, where he would live the next 20 years. He entered China at night from the southern end of the Great Wall of China, which he scaled and descended into China on the other side.

"I climbed the wall at night, I was in excellent physical condition at the time and there were parts of the Great Wall that were lower than others. I ran up the side of the wall two or three steps and then grabbed at the top. Once on top, I distracted the soldiers guarding the other side by throwing rocks away from where I climbed down."- Hwang Kee in an interview with Bob Liedke, translated by his son H.C. Hwang

At this time in China, it was hard for any martial artist to find a master willing to take them on as a student. Despite this, Hwang Kee became acquainted with Master Yang, who taught Hwang Kee the northern style Yang kung-fu (Nei-ga-ryu), a stronger and more passive art than the southern style that can be used at close quarters. Following the conclusion of World War II, Hwang Kee returned to Korea.

Founding of original kwans[edit]

Around the time of the liberation of Korea in 1945, five martial arts schools called kwans were formed by men who were primarily trained in some form of karate, but also had exposure to kung fu. The five prominent kwans and their respective founders were: Chung Do Kwan (Won Kuk Lee), Yun Moo Kwan/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).

Around 1953, shortly after the Korean War, four more annex kwans formed. These second-generation kwans and their principal 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).

Tae Kwon Do Association[edit]

In 1964, the Korean Tae Soo Do Association was formed which, in 1965, became the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association. Because of its political influence, the Tae Kwon Do group, led by its second president, General Choi Hong Hi, tried to unify it with the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association. Kwan Jang Nim's organization was the largest martial arts system in Korea at the time. Grandmaster Hwang Kee agreed to discuss unification but, when it became clear that the move was designed to gain control over his organization, he ultimately refused. The result was a weakening of the Moo Duk Kwan as the Tae Kwon Do movement grew in strength, absorbing many Moo Duk Kwan members in the process.

In 1960, Jhoon Rhee was teaching what he called Korean Karate (or Tang Soo Do) in Texas, in the United States. 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 "Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo". This nomenclature reflects this government-ordered kwan merger.

Tae Soo Do Association[edit]

To restore national identity after the protracted occupation of Korea by Japanese forces, the Korean government ordered a single organization to 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.

Despite this unification effort, the kwans continued to teach their individual styles. Hwang Kee and a large constituent of the Moo Duk Kwan continued to develop a version of 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. The World Tang Soo Do Association and the International Tang Soo Do Federation 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 to be related to Okinawan Karate as initially taught in Japan by Gichin Funakoshi.

Recognition of Tang Soo Do[edit]

Due to political in-fighting and splintering, Tang Soo Do has seen several members break off from their origin, although 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 hosts non-Olympic-style point-sparring to accommodate the various traditional Korean stylists.

Actor Chuck Norris popularized Tang Soo Do in the Western world, and from it evolved the martial art Chun Kuk Do.

Ranking systems[edit]

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 black belt, or dan rank, is frequently represented by a midnight blue belt for students who attain dan rank. The reason for the midnight blue belt is the belief in Korean culture that black symbolizes perfection. As no one is perfect, the belt for the dan rank is a midnight blue color. 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, thus blue signifies that a dan holder is still learning.[citation needed]

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 Sa Beom Nim (master 사범님/師範님), or 4th dan. In other systems, the 7th through 9th dan ranks are signified with two red stripes running along the length of a midnight blue (or black) belt. The original non-dan, or geup, 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 on the orange, green and red belts, encompassing ten geup (student) levels, and is currently the system in use in the Moo Duk Kwan. In the mid-1980s, a yellow belt was placed between the white and orange belt in some other organizations. Many variations of this ranking system are still used and typically employ other colors (such as yellow, brown, purple, and blue). However, this is primarily a western influence.

The black belts (or midnight blue belts) are called dans and each degree has its own specific name. The dan rank ranges from 1st through 9th degree. In the Moo Duk Kwan, dan level is known by its Korean numeration, such as cho dan (1st), ee dan (2nd) and sam dan (3rd), and onward. In many organizations, the titles of kyosa (instructor 교사/敎師) and sa bom (master 사범/師範) are separately awarded after successfully demonstrating ability, knowledge, understanding and character for that level in a dan simsa (심사/審査), or test. One may not test for kyosa (certified instructor) until 2nd dan, or sa bom (master instructor) until 4th dan or above. Dan levels from 4th dan onward are known as ko dan ja (고단자/高段者), whether sa bom or not. Also in the U.S., a simple timing structure was created for the dan ranking system. If in constant study, then it was easy to measure when testing for the next rank. The next dan number was equal to the minimum number of years that must be spent training to achieve that dan. For example a first dan would have two years before they could be a candidate for second dan, and so on.

