Sorry for the duplication, but this is my 'article' on Tang Soo Do History. It's too long to submit as an article in the fantasy warrior cartoon section, although a shorter version is submitted.
Tang Soo Do history... more questions than answers.
Sifting through the mountain of bullshit is quite a task, with so much of it, it is impossible to be 100% sure of the facts. But most of the bullshit is politically motivated (be it misguided Korean Patriotism, anti-Japanese sentiment or Tang Soo Do -v- Tae Kwon Do rivalries) and often quite transparent. This assists us in our quest for a credible and historically sound reconstruction of events.
Whilst many accounts of TSD tell us how ancient it goes back, it was in fact created from three distinct stylistic influences in 1945 by a chap called Mr Hwrang (laterly Grandmaster Hwrang). There is no credible direct link between pre-1900s Korean MA and TSD.
Mr Hwrang had just five (max five yrs, 11 months) years of Kung Fu training to his credit when he created the style. He had apparently also self-taught Teakkyon (a Korean sport-art emphasising kicking) and read some Karate books.
His style has become very popular outside of Korea and allegedly is nothing like Karate or Tae Kwon Do..........
The longer version of events
What is unquestioned is that a Mr Hwrang Kee (Kee being his first name) created Tang Soo Do as we know it today. Beyond that, there are always several versions of events.
The first contentious issue is the extent to which Tang Soo Do is based on Japanese Karate. Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945 and the Koreans and their culture were brutally opressed. This has understandably bread resentment which unfortunately has influenced the telling of Korean Martial Arts history. With the surge in Korean national pride in the 1950s, the Japanese influence on Martial arts was largely whitewashed out, and alturnative Korean styles were emphasised. These included Teakkyon -actually a sport. Martial Arts with (alleged) Japanese linage/influences were renamed to more closely align themselves with Korean ancestory -Tae Kwon Do (Tea to sound more like Taekkyon) and Tang Soo Do (Chinese hand way).
Well, Tang Soo Do DOES include the basic Hyung (patterns) of Shotokan Karate. BUTGM Hwrang's accounts say that he got them out of a book. TSD masters (often) go to extreme lengths to say how different TSD is from Shotokan in detail. Official histories (such as on websites and in student handbooks) tends to ignore the Karate issue altogether. The WTSDA handbook is typical of this and merely reiterates that martial arts were banned during the Japanese occupation.
Then there is the "TSD is 2000 years old" line. Nearly all histories of Tang Soo Do (or Tae Kwon Do, Hwarangdo etc) start by telling us about the Silla empire (57BC until 918AD) and how the Silla "Flowering Manhood" elite warriors (hwarang) used [-insert choice Korean MA here-]. But this is like saying that because the Vikings were accomplished warriors (demonstrating that they dids 'martial arts') and that Judo is practiced in Norway, then Judo is routed in the viking arts. Basically, there is no clear (or credible) conection between whatever the Koreans were doing in the Silla period and TSD. Pointing to a few carvings of silla warriors doesn't help either. TSD's connections to 'ancient' Korean MAs are explored in more depth later.
Below is a pictorial history, based mainly on Grand Master Hwrang Kee's accounts:
1. Teakkyon linage
GM Hwrang claimed to have witnessed a Teakkyon master use kicking defeat eight attackers in a market place in May 1921, which makes him 6 years old. It is also during the occupation which outlawed Korean MA.
Aside from the credibility of using kicks to consistantly defeat multiple attackers, we have to consider the likelihood of the next part of the story -that Hwrang was able to follow the master home and subsequently observe him training Taekkyon. So this Teakkyon master was hardly secretative of his flouting of the law.
The story continues that the master refused to instruct Hwrang because he was too young. So Hwrang copied the moves from afar. That's the equivilent of learning Wing Chun from a video without sound or a rewind feature. We all know how many people truly become WC 'masters' by that mode of learning...
There is no account (that I've come across) that records that Hwrang ever had any formal training in Teakkyon. Even GM Hwrangg said that he'd had no formal training.
2. Kung Fu.
In May 1935 Hwrang went to China to work in the Railways and he started learning Kung Fu from Master Yang, Kuk Jin in May 1936. In May 1937 he returned to Korea. In 1941 he fled wartime Korea (allegedly escaping a Japanese execution squad... ) back to Manchuria (also under Japanese occupation) and recomensed his Kung Fu training under Master Yang. By November 1945 Hwrang was back in Korea and set up his famous school; Moo Duk Kwan.
So his kung fu training was at the most 5yrs 11mths (if he recomenced training on first January 1941... ). Five years is a reasonable estimate based on the information available.
The style that he trained in is imprecise but generally considered to be TaiChi based.
3. The karate kata issue.
Hwrang accounts for his knowledge of Shotokan kata (which form the basis for the TSD hyungs) as having read books on Okinawan Karate in 1939.
It is said that when he first set up his Kwan, Hwrang did not include the Karate kata but that he soon after added them "for commercial reasons". Apparently this addition was influenced by other Kwan.
If he had not formally learned Japanese Karate (in the 'official' accounts it is decsribed as Okinawan Karate where it is mentioned), how was he in a position to teach them? We all know how much emphasise is placed on the 'hidden' meanings of kata moves in Karate. Some TSD people point out that since Shotokan kata moves can be traced back to China, Hwrang's Kung Fu training would have made the applications of the kata known to him -but remember that Hwrang's Kung Fu training was in NORTHERN Kung Fu.... and that Karate is evolved from SOUTHERN Kung Fu's.
4. The historic texts and the creation of "Soo Bahk Do".
In 1957, during the height of the anti-Japanese retake of Korean MA history, Hwrang Kee started translating a historic Korean Martial Arts text called "Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji", written in 1571 (debated, but certainly old). The manual is actually Chinese although it was adoped by the Korean military. It included a section on empty-hand fighting which Hwrang translated from ambiguous Chinese (each character having several meanings to choose from etc) into modern Korean.
At least some TSD groups deny any direct link between the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji and modern Korean MAs. However, according to Hwrang Kee, the 17 new Hyung which he says reflect the traditional (by implication not Karate and thus Japanese) Korean way of fighting.
Remember that this took place in 1957 - which is interesting bearing in mind how many TSD websites say that GM Hwrang was training in Soo Bahk BEFORE he went to China.
5. On Tae Kwon Do and commercial success.
GM Hwrang resisted efforts to make his kwan join the government supported Tae Kwon Do style which characterises Modern Korean MA. Many of his students weren't so reluctant however and TSD was divided -with many going over to the TKD federation. Hwrang appears bitter towards the ITF/WTF Taekwondo federations and often pointed out how Tang SDoo Do was not a sport....
But we must remember that present day Tang Soo Do routinely competes in semi-contact point sparring virtually indistinguishable from ITF Taekwondo or Karate for that matter.
Outside of Korea TSD has flourished and is amongst the styles to commonly award child blackbelt grades etc.