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Korean martial arts (Hangul: 무술 or 무예, Hanja: 武術 or 武藝) are the martial arts that originated from Korea, or were adapted and modified in Korea. Some well known Korean martial arts are hapkido, kuk sool won, taekwondo, hanmudo and Tang soo do. There has also been a revival of Korean sword arts as well as knife fighting and archery. In modern times, Korean martial arts are being practiced worldwide.
Martial arts have been practiced in Korea for more than two thousand years but little is known about the country's early fighting methods. Wrestling, called ssireum, is the oldest form of unarmed fighting in Korea. Besides being used to train soldiers, it was also popular among villagers during festivals. Polished stone swords and arrow tips dating back to the Mumun period have been found. These were presumably not only used for hunting, but for warfare as well. Ancient Koreans didn't develop weapons-based martial arts in depth because iron wasn't introduced until 300 BC. Another reason was that Koreans, as with the neighbouring Mongols, relied more heavily on bows and arrows in warfare than they did on close-range weapons.
It appears that during the Goguryeo dynasty (37 BCE – 668) subak (empty-handed fighting), swordsmanship, spear-fighting and horse riding were practiced. Paintings showing martial arts were found in 1935 on the walls of royal tombs, believed to been built for Goguryeo kings, sometime between 3 and 427. Which techniques were practiced during that period is however something that cannot be determined from these paintings. References to subak can be found in government records from the Goguryeo dynasty through the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).
It is believed that the warriors from the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE–668 CE) learned subak from the neighboring Goguryeo armies when they appealed for their help against invading Japanese pirates. Practicing subak became part of the training for Silla's hwarang, and this contributed to the spread of subak on the Korean peninsula. But again, it is not known exactly which techniques the hwarang practiced. Buddhist monks, who added more spiritual aspects to the art, often instructed the hwarang. Their greatest contribution to the development of Korean martial arts is probably adding a spiritual dimension to the training practices, something that Korean martial arts lacked before. Empty-handed combat appears to have played a small role; most of the emphasis was on armed combat. It has only been recently that empty-handed combat has gained more popularity than armed combat.
The development of subak continued during the Goryeo Dynasty (935–1392). Goryeo records that mention the martial arts always include passages about subak. The Goryeo government, however, outlawed the practice of subak by civilians because people used to bet at subak games.
Subak eventually divided into two separate martial arts, taekgyeon (택견) and yusul (유술), probably in the last years of the Goryeo Dynasty or the early years of the Joseon Dynasty. It is believed that many techniques were lost at this time. Joseon Dynasty records and books often mention taekgyeon, and taekgyeon players are portrayed on several paintings from that era. The most famous painting is probably the Daegwaedo (Hangul: 대괘도, Hanja: 大快圖), painted in 1846 by Hyesan Yu Suk (혜산 유숙, 1827–1873), which shows men competing in both ssireum (씨름) and taekgyeon.
During the Imjin War (1592–1598), Korean armies fought off a Japanese invasion. The Japanese had imported guns from Portugal and wanted to conquer the mainland. With Chinese assistance, the Koreans turned back the invaders, but with heavy loss of men and cultural heritage. It was also during this war that the famous turtle ships (Geobukseon, 거북선) were used by Admiral Yi Sun-sin. These ships were covered with a wooden shield, much like the shell of a turtle, which could withstand the gun attacks of the Japanese.
In 1593, Korea received help from China to win back Pyongyang. During one of the battles, the Koreans learned about a martial art manual titled Ji Xiao Xin Shu (Hangul: 기효신서, Hanja: 紀效新書), written by the Chinese military strategist Qi Jiguang. King Seonjo (1567–1608) took a personal interest in the book, and ordered his court to study the book. This led to the creation of the Muyejebo (무예제보, Hanja: 武藝諸譜) in 1599 by Han Gyo, who had studied the use of several weapons with the Chinese army. Soon this book was revised in the Muyejebo Seokjib and in 1759, the book was revised and published at the Muyesinbo (Hangul: 무예신보, Hanja: 武藝新譜).
