Early Tang Soo Do Historical Articles II

Quest For The Truth

The Origin of tang Soo Do's Forms


by John Hancock

Hwang Kee, founder of tang soo do, claimed to have brought the art's pyong ahn forms back from China in the 1930s. That was the premise that author John hancock set out to investigate more than 14 years ago.
Myth of the two-man block: The pyong ahn eedan form includes a movement that is often described as a block against two punches-one from an opponent standing to the front and the other from an opponent standing to the side (1). In reality, however, chances are slim that a martial artist could successfully defend himself against this kind of simultaneous attack (2-3).

I first met Han Chi Sup in August 1984. He was practicing in the Trent Gymnasium on Yongsan Army Post in Seoul, South Korea. I remember standing in the archway leading into the gym. To my left another master led a small group of students through the intricacies of some hapkido techniques. To my right, alone and absorbed in his own efforts, Han immersed himself in the execution of a rather long and intricate series of movements. His motions were filled with power, yet they were fluid and sinuous. I knew there was pattern and purpose to his dance.
My prior training in shorin-ryu karate allowed me to recognize Han's exercise as a kata. To Koreans, it was known as a hyung. Han's performance held me mesmerized as he whirled first one way, then another. What so strongly captivated me was that the form was punctuated with powerful focal points yet was distinctly circular in overall design. Because I had previously been exposed to the Chinese martial arts, I recognized it as being of Chinese origin, yet never had I seen such a clear demonstration of power by anyone performing a similar routine. I would later learn that the hyung was known as so rim jang kwon (Shaolin long fist).
Following that performance, Han executed three of the five pinan kata, with which I was familiar because of my karate background. During our subsequent conversation, he explained that those hyung were known as pyong ahn forms, which means "peace."
From that initial meeting, I set upon a path that I would maintain for more than 12 years. The journey has been more than just a series of physical accomplishments, more even than an education or a learning experience. The quest has gone beyond a mere search for a holy grail of technique or knowledge. It has been a sacrifice of myself to the task of seeking, knowing and understanding tang soo do, the "China hand way."

The Start

Forms have always held a special interest for me. No matter what art seized my imagination, I always embraced a sincere affection for its forms. Among the striking arts, forms are elaborate series of movements linked together. They are performed solo, incorporating rhythm, points of focus and patterns of repetition. A form done with a partner is often classified as il soo sik dae ryun (one-step fighting) or ho shin sool (self-defense technique).
My initial training in tang soo do included the study of classical forms. Most schools still utilize such forms as a criterion for evaluating a student's progress. The first forms I learned were of the ki cho (foundation) series. Next were the pyong ahn series. When I asked how tang soo do came to include these forms, I was told that Hwang Kee, founder of the art, brought them back from China, where he had studied in his youth.
This answer perplexed me, as I had always been told the pinan series were of Okinawan origin. Yet every tang soo do master I'd ever met gave me the same answer: "Hwang Kee brought the pyong ahn hyung back from China." How could this be so?
Pyong ahn is the Korean pronunciation for the Chinese characters associated with the forms. They were created in 1901 by Itosu Yasutsune, a shorin-ryu karate master in Okinawa. The Okinawan dialect pronounces these characters as "pinan." Itosu himself was an educator who believed that karate practice was an excellent method by which young people could strengthen their body while building good character. During Itosu's early life, karate was still very much a secret practice carried out by small groups of initiates. The training was somewhat brutal, and the forms were rather complex.
Originally, all shorin-ryu students began by learning the form seisan (Korean: ship sam soi), which refers to the "13 powers" of five elements and eight directions. That form is one of the longest of the classical forms. Itosu did not believe that young people should be taught the deeper secrets of karate until they had successfully proved themselves over a period of years to be of sound moral character. He also believed it would be dangerous to teach children the devastating strikes hidden within the art. Hence, the pinan series was created by drawing from two older forms: kusanku (Korean: kong sang koon) and chiang nan (Korean: jae nam). Five forms were created and introduced into Okinawa's public schools as instruction for children at the elementary-school level. From 1905 to 1909, one form was introduced each year.
In time another Okinawan, Funakoshi Gichin, would travel to Japan and teach a version of these forms, eventually renaming them heian. Other former students of Itosu, such as Mabuni Kenwa (founder of shito-ryu karate), would also relocate to Japan and teach versions of the pinan kata. (As an interesting sidebar, Japanese karateka switched the order of the first two forms. Hence, anyone who trains in a traditional
Okinawan school knows them in the original order, while those who trace their lineage through a Japanese school have pinan No. 2 as their version of pinan No. 1, and vice versa. Tang soo do practitioners need to take note here as their order is the same as used by the Japanese schools.) That series eventually made its way into Korea via such notable practitioners as Lee Won Kuk (the chung do kwan school), Choi Hong Hi (the oh do kwan school), Yoon Byung In (the chang moo kwan school) and Ro Byung Jik (the song moo kwan school)-all of whom studied in Japan. Such is the history of the pyong ahn hyung.
Yet the question remained: How did tang soo do end up with this series of forms? The rhetoric was always the same: "Hwang Kee brought them back from China." This answer could not be true ... or could it?

