What martial art am I studying?

Soo Bahk Do is the martial art that you will study in this course.

To understand Soo Bahk Do, it’s important to understand the foundational history. Soo Bahk Do was founded by Grand Master Hwang Kee (1910-2003). When Hwang Kee was only 7, he witnessed a fight with a Tae Kyun master defend himself against a large group of men. Hwang Kee was so impressed that he followed the man home and eventually asked to learn. Hwang Kee was refused because he was too young. Determined, Hwang Kee woud watch from a distance as the master would teach Tae Kyun. Though he never received formal training in Tae Kyun, some considered him a master in his own right by the age of 22.

Later, Hwang Kee went to Manchuria to work on the railroad. There he was able to train with Yang Kuk Jin, a master of the Chinese martial arts. Here Hwang Kee received his only formal training which included Seh Bop (Postures), Bo Bop (steps) and Ryun Bop (Conditioning). He also trained in Dham Toi Sip E Ro (12 Step Tan Tui) and Tae Kuk Kwon (Tai Chi).

When Hwang Kee returned to Korea, he read books on Okinawan Karate. The exact titles are unknown.

After World War II, Hwang Kee opened a school teaching a new system that he created called Hwa Soo Do. He named his school Moo Duk Kwan. This style was heavily influenced by his training in Manchuria. However, because of the Japanese Occupation of Korea, his art was not very understood. The general population was more familiar with Japanese influenced styles like Karate Do. The Korean pronunciation of the Japanese characters for "Karate Do" is "Tang Soo Do." At the time, Tang Soo Do was the only term for a “Karate-type” discipline that the public would recognize and accept because of their Japanese doctrinization during the past 50 years. Hwang Kee decided he would advertise his martial art as "Hwa Soo (Tang Soo) Do" so that the public would understand that he taught martial arts.

From the knowledge he had acquired from studying Okinawan books, he began teaching Tang Soo Do while applying the Hwa Soo Do discipline of techniques. This included a unique use of offensive and defensive hip movements in all hand techniques. Kicks also had a unique way of extending the hips on all thrust kicks. These along with other characteristics distinguished the Moo Duk Kwan system from others teaching “Tang Soo Do”.

Writing1In 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji, the oldest Korean martial arts text known today. Inside, he discovered a fighting art called “Soo Bahk Ki” or Soo Bahk Hee” which means hand striking techniques or dance. He recognized the importance of “Soo Bahk” as a Korean traditional martial art and studied the book in depth.

His martial arts school, Moo Duk Kwan, began another transformation as Hwang Kee implemented the Soo Bahk system into the Moo Duk Kwan. This implementation has continued until the present day where the Moo Duk Kwan now practices forms taken from, and based upon, the teachings from the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji.

In the 1990’s, the Moo Duk Kwan in the United States formally changed its name from the United States Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation to the United States Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. The change of the name outwardly demonstrates the Moo Duk Kwan’s change of focus from the Tang Soo Do curriculum that had a strong base in the Okinawan Karate forms to the unique Soo Bahk Do forms created by Hwang Kee such as Chil Sung, Yuk Ro, and Hwa Sun. 


Soo Bahk Do ( is our moo do, or martial art. The “art”, or “Do”, is a language of the spirit and body, therefore, “moo do” is our language of spirit and body through martial training. It’s not what moo do is that’s important, but how we express it that matters.

Many practitioners believe Soo Bahk Do translates to “hand strike way”. This is an inaccurate translation and does little to describe our art by labeling it as merely a form of attack. Soo Bahk Do is not defined as a method to strike with the hands, rather Soo Bahk Do is a tool to strengthen our spiritual and physical language and improve overall personal well-being. 

soobahkdo-sealSeal Script for the term Soo Bahk Do. Figure 1.

The term “Soo” does mean “hand” but the hand is a representation of the human body. Look at Figure 1 to see the seal script for the term “Soo” (Seal script is an older style of Chinese writing and the first writing style that used the term Soo Bahk). It is a representation of the human body with a head, spinal cord, and tail (tailbone). The two horizontal lines symbolize the arms and legs. Placing a real hand upside down, each finger represents one of the 5 main branches of the nervous system:

  1. The middle finger represents the spine.
  2. The index and ring fingers represent the legs.
  3. The thumb and little finger represents the arms.

The term “Bahk” has many meanings including to tangle, twist, turn over, pound, or change. An example would be a farmer turning over the soil which is a form of cultivating the earth. Another example would be a smith who works with metal by pounding and folding it to produce something of value. Every translation has one thing in common: Bahk is a term to improve or cultivate. The symbol on the left is the same symbol for “Soo” showing a human change. Just as a farmer and smith put forth tremendous effort and hard work to achieve the desired result, we as Moo Do In (Martial Art Practitioners) must give sincere effort as well. Physical cultivation will only come after intense physical conditioning as you pound, twist, and change your body. The same process is required for a spiritual change. Only after you are exposed to life’s challenges and successfully overcome them by choosing the path of virtue can you achieve spiritual refinement.

