Brief History of Tang Soo Do


Indigenous Korean martial arts can be traced back many centuries. There is strong evidence suggesting that soldiers from the Silla area of Korea practiced hand to hand fighting systems including; Hwa-rang Do and Tae Kyun. In 1790, the Royal Korean Army published a richly illustrated book called the “Muyedobotonjii.” This book provides details about Korean armed combat methods including the use of swords, spears, and sticks. There is a specific chapter though dedicated to a style of empty-handed fighting called Kwon-Beop, meaning fist methods.

The abundance of trade routes from India to China, Japan, Korea, and other Far Eastern countries also enabled the spread and sharing of knowledge for different fighting systems. Karate is the result of several centuries of shared knowledge, greatly influenced by Okinawa Te (Okinawa Hand) and Chinese fighting systems. The original pronunciation of "Karate" using two Chinese characters is "Kara Hand" or the hand of the Kara Kingdom. Kara is the name of an ancient province of China, and therefore some far eastern countries refer to it as China Hand Way, or "Tang Soo Do."

Korea's geographical position between China and Japan means that it has often been at risk from invasion, and colonisation. The most recent colonisation was by the Japanese, who ruled Korea during much of the early twentieth century and until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Protracted periods of occupation by the Chinese and Japanese have therefore impacted greatly upon Korea's culture. Korea's fighting arts have consequently been heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese fighting systems.

During the most recent Japanese occupation, Koreans were prohibited from practicing most martial arts with the exception of Kendo and Judo. The restriction on practicing martial arts resulted in a resurgence of interest in traditional Korean empty hand systems though. These systems included Su-Bak and Tae-Kyun which were being practiced underground until the emergence of the first official Karate schools during 1943.

One practitioner of martial arts during the Japanese occupation was the founder of  the Moo Duk Kwan school of Tang Soo Do; Grand Master Hwang Kee. He studied martial arts and practiced alone from 1921 until 1936. In 1936 he met a Kung Fu Master called Yang Kuk Jin while working on the railroad in Manchuria. He subsequently studied the martial arts of Tai Chi and Tan Tui with Master Yang until he returned to Seoul in August of 1937. Master Hwang Kee later studied Okinawan Karate from books while working at Cho Sun Railway Bureau.

Another famous Korean martial artist called Lee Won Kuk studied the Shotokan style of Karate, while staying in Japan. He was a student of Sensei Gishin Funakoshi (a famous martial artist credited with introducing Okinawan karate to Japan) during the Second World War. After the war, Lee Won Kuk returned to Korea and opened his own martial arts school. He called his school “Tang Soo Do Chung Duk Kwan” meaning China Knife Hand, Blue Wave School.


Around the same time as Lee Won Kuk’s return to Korea several other martial artists were forming their own “kwans”, or schools. Most used the name Tang Soo Do to describe their respective Korean fighting arts. Grandmaster Hwang Kee was among these martial artists with his original martial art school called; “Hwa Soo Do.” Hwa Soo Do means the art of the flowering hand and it was based this on the teachings of Master Yang. Despite his efforts, Hwa Soo Do was not popular with Korean citizens, and the number of students dwindled.

Grand Master Hwang Kee later met Lee Won Kuk and was impressed by his Tang Soo Do system and its popularity. In 1947, he subsequently combined his Hwa Soo Do art with that of Tang Soo Do and Karate learned from Okinawan books. This marked the beginning of the Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan school.

 In 1950, the Korean War caused further disruption to the progression of Tang Soo Do. Following the conflict though the Moo Duk Kwan system flourished under Grandmaster Hwang Kee and several Dojangs (schools) opened. The art was widely taught in schools, to the police,  and at Naval and Airforce bases. During 1957 US servicemen started receiving Tang Soo Do while based in Korea. This undoubtedly contributed hugely to the art spreading to the USA and Europe.

During the 1960’s, the Moo Duk Kwan survived several political attempts to unify all of the Korean martial arts under the single umbrella of Taekwondo. Throughout this period, Taekwondo grew in strength and the Moo Duk Kwan lost several students to this. Tang Soo Do prevailed though and continues to be taught taught as a traditional martial art and not a sport, like Tae Kwon Do.

Tang Soo Do is a composite martial art heavily influenced by Okinawan Karate, but also comprising elements of Tae Kyun, Soo Bahk, and Yang style Tai Chi. Originally, there were several Tang Soo Do schools/styles. The Moo Duk Kwan has undoubtedly had the most influence on how modern day Tang Soo Do is practiced though.

Detailed information and some very good articles regarding the origins of Tang Soo Do are available via the Tang Soo Do World web site


The Origin of Calderdale Family Karate

 SBN Martyn Greenwood started practicing martial arts in 1983. He initially studied Shotokan and Kempo Karate in West Yorkshire before spending two-years in the North East of England practicing Shukokai, and Shotokan Karate. He then returned to West Yorkshire looking for another martial arts club. At the same time Tang Soo Do was being introduced for the first time in West Yorkshire.

In 1988, SBN Greenwood enrolled for first ever Tang Soo Do lesson in Halifax. He subsequently spent 22-years training with the same group. During this time he taught Tang Soo Do in sports centres throughout West Yorkshire and achieved Master status. Some of the students he taught from White belt, are now teaching classes in their own right.

 Unfortunately he became disillusioned with; political interference from the group’s governing body, the lack of leadership, and limited technical input for senior grades. He therefore left this group in 2010 and took a break from teaching to focus on his own training and development. He started training with another Tang Soo Do group based in the North West of England. This experience introduced him to different approaches, and applications for Tang Soo Do.

In 2012, SBN Greenwood founded Calderdale Family Karate. The venue for the first ever lesson in Calderdale was Brighouse High School and there were only around five people there. After moving venues a few times, the Club relocated its classes to two centres in Halifax. The Club later expanded its classes to two additional centres in Brighouse.

Calderdale Family Karate was originally under the umbrella of another large Tang Soo Do governing body but later went independent. Independence has allowed the Club to operate free of any constraints while providing a comprehensive traditional Tang Soo Do syllabus. The Club continues to flourish under these arrangements, and maintains close links with neighbouring clubs in the North of England.

The Calderdale Family Karate syllabus reflects that Tang Soo Do is an all inclusive martial art. It continues to teach Tang Soo Do in the traditional manner while accepting that martial arts need to evolve and develop. The curriculum therefore follows the "Ryu Pa" philosophy. Ryu Pa is a Korean term meaning “a river flowing down divided” and  denotes progressive change, or development. The Club badge therefore uses the ancient "ouroboros" symbol of a dragon eating its tail. It represents a continual cycle life, growth, and rebirth.  leading to immortality.

The Club has a clear vision about what it wants to achieve and the legacy it wants to leave. We are commited to providing enjoyable, and affordable lessons which are free from politics.