Tang soo do's pyong ahn forms (demonstrated by the art's founder, Hwang Kee) closely resemble karate's pinan forms, John Hancock claims. Pyong ahn and pinan both mean "peace."

The Confrontation

I once asked that question directly of Hwang Kee's son, Hwang Hyun Chu], director of the United States Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. The answer was the standard one: "My father brought [them] back from China." I pressed the point, saying that this simply could not be true. The forms were not Chinese; they were Okinawan in origin. The fact that this was common knowledge to students of Japanese and Okinawan karate had led to more than one rumor that Hwang Kee had traveled to Japan or Okinawa and learned the forms there. One myth even claimed that he had spent a few months in Okinawa studying shorin-ryu and goju-ryu karate. When I pursued the issue, Hwang Hyun Chul politely thanked me for calling and said good-bye.
I later called the federation headquarters to say that I would not be renewing my membership because my questions were not being answered seriously. This led Hwang Hyun Chul to ask specifically what I wanted to know. I brought up the pyong ahn hyung and their history. What occurred during this conversation has troubled me for 10 years.
When Hwang told me that his father had brought the pyong ahn hyung to Korea back after studying in China, it incensed me that he would insult my intelligence. I had made it clear through many earlier correspondences that I had extensively studied the history of those forms. For Hwang to simply feed me rhetoric was a slap in the face, and I reacted accordingly. I confronted him directly with the facts-documented and incontrovertible facts that were even alluded to by the grandmaster himself. In 1978 Hwang Kee published Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do). On page 372 he elaborated on the pyong ahn hyung as follows: "Originally this form was called jae nam. Approximately 100 years ago an Okinawan master, Mr. Idos, reorganized the jae nam form into a form closely resembling the present pyong ahn forms."
It was after my outburst that Hwang Hyun Chul had told me in so many words to have a nice life. Hwang did not rebut my statements, nor did he confirm any of them. He did not explain how tang soo do had come to include the forms. I felt as though I was the one who had been insulted, yet Hwang had hung up on me.
During my time in Korea, I had heard of something called kibun, but I did not gain a real grasp of it until nearly a decade later. Kibun has no English equivalent, but it is often translated as "face." I had heard how Asians "gain" or "lose" face, and this often holds serious consequences. I used to equate face with pride, but kibun is much more complex than that because it also refers to one's emotional state of being.
My exchange with Hwang Hyun Chul was an exercise in ruining kibun. My kibun had been disturbed when Hwang answered me in an insulting manner, and I had disturbed his when I accused him of not being honest with me.
That incident caused me to go off on my own search for the facts. That journey has been fraught with frustrations and dead ends. Yet for some strange reason 1, as an outsider, was able to piece together a series of unanswered questions that have plagued tang soo do practitioners for at least 30 years.

The Search

In 1995 1 attended a regional gathering of tang soo do black belts. During a discussion with one talented young man, I was told that the black belts in his organization were taught that the pyong ahn series was created by Hwang Kee and Funakoshi Gichin. The story goes that Funakoshi and Hwang traveled to China with other martial arts masters, where they studied the Chinese arts. Together they created the pyong ahn forms, and then each returned to his respective country and taught his own version.