In 1790, these two books formed the basis, together with other Korean, Chinese, and Japanese martial art manuals, of the richly illustrated Muyedobotongji (Hangul: 무예도보통지, Hanja: 武藝圖譜通志). The book does not refer to taekgyeon, but shows influences from Chinese and Japanese martial arts. It deals mostly with armed martial arts like sword fighting, double-sword fighting, spear fighting, stick fighting, and so on. The chapter that deals with a style of empty-hand fighting called Kwon Bub ("fist methods," a generic name for empty-handed combat; the word is the Korean pronunciation of quanfa) shows techniques that resemble Chinese fighting—quite different from taekgyeon. According to the Muyedobotongji, empty-handed combat should be learned before armed combat, since it forms the basis of a martial education. It also states that internal styles are better suited for fighting than external styles, which is remarkable since Koreans never developed their own internal systems until then. The interest in Korean martial arts began to decline during the later Joseon Dynasty, under the influence of Neo-Confucianism, and it was only because of the Muyedobotongji and the interest the common people had in traditions like taekgyeon that these traditions managed to survive. The name for the martial arts of the Muyedobotongji is sibpalki.
Japanese martial arts like judo, karate and kendo were introduced to Korea during the occupation or brought by Koreans who had studied in Japan. Native Korean martial arts were banned but survived through underground teaching and folk custom. After the occupation ancient books like the Muyedobotongji became popular study material for Korean martial artists, and influenced the development of many modern Korean fighting styles.
Ancient manuals like the Muyedobotongji became popular reading and study material for Korean martial artists and influenced the development of many modern Korean martial arts. For example, Koreans who had practiced Japanese kendo during the colonization period studied the Muyedobotongji to rediscover their own cultural heritage and recreated the traditional Korean martial arts, although this usually was nothing more than renaming techniques after those found in the Muyedobotongji. In this process the Muyedobotongji more than once was used unjustly as a link to Korea’s ancient martial heritage.
This does not mean that Korean martial arts from before the occupation completely disappeared. Masters of several styles survived the occupation or continued teaching their art even though the Japanese had put a ban on it. Taekgyeon had survived as a folk game and has grown in popularity in recent years. Also the techniques of the Muyedobotongji have survived the occupation and martial arts like sibpalki enjoy a renewed interest.
There are Korean scholars who claim that historically Japanese martial arts came from Korea and thus all Japanese martial arts should be viewed as traditionally Korean. Just as the Japanese turned the martial techniques in older ages into something distinctively Japanese, so too did the Koreans take the Japanese arts and turn them into something that suited their needs. Although martial arts like taekwondo and tangsudo have been influenced by Okinawan and Chinese martial arts, they have taken their own route of development and transformed into uniquely Korean fighting styles. A popular way to look at it is by saying that although one culture might have provided the timber, it was the other culture that built the house.
It should also be considered that Korean martial arts are still in a state of evolution as witnessed by recently emerging arts such as Tukong/Teukong Moosul and Youngmudo. There is now also the development of Korean arts influenced by Western boxing, Muay Thai or Judo, these would include Gongkwon Yusul and Kyuktooki.
It is also important to note that speaking about martial arts in terms of them being Chinese, Japanese or Korean is something that is from recent times and has grown this way under the influence of nationalistic views.
The oldest Korean martial art was an amalgamation of unarmed combat styles developed by the three rival Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo, Silla and Baekje. Young men were trained in unarmed combat techniques to develop strength, speed, and survival skills. The most popular of these techniques was subak, with taekkyeon being the most popular of the segments of subak.
As the Goguryeo kingdom grew in power, the neighboring Silla kingdom became comparatively weaker, and an effort was undertaken among the Silla to develop a corps of special warriors. The Silla had a regular army but its military training techniques were less advanced than those of the Goguryeo, and its soldiers were generally of a lesser caliber. The Silla selected young men, some as young as twelve, and trained them in the liberal arts. Those who demonstrated strong natural aptitude were selected as trainees in the new special warrior corps, called the hwarang. It was believed that young men with a talent for the liberal arts may have the grace to become competent warriors. These warriors were instructed in academics as well as martial arts, learning philosophy, history, a code of ethics and equestrian sports. Their military training included an extensive weapons program involving swordsmanship and archery, both on horseback and on foot, as well as lessons in military tactics and unarmed combat. Although subak was leg-oriented in Goguryeo, Silla's influence added hand techniques to the art.
