The Way of the China Hand: A Brief History of Tang Soo Do

Not a lot of people are aware about Tang Soo Do (pronounced as tong-soo-do), a traditional Korean martial art. But its origins date back two thousand years, and was a system of the common people to protect themselves from samurai swords.

Tang Soo Do is considered an empty handed self-defense. “Tang” represents Chinese influence in the development of the modernized martial arts. Grand Master Hwang Kee, the founder of Moo Duk Kwan, studied the current Tang Soo Do form in China. When Korea was occupied by Japan more than a hundred years ago, the local Koreans were forbidden to practice their traditional martial arts. Many Koreans escaped the Japanese rule, and trained martial arts in China.

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“Soo” is translated as “open hand.” The martial art has techniques for striking that involve the use of open hands. It also meant to trick the opponent into thinking the warrior is un-armed. While a lot of martial arts are designed to go on combats with a chosen weapon, Tang Soo Do artists work with only their bare hands.

When the Korean peninsula was unified under the Silla Dynasty, Hwa Rang Dan warriors combined the philosophies of Won Kwang and Soo Bak Ki to form Soo Bak Do. Soo Bak Do was included in a code of chivalry for the Korean peninsula unification. In the Yi and Koryo Dynasties, martial arts were used for sophisticated combative art and recreation.

As Taek Kyun and Soo Bak Do practitioners were forbidden to do martial arts during the Japanese occupation, artists continued their training underground. After the Second World War, the Tang Soo Do became an official sport and organization.

However, in 1965, the Korea Tang Soo Do Association wanted to unite all Korean martial arts under one name. But those who were for Tang Soo Do chose to remain traditional with their craft rather than join the Tae Kwon Do association.

Peter Spennato is a proficient martial artist who has been training since the 1960’s. Know more about Tang Soo Do and other traditional martial arts when you visit this blog.