Meaning of Tang Soo Do

Literally translated, the word “Tang” refers to the T’ang Dynasty of China (AD 618-907) and reflects the shared cultural background between China and Korea.  “Soo” means hand but implies fist, punch, strike or defense, and “Do”, while translated as “The Way”, implies the Korean classical martial art which was influenced by the T’ang method of martial art.

The origin of Tang Soo Do

The exact origin of Tang Soo Do, as well as any of the martial arts in general, is obscure though there are a number of historical theories, however, the most credible and traditional view is that martial arts originated not in any one country, but in almost all parts of the globe as they were needed by primitive people.

Development in early ages

The ancestral art of Korean Tang Soo Do can be traced to the time period when Korea was divided into three kingdoms.  The Silla Dynasty was founded in 57 BC in the Southeast of the peninsula , Koguryo was founded in 37 BC in Northern Korea, and Paekche was founded in 18 BC in the Southwest.

After a long series of wars, the Silla Dynasty united the three kingdoms in 668 AD.  During this period of time, the primitive martial arts were useful in warfare.  This is evidenced by mural paintings, ruins, and tombs which depict early forms of Tang Soo Do.  Among the three kingdoms, the Silla Dynasty was most famous for its development of martial arts. A corps formed by young aristocrats called the Hwarang Dan was the major group instrumental in uniting the peninsula as the unified Silla Dynasty (AD 668-AD 935) and furnished many early leaders of that Dynasty. Most Korean martial arts trace their spiritual and technical heritage to this group.  The names of arts reflect this heritage, such as Hwa Rang Do or Hwa Soo Do. Our Five Codes of Tang Soo Do, originated by the monk, Won Kwang, are part of that spiritual heritage.

Medieval Development

The military leader Wang Kon came to power in AD 918.  In AD 935, he successfully overthrew unified Silla to form the Koryo Dynasty (AD 935- 1392).  The modern word “Korea” is derived from the name “Koryo”.  Wang Kon ruled until 943 and became known as King Taejo.

In 1392, the Choson Dynasty (AD 1392-1910) succeeded Koryo and adapted Confucianism.  The Choson Dynasty lasted about 500 years under the Yi ruling family.  Together, Koryo and Choson cover almost a thousand years of Korean history.

During the latter Koryo and early Choson, tang Soo Do became highly popular among the military society and, more importantly with the general public. Kwon Bop, Tae Kyun, Soo Bahk, and Tang Soo were some of the martial arts names used. 

In 1790, the “Muye Dobo Tongji” was commissioned.  This classic text contains illustrations that substantiate the theory that “Soo Bahk Ki”, a formal name of Tang Soo Do, had developed into a sophisticated art of combat techniques.

Modern History

The practice and teaching of martial arts were restricted during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945).  After the end of World War II in 1945, restrictions were lifted and several martial arts training schools (Kwans) were established. Activity was again disrupted during the Korean war (1950-1953), with modifications occurring to some schools following the war.  The major schools and founders (family name capitalized) are provided below:

Moo Duk Kwon – HWAN Kee

Ji Do Kwan – YUN Kwei Byung (formed from Yun Moo Kwan after the Korean war).

Chung Do Kwan – SON Duk Sung (was under LEE Won KUK before the Korean war).

Song Moo Kwon – NO Byung Jik

Chang Moo Kwan – LEE Nam Suk (was YMCA Kwon Bop Bu under YOON Byung-In before the Korean war).

Yun Moo Kwan – CHUN Sang Sup (disappeared during the Korean war).

Various martial arts organizations evolved from these schools.  In addition to “Tang Soo” other terms used included “Kong Soo” and “Tae Soo”.  Master Hwang Kee founded the Moo Duk Kwan and opened his first school in Seoul, Korea on November 9, 1945.  In 1957, he started promotion of “Soo Bahk Do” and the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association was successfully registered with the Korean government on June 30,1960.  In 1965, various Korean martial art systems were uniformly named “Tae Kwon Do” and unified under the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association. As a Korean national sport, Tae Kwon Do initiated a new era; instructions were dispatched throughout the world and international tournaments were held.  In those days, Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do were divided principally with Tae Kwon Do focused on sports competition and Tang Soo Do continuing as a traditional martial art, emphasizing development of the whole person.