K orea, as a peninsula buffer state between Manchuria, China and Japan, with incursions by the Mongols and Tatars, among other peoples, has quite a long history of unarmed and armed combat, absorbing various styles, like kung fu, and making them more suitable for their own rugged and mountainous terrain and indigenous combat styles. Probably the most influential period of development was during the Three Kingdom period (Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla). Silla is believed to have established diplomatic relations with the Tang Empire in the 7th century.

However, the influence of the Tang dynasty on the martial arts (as it was in almost every other cultural aspect throughout East Asia) was considerable both on Japan and Korea. In this same period, in the kingdom of Koguryo, various carvings into the towers at Kumkongryksa and Kakcjuchung, and the statues of Kumkang Kwon at the entrance of Sokkul-Am at Mt. Toham depict basic stances, such as the nalchi-gi, of what is now known as taekwondo, but the words subak, taekyon and kwonbeop to describe these traditions were not used until about the mid-Koryo period (about 990- 1050 AD), and not standardised until King Injong.

Under various generals, kwonbeop began to be developed and made mandatory for training in the armed services. By the time of the Ming dynasty, various major schools of kwonbeop reigned – the sorim temple school, and the songkae school. Sorim temple may have been influenced by the Northern Shaolin Temple, as it was practised by monks who favoured swift, evasive moves and jumping techniques; Songkae, maybe related to Chang Songkae of the Ming Empire and could have been influenced by the Chinese, with techniques divided into three divisions: stun, knock out, and kill. Under the Choson dynasty, however, kwonbeop (as did other martial arts) saw a major decline as the official state policy was to discourage all manner of military affairs. Kwonbeop’s centre was moved northwest to central Korea and renamed taekwon, which continued in this form, probably largely as a sport or ceremonial art, or existed underground due to annexation, until Korea’s independence from Japan in 1945.

Two other influential Korean unarmed arts are yusul (soft art) and cireum, which are in part related to Chinese arts like shuai chiao and Mongolian wrestling. Yusul was popular between the Koryo and Choson dynasties. Striking arts such as keupso chirigi and pakchigi, which attack vital points, and headbutting, respectively, have been also popular in Korea. As the official state policy in Korea was to discourage all manners of military arts many martial arts masters dispersed to other regions/countries.

After the Choson dynasty, Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. As a result, young Koreans were exposed to Japanese versions of these old sport arts such as jujitsu, kendo, judo, karate, sumo, et cetera. Then after 1945, when Japan was defeated in World War II, there was clearly a concerted effort by martial arts masters to consolidate their resources and develop a uniquely Korean art once again.


Taekwondo is the Korean national sport and martial art, and is also one of the world’s most commonly practised sports. In the Korean language, Tae means kick or destroy with the foot, kwon means punch or smash with the hand or fist, and Do means way or art.

Hence, Taekwondo is taken to mean the way of the foot and the fist. Taekwondo is popular throughout the world, and the

Kukkiwon-World Taekwondo Federation’s form of Taekwondo is currently an Olympic sport. While some forms of Taekwondo have received criticism for not teaching enough street-effective techniques, this has more to do with commercialisation, rather than with any inherent flaw in the art itself: One of the reasons Taekwondo is so popular is because of its ease in learning and effectiveness as a form of self-defence. It is used in unarmed combat training in some armies (the French army, for instance).

Taekwondowas officially formed on April 11, 1955, when most Korean martial arts masters tried to unite all the various fighting styles (such as

Gong Soo, Taekyon, Kwon Beop, Soo Bahk Do, Tang Soo Do etc.) under the name Tae Soo Do. Although not every art joined in, an organisation was created with many of the participants and the backing of the government. Its name was suggested by 9th degree black belt General Choi Hong Hi as Taekwondo.

The similarities between Taekyon and Taekwondo are the high flying kicks and various other feet action, but this style wasn’t completely incorporated until the 1960s. Taekwondo also integrated various aspects of karate. Choi Hong Hi was a 2nd degree black belt in karate (the

Shotokan variety), so it was natural to utilise karate techniques in Taekwondo. On the contrary, many Koreans had an influence in the development of karate, an example of this would be Choi Yong-I (Mas Oyama) who created Kyokushin Karate.


Kuk Sool Won is a systematic study of all of the traditional fighting systems, which together comprise the martial arts history of the Korean

Peninsula. As such, Kuk Sool Won is very well organised and seeks to integrate and explore all aspects of the traditional Korean martial arts.