In spite of Korea's rich history of ancient and traditional martial arts, Korean fighting methods faded into obscurity during the Joseon Dynasty. Korean society became highly centralized under Korean Confucianism and martial arts were lowly regarded in a society whose ideals were epitomized by its scholar-kings. Remnants of traditional martial arts like subak and taekkyeon were banned from practice by the general populace and reserved for sanctioned military uses although folk practice by the common populace still persisted into the 19th century.
Although the art nearly vanished, taekkyeon survived through underground teaching and folk custom. The Japanese colonial government totally prohibited all folkloric games including takkyon in the process of suppressing the Korean people. Taekkyeon had been secretly handed down only by the masters of the art until the liberation of the country in 1945. Song Duk-ki, one of the then masters, was still alive at the age of over 80 and testified that his master was Im Ho who was reputed for his excellent skills of Taekkyon, "jumping over the walls and running through the wood just like a tiger." At that time 14 terms of techniques were used, representing 5 kicking patterns, 4 hand techniques, 3 pushing-down-the-heel patterns, one turning-over kick pattern and 1 technique of downing-the-whole-body. Also noteworthy was the use the term "poom" which signified a face-to-face stance preparing for a fight. The masters of Taekkyon were also under constant threat of imprisonment, which resulted in an eventual cessation of Taekkyeon as popular games.
Taekkyon has had a slight resurgence in recent days, getting the classification Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 76" on June 1, 1983. It is the only Korean martial art which possesses such a classification.
Choi Yong Sul returned from Japan after World War II and started teaching a martial art he claimed to have learned form Sokaku Takeda. He called his style Yawara, but it was later renamed to Hapki Yusool and again renamed to Hapkido. Students of Choi Yong Sul, such as Ji Han Jae, helped to spread this art. Hapkido helped to revitalize traditional Korean martial arts by providing systemization and becoming incorporated into other styles. This process complemented modern Korean martial arts like Kuk Sool Won, Han Mu Do and Hwarangdo.
There are also many modern Korean martial arts that are recompilations or reorganizations of techniques from traditional or imported arts. Some relied on manuals like the Muyejebo and Muyedobotongji. People trying to revive the old martial traditions of Korea studied these books and started new styles like Muye24ban and the re-enactment group Muye24gi. Many of these arts visually appear to have more of a Chinese influence than other Korean martial arts, except for taekgyeon.
Additionally, it is not clear who created these arts in the first place in their most ancient form—often, exponents of Korean martial arts argue that Korea in fact created these arts in ancient times, which then passed over to Japan, and then were later re-imported back to Korea. Historically, many cultural features, including Chinese calligraphy, Buddhism, pottery techniques, city design, and political systems, were transmitted from China to Korea, and in modified form, retransmitted to Japan, which further modified them. As with other adjacent cultures, constant borrowings and adaptations in various directions make claims of origin very difficult to prove.
The Korean martial arts that may today be viewed as being traditional (as opposed to modern Korean martial arts) are taekgyeon and a handful of others including subyokchigi, mudokkwan subakdo, wrestling or ssireum, the Buddhist art of seonmudo, and various weapon-based styles. Taekgyeon is the only Korean martial art that received the status of 'intangible cultural asset' (no. 76) from the Korean government.
Modern Korean martial arts' systemization and presentation are very similar to their Japanese counterparts (i.e., barefoot, with uniforms, classes executing techniques simultaneously following the teacher's commands, and sometimes, showing respect to portraits of the founder by bowing to the picture or national flags). Many modern Korean martial arts also make use of colored belts to denote rank, tests to increase in rank, and the use of Korean titles when denoting the teacher. These include:
These Korean terms are based on Confucian rank systems (with the same Chinese characters). Many schools also make use of Korean terminology and numbers during practice.
