Tang Soo Do literally means "Chinese hand way". The same characters are pronounced karate-dō in Japanese, the term "Tang Soo Do" has primarily become synonymous with the Korean martial art promoted by Hwang Kee.
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, or "Blue Wave School". Lee Won Kuk received dan ranking from Funakoshi Gichin in Japan and claimed to have studied taekkyeon on the street An Gup Dong in Seoul, Korea and Kung Fu in Henan and Shanghai, China
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. Hwang Kee claimed to have learned Chinese martial arts while in Manchuria. He also was influenced by the indigenous Korean arts of taekkyeon and subak. Hwang Kee claims he learned the philosophy of Okinawan Karate from Gichin Funakoshi's books and it is also reported that Hwang Kee trained under Lee Won Kuk for some time, though some Moo Duk Kwan stylists refute this claim. Hwang Kee also was highly influenced by a 1790 Korean book about martial arts called the Muye Dobo Tongji
Much like Tae Kwon Do, historians have described ancient connections, to Korean history to legitimize the art. According to claims 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 taekkyeon 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 (or Koryo), 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 is claimed to be later adapted by the Japanese and became the Samurai system, but no evidence exists. 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 taekkyeon was increasingly popular with the military. More importantly however, the art also became very popular with the general public. During this period, taekkyeon 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 taekkyeon 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 an art similar to Tai Chi. 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 taekkyeon. This blend resulted into what is currently known as Soo Bahk Do (see below).
Recent history and contemporary nomenclature
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), some Koreans were exposed to Okinawan martial arts such as Karate-Do. 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 taekkyeon and subak as well as traditional Chinese martial arts studied by Koreans in Manchuria and China.
Around the time of the liberation of Korea in 1945, five martial arts schools (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 (Yoon Byung In), Moo Duk Kwan (Hwang Kee), and Song Moo Kwan (Roh Byung Jick). 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 Kwan (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 Sun Duk Song and Choi Hong Hi claim to have submitted the name.
In 1959, the Korean 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.
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/Dang Soo Do" was initially a Korean pronunciation of "The Way of The Chinese Hand". In Japan, 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 'Korean Tae Soo Do Association'. The name was changed back to the "Korean 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 no official census of martial arts practitioners exists. Due to political in-fighting and splintering, Tang Soo Do is not as unified as Tae Kwon Do. Though there is no large umbrella organization for Tang Soo Do practitioners, 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.
By and large, Tang Soo Do uses the colored belt system that was instituted by Jigoro Kano and first used in Karate-Do by Funakoshi Gichin. 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. 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-bom-nim, or 4th dan. To become considered a grandmaster (7th dan and above), one of the requirements is to make an international impact concerning Tang Soo Do. The grandmaster belt is a midnight blue (or black) belt with two red strips down the center. The 7th-10th dan ranking is signified with alternating red and white blocks on the belt (as in Judo) in the World Tang Soo Do Association. The original non-dan, or gup, belt colors established by Hwang Kee were:10th gup, white belt; 9th gup, yellow belt; 8th gup, orange belt; 7th gup, orange belt with one stripe; 6th gup, green belt; 5th gup, green belt with one stripe; 4th gup, green belt with two stripes; 3rd gup, red belt; 2nd gup, red belt with one stripe; and 1st gup, red belt with two stripes. 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.
One-step sparring (Il Soo Sik Deh Ryun) techniques are best described as a choreographed pattern of defense against the single step of an attack.
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). Open hand techniques (but see AAU taekwondo point sparring handbook) and leg sweeps 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 (incapacitate or kill) of the opponent. This rule means that many of the airborne blitzing techniques that are scored in American freestyle point karate would not score here, even if contact was made. 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 often 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 is 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 deeper stances as seen in Japanese karate-do. However, variation between Tang Soo Do competitions is extensive. Because traditional Tang Soo Do gave rise to taekwondo and because many taekwondo players enjoy Tang Soo Do competition, the powerful rear leg and spinning kick techniques used in both ITF and WTF taekwondo are commonplace traditional Tang Soo Do competitions, but are not delivered with full contact to the head.
Tang Soo Do sparring is a contact event. Though often billed as "light" or "no-contact", the typical level of contact is full (but controlled) to the body and light to the head. Contact in Tang Soo Do sparring is 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. 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 to teachers. Each match should begin and end with respect, compassion and a deep appreciation for the opponent. 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.
In Tang Soo Do, as in Taekwondo, commands to students are often given in Korean.