Truth of the two-man block: It is more likely that the doubleblock technique from the pyong ahn eedan form was designed to be used against a single opponent. As the opponent (right) steps in to strike (1), John Hancock uses a high block to deflect the punching arm and an uppercut to strike under the same arm (2). The opponent then steps forward to punch (3), and Hancock blocks the strike with his left arm (4). Hancock then follows through with an inverted punch to the ribs (5).

This story could have gone unchallenged indefinitely as long as the black belts in that organization never questioned its validity and continued to repeat it to younger generations. But a simple fact check quickly proved it to be a fallacy.
First, while Hwang Kee did travel to China, there is no indication he was part of a group of karate masters. Second, Funakoshi never traveled to China; he was an Okinawan who relocated to Japan, where he lived out his life. Third, Hwang and Funakoshi were not contemporaries in the sense that the story implies. Funakoshi was born in 1868. In 1927 he relocated to Japan, where he remained until his death in 1957. Hwang was born in 1914 just north of Seoul. In 1935, following completion of high school, Hwang traveled to China as part of his job and remained there until 1937. By this time, Funakoshi was 70 years old, while Hwang was only 24. That would hardly make them contemporaries.
Nonetheless, some people have perpetuated the rumor that Hwang Kee studied under Funakoshi at his shotokan karate school. As far as I have been able to discover, Hwang and Funakoshi never trained together, nor even ever met each other.

The Alternatives

Then how did tang soo do come to include the pyong ahn hyung in its curriculum? One possible explanation is that Hwang picked up the forms in his youth from Japanese karateka in Korea. This is entirely possible, as more than a few Japanese military men in Korea at that time had skill in karate and a knowledge of the pinan (or heian) kata.
Another possibility is that Hwang learned the forms from Koreans who had studied in Japan. Again, this is plausible, yet not likely. The majority of Koreans who had trained in Japanese karate did not return to Korea until after liberation in 1945. The exception was Lee Won Kuk, who is reputed to have operated a dojang (school) in Korea as early as 1933. If this is true, it would have allowed for a three-year window of opportunity prior to Hwang's exodus to China in 1935.
Both of these are reasonable theories. However, I developed a third possible explanation which tied up all the loose ends rather nicely.
To borrow the words of Sherlock Holmes, "Whenever all theories have been excluded, what remains, no matter how implausible, must in fact be the truth." Such is the credo of deductive reasoning. With this in mind, I was drawn again to examine the assertion that Hwang Kee did indeed bring the pyong ahn forms back from China.
Hwang Kee had once stated that he was a personal friend of Yamaguchi Gogen. Yamaguchi, a proponent of Japanese goju-ryu karate, was a student of Mabuni Kenwa, founder of shito-ryu karate. Mabuni was a student of Itosu Yasutsune, creator of the pinan kata. Also of note is that Hwang Kee mentioned Mabuni in his 1978 book Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do). Additionally, Yamaguchi was an intelligence officer with the Japanese army during World War II and was stationed in Manchuria. Hwang was also in Manchuria during this time. Hwang himself admitted in a 1991 interview that he did not begin serious martial arts training until he started working for the Japanese railroad in Manchuria. Therefore, it is possible that Hwang learned the pyong ahn hyung-and perhaps the majority of tang soo do forms-from Yamaguchi while in Manchuria between 1935 and 1937. This theory is supported by the similarities of the pinan series as practiced in shito-ryu karate, whose founder was a direct student of the forms' creator.

Author and researcher John Hancock, shown performing a technique from the pyong ahn cho dan form, has practiced tang soo do for more than 14 years.

If this theory is accurate, Hwang Kee could indeed have brought the pyong ahn hyung back from China. Remember that this is the original premise that I had been looking to verify-and that the Moo Duk Kwan had for 50 years insisted was the truth. The strength and failing of this theory is that it could be proved or disproved only by Hwang Kee himself. The answers to this and many other questions lay in Hwang Kee's latest book The History of Moo Duk Kwan (1995).
On pages 15 and 16 of that text, it clearly states that Hwang Kee's knowledge and understanding of the majority of the forms taught within tang soo do, including the pyong ahn hyung, came from reading and studying Japanese books on Okinawan karate. Hwang discovered those books in the library of the train station where he worked in Seoul in 1939. We can only speculate as to which books those were, but I would venture that Funakoshi's Ryukyu Kempo Karate (1922) was among them.

