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Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art which teaches empty hand and foot fighting, fighting forms, self-defense, and weapons. Tang Soo Do also teaches people to live a healthy and harmonious life. This ancient martial art traces its lineage back 2,000 years to the Korean peninsula.
Tang Soo Do literally means "The Way of the Chinese Hand" and has roots in various styles of martial arts including those found in Korea, China, and Okinawa. These roots started in Korean Tae Kyon, Chinese Shaolin and Japanese Shotokan.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), some Koreans were exposed to Okinawan versions of Chinese martial arts such as Karate. 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 Taekkyon, Soo Bahk, 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 were formed by men who were also trained in Soo Bahk, Taekkyon, Karate, Kungfu. Their schools were called the Kwans. The Kwans and their founders were the 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 important philosophical differences in technique application and more of an emphasis on kicking in the these 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 both 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 standardised 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 Shotokan Karate.
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. Soo Bahk Do kicking techniques rooted in Korean Taekkyon. Other modern Tang Soo Do systems teach what is essentially Korean Karate in an early organised 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 Gichin Funakoshi.
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 organisation be created. On September 16, 1961, most Kwans agreed to unify under the name 'Korean Tae Soo Do Association'. However, the name was changed back to the "Korean Taekwondo Association" when General Choi became its president in August 1965.
It should be noted that the founders of the various Tang Soo Do Kwans demonstrated enormous fortitude to become skilled Tang Soo Do practitioners and teachers during periods of war, strife, genocide and chaos.
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. This splintering is unfortunate. Larger-scale cooperation between the major organizations (such as the World Tang Soo Do Association, the International Tang Soo Do Federation and Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan) would likely result in a more distinctive, professional and traditional competitive forum. 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 hyung in competition and also hosts non-Olympic style point-sparring to accommodate the various traditional Korean stylists.
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. He claimed to have studied Taekkyon on the street An Gup Dong in Seoul, Korea and Kung Fu in Henan and Shanghai, China. Kee claims he learned the philosophy of Okinawan Karate from Gichin Funakoshi's books.