Korean martial arts are usually practiced in a dojang (도장), which may also be referred to as cheyukkwan (체육관 / 體育館, i.e., gymnasium). The practitioners wear a uniform or dobok (도복) with a belt or tti (띠) wrapped around it. This belt usually shows which grade the practitioner has attained. A student usually starts with a white belt and moves through a range of colored belts (which differ from style to style) before reaching the black belt. The grades before black belt are referred to as geup or kup (급), while the grades of black belts are referred to as dan (단). In some cases, students less than 16 years old are not given dan grades, but rather poom (품) or "junior black belt" grades. Some styles use stripes on the black belt to show which dan the practitioner holds. It is common for a system to have nine geup grades and nine dan grades. While it might only take a few months to go from one geup to the next, it can take years to go from one dan to the next. Most of the above terms are identical to those used in Japanese styles such as judo and karate, but with the Chinese characters read in Korean pronunciation, with a few exceptions (dobok and tti have been altered to fit the Korean language).
In some styles, like taekgyeon, the hanbok is worn instead of a dobok. The v-neck of many styles of taekwondo uniform was supposedly fashioned after the hanbok.
|Chung Do Mu Sool Won (정도무술원 / 正道武術院), also spelled Chungdo Musulwon, Jung Do Mu Sool Won, Jeong Do Mu Sul Won, Jeongdosul (정도술), etc. (literally meaning "True-Way Martial Arts," also "Right Way, Correct Way, and/or Best or Proper Method of Martial Arts Training.")||This was the original martial art used by the Korean Royal Army, Royal Palace Guards, and Royal Bodyguards. Reference to this form can be found in the Muyedobotongji and the Korean National Archives. This form uses multiple styles of fighting, and unlike many other Korean styles Chung Do retains a fair amount of weapons training. Skills employed vary from joint locks, fist techniques, kicks and pressure point throws. Chung Do also incorporates the arts of jiapsul (accupressure) and chimsul (acupuncture, etc.). Chung Do Mu Sool Won is officially organized under the World Chung Do Mu Sool Won Association (세계 정도무술원 협회 / 世界 正道武術院 協會) and its sister organization the Chun Tong Han Kuk Koong Joong Mu Yea Sool Hyup Hye (전통한국궁중무예술협회 / 傳統韓國宮中武藝術協會), the Traditional Korean Royal Court Martial Fine Arts Association.|
|Charyeok (차력/借力) (literally meaning 'stance art')||This is an art that mainly focused on various forms and stances.|
|Kichun (기천/氣天)||This is an art that focus on rigorous stances and free-flowing combat.|
|Gukgung (국궁/國弓)||Korean archery, making use of a traditional composite horn bow.|
|Gungsul (궁술/弓術)||literally: bow art, i.e. archery|
|Gungdo - Archery|
|Joseon Sebeop (조선세법/朝鮮勢法)||This is a sword style originating in Chosun. It has many hand and a half techniques along with slicing with little movement.|
|Seonmudo (선무도/禪武道)/Bulmudo (불무도/佛武道) /Seon-Kwan-Moo||These are Korean martial arts passed down by the Buddhist monks and mostly preserved until today|
|Shippalgi (십팔기/十八技)||This is the style described in the Muyesinbo and Muyedobotongji. The crown prince Sado named the 18 martial arts of Korea 'Muye Sippalki' when compiling the Muyeshinbo in 1759.|
|Ssireum (씨름)||This is Korean folk wrestling. The art requires the opponents to grasp each other in the sash belts that they wear. The first man to let go of their opponent, or to touch the ground with a part of the body other than the bottom of the feet, loses. This art is still seen in Korea today, mostly as a contest in festivals and such.|
|Subyeokchigi (수벽치기) (literally translated, it means 'bare block striking')||It is a breaking art in Korea that trains the martial artists to break stone, metal and wood with their bare hands. Many martial artists from different backgrounds take this technique to further discipline themselves.|
