(Then) Master Kim Pyung Soo
Almost lost as an art after more than 1500 years, Korean karate is
undergoing a splendid revival. Heavily influenced by Japanese techniques
now, the art nonetheless retains its rough and tumble Korean
The development of Kwon Bop, the ancestor of modern day
Korean karate, reached its zenith during the period of Chung Hae, a
roistering, daring soldier king of powerful build who had to be restrained
from entering the yearly competitions he staged. The Koryo dynasty of
military kings of which the colourful Chung Hae was a part lasted for more
than 500 years, but went into decline toward the end of the 15th
period a fundamental turn was taken in Korean history which was to affect
the pattern of events right down to our time. And this new development was
to have a disastrous effect on the fortunes of Kwon Bop.
feudal era of the warrior princes drew to a close, it was supplanted by a
new dynasty that placed a high premium on learning and scholarship. This
new dynasty was the Yi dynasty, which established Confucianism as a state
religion. In the fluid situation that prevailed at the time, it was the
civil officials and bureaucrats who rose to power, and the military
officials suffered a drastic decline in influence.
emphasis on culture and learning, the old military arts were looked down
on. And since Kwon Bop was first and foremost encouraged by military
leaders as part of the training of their soldiers, Kwon Bop received short
shrift from the haughty new group of officials in power.
situation in Korea bears a striking parallel to what happened in Japan
roughly about the same time. There, too, a neo-Confucianist group moved in
to take power away from the old samurai clans. But in Japan, a powerful
voice rose in support of the samurai. That was Soko Yamaga, the man who
brought together the old virtues and teachings of the samurais and first
formulated them into the famous Code of Bushido.
Yamaga was also flexible enough to join the spirit of the times. While
emphasizing the martial virtues of the samurai, he also strongly endorsed
learning and culture as part of samurai training, believing that in this
way the samurai would be the best rounded man to take a role of leadership
in government and society.
Yamaga's transformation of the samurai class into one of leadership in
education and scholarship, he gave a new lease on life to the samurai and
extended his usefulness another two centuries.
Korea, no Soko Yamaga arose to champion the cause of the old martial
leaders; As a result, Kwon Bop became a casualty of the new order. The art
went into a long decline, and by the beginning of the twentieth century
had been almost extinguished.
final death stroke was delivered in 1910 when a victorious Japan took over
rule of the country from an enfeebled bureaucracy, the descendants of the
class of civil rulers that had assumed power at the beginning of the Yi
dynasty. Now more than four centuries later Korea was to pay the price of
the Yi dynasty's legacy of antimilitary activities by falling easy-prey to
the conquerors from Japan.
instituted a thoroughgoing occupation of the country and tried to stamp
out all vestiges of national distinction in Korea. As part of this policy,
it forbade the practice of Kwon Bop, a situation which has its ironic side
when it's remembered that 36 years later the victorious American army was
to forbid the practice of the martial arts in Japan itself for a period
after World War II.
the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea only two faint sparks
remained alive as a reminder of the past glories of Kwon Bop. These were
the Kwon Bop styles of Taik Kyon and Pakchiki, both practiced to a small
extent by common people in rural areas. The various forms of Kwon Bop were
no longer the exclusive practice of the upper classes, and in the cities
the art had been virtually snuffed out.
Kyon style is a form of foot fighting popular in some southern provinces.
Pakchiki is practiced in north western provinces of the country, and is
characterized by a form of butting with the forehead, which can be both
very effective and very painful for one's opponent - a fact learned the
hard way by Russian soldiers who occupied the country briefly after World
War II and who made the mistake of engaging in conversation at close
quarters with some of the more daring young bucks who used this method to
inform the Russians they weren't welcome.
the Japanese occupation gave the coup de grace to a dying Kwon Bop, the
country's 36-year colonial bondage provided the impetus to the growth of
modern Korean karate. During the years of Japanese rule, many young
Koreans left home and went to Japan and China to study and work. Once in
these countries, the young Koreans became exposed at first hand to
different forms of karate, first in China to kenpo, and then after the
1920's in Japan.
World War II ended, many Koreans abroad flocked home and brought with them
the results of their karate study. The end of the war had brought an
outburst of patriotism and nationalism in Korea, and there was a fervent
effort on the part of the citizens to restore old Korean ways and
principles. As part of this national movement, there was an upsurge of
interest in the old Korean foot fighting and self defence
was revived once again. But this time it was infused with some of the new
methods learned in Japan and China. While similar in many ways to Japanese
karate, the Korean style has its own distinctive flavor. For one thing,
Koreans rely much more on footwork and kicking. About 80 percent of Korean
karate uses foot techniques, and only about 20 percent is involved with
Essentially, the hands aren't used primarily as offensive weapons,
except for occasional blows with a clenched fist or a knife hand. There is
little of finger techniques or eye gouges, for instance. The hands mainly
are used either to block or to confuse an opponent, to try almost to
hypnotize for an instant, so that he can be open for a swift
spare use of the hands stems from ancient Korean habits and psychology. A
man's hands were always considered very valuable, and so the hands were to
be protected and not to be demeaned by striking an enemy. Instead, the
feet were considered the proper weapon against an opponent, their use
signifying a looking down on or contempt for an opponent.
