The Korean people have been settled in the same area for thousands of years and have a vast history of trade as well as conflict and warfare, both internal and with neighboring territories and peoples. Interactions among the different tribes that inhabit present day China, Japan, and Okinawa have exposed the Korean people to many different martial arts styles. Although it is impossible to give an exact timeline in the development of the ancient Korean martial arts, we can cover some of the key events that influenced their development.

Three Kingdoms: Two thousand years ago, the Korean peninsula was divided between three kingdoms: Silla (founded in 57 BC), Koguryo (founded in 37 BC), and Paekche (founded in 18 BC). Silla (in the east) and Paekche (in the west) together controlled approximately the southern two-thirds of what is currently the country of South Korea. Koguryo, was much larger, covering the present day northern third of South Korea, all of North Korea and part of Chinese Manchuria. After a long series of wars, the Silla Dynasty united the three kingdoms in 668 AD. During this period of conflict, study of the martial arts was very popular, as evidenced by many surviving mural paintings and ruins that depict ancient martial arts. In Silla a group of young aristocratic warriors, called the “Hwa Rang Dan”, combined and refined earlier martial arts into a new more formal martial art. These warriors were the generals and commanders during the conflicts that resulted in the unification of the Korean peninsula under the new Silla Dynasty (668 AD – 935 AD). Most Korean martial arts trace their spiritual and technical heritage to this group. In fact, the names of some modern Korean martial arts such as Hwa Rang Do or Hwa Soo Do, still reflect this heritage.

Medieval Development: In 918 AD, a warlord named Wang Kun, overthrew the united Silla Kingdom and established the new kingdom: “Koryo which lasted for 475 years (918 AD – 1392 AD) until succeeded by the Yi Dynasty, which lasted for 500 years. During the almost 1000 year period of the Koryo Kingdom and the Yi Dynasty, the forerunner of what we know as Tang Soo Do was increasingly popular with both the military and general public under the names Kwon Bop, Tae Kyun, Soo Bahk, Tang Soo and others. In 1790, the oldest known Korean martial arts book was written: Mooyae Dobo Tangji. It contained illustrations that substantiated the theory that Tang Soo Do (then called “Soo Bahk Ki”) had developed into a very sophisticated art of combat techniques.

Modern History: In the mid to late 1800’s, Korea came under increasing Japanese and western (United States and European) influence. Japanese sovereignty, administered by the Japanese military, over Korea was internationally recognized in 1910 and lasted until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945. During this period, practicing and teaching of martial arts was restricted in Korea with the practice of traditional Korean martial arts forbidden and punishable by death. While only selected Japanese martial arts (Judo, Kendo, etc.) were allowed, traditional ancient Korean martial arts such as Tae Kyun were practiced in secret. After World War II in 1945, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two zones of occupation. The northern half was occupied by the Soviet Union, which established a communist state: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), while the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was established in the southern part of the peninsula occupied by the United States after the Japanese surrender. The restriction on practicing traditional Korean martial arts was lifted in South Korea and several training schools were soon erected. One of the young Koreans secretly practicing traditional martial arts during the Japanese occupation was a young man named Hwang Kee.


Grandmaster Hwang Kee (November 9, 1914-July 14, 2002) was born in Jang Dan, Kyong Ki province. In 1921, young Hwang Kee visited a neighboring village during the traditional Korean festival of “Dan O” to see archery, wrestling and other attractions. There he watched a group of seven or eight men arguing heatedly with a single man. When the argument turned into physical violence, the lone man used hand and foot techniques to defeat them all. Impressed by the man’s agility and skill, Hwang Kee asked other bystanders about these techniques and they replied, “That is Tae Kyun”.

pic-hwang-keeGrand Master Hwang Kee

Greatly impressed by his first exposure to martial arts, Hwang Kee followed the man home and asked to to be instructed in Tae Kyun. The man refused because of Hwang Kee’s young age, but this did not deter young Hwang Kee who returned often to observe the man practice outside his home and to copy the movements. Hwang Kee never forgot the strange man and his fighting techniques and practiced his Tae Kyun diligently.

Hwang Kee left Korea in 1935 to work for the Cho Sun Railway Company in Manchuria, China where he met a gifted martial arts master named Yang Kuk Jin. Master Yang initially refused to teach the young Korean, but his resistance was eventually overcome by Hwang Kee’s passion and determination. Hwang Kee studied the Tang method of martial arts under Master Yang until 1937, when he had to return to Seoul. He was able to return to China once more in 1941 and visit his instructor, but World War II and the establishment of communist governments in China and North Korea prevented Hwang Kee from visiting Master Yang again.

During the Japanese occupation, the only books permitted were Japanese, but the Cho Sun Railway had a small library, which contained some books on Okinawan Karate. Hwang Kee studied these books to increase his knowledge of the martial arts.

With the end of World War II in 1945, the long Japanese occupation of Korea ended and Korea became an independent state again. On November 9th, 1945 (his 31st birthday), Hwang Kee realised his dream, and formally registered a new martial arts school called “Moo Duk Kwan”, commonly translated as “Institute of Martial Virtue”. Kwan Jang Nim (Head of School) Hwang Kee blended all of the styles he had studied into a new martial art. Its main constituents are Tae Kyun (60%), Northern Chinese (30%) and Southern Chinese (10%) with a little Okinawan karate thrown in.