|Taekgyeon (택견)||This is a traditional martial art that subak was divided into. It uses many sweeps with straight forward low kicks using the ball of the foot and the heel and flowing crescent like high kicks. There are many kicks that moved the leg outward from the middle and inward from the outside using the side of the heels and the side of the feet. The art also used tricks like inward trips, wall jumping, fake outs, tempo, and slide stepping. It resembles dancing in the way the fighter constantly changes his or her stance from his or her left to his or her right by stepping forward and backwards while his or her arms are up and ready to guard. This art requires traditional Korean white robes which were commonly worn in the past.|
|Subak (수박/手搏) (Means 'empty-handed')||This was a term for empty-handed combat methods. It translates into Chinese as shoubo.|
|Yusul (유술/柔術)||An ancient grappling style sometimes called the predecessor of hapkido. The Chinese characters are identical to Japanese jujutsu.|
|Kung Jung Mu Sul||Kung Jung Mu Sul, Traditional Royal Court Martial Arts in Korean, was created by Grandmaster Soon Tae Yang. It is a comprehensive system dealing with both single and multiple attackers utilizing a vast array of kicking, in-close striking, joint lock manipulation, grappling and weapon techniques from both the standing and ground positions.|
|Choi Kwang Do||This art focuses on strikes and blocks as well as wrist breaks, strangle breaks and take-downs. Formed between 1978 and 1987 by Kwang Jo Choi Its' stretches are based on moves from yoga and designed to increase flexibility.|
|Danmudo||This art comprises many empty hand techniques Ho Shin Sool, as well as weapon elements. Similar to other circular Korean arts such as hapkido, Dahn Moo Do is one that utilizes an opponents energy and weight against them.|
|Hankumdo||This is a newly created Korean sword-art where the basic techniques are based on the letters of the Korean alphabet, hangeul.|
|Gwon-gyokdo (권격도/拳擊道)||This is a Korean style of kickboxing.|
|Gyongdang||This is the name of the association where the Muye24ban was practiced. The founder is Lim Dong Kyu who studied the Muyedobotongji and reconstructed its martial arts.|
|Haidong Gumdo (해동검도/海東劍道) (literally meaning 'Techniques of the Eastern Asian Sword')||This is a sword art created by Kim Jeong Ho and Na Han Il around 1980. Its original name (as they learned it from Kim Chang Sik) was Shim Gum Do. It is more concentrated on field techniques and combos rather than having only one opponent.|
|Hankido (한기도/韓氣道)||This is a martial art developed by Myung Jae Nam based on both hapkido and aikido as well as a lot of own creation.|
|Hanmudo (한무도/韓武道)||This style was created by Kimm He-Young; a martial arts historian and a student of Lim Dong Kyu. It is one of the arts claiming to have deep roots in Korean culture. It consists of many different striking, grappling, and weapon techniques. Its signature feature is the mu han de, or infinity symbol, shaped movement incorporated into blocking, grappling and striking. Hanmudo should not be confused with another style called Han Moo Do.|
|Han Moo Do||Han Moo Do (also Hanmoodo) is a Korean-style martial art founded in Finland by Young Suk. It is mainly practiced in the Nordic countries. Hanmoodo contains almost all sectors of traditional martial arts and its exponents may participate in full-contact competition.|
|Hapkido (합기도/合氣道)||This martial art has the same roots as Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, but many kicks, acrobatics, and weapons added later.|
|Hapmudo (합무도/合武道)||This modern martial art is a combination of styles including empty hand and weapon techniques. Hapmudo means combination of martial art studies. Fist techniques, kicks, grappling, joint submissions and throws are all incorporated.|
|Hoejon Musul (회전무술/回轉武術)||This is a Korean martial art developed by Myung Jae Ok which uses circular motions in order to direct an opponent's power against him/her.|
|Hwarangdo (화랑도/花郞道)||A modern Korean martial art founded in 1960 by Joo Bang Lee. It includes hard and soft style striking and blocking, joint locks, throws, take-downs, ground fighting, and weapons. It is governed by the World Hwa Rang Do Association, and claims to be based on the traditional fighting skills and philosophy of the Hwarang.|
