top of page

History of Tang Soo Do

Tang Soo Do started with the early Korean fighting arts, which paintings and murals tell us were utilized during the time of the three kingdoms in Korea. Eventually, these kingdoms were united under the Silla Dynasty, where evidence of the fighting arts in Korea became even greater. From the evidence, it appears that the arts continued to progress and be practiced, usually taught within families or passed down from one individual to another, until the Japanese took control of Korea between 1909 to 1945. Looking to quell any opposition to their occupation before it started, the Japanese forbade Koreans from practicing martial arts. Some history was lost as a result.

That said, the arts were still practiced secretly, and were influenced by the rare Japanese karate practitioner willing to share his knowledge during the period. Eventually, when the Japanese domination was lifted, martial arts schools began to pop up across Korea, the first of which was the Chung Do Kwan, whose founder was Won Kuk Lee.

Lee is regarded to be the first to use the term Tang Soo Do to describe what had become the Korean fighting art that had been influenced by so many other styles. The term "Tang Soo Do/ Dang Soo Do" was initially a Korean pronunciation of "The Way of the Chinese Hand." These days most Americans translate it as, "The Way of the Open Hand."

Beyond Won Kuk Lee, several other practitioners formed kwans in the area, to the point that by the 1960's there were nine major kwans based from an original five, called the Moo Duk Kwan (leader- Hwang Kee), Yeon Moo Kwan (Lee, Nam Suk), YMCA Kwon Bup Bu (Lee, Nam Suk), Chung Do Kwan (Shon, Duk Song), and Song Moo Kwan (No, Byong Jik). It is at this time that the country attempted to unify all of their arts under one name: Tae Kwon Do. All but one of these schools basically incorporated in theory- even if they continued to teach their separate curriculums without much change- and that school was the Moo Duk Kwan. Founder Hwang Kee stayed the course and refused to merge despite political pressures after realizing/believing that the move was designed to basically overrun his style and organization. Though this decision cost him some members to the Tae Kwon Do movement, in 1965 and 1966 Kee won legal battles that allowed him to run his organization and begin to rebuild from Tae Kwon Do's power play.

Therefore, Kee and his followers continued to follow a purer form of Tang Soo Do. In the late 1950's he changed the name of his organization to Korean Soo Bahk Do Association, Moo Duk Kwan.

Today, Tang Soo Do continues to flourish under numerous federations and organizations. There is no large umbrella organization regulating its practice.

bottom of page