Bitter Fruit

Nonetheless, my original argument that the forms are Okinawan, not Chinese, and that Hwang did not learn them in China, was now substantiated. However, I would have been happier to have discovered that Hwang had at least learned the- forms from Japanese karateka while in China. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It was a bit disappointing to find out that the grandmaster's only knowledge of and experience with the forms came from books.
When I first drafted this article, I did so with the hypothesis that the pyong ahn hyung may indeed have been brought to Korea from China by Hwang Kee. I even used deductive reasoning in an examination of all available information to support that argument. It is something of a bitter coincidence that as I was concluding my years of research and preparing to put pen to paper, Hwang Kee published his latest book and in it admitted that he had not learned the forms in China at all, but from studying Japanese karate books in Korea. Prior to reading this book, I was considering phoning Hwang Hyun Chul to apologize for my accusations during the aforementioned conversation of 1986. However, I obviously was correct in my assumptions.
I am not opposed to the Soo Bahk Do Association or what it hopes to accomplish in terms of bringing soo bahk do back from extinction. Both it and tang soo do are excellent martial arts that offer as many benefits to their students as any other style in existence. I just believe that questions from practitioners-no matter the art-should be answered intelligently and honestly.

About the author. John Hancock is a LaGrange, Kentuckybased free-lance writer and tang soo do practitioner.


The Boy Wonder

by Mitchell Bobrow


Mitchell Bobrow (far left) the "Boy Wonder" of the tournament circuit in the mid-to-late 1960s, mixes it up with Joe Hayes at the 1971 Tournament of Champions.
This month's guest columnist, tang soo do moo duk kwan stylist Mitchell Bobrow, was a top tournament competitor during the golden age of sport karate, fighting the likes of Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris, and earning the nickname the "Boy Wonder." Today, Bobr ow is the owner of Otomix footwear and travels to tournaments around the country to promote his lightweight training shoes. Join him here as he treads down memory lane in his all-leather-soled high tops, recalling his tales of American karate. -The Editor s
Definitely, no question about it, the hardest person I ever fought was Joe Lewis. The first time I met Joe in the ring was at the Jhoon Rhee Nationals in Washington, D.C. I was only 15 years old, and I was
definitely outsized and outclassed. Joe was a cut above the rest at that time. I had won seven straight matches in the eliminations just to make it to the finals to face him, and he beat me like I wasn't even there. Joe was seeded into the finals because he was the defending champion, so I had to face a fresh Joe Lewis. That wasn't an easy task.
I met Joe in the finals of that tournament in 1966, '67, '68, and '69. It wasn't really a rivalry, but everybody knew that you weren't going to win an event unless you got past Joe. I only got past him once. The last time we ended up meeting on the tourna ment floor, it was one of those days when I said to myself "You've got to do it now, or it's never going to happen."
So I went out there and scored with a roundhouse kick to Joe's face and made his nose bleed. In those days, if you caused a nosebleed, the referee just told you "Please don't do that again," and you kept on fighting. When I saw the blood trickling down Jo e's nose, I knew things were going my way. It gave me a psychological edge, and I won.
Of course, injuries go both ways. The first time I faced Joe, he broke one my ribs. He had that fantastic side kick, and at one point he grabbed my arm, lifted it up, and shot that side kick underneath, cracking a rib. That first time we fought, he totall y manhandled me. But it was a great lesson.
Since I've started marketing my Otomix shoes, I've been to hundreds of tournaments across the United States-tae kwon do tournaments kung fu tournaments, open tournaments. From my 27 years in and around tournaments, it seems like the competition around the country is improving. In the forms and the weapons divisions, competitors are absolutely better than ever. You see guys out there like (1990 Black Belt Male Co-Competitor of the Year) Mike Bernardo, and they're phenomenal. Back in the '60s and early '70s , there were some good forms performers, but there was nobody the caliber of Bernardo, who could work a bo (staff) like that.
As far as fighting goes, though, I think the equipment and the rules they use now have dwarfed the talent available. I think a lot of today's fighters are probably more talented than they show at tournaments. We used to throw six- and seven-technique comb inations, but the judges today are too quick to break the action to look for a point. A guy will throw one kick, and the judge will break to check with the corner judges. But maybe that kick was meant to set up another kick or a punch. When these guys are training in their gyms, I'm sure they're throwing three or four kicks or punches in a combination. But when they get out there in the actual event, the judges stop the action as soon as it starts. It makes people overcautious, and it doesn't let anyone k now how much talent they have, because the fighting is all chopped up.
Not only are the rules dwarfing competitors, but the equipment is too. When I competed, we were lucky if we could find shin guards, let alone pads for the hands or head. And I never really understood why they called this stuff safety equipment. They made everybody put it on, and then on top of that, they told you that you could not hit. I was under the impression that once the safety equipment was on, they would say "OK, now you'll be able to hit because you're wearing safety equipment." Instead, they sai d "You can't hit at all." If you can't hit at all, what do you need safety equipment for?
When I fought, I would always use a kick or two to set up my favorite technique: the reverse jump back kick. It was my best kick-I could score with it with either leg. Sometimes in my mind I would play games, saying "Well, I've scored twice with the right leg, let's see if I can do it twice with the left."
I used to leave the ground quite a bit; I did a lot of aerial techniques. At the time that I was competing, I was one of the tallest men on the circuit, and my height made my kicks more effective. I never had trouble fighting smaller men, because I could usually keep people from getting too close with my roundhouse kicks.
Tournaments and competition have changed a lot since I competed. But for the most part, things are looking better than ever.