“Do” is an abstract term that is roughly translated as a spiritual way or path. The left side of the character signifies a road or path and the right side stands for head. Do can be expressed and observed through our actions.

Therefore, Soo Bahk Do really means the way of the art of human well-being. Our destination is to improve every aspect of the self. We need to keep every part of our self healthy. There are three distinct areas that we should concentrate to improve:

  1. Our skin, muscles, and bones relate to our external, physical health. In order to strengthen our body, we need to apply a scientific method. This is accomplished in the do-jang as we improve our strength, endurance, flexibility, and technique. We strengthen and improve our physical body through Weh-Kong.
  2. Our internal health relates to how we eat, sleep, and breathe. Training in both Moo Pahl Dan Kuhm and Moon Pahl Dan Kuhm (Standing and Sitting 8 Pieces Brocade) will improve the health of the internal organs through Ki-Kong breathing and an understanding of O-Haeng. Our internal health is closely coupled with O-Haeng, O-Ki, and the related 5 internal organs: Kidney, Liver, Heart, Lung, and Spleen. Regretably, few Moo Do In understand the relationships of O-Haeng, but is a vital component to the training of Nae-Kong 內功 (sincere internal effort).
  3. Our spirit, or ma’ulm, relates to our heart or soul. It is not intellectual, but spiritual. Enhanced intellect is only beneficial as long as it is applied to cultivate one of these three distinct areas: Weh-Kong, Neh-Kong, or Shim-Kong. The value of the 8 Key Concepts, for example, is much more than a standard for improved martial technique. Courage, concentration, endurance, honesty, humility, and others are principles that need to be engraven in your ma’ulm, and revealed in your every action—both in and out of the do-jang. This is Shim-Kong 心 功 (sincere spiritual effort) training.

All three work together to find well-being. The composite gives us good health and longevity. Soo Bahk Do is the vehicle to improve each of these three aspects of our selves and that is the purpose of Soo Bahk Do.

Kohn Kyung means sincere effort. In order to improve yourself in these three areas, it’s important that you have sincere effort. Kong 功is another term that translates to effort and is the basis for the terms Shim-Kong, Nae-Kong, and Weh-Kong. Only by exercising sincere effort in cultivating the soul, breath and internal organs, and the physical body, will a Soo Bahk Do practitioner succeed in the purpose of Soo Bahk Do.

Soo Bahk Do gives us various tools to accomplish its purpose of “rejuvenation and prolonging of life beyond the normal span”:

  • Um Yang is balance, which stands for harmony.
  • Ship Sam Seh which comprises Pal Gwe and Oh Haeng (not to be confused with the Song of Ship Sam Seh).
  • Chil Sung
  • Yuk Ro (pronounced Yoong-no)

Each of these is an important tool, or asset needed to be connected to the history, culture, and philosophy of Soo Bahk Do. They are much more than mere lists or terms to memorize, but have great significance and application in your moo do training in and out of the dojang. If you cannot apply these principles in both your training and personal life, you cannot connect to the art. As the Song of Ship Sam Seh states: “Failing to follow [these principles] attentively, you will sigh away your time.”

Lesson Summary

Soo Bahk Do is a martial art founded by Grand Master Hwang Kee in the early 20th century. Hwang Kee was inspired to learn martial arts after witnessing a Tae Kyun master defend himself against a group of men when he was just 7 years old. Despite being refused training because of his young age, Hwang Kee observed the master from a distance and became a master in his own right by the age of 22.

Later, Hwang Kee trained in Manchuria and learned Tae Kyun, Seh Bop (postures), Bo Bop (steps), Ryun Bop (conditioning), Dham Toi Sip E Ro (12 Step Tan Tui), and Tae Kuk Kwon (Tai Chi). When he returned to Korea, he read books on Okinawan Karate and opened a school called Moo Duk Kwan teaching his own system called Hwa Soo Do, heavily influenced by his training in Manchuria.

In 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the oldest Korean martial arts text called Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji, which introduced him to the fighting art of "Soo Bahk Ki" or "Soo Bahk Hee." Hwang Kee implemented the Soo Bahk system into the Moo Duk Kwan, and in the 1990s, the name of the American branch changed from Tang Soo Do to United States Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation.

The Purpose of Soo Bahk Do:

  • Soo Bahk Do is a tool to strengthen the spiritual and physical language of the practitioner. It is not simply a method of hand strikes.
  • The term "Soo" represents the human body, with each finger symbolizing a branch of the nervous system.
  • The term "Bahk" means to tangle, twist, turn over, pound, or change, signifying improvement or cultivation.
  • The term "Do" signifies a spiritual path or way. It requires sincere effort in all aspects of cultivation.
  • The three areas to concentrate on for improvement are external, physical health; internal health; and the spirit or soul.
  • Improvement in these areas is achieved through scientific methods, exercises, breathing techniques, and principles such as courage, concentration, and humility.
  • Soo Bahk Do provides tools such as balance, Ship Sam Seh, and Chil Sung Yuk Ro that are connected to the history, culture, and philosophy of the art.
  • Applying these principles in both training and personal life is essential to connect with the art of Soo Bahk Do.

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