Techniques and Patterns[edit]


Main article: Hyeong § Tang Soo Do

Forms (hyung) vary depending upon the founder or head of the different federations of Tang Soo Do. Tang Soo do forms are a set of moves demonstrating a defensive or aggressive action for every movement taken mainly from Japanese shotokan karate kata. They are based on an offender attacking and one demonstrating the form reacting to their attack. They are generally memorized and demonstrated at a test for ranking up or a tournament.

Traditionally, nine forms are included in the curriculum of most Tang Soo Do schools, which are required study to earn the midnight blue belt. These hyung are:

Kee Cho forms: kee cho il bu, kee cho ee bu, kee cho sam bu. The Kee Cho series comprises basic forms by Hwang Kee based upon those of Gichin Funakoshi, from shorin ryu karate.

Pyung Ahn forms: pyung ahn cho dan, pyung ahn ee dan, pyung ahn sam dan, pyung ahn sa dan, pyong ahn oh dan. The Pyung Ahn series was adopted from Okinawan & Japanese karate, where they are called Pinan/Heian and are the creation of Yasutsune Itosu.

Bassai (also known as Pal Che). The Bassai form is also from karate, where it is called Passai/ Bassai Dai, and was created by Bushi Sokon Matsumura.

According to Hwang Kee, he learned these forms from studying Japanese books on Okinawan karate. Most scholars agree that the primary text Hwang Kee relied upon was Gichin Funakoshi's Rentan Goshin Toudi-Jutsu published in Japan in 1925.

However, almost all original 5 kwan instructors taught these same forms and had them in their curriculum as they were direct students of Japanese Karate masters, like Funakoshi or Toyama, or they were friends and students of the other kwan leaders.[8]

One-step sparring[edit]

One-step sparring (il su sik dae ryun) techniques are best described as a choreographed pattern of defense moves against the single step of an attack. Usually performed in pairs, this begins 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.

Free sparring[edit]

Though variation is extensive, Tang Soo Do free-sparring is similar to competitive matches in other traditional Okinawan, Japanese and Korean striking systems and may include elements of American freestyle point karate. Tang Soo Do sparring consists of point matches that are based on the three-point rule (the 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). However, to encourage the use of jumping and spinning kicks, these techniques may be scored with a higher point value than standing techniques in some competitions. Open-hand techniques other than the ridgehand (see AAU Taekwondo point sparring handbook) and leg sweeps are typically not allowed.

As in Japanese 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. There are also similarities between American freestyle point sparring (see North American Sport Karate Association [NASKA] link below) and Tang Soo Do point sparring. 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 (with erect posture) 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, but are typically standardized within the various associations. Because of the close historical relationship between Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo, many of the powerful rear leg and spinning kick techniques seen in both International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) Taekwondo matches are commonplace in traditional Tang Soo Do competitions. The main difference is that they are not delivered with full contact to the head in Tang Soo Do.

Tang Soo Do sparring is a contact event. Though often billed as "light" or "no-contact," the typical level of contact is moderate, being controlled to both the body and head (in dan divisions). Most Tang Soo Do practitioners feel that contact in sparring is essential to understanding proper technique and necessary for developing mental preparedness and a level of relaxation critical to focused performance in stressful situations. Unnecessarily or disrespectfully harming an opponent in Tang Soo Do sparring is not tolerated.

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 wind may be invaluable experiences. Each match should begin and end with respect, compassion and a deep appreciation for the opponent. Though Tang Soo Do sparring is competitive, traditional competitions are more of an exercise, or way of developing the self, than they are a competitive and game-like forum. Introspection and personal growth are fostered through free sparring.

Terminology / Korean commands[edit]

In Tang Soo Do, as in Taekwondo, commands and terminology to students are often given in Korean. However, beginning in 1955, and again in 1973, with the formation of the WTF,[9] Taekwondo became centrally governed and Taekwondo terminology was revised, favoring Korean terminology. Tang Soo Do commands pre-date these revisions and many are based on Sino-Korean words.[10]

EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Relax / At ease!쉬어Swieo
Turn around뒤로돌아Dwilo dol-a
By the count구령에 맞춰서口令에 맞춰서Guryeong-e majchwoseo
Without count구령 없이口令 없이Guryeong eobs-i
Switch feet발 바꿔Bal bakkwo
Hand Techniques
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Hand Techniques수 기手技Su gi
Attack / Strike / hit공격攻擊Gong-gyeog
…also Strike치기Chigi
Middle punch중 권中拳Jung gwon
Back fist갑 권甲拳 / 角拳Gab gwon
Knife hand (edge)수도手刀Su Do
To pierce / spearGwan
Spear hand관 수貫手Gwan su
Ridge hand역 수도逆手刀Yeog su do
Hammer fist권도拳刀 / 拳槌Gweon do
Pliers hand집게 손Jibge son
Palm heel장관掌貫Jang gwan
Gooseneck손목 등Sonmog deung
Side punch횡진 공격橫進攻擊Hoengjin gong gyeog
Mountain block산 막기山막기San maggi
One finger fist일 지 권一指拳il ji gwon
1 finger spear hand일 지관 수一指貫手il ji gwan su
2 finger spear hand이지관수二指貫手i ji gwan su
Double back fist장갑권長甲拳Jang gab gwon
Double hammer fist장 권도長拳刀Jang gwon do
Foot Techniques
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Foot Techniques족기足技Jog gi
Front kick앞 차기Ap chagi
…also front Snap kick앞 차넣기Ap chaneohgi
…also snap front kick앞 뻗어 차기Ap ppeod-eo chagi
Inside-out heel kick안에서 밖으로 차기An-eseo bakk-eulo chagi
Outside-in heel kick밖에서 안으로 차기Baggeso aneuro chagi
Stretching front kick앞 뻗어 올리 기Ap ppeod-eo olli gi
Round-house kick돌려 차기Dolleyo chagi
Side kick옆 차기Yeop chagi
…also Snap Side kick옆 뻗어 차기Yeop ppeod-eo chagi
Hook kick후려기 차기Hulyeogi chagi
…also hook kick후려 차기Huryeo chagi
Back kick뒤 차기Dwi chagi
…also Spin Back kick뒤 돌려 차기Dwi dolleyo chagi
Spin hook kick뒤 돌려 후려기 차기Dwi doleyo hulyeogi chagi
Knee strike무릎 차기Mu reup chagi
Reverse round kick빗 차기Bit chagi
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Ready stance준비 자세準備 姿勢Junbi jase
Front Stance전굴 자세前屈 姿勢Jeongul jase
Back Stance후굴 자세後屈 姿勢Hugul jase
Horse Stance기마 자세騎馬 姿勢Gima jase
…also Horse Stance기마립 자세騎馬立 姿勢Gimalip jase
Side Stance사고립 자세四股立 姿勢Sagolib jase
Cross legged stance교차 립 자세交(叉/差)立 姿勢Gyocha lib jase
Technique Direction
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Moving forward전진推進Jeonjin
Backing up / retreat후진後進Hujin
Reverse (hand/foot)역진逆進Yeogjin
Two handed쌍수雙手Ssangsu
Both hands양수兩手Yangsu
Lowest최 하단最下段Choe hadan
Right side오른 쪽Oleun jjog
Left side왼 쪽Oen jjog
Other side/Twist틀어Teul-eo
Inside-outside안에서 밖으로An-eseo bakk-eulo
Outside inside밖에서 안으로Bakk-eseo an-eulo
Jumping / 2nd level이단idan
Double kick두 발Du bal
Combo kick연속連續Yeonsog
Same foot같은 발Gat-eun bal
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Grandmaster관장 님館長님Gwanjang nim
Master instructor사범 님師範님Sabeom nim
Teacher교사 님敎師님Gyosa nim
Black BeltDan
Master level고단자高段者Godanja
EnglishHangul (한글)Hanja (한자/漢字)Revised Romanization
Country Flag국기國旗Guggi
Salute the flag국기 배례國旗 拜禮Guggi baerye
Pay respect / bow경례敬禮Gyeonglye
Moment of silence묵념默念Mugnyeom
Sit down!앉아!Anj-a!
Thank you감사합니다感謝합니다Gamsa habnida
Informal thank you고맙습니다Gomabseubnida
You’re welcome천만에요Cheonman-eyo
Self Defense호신술護身術Ho sin sul
Free sparring자유 대련自由 對練Jayu daelyeon
Ground Sparring좌 대련座 對練Jwa daelyeon
One step sparring일 수식 대련一數式 對練il su sig daelyeon
Three step sparring삼 수식 대련三數式 對練Sam su sig daelyeon
Board Breaking격파擊破Gyeog pa

Notable Practitioners[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Benitez, Wilfredo (March 2002). Taekwondo Times: Tang Soo Do History: Understanding its past. USA: Woo Jin Jung. pp. 36–39. 
  2. ^ "Tang Soo Do World Championships in Adelaide this weekend". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  3. ^ "History of Okinawa". Kadena Air Force Base. Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Funakoshi, Gichin, Karate-do Kyohan, ISBN 1568364822 p.3 footnote
  5. ^ Funakoshi, Gichin, Karate-do Kyohan, ISBN 1568364822 p.4
  6. ^ Funakoshi, Gichin (1920). "To-te Jutsu". National Diet Library. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "Welcome". The Authoritative Source of Moo Duk Kwan History. Moo Duk Kwan martial art school. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  9. ^ "World Taekwondo Federation". Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  10. ^ "Tang Soo Do Terminology". Retrieved 23 September 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]