Tang Soo Do was not Kwan Jang Nim’s first choice of name for his new art. He preferred “Hwa Soo Do” (art of the flower hand) in celebration the flowering independence of the newly re-established state of Korea; the “Hwa” also hinting at a connection with the Hwa Rang. However, the general Korean public refused to accept the new art. One day Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee met two prominent martial arts instructors in Seoul. One was the founder of Yeon Moo Kwan (later changed to Ji Do Kwan), who taught an art known as Kong Soo Do. The other gentleman founded the Chung Do Kwan and called his art Tang Soo Do (An open handed style heavily influenced by Okinawan Karate).

The following passage is quoted from History of the Moo Duk Kwan, by Hwang Kee, 1995: “After he met with these gentlemen, the Kwan Jang Nim meditated and re-evaluated the future of the Moo Duk Kwan. It was here where Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee discerned that the natural flow of the thoughts of the Korean people was centered on Japanese influenced martial arts. Although Tang Soo Do was not as popular as Gum Do or Yu Do, it was at least recognizable to the public as a whole. Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee humbly accepted and followed the law of the great nature, and Tang Soo Do was then integrated into the teaching of the Hwa Soo Do discipline”. After the name change, Tang Soo Do gained in popularity in Korea.

Following the Korean War (1950 – 1953) the Korean government tried to unite all Korean martial arts under a single name and governing body. They formed a research group composed of archaeologists, historians, masters of the martial arts and scholars to come up with a name for a Korean national martial art. They suggested the name Tae Kwon Do, which derived from Tae Kyun and means; Tae, to kick or strike with the feet, Kwon refers to punching with the hand or fist or knuckles, Do means way or method of life and philosophy.

Most of the Korean martial arts schools joined the new Tae Kwon Do Association, but Grandmaster Hwang Kee and some other masters were not happy with the idea and fought to keep their martial arts independent. In June 1966, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Hwang Kee and other Masters could remain separate from the official government sponsored Tae Kwon Do. The history of this battle is long, involved, and varies according to which source you are reading. The details are not important to your study of American Tang Soo Do, but you should be aware of it.

In Hwang Kee’s lifetime, Tang Soo Do gradually spread across the world, and is now taught in at least 36 countries, including Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Greece, Thailand, Malaysia, Formosa, and, surprisingly, even Japan.

Moo Duk Kwan Grandmaster Hwang Kee died on Sunday, July 14, 2002 at 7:05 pm Korea time, at the age of 88. He passed away at Joong Ahn Gil Byong Won Hospital in InCheon, South Korea, where he had been ill since June 29th. His son, Master Hwang, Hyun Chul, and his two daughters survive him.


Five years after the end of World War II, North Korea, invaded South Korea beginning the three-year long Korean War (1950-1953). North Korea was supplied by the Soviet Union and other communist states with a massive participation by Communist Chinese soldiers, while South Korea was defended by a coalition of United Nations forces led by the United States. A ceasefire was negotiated in 1953 leaving North and South Korea each occupying essentially the same territory as at the beginning of the war. Fifty-four years later no permanent treaty has been negotiated.

James Cummings (April 22, 1939 – July 1, 2003): The United States has kept military forces in South Korea since 1953 to help maintain the ceasefire. One of the US soldiers who has been stationed in South Korea was a young man from Ohio named James “JC” Cummings, Jr. United States and South Korea sought to strengthen their relationship by having selected United States servicemen train in martial arts on a full time basis. James Cummings was one of the selected servicemen. He trained primarily under the instruction of Master Chun during the week and other Tang Soo Do masters, including Grandmaster Hwang Kee, on Saturdays. Studying full time six days a week allowed James Cummings to receive his Black Belt in 13 months. In October 1961, Grandmaster Hwang Kee personally assigned him 4493 as his Chodan number.

Grandmaster Cummings continued studying Tang Soo Do after his tour of duty in South Korea was completed. When he retired for the US Army, Grandmaster Cummings moved to San Angelo, Texas and studied psychology at Angelo State University. While attending ASU he opened his first martial arts school, holding some of the first classes in the back yard and garage of his home. He eventually became a probation officer for Tom Green County and opened The Martial Arts Academy. Housed in various locations in San Angelo, The Martial Arts Academy became quite well known throughout Texas and the Southwest. Black Belt Magazine and Karate Illustrated nationally ranked a number of his students in fighting, weapons, and Kata competition.

In the mid- 80’s, he relocated to Columbus, OH to be closer to family. While in Columbus, the Grandmaster counseled at risk children and operated a home health maintenance business for the mentally and physically handicapped.

From 1994 until his death in 2003, he participated in the Tang Soo Do Karate Association’s annual conference and black belt test and served as TKA’s first Grandmaster. In June of 2002 he permanently relocated to San Antonio, Texas and once again picked up the reins of instructor and mentor to the many students associated with TKA.

Grandmaster Cummings continued to study martial arts throughout his life. He received black belts in Tang Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do, Tae Kwon Do, and, at the time of his death, he was studying Kenpo. In December 2001 Grandmaster was promoted to the rank of 8th Dan.
On July 1, 2003, Grandmaster James “JC” Cummings, Jr. passed away at the Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

On July 1, 2003, Grandmaster James “JC” Cummings, Jr. passed away at the Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

TKA members, with a couple of special exceptions, can all trace their linage back instructor to instructor to Grandmaster Cummings. It is headed by some of Grandmaster Cummings’ first students at the Martial Arts Academy and the best way to study the history of the TKA is to study the history of five of these students.