Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hwang Kee and his innovations

In my last post I explored one of Taekwondo`s great pioneers; Choi Hong Hi and his theory of power. This time I turn my attention to another of the great pioneers of Taekwondo namely Hwang Kee.

In the "Kukkiwon-deriative" Taekwondo-world Hwang Kee is almost unknown. In most texts he is sometimes mentioned in the history chapter as the man who founded Moo Duk Kwan in 1945 and that is just about it. I for one find Kukkiwons treatment of Taekwondo history perplexing at times. The official story in their Kukkiwon textbook almost leads people to believe that Taekwondo is thousands of years old and focuses a lot on the three kingdoms era untill the beginning of 1900s. The period from 1910 and onwards is not explained indepth just mentioning the schools that were founded in the 1940s onward that were going to be united and found Taekwondo.

Moo Duk Kwan was one of those schools and an important root of the present Kukkiwon system. I therefore find their treatment of history perplexing as they only spend about one or two sentences on a man that should be devoted a chapter (as should all the founders of the 9 original Kwan). This is post is just my small contribution on setting the record straight and honoring those that should be honored.
Before I go on to write a little about his martial arts experiences before founding the Moo Duk Kwan I think I should write that they are all unverified except for Hwang Kee`s own testimony. Nevertheless his final system was if not derived from his alleged training and studies at least strongly influenced by the arts he told he did study.

Taek Kyon influence
Hwang Kee was born in what is now the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. He said in his books and interviews that he trained and mastered the art of Taek Kyon in his youth. Taek Kyon is in some circles believed to be the foundation of modern Taekwondo. Many of our more "spectecular" and circular kicking techniques, and modern sparring format seems to have its roots in Taek Kyon. If not directly then at least it has had some influence on it.

Kwon Bup / Quan Fa influence
In the 1930s Hwang travelled to Japanese controlled China (Manchuria) to work on a railroad there. While working he came into contact with one Yang Kuk Jin, a chinese Kwon Bup/Quan Fa practisioner. He studied Kwon Bup with Yang for one year. The studies circled around "Tam Tui" (chinese for "springing legs") and Yang family style Tai Chi.

Karate influence
In 1939 he moved back to Korea to work on the railroad there. While working for the Chosun Railroad Company (later renamed ministry of transportation in 1945) he got access to training facilities and the company library containing a few Karate books. He never stated in any of his writings or interviews what these books were except that they were Karate books but many things points to the early writings of Gichin Funakoshi. His books were most readily available, and the forms (Kata in Japanese/ Hyung in Korean) taught in early Moo Duk Kwan were the same as those covered in Funakoshi`s writings. Also the teaching order of the Hyung in Moo Duk Kwan were the same as early Shotokan Karate.

Another pioneer of Taekwondo; Lee Won Kuk founder of the Chung Do Kwan stated in numerous interviews that Hwang Kee studied with him in the Chung Do Kwan in the 1940s. This fact as well as the Karate books Hwang studied explains why early Moo Duk Kwan followed Shotkan methods so closely. Lee Won Kuk was a direct student of Funakoshi. Lee Won Kuk did say that Hwang never even got a intermidiate belt ranking in his Chung Do Kwan indicating that the training Hwang did was sporadicly at best.

Hwang did associate himself with numerous highly ranked Chung Do Kwan students and instructors, as well as being a friend of the founder of Chang Moo Kwan (who also studied Chinese as well as Japanese martial arts), and the man who reopened Yun Moo Kwan as Ji Do Kwan Youn Kwae Byong. It is possible that Hwang trained and exchanged knowledge with any or all of them.

Muye Dobo Tongji influence
In 1957 Hwang discovered an old martial arts manual dating back to 1790s. Those who has read my blog for a long time might remember that I wrote an article about the manual. If not then click here if you want to know more about the manual. Please note that the article consists of two parts;-)

Hwang Kee studied this book with eagerness and found references to an older martial art practised in ancient Korea called Subak (also romanisized as Soo Bahk). Also of interest to Hwang was the chapter on Kwon Bup / Quan Fa that contained an illustrated form as well as some theory of practise. These two findings made Hwang envision a new martial art with strong Korean roots. This was probably important back then as all things Japanese were somewhat looked down upon after the Japanese occupation of Korea and all of the crimes they commited toward the Korean people. Hwang who essentually taught Shotokan Karate (he called it Hwa Soo Do or Tang Soo Do) with a few Chinese forms for advanced students was probably wery keen to make and reorganise the martial art to make a truly Korean art. He therefore made many changes to his art stemming from his martial experiences:
  • Changed the name of his art to Soo Bahk Do 
  • Made Chil Sung Hyung (7 forms called 7 stars forms)
  • Made Yuk Rho Hyung (6 forms called 6 paths forms)
  • Made Hwa Sung Hyung. 