By Floyd Burk

Close your eyes and try to think of just one person who has been successful as a martial arts student, instructor, school owner, point-fighting competitor, full-contact fighter, full-contact and open-karate tournament promoter, expert analyst, and host of martial arts events for network and cable television.
Bingo. Joe Corley. This man has done as much or more than anyone to give the martial arts the recognition it deserves and to help the sport grow around the world.

The Journey Begins

The Atlanta, Georgia resident began his martial arts journey in 1963. His first significant accomplishment occurred in 1966 when he earned his black belt in tang soo do. Soon thereafter, Corley seriously began considering opening his own karate school. And that's exactly what he did in 1967 ... even before his 21st birthday.
In those days, most people started out teaching once or twice a week. Typically, the initial program was more recreational than traditional, hard-core martial arts. But Corley was not and is not like most people. He started with a full-time karate studio - which just happened to be the first of its kind in the Atlanta.
As an instructor, Corley was a natural. And his students really enjoyed the Korean art he was teaching. But, as mentioned earlier, Corley was not and is not like most people. As time went by, he had made so many changes to the curriculum that he changed the name of his program out of respect to his Korean instructors. Thus, in 1972, Joe Corley's American karate was born.
One of the most unique aspects to his program is that he allowed new students to retain their rank when they joined his school. He also discarded old training methods that were physiologically unsound and harmful. Corley's program enabled people to improve and maintain their strength and fitness, become mentally stronger and gain confidence in their self-defense abilities while utilizing practical training methods.
But Corley was not satisfied. Next, he began developing teaching formats and programs that would not only accommodate adult students but also the needs of teens and young children. In addition to the self-defense benefits, Corley believed he could use karate to help children develop the personal discipline to become better citizens.
In a short amount of time, Joe Corley's American karate program was the place to be, and parents began to spread the word that their children were becoming more obedient at home, getting along better with their siblings and becoming more successful at school.

In just a few short years, he developed a strong core of dedicated students and assistant instructors. Like any other smart businessman, Corley opened more schools. As a businessman with such a dynamic and unique karate program, it wasn't long before his studios began growing and expanding. Since the 1970s, Corley has had the reputation for having one of the best groups of martial arts schools in the entire southeast United States.

The Battle

Corley's next significant contribution was organizing sport karate's Battle of Atlanta. It didn't take long for the Battle of Atlanta to became the benchmark for all open sport-karate tournaments. It would surpass the National Karate Championship in Washington, D.C. and the All-American Championship in New York City. In a few short years, it became the biggest tournament in the world.
And how did Corley accomplish this? Well, his timing was impeccable. The martial arts were ready for someone to help clean up the open-tournament scene. Furthermore, every competitor knew that he had a fair shot at winning the grand championship at "The Battle."
In addition to that, Corley had an incredible work ethic and a ton of talent. He put a lot of effort and planning into the tournament and it showed. He was quickly recognized as a special promoter.
He's also consistent. Corley, along with his efficient team of tournament coordinators, has managed to meet the challenge year after year. The 1998 Battle boasted more than 3,000 competitors from all over the world. It also draws celebrities such as country singer Patty Loveless and Walker, Texas Ranger television series co-star Clarence Gilyard to heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield.
Several thousand spectators always come to enjoy a weekend of world-class competition. This event is not just a karate championship, it is a martial arts extravaganza. The Battle Of Atlanta is a grand achievement and is great for all of the martial arts.