As a martial arts system, Kuk Sool Won covers the entire spectrum of established Asian fighting systems and body conditioning techniques, as well as mental development and traditional weapons training.

The three branches of traditional Korean martial arts are Sah Doh Mu Sool, Bool Kyo Mu Sool, and Koong Joong Mu Sool. Sah Doh Mu Sool (Tribal

Martial Arts) is older than Korean Culture itself, having been practised on the Korean peninsula well before the first Korean kingdom was established in 2333 B.C. .

Bool Kyo Mu Sool (Buddhist Martial Arts) has been practised by Buddhist monks throughout Asia. In China, the famous Shaolin Monks developed techniques and forms based on their observations of animals. In Korea, Monks practised Bool Kyo Mu Sool for defence purposes and meditation. Today, the tenants of Bool Kyo Mu Sool are prevalent in Kuk Sool as they help teach practitioners meditation skills and the philosophies of non-violence and compassion for all living things.

Koong Joong Mu Sool (Royal Court Arts) is unique to Kuk Sool Won. Some of the weapons used in Kuk Sool Won were a part of the traditional daily court life. The rope or sash, cane, fan, and short sword were all used among members of the Korean Royal court. There were also many unique open handed and joint locking principles of Koong Joong Mu Sool that are used extensively in Kuk Sool Won.

Kuk Sool’s history can be indirectly traced to the dissolution of the Korean Royal Court and the Japanese occupation in 1910. Many leading martial arts instructors were forced into hiding. Among them was Myung Duk Suh, In Hyuk Suh’s grandfather. Before Japan took over, the elder

Suh taught three types of Korean martial arts; kwan sool, a kicking and hard punching style, yu sool, a soft style with emphasis on locking and throwing techniques and yu-kwan, a combination which could be either hard or soft, but never used for force against force. During this period of Japanese rule the practice of any sort of Korean martial art was strictly forbidden. Any Korean caught practising them (or even worse, teaching them) would be severely punished. Because of the severity and harshness of the punishment levied by the Japanese to practitioners of

Korean marital arts, only a very small number of people carried on the legacy of traditional Korean martial arts.

Despite the Japanese invasion, the Suh family continued its 16 generation tradition of practising and teaching mar- tial arts. In Hyuk Suh, was chosen by his grandfather to carry on this family legacy. By the time he was 20 years old, In Hyuk Suh had travelled to hundreds of Buddhist temples and private martial arts teachers, studying many aspects of Korean martial arts. During this intensive training-period Suh learned special breathing skills, mediation techniques and internal power (ki) knowledge, which is taught extensively in Kuk Sool schools across the globe.

In the late 1950’s In Hyuk Suh began to integrate the many scattered martial art techniques of Korea into a single martial art, Kuk Sool Won.

Suh officially founded Kuk Sool Won in 1961.


Choi Kwang Do is a martial art created by Grandmaster Kwang Jo Choi. Grandmaster Choi was a chief instructor for the International Taekwondo

Federation in the 1960s. After receiving medical treatment for damage caused by the Taekwondo training methods, Grandmaster Choi formulated a style of martial arts based on bio-mechanic principles.

Choi Kwang-Do breaks with classic techniques in that all movements follow the body’s natural movement pattern, performed as one sequential movement. Thus power is increased and risk of injury is reduced. Martial arts competitions are viewed as counter productive to health and self-defence. Training is geared towards practical responses with maximum power in realistic situations.


Tang Soo Do is a popular Korean martial art and the three Sino-Korean words translate as follows: Tang: the Tang Dynasty of China; Tang generally refers to China in old Japanese. Soo: hand. Do: way of life – essentially meaning martial way of life from China. The literal translation from Korean is: The Way (Do) of the Chinese (Tang) Fist (Soo.) As the name suggests (its Japanese pronunciation is Karatedo),

Tang Soo Do is based on Japanese Karate. The previous statement has been argued about for the last fifty years. Most

Tang Soo Do Associations state that
Tang Soo Do is a mix of three major styles; which are Soo Bahk Do (60%), Northern China Kung Fu (30%) and

Southern China Kung Fu (10%) and the Okinawan discipline and modified katas of Karate.

This art was created by Grandmaster Hwang Kee, who was said to have had learned Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria, as well as having been influenced by Japanese karate and Korean Taekkyon. Hwang Kee claims that he was also highly influenced by an old book about martial arts called the Muye dobo tongji.

Information courtesy of UK Martial Arts Online.

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