You may have not heard of Tang Soo Do as much as Taekwondo, but the 90’s remembers when this Korean martial art was brought into the Western world by famous practitioners Chuck Norris and Billy Blanks. Borrowing influences from Chinese and Okinawan martial arts, this Korean rendition of karate demonstrates the art in kicks and strikes.

How Korean Martial Arts Tang Soo Do Began

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The roots of Tang Soo Do go as far back as the Shila Dynasty in Korea, where early Korean fighting styles were passed down from one person to another, growing greater with each generation. Around the time when Japanese occupied Korea, the practice of any martial arts of any kind was banned, with the punishment being imprisonment.

Hwang Kee, a master in the Korean martial arts of Subak and Taekkyeon inevitably depart Korea due to the pressures of being discovered as a martial art practitioner by the Japanese and it is here where the journey of Tang Soo Do’s creation slowly took shape. Upon leaving, he eventually made his way to China where he spent the next 20 years of his life.

While in China, Hwang Kee ended up becoming a student to a man named Master Yang, and began to learn the northern style of Yang Kung Fu. It wasn’t until after Korea was liberated, he made his return and established martial art schools known as kwans along with other martial arts practitioners– particularly those trained and exposed in kung fu like himself.

Politics, Merge & Separation

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Around the 1960’s, the Korean government issued an order for all the kwans to come together and unify under one name. This was mainly to restore the national identity that had essentially been wiped away by the Japanese during the occupational period. This singular name was TaeKwonDo – what most people today are familiar with as Korea’s primary martial art.

While on board with the unification at first, Hwang Kee later realized the ‘merging’ of his organization would inevitably mean a lack of control over what he had created. For this reason, he refused to join and spent few years wrapped in legal battles. However, despite all the political in-fighting and complications, Hwang Kee was eventually granted the right to run his organization as desired.

The Way of Korean Martial Arts – Tang Soo Do

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One of the most important qualities of Tang Soo Do is, like many other forms of martial arts, building inner confidence and self-defense. Due to his mastery in Taekyyeon and Subak, Tang Soo Do’s style is largely influenced by techniques and moves within Taekyyeon. More than attacking, Tang Soo Do’s aim is the neutralize an attacker as quickly as possible, to prevent any harm. For this reason, many of the techniques taught are quick kicks, strikes, and throw downs.

When you train in Tang Soo Do, you must pay close attention to ‘hyung’ – a set of sequential patterns of techniques. To climb up the ranks, evaluation to how well you execute these pre-arranged patterns are made and how well you execute each memorized sequence determines whether you rise or stay.

Besides hyung, students also practice one-step sparring (choreographed defensive moves against single step attacks), and/or free sparring, which is like one-on-one competition matches in other martial art combats.

Besides sparring and training the forms, students are expected to learn about Tang Soo Do’s history to better understand its roots and aims. On top of that, a demonstration of respect for its origins and the people that founded it are of the utmost importance.

Tang Soo Do and Chuck Norris Prominence in the West

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During his time serving in the military at the Osan Air Base in Korea, now-celebrity and martial artist Chuck Norris came across Tang Soo Do while wandering the streets after a shoulder injury he had obtained through training in judo. As he watched a group of these Tang Soo Do martial artists display awe-inspiring acrobatic skills, Norris immediately became interested in learning this style of karate while he recovered from his injury.

Upon spending countless hours training, Norris eventually was promoted to Grandmaster and spent the later years of his life establishing a multitude of martial art schools, his own martial art style known as American Tang Soo Do and Chun Kuk Do, and even starring in television and film – one of which where he got to fight/act alongside the legend, Bruce Lee.

Another famous practitioner in Tang Soo Do was Billy Blanks, the man famous for introducing the world to Tae Bo in the 90’s – “a total body fitness system that incorporates martial arts techniques such as kicks and punches.”

Starting his journey in martial arts at the age of 11, Blanks entered the world of karate – Tang Soo Do – to help him with a hip joint problem that had impaired his movement since an early age. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s, where he infused his love and training in the Korean martial arts, as well as boxing, and created the highly successful, culture phenomenon of Tae Bo.

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