A Karate Pioneer

Corley has also had a tremendous impact on full-contact karate. According to undefeated full-contact karate champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, Corley "did more for the sport of full-contact karate than any other person."
"In my book, he was the czar of the full-contact sport," says Wallace. "If people and politics hadn't gotten in his way and mucked things up, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have built it up to the level that pro boxing and pro wrestling enjoy today. Just look at what he has done with the Battle of Atlanta. Joe Corley is the real deal. He's a great martial artist and a true American karate pioneer."

Expert Analyst

Corley has made an impact behind the scenes, too. He has become an expert analyst and host for martial arts events, logging more than 1,000 hours of television coverage. Viewers from all over the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Asia have listened to his commentary.
Furthermore, Corley has been the referee for full-contact title fights and a model judge and arbitrator for open-karate tournaments.
In addition to his numerous accomplishments, Corley is also a co-founder of the South East Karate Association (SEKA). This is an organization that is trying to develop the arts in a positive way. And Corley's goodwill does not stop there. Along with a little help from his friends from SEKA, Corley once exposed a group of con men who advertised for karate instructors with "no experience necessary."

Turns to Gold

As you can see, Joe Corley has been successful from Day One. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. For all of his accomplishments, Joe Corley has been inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as the 1998 "Man of the Year."

About the author: Floyd Burk - a frequent contributor to Black Belt Communications, Inc. - teaches traditional American karate in San Diego, California.


Traditional Tang Soo Do

How it Made Me One of the World's Best Tournament Fighters and Most Respected Martial Artists


by Linda Denley

"Strong stances, aggressive punches and kicks, and a winning attitude - I learned all of these from tang soo do," Denley says.

I once heard that the Korean words tang soo do mean "never to retreat." Whether that's true or not, it describes the fighting art perfectly.
Tang soo do is a hard-hitting, assertive fighting system that stresses powerful, effective techniques. Without it, I wouldn't be the tournament competitor I am today. But I'm a martial artist first, a tournament competitor second. My successful career in professional karate, which includes seven straight years as the number one women's fighter, and membership in the BLACK BELT Hall of Fame, is a direct result of my successful tang soo do training.
Many people know I've competed in karate for over 12 years, and they're curious about how I've won so many titles and how I've competed in such a rough sport for so long. There are some basic reasons for my success, all of which resulted from my tang soo do training.
Most importantly, I take my training seriously. Unfortunately, a lot of martial artists don't, and whatever happens - good or bad - is fine with them. But my training is serious in the studio, and that seriousness carries over into the tournament ring. When I enter the ring, I'm there for one reason: to fight and win.
One of the best ways to beat your opponents is to psych them out. Earlier in my martial arts career, most of my opponents fought the name of Linda Denley rather than the person. As soon as they did that, they lost. I had 'em before they entered the ring. Because tang soo do is such a hard-hitting, aggressive fighting system, it's excellent for mentally getting the best of opponents. They see you charge in and hit hard, and it often leaves them helpless.
Tang soo do has also been a driving force behind the length of time - an unprecedented 12 years - I've spent on the national tournament karate circuit. Although some people burn out after a few years, I'm nowhere near that stage. I'm not sure I ever will be.
Most people who quickly burn out in the martial arts, whether it's in traditional training or in the tournament ring, are in the martial arts for the wrong reasons. They train and compete because of hate, envy, revenge, and that type of thing. These people don't last because they're not martial artists in the true sense of the term.

