History and Development of
REN YI WU KWAN TANG SOU DAO
By Grandmaster M K Loke
History of humankind shows a development of ideas and principles – from the first Chinese abacus (counting machine) to the present day digital supercomputer; from the Chinese war rocket to the space shuttle. There is no area of human interest that has not shown this growth and development. All that is needed for this to continue apace is a long history upon which old ideas and principles ( “traditions”) are built upon and continue to be built upon.
The countries of the Far East venerate the Old Ways, the traditions, to a greater extent than is found in the West. These traditions have grown through the long years and each successive generation has added clearer insights, deeper understanding and greater sophistication to what has gone before. That which stands still does not renew itself with new ideas, and that which does not renew itself dies.
China has a very old civilisation and deep rooted traditions. During its time, it has fought many, many battles – both within and outside its borders – so it is hardly surprising that efficient principles of warfare have developed. Though weapons have changed, the principles are as valid today as they were when they were originated. Take for example, The Art of War by that great Chinese warrior-philosopher, Sun Tzu. The advice given in that manual is as relevant today as when it was written, approximately two thousand years ago.Many western corporate managers use the work as a reference on how to succeed in the “wars” of the business world .
China was the first and the original Far Eastern centre of civilisation and imperial superpower. Korea was no more than a semi-autonomous province of China,paying its tribute and being left alone largely because it was of no interest to the Chinese nation. Japan, an island community, lies at the periphery of imperial China. It traded with China and trod warily in the shadow of its giant neighbour until the end of the nineteenth century when China’s decay had robbed it of all power. The written language of both Korea and Japan is Chinese, though both nations have subsequently developed their own scripts. Even so, the classic written text of these two nations are still in Chinese today.
In a country as vast as China and with its long history, it is unsurprising that many military geniuses have emerged. With China’s veneration for tradition, their genius has been both preserved for future generations and built upon as changing circumstances brought about development into new areas. But this same veneration recognises the value of the principles that have been identified at such great cost.
Accordingly, they have never been disclosed to just anyone! What is the point in having valuable knowledge that will help one protect one’s country, only to give that knowledge away to neighbouring states, some of which offer only a dubious and short-term friendship ? This wisdom meant that the Chinese military principles and techniques were not taught to people outside of their fighting force, the family and their own race. Even today the better traditional Chinese masters will not teach non-Chinese and those who do, insist on a long probationary period before students are admitted as disciples. The Chinese call this privileged status bai shi, loosely meaning ” worship teacher” and it is conferred through an ancient ritual during which the student kneels before the master and pledges loyalty/secrecy. Once the master accepts the student, the latter is said to be an “inside door” disciple.
This is not to say that the Chinese will not teach martial principles and techniques to outside door students and even foreigners, though the value of what is given away is very limited. Thus it was that in CE1393, thirty-six Chinese families came to live in the Okinawan village of Toci (also known as Kume Mura) as part of a token military and political presence.From time to time, military attaches would teach rudimentary martial techniques to Okinawans, perhaps with the intention of encouraging unrest between the islanders and the occupying mainland Japanese forces. The Okinawans appreciated Chinese instruction and in recognition of it, one of the names they gave to their developing art was T’ang Hand.This name comes from the T’ang period of China which extended from CE618-907, and during this period a high level of martial art was practised. The Tang period is known as China’s “Golden Age.” The Chinese today still refer to themselves as “Tang” people.
At this point, I wish to pause to mention the Shaolin Temple. Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism was introduced to China by an Indian warrior monk named Bodidharma (Da Mo is the Chinese reading of his name). One of the places he stayed at was the monastery of Shaolin and it is claimed that whilst there, he taught the monks two sets of exercises to toughen them up so they could meditate for longer periods.Some people claim that these two sets of exercises formed the basis of Chinese martial art but this, of course, could not be true. Chinese martial arts predate Bodidharma’s visit to Shaolin circa CE600 and there is no evidence to link the exercises he taught with actual martial art practice.
China had no national police force and isolated communities of monks were responsible for their own safety. Being Buddhists, the monks were not allowed to use bladed weapons so they became proficient with the quarterstaff, the stick, their bare hands and feet.
