Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for...

W is for War

If you've been around this month you've already read entries on the rather large impact that the Japanese occupation of Korea had on the development of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan.  Well, that's not even the half of it.

Wars and military occupations have prevented the development and spread of many a great idea, martial arts being just one of them.  As I've said, Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 19 45 and during that time “all dimensions of Korean traditional cultural expression were prohibited”.  So even though there was an existing martial arts tradition- “Soo Bahk”- no one was allowed to study it.  (And now you’re all saying “Oh!  So that’s why Tang Soo Do was founded in 1945!”, right?  Yes.)  

He got five whole years where he could properly study and expand the art.  And then the Korean war started in 1950.  (Noticing the theme?)  He and his gym all moved south to seek safety from the north.  When the war ended, he was able to move back to Seoul, but had to practice in a gym without a proper floor because after all the destruction there wasn’t much prime real estate available.  But he and his students made do and the gym soon experienced growth again.

All was well until May 16, 1961 when a military government was installed as a result of the April Revolution.  Lt. General Chong Hee Park took control of the government.  They immediately forced the gym to stop their monthly publications.  They fired the people instructing Moo Duk Kwan in the military bases “with no reason”.  They were prohibited from attending any international events. 
But perhaps most notable in this period of political unrest is the split between Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do.  Originally Tang Soo Do practitioners, several individuals split off and formed their own style which was very similar but had more emphasis on the sporting elements- tournaments, competitions and such.  Their new form which they name Tae Kwon do became very popular due to its high visibility and experienced growth.
In 1964, the Tae Kwon Do group attempted to unify all Korean martial arts into one organization.  Tae Kwon Do had won favor in the Korean military during the Korean war and gained popularity when it was taught in the Korean military bases.  Supported by the government, pressure was placed on Moo Duk Kwan to join this system and Hwang Kee considered it because of this political pressure.  He ultimately refused for three reasons: 1) the fact that the official name would be Tae Kwon Do and he felt that they would lose the history of Soo Bahk, 2) they would be granted only 3 of 21 seats on the board of directors and 3) Moo Duk Kwan had previously been the leader in international activities/competitions.  (This is one of those historical stories that you can't help but suspect would be told very differently from the other side...)
Hwang Kee’s refusal to join marked a huge shift in the popularity of the art.  Before this time, Moo Duk Kwan was practiced by over 70% of martial arts practitioners in Korea.  After this time, Tae Kwon Do replaced it as the most widely practiced martial art in Korea and, eventually, the world.  Many people split off from Mood Duk Kwan in order to practice Tae Kwon Do, eventually forming their own schoolIt became an Olympic event in 2000.  In a nut shell, it’s why I had never heard of Tang Soo Do before I started practicing it in 2006.
But back to history: Tae Kwon Do was so highly favored by the government that in 1965, the school received a countermand ordering the dissolution of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association.  Hwang Kee started legal proceedings against the Korean government in order to protect the school.  He won the lawsuit.  The government took it to the supreme court.  In 1966, he won again and forever secured the organization’s existence.
Since then, despite continuing political unrest, the art has continued to spread.  There are federation instructors in Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the UK and the USA.  There are unofficial gyms (i.e. lead by instructors not officially ‘in the club’) all over the world.

It's easy to see what a huge impact the wars- both international and internal- have had on the development of this style, thus why W is for War.


  1. Sad the government almost squashed it forever.

  2. pretty nice blog, following :)

  3. Amazing history - it's great to see that the Korean people persisted in keeping it alive and even though they weren't able to practice publicly at times, they probably did privately.

  4. I enjoyed learning more about Korean history and Tae Kwon Do. When I was younger, Tae Kwon Do was something I wanted to learn.

  5. Alex- Unfortunately it's not the first time something like that happened and it wasn't the last. But art- martial or otherwise- always persists.

    Skyline- Thank you so much!

    Kim- They certainly did!

    Chrys- Well, you know at least some of the techniques now (on account of them being so similar!)


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