On the other hand, my tang soo do training puts the martial arts in the proper perspective. Whatever I do in the martial arts, whether it's forms, tournament fighting or teaching, I do it the best of my ability. I try to improve myself through each endeavor. Furthermore, I've lasted in sport karate longer than many other top-name competitors because I don't get involved in the sport's politics. Although they're inevitable in any sport, you don't have to be part of them unless, of course, some people pull you in against your will. I've found that whenever politics are mingled with the martial arts, they do nothing but bring you down. They're one of the major reasons for burnout.
Tang soo do is a goal-oriented fighting art. Within its ranks, everyone is encouraged to shoot for higher achievements - to earn more advanced belt ranks, gain more skill and knowledge, or some other objective. When I first started on the national tournament circuit, I only had one goal - to be number one.
That goal was extremely important to my success, and because tang soo do is so goal-oriented, it was an easy one to set and eventually achieve.

But many of today's martial artists don't have goals. They just ramble through months - even years - of martial arts lessons without any real pur pose or objective. They enter tournaments and say to themselves, "Well, maybe I'll win and maybe I won't." However, such an attitude is foolish. You need goals to give you something to work for. They give you sincerity and purpose in the martial arts.
There are two types of goals in my training: short-range goals and long. I range goals. Short-range goals are stepping stones to my long-range goals. For example, let's say I've just started taking tang soo do (or any other system). One day, far into the future, I want to be an advanced student and own my own school. That's my long-range goal.
But how do I get there? Do I just wake up one morning and - boom! - there it is? Hardly. It's going to take hard work and a lot of short-range goals. Some of those short-range goals will probably include earning promotions in specified periods of time, helping my instructor so I can learn how the school runs, and teaching part-time. Another short-range goal might be to save a certain amount of money each month so I can get my school off the ground. Now do you see how short-range goals work? They are the building blocks of long-range goals.
It works exactly the same if you want to become a great tournament fighter. Set short-range goals, such as winning specified small tournaments throughout the year in your belt division, and then use this experience to help you win major tournaments when you're a seasoned martial artist.
Let's talk about sparring and tournament fighting for a minute. Tang soo do techniques are excellent, not only for self-defense in the street, but they make super moves for tournament fighting. A lot of tang soo do moves give me an advantage over non-tang soo do fighters. For instance, some martial artists can only fight with the right side of their body.
But in tang soo do, moves are distributed 50-50 on each side of the body. One-half are hand techniques, while the other half are kicks. You should be able to use every limb equally well, not your right side better than your left, or your hands better than your feet. And because tang soo do so strongly emphasizes equal distribution of techniques, I've been a much better all-around martial artist.
When I'm fighting in a tournament, I never have to think about my next move. Why? Because it's automatic. When I'm in the ring, I'm looking for targets I can hit when facing my opponent. What I do comes naturally because I've repeatedly practiced my tang soo do techniques. That's one of the beauties of the art - it's so thorough that effective fighting strategy becomes second nature.

I've always been known as an aggressive fighter. Again, much of that comes from my tang soo do training, which has never stressed defensive fighting. When you apply the martial arts, whether in a tournament or for self-defense, you're not there to stop and stare. You're there to fight, and if you fight aggressively, you'll keep your opponents so busy they won't get a chance to apply their techniques. Make your opponents respond to you as much as possible. That way, you don't have to respond to them. This is one of the basics I learned in tang soo do.
Another fighting tip I learned in tang soo do is to double every technique. That way, if you don't hit with your first technique, you're bound to connect with the second. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't double their techniques. They throw one technique and stop.
A low/high roundhouse kick is a perfect example of an effective double technique. You're bound to hit one of the two targets, such as stomach and face, especially if your opponent doesn't maintain a proper guard position. Although you can do many double techniques with kicks, punches, backfists and ridgehands, use only what works. The main thing is to create an opening so you can land a blow.
One final point: Develop a winning attitude. You need it for success in the martial arts, no matter what your style or system, whether you compete or not. And when you strive to win, do so for the right reasons, such as character building and the perfection of your martial arts skills.

Good training in any legitimate martial art will do that. Fortunately for me, tang soo do has done that very well.