During the T’ang period in particular, some monasteries became well known for the martial skill of their monks and of these, Shaolin is particularly celebrated.The monastery received several royal commendations for the valour of its monks though eventually, this was to prove its undoing.
Korea, like Okinawa, also formed a buffer zone between Mainland China and warlike Japan, so the same pattern was repeated there. Chinese monks and military attachés actively promoted simplified martial art to Koreans over the 267 years of the Silla Dynasty (CE668-935). Aided and encouraged by this teaching and by Chinese military support, a whole cadre of young warriors came into being and these were known as the Hwa Rang (“Flowering Youth”). The tradition of the Hwa Rang was carried on into the succeeding Kokuryo Dynasty where it became known as Soo Bakh Do (“The Way of Hand Fighting”). Admiration of Chinese military tradition was never more evident than in the 16th century, when Admiral Yi adopted an entire Ming dynasty military training manual (the Wu Yi Tu Pu Tong Tse) for Korean use.
This Chinese manual covers an extensive array of military weapons used in those days, including a chapter on empty-hand fighting, labelled as “fist method” Chuen Fa (reads as kwon bup in korean). The Koreans valued this manual very highly even today and called it the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji. However, it is important to realise that this publication (the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji) has no proven connection whatsoever to Tang Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do or indeed, to any of today’s Korean arts.
The Wu Yi Tu Pu Tong Tse was compiled in 1571 by Chi Chi-Kuang – the Ming Chinese General who was renowned for his successes in repulsing Japanese pirates off the Chinese coast. Later in 1621,another Chinese Mao Yuen Yi used substantial portions of General Chi’s manual to compile his own 240 Chapter Martial Arts Manual – the Wu Pei Tse (reads Bubishi in Japanese) which eventually found its way into the secret archives of Okinawan and Japanese karate schools. Obviously, the core secrets of Shoalin’s Chuen Fa (reads Kempo in Japanese) were not revealed by the Chinese authors, as these advanced techniques were handed down orally only to trusted ‘inside door’ Chinese disciples and family members.
Though the Chinese never taught ‘inside door’ techniques to the Koreans and Okinawans, it would be wrong to believe that the traditions which grew up in those countries were without any significant merit. Both Korea and Okinawa venerate traditions too, so these early teachings were built upon by the natives of these two countries.Like the people of Northern China, Koreans were generally quite tall and this is perhaps a partial explanation why both peoples favour leg techniques. This development of a martial art along national lines is known as “cultural patterning” and the same thing happens in any human activity – including religion.
Then in 1907, the Japanese invaded Korea and for the next thirty-eight years, practice of the Korean arts was all but eradicated and the Koreans settled to learn Japanese arts such as kendo (kumdo), judo (yudo) and karate (kong soo do – Way of the Empty Hand). Like the Chinese before them, the Japanese did not teach all the principles of their arts to the Koreans, so it was left to the latter to re-invent them. As an aside, the fiercely nationalistic Japanese did not wish to acknowledge karate’s debt to the Chinese, so they changed its name from “Way of the T’ang hand” to “Way of the Empty Hand“.
Though the names (and the Chinese characters) are different, in Japanese the pronunciation remains the same – karate. Then later, the Koreans repeated this behaviour, writing off their debt to Japan and switching from kong soo do to T’ang soo do.
Then as the Korean political climate became increasingly repressive during the fifties, an attempt was made to force all Korean martial arts to come together under the umbrella name tae soo do and later, tae kwon do. Groups (such as Hwang Kee’s Moo Duk Kwan T’ang Soo Do) which refused to amalgamate were sidelined and eventually all but ceased to exist in Korea.
One student of Japanese karate before the Second World War was a young Korean by the name of Hwang Kee. He learned Rembukai karate with the Japanese, Koichi Kondo and for many years after the War, Hwang Kee’s martial academy was one of those which took part in competitions with the Rembukai. This is, perhaps, not surprising since the Rembukai’s founder was a Korean, resident in Japan.
In 1945, Hwang Kee opened his own academy – the Moo Duk Kwan – and there taught what he termed T’ang Soo Do. It is obvious that, Moo Duk Kwan T’ang Soo Do is culturally patterned Japanese karate. It uses the same forms, whose historical origins can be traced to Okinawa, though it reverted to the Okinawan practice of naming the forms in the Chinese way.