In the above video you can see Chil Sung Saro Hyung

In the above video you can see both one of the Yuk Rho Hyung as well as one of the Chil Sung Hyung.

Most of these inovations came from Hwang Kee`s studies of the Muye Dobo Tongji including his name change from Tang Soo Do / Hwa Soo Do to Soo Bahk Do.

Another little known fact about Hwang Kee is that he wrote the first Korean language "Taekwondo" book (this happened in 1949, and it is written in both my teachers first book on Taekwondo as well as part 4 of Eric Madis masterpiece article series on the pioneers of Taekwondo), and that he made some of the earliest attempts at organising the Korean schools together. He shunned what was to become the KTA and instead made his own organisation wich would include both Moo Duk Kwan and Yon Kwae Byong`s Ji Do Kwan. In the 1960s he estimated that about 70% of the martial artists in Korea belonged to this organisation. He might be correct given that Moo Duk Kwan was one of the most widespread Kwan in that he used his postition in the railway company to get access to training facilities over all of Korea.

In the end though many of his students broke away and joined the increasingly more successfull KTA and soo Moo Duk Kwan also influenced what was to become Kukkiwon Taekwondo. Hwang Kee moved to the Unitied States and continued to spread his Soo Bahk Do untill his death in 2002. Today Moo Duk Kwan Soo Bahk Do contains the above mentioned forms as well as the older Karate derived ones. Many schools also teach weapons allthough I do not know if this is something they have added in recent years or if Hwang Kee taught weapons himself.


  1. What is the title and publication date of Kwang Kee's first book on "Taekwondo"?

    1. Hi Mike:-) I do not have an exact date. I rechecked my Teachers first book and it states that the first book on "Taekwondo" came out in 1959 and it was written by Hwang Kee. I must have missread it the first time. Eric Madis gives his Sources for 1949 to be Hwang Kee`s book on Tang Soo Do history from 1995. I have a pdf scan of a book by Hwang Kee in Korean from 1958 though, and that is entitled Tang Soo Do Kyobun (Kyobun = Textbook). Hope that helps:-)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject?

  3. No actually his first book was on Hwa Soo Do, not TKD. The 1st ever book with the TKD title was written in 1959 by General CHOI Hong-Hi. GM Hwang Ki’s 2nd book was indeed on Tang Soo Do. He never wrote any books on TKD. He was not TKD. He was proudly a Hwa Soo Do, Tang Soo Do and Su Bak man!

    1. And in Gen. Choi’s 1959 book, the 1st ever book on TKD, while it had much Karate still in it, the TKD named book did indeed have the 1st 5 Korean TKD Patterns created by Gen. Choi.

    2. No protest from me:-) I wrote this back in 2012. If I'd written it today I would have worded myself differently. I wrote "taekwondo" with the "" signs to show that it was used as a generic term for hard style Korean karate, not the specific martial art of Choi or the later developed kukki taekwondo. My source for the claim was a book written by my own teacher where he used taekwondo in the same way (as a generic name). Thanks for commenting though:-D now I don't need to correct the post myself:-D

  4. Hwang Kee claimed to learn the Shotokan forms from the Karate books you mentioned. However, I have heard it rumored he actually trained under Funakoshi and was in the first group to achieve 3rd Dan. Does you have any knowledge of this?

    1. He never trained with Funakoshi. That is a myth. He traveled to Manchuria and practised there while working on the railroad. He then went back to Korea where he studied books and practised with a great number of people, but not Funakoshi. He does have a link back to him through studying his books, and he did study for a short time in Chung do Kwan with Lee Won Kuk which did study with Funakoshi and is thought of as had 3rd dan and was among the very first people even on a Japanese scale to practise karate. I suspect that whoever said that about Hwang Kee mixed the two Koreans up:-)

      Thank you very much for commenting :-)