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Korea was under Japanese control from 1909 to 1945





Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do (aka Soo Bahk Do) were copied from Shotokan karate-do





The evidence is clear




Attitudes changed, and so did the kata



Division and feuding further change the styles




The Korean Supreme Court steps in



No less valuable or effective

Korean "Karate"

In 1909, Japan conquered and occupied Korea. Korea remained under Japanese control from 1909 to 1945, during which time the practice of most forms of native Korean art and culture were forbidden. This ban included the practice of Korea's indigenous martial arts, like tae kyon, kwonbup, and subakki-bup. Understandably, the Japanese occupation left most Koreans with substantial ill will toward the Japanese and Japanese cultural icons for decades. As a result, few Korean martial arts masters have openly admitted how their styles originated.

At the close of World War II, the Japanese occupation of Korea came to an end, and Koreans who had been forced to serve in Japan and Japanese-occupied territories like Manchuria were repatriated to their homeland. As part of the widespread effort to re-establish Korean pride and self-reliance several returning Koreans established martial arts schools.

One of the first to do so was Hwang Kee, who returned from Manchuria where he had worked on the railway system under Japanese control. There, Hwang had seen first-hand how the practice of karate-do had helped instill pride and discipline in the Japanese occupation troops, so in 1945 he founded the art of tang soo do, which is the Korean pronunciation of kara te do ("Chinese Hand[s]") as used in the title of Funakoshi Gichin's books, Ryukyu Kenpo Karate (1922) and Rentan Goshin Karate-Jutsu (1926).  Hwang called the organization he formed to promote the art of tang soo do the Moo Duk Kwan ("Hall of Martial Virtues"), a name derived from the Japanese martial arts organization, the Butokukai.

At about the same time, General Choi Hong Hi (then a Lieutenant) returned from mainland Japan, where he had been attached to the Japanese army and had reached the level of nidan (2nd degree Black Belt) in Shotokan karate-do. Almost immediately, he founded a martial arts school called the O Do Kwan, where he taught kong soo do -- the Korean reading of kara te do, meaning "Empty Hand[s]." Within a couple of years, several other repatriated Koreans who had trained in Japanese martial arts during the occupation opened schools of their own, teaching kong soo do, yudo, kumdo, and other martial arts derived from Japanese styles they had practiced while under Japanese rule.

In these early post-war days, the founders did little to disguise the Japanese origins of their styles. Most used the Korean pronunciation for the Japanese names of their styles and kata. So the pinan (heian) kata of Japanese karate-do became the pyongan hyung of tang soo do and kong soo do, bassai became palsek, naifanchi became naihanchi, jitte became shipsu, etc. And it takes no more than a casual glance through the early texts on tang soo do, kong soo do, and taekwondo to see that their poomse or hyung (kata) were identical to Shotokan's kata. In fact, many of the earlier texts make no effort to disguise the fact that Japanese karate-do was the principle source for their art. So, it was probably due to the cultural backlash in Korea against any remnants of Japanese culture that following the Korean War many Korean martial arts masters were attempting to distance their arts from the appearance of excessive Japanese influence.

During the 1950s, the name kong soo do was dropped, and for awhile tae soo do was used instead. On April 11, 1955 the name taekwondo was officially adopted for the art formerly known as kong soo do. Following this name change, the names of the practice patterns (hyung or poomse in Korean) used in taekwondo were also changed. As time passed, even the patterns themselves were altered until they were barely recognizable as derivatives of Shotokan.

Tang soo do held to its Shotokan origins much longer, resisting the changes adopted by taekwondo. This not only caused a rift between tang soo do and taekwondo, but even created a schism within Hwang Kee's Moo Duk Kwan itself, so that for awhile Moo Duk Kwan tang soo do and Moo Duk Kwan taekwondo coexisted. In the early 1960's tang soo do was forced to adopt the name soo bahk do in Korea in order to obtain official government sanction as the national martial art of Korea. Outside of Korea's borders, however, it maintained the name tang soo do for over three more decades. This may be in part due to the fact that subak, which rhymes with soo bahk, means "watermelon" in Korean, and some rival martial artists enjoyed joking that soo bahk do was "The Way of the Watermelon." Gradually, Hwang Kee and his son, Hwang Hyun Chul, began introducing non-Shotokan elements, such as their own Chil Sung and Nae Gung hyung (kata), into the tang soo do/soo bahk do curriculum, which had the side-effect of making it appear less Japanese in origin.

Around the same time that Soo Bahk Do received official sanction as the national martial art of Korea, taekwondo was officially recognized as the official national sport of Korea. This led to extensive modification of taekwondo to fit the model of international sports competition and eventually allow it to become an event of the Summer Olympic Games.  Modern taekwondo bears as little resemblance to its Shotokan origins now as modern judo does to the jujutsu styles from which it was derived.

Does the Japanese origin of these Korean martial arts make them any less legitimate or effective? Of course not! Our purpose in pointing out the Japanese origin of these arts is solely to encourage students of those arts to continue to investigate and adopt effective techniques and principles from Japanese styles -- just as their forebears in those arts did! 21st century karate is about breaking down stylistic and nationalistic barriers and stimulating the exchange of ideas and techniques for the improvement of all martial arts. We hope that this information will encourage practitioners of taekwondo, tang soo do, soo bahk do, hapkido, kajukenbo, kickboxing, and other martial arts to visit this site and make use of the instruction and materials that we offer. We are not trying to convert people to Shito-Ryu or any other Japanese martial arts style, but to improve the effectiveness of all styles, and foster a renewed sense of community among all martial artists.

To see how Japanese occupation of Korea influenced other Korean martial arts, click here


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2003   Leonard J. Pellman

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