What is Tang Soo Do?

What is Tang Soo Do?
Tang Soo Do is a Korean form of Martial Arts.

Its name literally stands for "China Hand Way". The "Tang" refers to the Tang dynasty. The name is based upon the Korean pronunciation of three characters, which incidentally are similar to the characters that make up the Japanese karate-do. Both styles refer to "China" to help illustrate the origins of the style. Tang Soo Do is also referred to as Kong Shou Dao, which was a change made by Gichin Funakoshi to drop the Chinese reference in preference for the idea of "the Way of the Empty Hand".

Because the name refers more to the origins and characteristics of the style, there isn't necessarily one founder. Much of what we know of Tang Soo Do, however, can be traced back to Hwang Kee, the founder of Moo Duk Kwan, the style which many modern Tang Soo Do stylists trace their roots. However, Tang Soo Do dates before Hwang Kee, tracing its roots back to Shotokan Karate.

Hwang Kee was interested in Martial Arts from a very young age and trained based on what he had witnessed a man do with only his hands and feet. He became exposed to Chinese styles of Martial Arts during the Japanese occupation of Korea. During that time, he worked on the Chosun Railway and could easily travel between Korean and Manchuria. It was in Manchuria that he witnessed the smooth, fluid movements of Chinese Martial Arts. He combined what he had learned from traditional Korean systems with those of the Chinese style to create Hwa Soo Do, "the Way of the Flowing Hand". This style would be renamed to Tang Soo Do to increase public familiarity with other styles already in existence.

When Korean was liberated, 5 major kwans formed for those trained in karate and had exposure to Taekkyeon (Korean Self Defense) and kung fu – with Hwang Kee being the head of one of them. While the origins were similar, the styles varied greatly. Over time, more kwans appeared.

In 1959, the Korean Taekwondo Association was formed to unify all of the various kwans into one system. It was part of an attempt to restore national identity after the occupation. While uniformed until a single name, Taekwondo, each style retained their individuality. Tang Soo Do continued to flourish on its own.

Today, traditional Tang Soo Do artists practice a style that is distinctly Korean and different from both Taekwondo and Soo Bahk Do, which is the modern version of Hwang Kee's style. However, some schools still interchange the three names for familiarity with their target audiences. The most internationally recognized version of Tang Soo Do today primarily derives from Moo Duk Kwan or Soo Bahk Do origins, tracing their lineage to Hwang Kee. And many Taekwondo organizations recognize Tang Soo Do ranks and permit them to participate in their competitions.

There are many famous people who have studied Tang Soo Do, including Chuck Norris, Danny Bonaduce, Bruce Buffer, and Michael Jai White.

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