Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for...

G is for Grandmaster Hwang Kee 

Grandmaster Hwang Kee is the founder/creator of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan.  He was born in 1914 during the Japanese occupation of Korea, a time when “all dimensions of Korean traditional cultural expression" -including martial arts- "were prohibited”.
So, like many martial arts masters he did not derive the art from formal instruction but rather from a variety of sources and experience.  First, at the age of seven he observed a man fight a group of people and win despite being outnumbered 7 to 1.  The History of Moo Duk Kwan doesn't specify what style this man was fighting in other than to say it was an open hand style.  He asked this man to teach him but he refused and although Hwang Kee tried mimicing some of the techniques he saw nothing really came of it.

Fast forward  15 years and Hwang Kee is working in Manchuria for the railroad company when a friend of his introduces him to a Chinese Master by the name of Kuk Jin Yang.  Hwang Kee asks Master Yang to teach him and despite refusing him on not once, not twice, but three separate occasions Hwang Kee persists and is granted his request.  He happily studies under Master Yang with the vigor that you would expect of someone so enamored and simultaneously starved of martial arts would until 1937 when he had to return to Seoul.

Thankfully, the building that served as his office in Seoul was also a library and in it he found books on Okinawan forms of martial arts (see O).  He studied these obsessively, practicing the moves described as best he could along with what he had learned from Master Yang.
As soon as Korea became an independent country in 1945 he started his own school, formally teaching others what he had learned through his limited studies.  In the beginning, it was very, very difficult for his style to get its footing. Because of the Japanese occupation, no one had any idea of Soo Bahk or the Chinese martial arts and the name he used at first, “Hwa Soo Do” (translated as ‘art of the flower hand’) was nothing anyone had ever heard of.  Being a practical man, Hwang Kee adopted the name Tang Soo Do (recognizable for the Japanese influence) for his teachings.  Within a few months his school was growing.

1953 to 1961 marked the most active and successful period in history for Mood Duk Kwan.  Hwang Kee published many books of his teaching as well as a monthly Moo Duk Kwan newsletter.  The art was widely recognized by the public and began to be taught in military bases of the US army.  And in 1961 the team was invited to the Goodwill Martial Arts Championship- the very first international competition featuring martial arts from Korea, China and Japan.  It earned Moo Duk Kwan international recognition.
Also, in 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji- a book on Soo Bahk published 300 years earlier.  “Soo Bahk” was first used about 2200-2700 years ago in the age of Chun Chu in China. However, “Soo Bahk Ki” (Soo Bahk Technique) or “Soo Bahk Hee” (Soo Bahk Dance) seems to have been more actively known and practiced in the Ko Ku Ryo Dynasty (2000 years ago), Ko Ryo Dynasty (1000 years ago), and Yi Dynasty (600 years ago) of Korea.   Hwang Kee went through the book at a microscopic level and incorporated its teachings into Moo Duk Kwan, attempting to bridge the gap of time and make Moo Duk Kwan into the traditional Korean Martial Art.  
Due to wars, political shifts in favor and other factors (most notably the split of Tae Kwon Do from Tang Soo Do in 1964) Tang Soo Do was replaced as the most popular Korean martial art and that is, in a nutshell, why many of you probably haven't heard of it before.

There's a ton more detail to the story, of course, but I've written way too much already.  If you're interested, please go here for further reading.


  1. Wow. From working for the railroad to becoming a Grandmaster. That's amazing.

  2. Shame it never became the most popular. Is that a recent picture of him? Did he live to be a hundred years old?

  3. Fascinating story! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Chrys- I certainly think so!

    Alex- He lived to be 87 years old and died in 2002. That picture was taken in... 2000? Something like that.

    Lara- You're welcome, Lara! I'm glad you found it interesting!


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