Kwon Bop originated from ancient Chinese arts of self defense, and so the
Chinese kenpo techniques could be expected to find favorable response in
modern day Korea. Many of the movements are quite graceful, and the Korean
system retains many of the soft elements of the Chinese. In Korean karate,
many of the stances are soft ones, and foot sweeps are used a great
of foot sweeps has proven highly effective when used against opponents who
specialize in the hard approach. For instance, in the ready stance in
styles which use a hard approach, the weight is usually placed on the
front leg to give sturdiness and balance in the stance. But to Korean
karate men, trained in foot techniques, this hard stance of an opponent
has proven a tempting target in competition. They have used foot sweeps
against the stance with great effectiveness, catching their opponent's out
thrust leg and dumping him.
foot techniques, Koreans tend to shy away from the big flashy techniques,
like the side jump kick and the side flying kick. They like the
straightforward no-nonsense type of footwork. The big techniques may look
good, they feel, but they don't consider them too effective and feel they
can be easily blocked. The Koreans prefer to stick with such techniques as
a fast front kick, roundhouse kick, and inside and outside foot
anyone think that Korean karate is only soft and dance like, he need only
attend one of the country's numerous competitions to learn otherwise.
Korean karate is a wide open type of art where the opponents wear chest
and groin guards. And with good reason. The Koreans don't believe in
holding back except in blows to the face. Elsewhere, they let fly and make
traditions of Kwon Bop holds true in these exhibitions, and at times like
these it is easy to see that they are the descendants of the soldiers of
the fearsome King Chullg Hae. Their style of competition is bruising and
many of the contestants are sent spinning or knocked to the floor. To the
Korean, this exertive type of competition is all part of the building of
character and determination.
characteristic of the Korean system is the heavy indulgence in
competitions. The Korean karate man's tournament diet is a full one. Not
only are there numerous local competitions yearly, but there are no less
than 10 nationwide tournaments each year. These national competitions are
first preceded by regional tournaments, the winners then going on to
compete nationally. As if this isn't enough, there are also four
promotional contests held yearly at which the country's top karate men
of tournaments is felt to be an asset to increasing skill and to building
courage by competing against others frequently. It's understandable also
in looking back over the long history of Kwon Bop. Koreans engaged in this
type of competition long before any other country. For instance, it's only
been a matter of some 80 years since tournament competition was introduced
to Japanese karate. But it's been a matter of 1,200 years, and more, that
Koreans have been holding competitions.
karate has had its problems since the close of World War II, just like in
any other country. There was the inevitable political split, of course.
But the task of building karate in the country was complicated by the fact
that it had to be done from scratch, taking a defunct Kwon Bop and welding
Chinese and Japanese techniques to it. But the Koreans approached the job
with energy, and with some stern direction from the country's highest
end of the war, such karate experts as Yun Ui-Byong, No Pyong-Jik and Ui
Hwang-ki opened dojos or gymnasiums. And from China came Yoon Pyong-In to
teach Kwon Bop at the YMCA gymnasium and Chun Sang Sup who taught Kwon Bop
at the Yun-Mu Kwon gymnasium. (Karate in Korea has never been called by
the term "karate." It has gone by such names as Kwon Bop, Tang Soo Do,
Taik Kyon, etc. )
early post-war years saw the unification of the various styles into the
Korean system now practiced. Choi Hong-Hee, one of the most prominent of
the post-war karate men, helped unify the system by undertaking the task of
establishing 90 distinct Korean forms - such as Hwarang and
Chung-Moo—based on the original Taik Kyon techniques.
are a bewildering number of names which Korean karate groups go by, and
some explanation is needed. In the United States, especially, there seems
to be a great number of different Korean karate names, and there is a lot
of confusion and misconceptions, even among practitioners of the Korean
style, over what is meant.
first postwar national karate organization to be consolidated was called
the Kong Soo Do association, and it was headed by Cho Ryon-Chu, president
of the Korean Residents Association and Korean Youth Association in Japan.
Under this organization, the various forms of Kwon Bop were consolidated
and the art advanced rapidly.
dissension set in and by 1955 the Kong Soo Do association broke up. The
organizations that composed the Kong Soo Do split into their own separate
groups, or "gymnasiums" as they are called in Korea. (At present there are
16 gymnasiums in the country, linked together under the five main
gymnasiums: Chungdo Kwan, Changmoo-Kwan, Songwoo Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, and
the takeover of the military government in 1961, orders quickly came down
from on high to band all karate groups in one organization. This was
officially promulgated in Governmental Decree No. 6. The organization that
was founded was called the Tae Soo Do association This organization was
then given official recognition hy the government, by the country's
athletic associations and by the army, which made karate a part of
official training for all soldiers.
shortly after its inception, there was a split in the ranks. Whang Kee,
one of the directors of the Moo Duk Kwan association, and Yoon Kue Pyong,
a director of the Chido-Kwan, pulled out of the organization with some of
their branches in a dispute over the organization and direction of the
promotional boards. (Whang Kee was one of the early founders of a karate
gymnasium after the war. He organized the Moo Duk Kwan in 1947. Soo Bak Do
is another name for the organization he heads. Another name used by some
Moo Duk Kwan affiliates is Tang Soo Do, a term by which Kwon Bop was
sometimes called in the last century.)
most of the Moo Duk Kwan instructors and Yoon and those from the
Chido-Kwan remained anxious to consolidate into a national organization.
Many of them did affiliate with the Tae Soo Do association, especially
after the association re-examined all black belt holders throughout the
country in 1962 to ascertain their levels of ability and to set nationwide
the Tae Soo Do association accepted the suggestion of many of the Moo Duk
Kwan and ChidoKwan groups to change the association's name so that it
would make it easier for them to join. This suggestion was adopted, and
the organization was rechristened the Tae Kwan-Do association, the group
officially recognized by the Korean government and the name by which
Korean karate is now most known throughout the world.
Kwan Do claims to have some 1,900,000 members registered with it, which
would make this by far the largest karate organization in the world.
(Gogen [the "Cat"] Yamaguchi, who heads up the goju system in Japan,
contends he has the largest karate organization in his country with
600,000 members claimed.)
change brought in a number of the old dissenters. Today, the most
prominent holdout remains Whang Kee and the Moo Duk Kwan groups he still