|Geomdo-gwan||A modern taekwondo kwan with strong emphasis on self-defense oriented techniques originating from the Allen Steen line of the Chung Do Kwan with strong influence from Shotokan, hapkido and arnis.|
|Kumdo (검도/劍道) (literally meaning 'sword art')||Korean version of kendo.|
|Kuk Sool Won (국술원/國術院)||This is a branch from Suh In Hyuk, a student of Choi Yongsul's hapkido school. The art is based on three branches of traditional Korean martial arts: Family/Tribal martial arts, Buddhist temple martial arts and Royal Court martial arts.|
|Kwonbup (권법/拳法) (literally meaning 'fist methods')||Kwonbup is the Korean translation of the Chinese word quanfa. Various old documents and scrolls in Korea depicted barehand techniques and referred to them as kwonbup.|
|Mudeokgwan Subakdo (무덕관수박도/武德館手搏道)||The present incarnation of Hwang Kee's style; previously it was known as Tangsudo, a name still used by some schools. These include use of the hip and interesting kicks. Similar to old-style taekwondo, there are some unique methods such as the "reverse roundhouse kick". Aside from Hwang Kee's own creations, many of the techniques in mudukkwan were adopted from Shotokan karate and higher levels include those from Chinese martial arts.|
|Muye24gi (무예이십사기/武藝二十四技)||This is a branch of Muye24ban made by Kim Young Ho a former student of Dong Gyu Lim. The Muye24ki community is a re-enactment group that tries to revive the history of the Muyedobotongji. The martial arts of Muye24ki is inspired by contemporary sibpalki.|
|Sul Ki Do||Rooted in traditional Korean martial arts, Sulkido emphasises practical self defense.|
|Taekuk Musul||This style was founded by Suk Ku Kim. It teaches falling techniques, kicks, strikes, hand techniques, pressure points, joint locks and weapons.|
|Taekwon-Do (태권도)||Based around the studies of Japanese Karate and Taekkyon, Taekwon-Do was created in the 1950s with the kwan style named Ch'ang Hon. The first governing foundation being the International Taekwon-Do Federation for Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do created and led by Choi Hong Hi. A martial art based around weaponless self-defense applying arm, hand, foot and leg techniques and mainly focused on standing or jumping applications of techniques. Commonly known as "tae" - meaning foot; "kwon" - fist, and "do" – meaning art. Tournament sparring allows the use of hands and feet in combat and permits semi-contact strikes to the face and body above the hip with use of both striking elements.|
|Taekwondo (태권도/跆拳道)||This is a modern martial art that is based on Korean style kicking and punching techniques mixed with karate. Much of its emphasis is on sparring. Taekwondo is now an Olympic sport.|
|Tangsudo (당수도/唐手道) (literally means 'Tang-influenced techniques')||Tang Soo Do is the Korean pronunciation of the old way of writing (唐手道, i.e. "Way of the Chinese Hand"); for many years, Koreans referred to their striking martial art as Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do (the Korean pronunciation of the new way of writing Karatedo (空手道, "Way of the Empty Hand"). In the West, Tang Soo Do often refers specifically to Hwang Kee's style (see mudukkwan subakdo).|
|Tong-Il Moo-Do (The Unified Martial Arts)||Tong-Il Moo-Do is a Korean style that combines circular and linear movemets or hard and soft aspect of the moo-do (martial arts). It is similar to modern Mixed Martial Arts. Tong-Il Moo-Do combines kicking and punching techniques with throwing and grappling.|
|Tukong Moosul (특공무술/特攻武術) (literally meaning 'techniques of the Korean Special Forces')||is a style based on the distance theory. The martial artist practicing Tukong is trained in four areas: Throwing (leverage techniques), Punching (hand techniques), Kicking (foot techniques), and Weapons (extended body techniques). Training also includes combat training and self defense. Tukong is practiced in conjunction with a softer style martial art (Ip Sun).|
|Kang Duk Won||A martial art that places more emphasis on punching than kicking.|
|Yongmudo||A modern combination of taekwondo, hankido, ssireum and judo developed at Yong-In University.|
|Gongkwon Yusul||This is a martial art style combining hapkido, kyuktoogi, judo and hakko-ryu jujitsu.|