Transplanting Tang Soo Do From Korea to Pennsylvania


by Robert W. Young

Chun Sik Kim heads the International Tang Soo Do Federation, one of the largest traditional martial arts organizations in the world. In addition to 14 dojang (studios) in the Pittsburgh area, he oversees more than 100 schools in the United Kingdom, Korea, Canada, Greece, Panama and other parts of the United States. But no matter where this brand of tang soo do is taught - Asia, North America or Europe - the stances, techniques and forms are exactly the same. That's because Kim believes that, when it comes to martial arts, traditional is definitely terrific. Here's the short version of his life story.
Chun Sik Kim wasn't a particularly tough kid. Like millions of other children around the world and plenty in his hometown of Songtan, Korea, he had problems with things like self-esteem and coordination. And as the only son in a single-parent family, he worried about being able to defend himself and his mother should the need ever arise.
What made Kim different from his peers is that very early in life, he found a simple solution to all his problems: the martial arts. He started when he was 10. "At that time, I did weight lifting, judo and boxing," he says.
Then Kim happened to visit a tang soo do school run by a master named Song Ki Kim. He watched as hordes of children kicked and punched like nobody's business. The next day, he joined. "I loved it," he says. "We trained about two or three hours a day for five days a week. Sometimes I would come home late, but my mother knew where I was and the tang soo do school was close to my home, so it was OK."
The master-to-be didn't have as many styles to choose from as modern-day students have. "There was moo duk kwan, ji do kwan, chung do kwan and others, but they were all tang soo do," he says. "I liked moo duk kwan because it looked more traditional, more strict and more focused. I thought the students worked harder."
Months later when Kim received his moo duk kwan green belt, he thought he knew everything there was to know about tang soo do. His head grew two sizes too big, and he stopped attending class.
"But I came back three months later because I missed it," Kim says. "When I started, my mother didn't want me to go because she was afraid I might get hurt, but I went anyhow. This time, my mother made me go. And I wanted to go back."
Kim was concerned that his master would be angry about his three-month vacation, but he wasn't. In fact, the master welcomed the lost sheep back into the fold. "But I still feel very bad because I had 'betrayed' trim for three months," Kim admits. "I never quit again."
For any Korean boy obsessed with the martial arts, times were tough. "Before my master got a school, we practiced outside in the dirt," says Kim, who earned his black belt when he was 12. "If it rained, we couldn't practice. In the summertime, we would go to the mountains to train. We didn't have any equipment, but sometimes we used a rice bag filled with sand as a punching bag."
Back then, the dobok (uniform) was a bit different from the way it is now, Kim says. "The sleeves were shorter; they came to just around the elbow. And the pants came down to just below the knee. I'm not sure why - maybe it was because we were poor and didn't have enough material to make the uniform longer. Anyway, it was cooler in the summer because the wind blew through, and it didn't stick to your skin."
Kim and his young classmates spent most of their time drilling in the basics: kicks, punches, forms, one-step sparring and free sparring. Especially free sparring. My master would have 20 people stand up, and each student would spar 20 times for five minutes with each person," Kim says. When you add in short rest periods between rounds, that comes to about two hours of bone-smashing, flesh-pounding torture.
There weren't a lot of tournaments where students could test their techniques against others, Kim says. "About once a year, martial artists from across the country would come together for one, or there would be a big Asian tournament." These were full-contact events in which competitors wore only basic chest and head protection.
The skills Kim worked so hard to perfect then are identical to the ones he and his federation's instructors teach now. "Our ha dan mahk kee (also spelled hadan makgi, meaning low block) was the same as what we teach now," he says. "I don't believe in changing techniques. I tell people I can teach only what I learned. Modern instructors may create new styles, but what's going to be around in the future? The traditional martial arts.
"The world changes every day, but anything traditional should not," Kim continues. "People need some stability in life, and traditional martial arts can provide that." One of the most important things the traditional arts teach is respect, and that should never change, Kim insists.
To help promote traditional tang soo do to a wider audience, Kim packed his bags and moved to the United States in 1972. In 1973 he appeared on his first magazine cover-Official Karate. In 1974 he organized his first tournament, which attracted about 700 people. After that, he made the cover of Black Belt, Karate Illustrated and Karate/Kung Fu Illustrated.
The master, who is now based in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, admits that the teaching methods he and his instructors currently use have been modified a little to better deal with students' busy schedules. Because of school activities and sports, children just can't invest as much time in their training, he says. "But parents need to remember that martial arts can help academic studies," Kim says. "I tell students what my master told me: 'On one side you have education, and on the other side you have martial arts.' " It's the perfect balance, he claims.