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Hwa Rang Do


This method of “The Flowering Knight” is a type of martial art that centers on the principles of becoming a man, as philosophized by its founders Joo Bang Lee and Joo Sang Lee, brothers and disciples of fabled monk Suahm Dosa. Among the fighting techniques that are taught in the fashion of Defend, Take Down, and Submit (stated in Hwang Rang Do Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s co-authored book on Korean Martial Arts) the ideals of honor, strength, responsibility, and virtue are also showcased as important values associated with the art. Students learn these techniques and philosophies as they move up through levels of study and are not even allowed to practice with advanced weapons until they are mastered, thus perpetuating the philosophy of flowering into manhood.


The Rich History Behind the Philosophy

During Korea’s Yi period, Tangsu was a popular martial arts form that was created to honor the Tang emperor and its students went down in history as Hwa Rang Do. At an age before reaching true adulthood, volunteers from aristocratic families enlisted as soldiers to become Hwa Rang Do. Being from well-educated backgrounds, these students already had excellent knowledge in the arts, academia, and several types of martial studies. The Hwa Rang Do curriculum was created from a mix of all of these fields, coming together to form a path to adulthood that gave them many concepts to live by which pooled together to form what it is today.


Brothers Joo Bang Lee and Joo Sang Lee were allegedly trained by fabled monk Suahm Dosa, although there is no credible evidence to support this claim. Nevertheless, the story goes that the brothers lived with this sage expert (the term “Dosa” is a title that is loosely translated to “hermit sage expert”) at the Suk Wang Sa temple in the Ham Nam province of North Korea in 1942 where they learned several martial arts including kung fu, karate, and jujitsu, among others. They later escaped to the Ohdae Mountain in North Korea with Suahm Dosa during the communist takeover.


Hwa Rang Do was originally passed down through the generations since the Yi period and, for 2,000 years, there was no formal syllabus. Joo Bang Lee and Joo Sang Lee brought their knowledge with them when immigrating to the United States 1972. The Lee brothers’ formal accreditation included registration as Hapkido instructors in Seol before they immigrated. Once established in California, Joo Bang Lee brought the World Headquarters of Hwa Rang Do and currently claims the title of “Supreme Grand Master.”


Joo Bang Lee (now titled Dr. Joo Bang Lee) officially brought the style of Hwa Rang Do to the public in 1960 as a fully comprehensive martial art that combined both circular and linear movements. He created a belted ranking system and organized all of the skills that he had learned into a structured curriculum to be taught to all who sought out Hwa Rang Do from then on.


The Way of the Flower in Modern Instruction

Since their informal instruction, the Lee brothers have created the Hwa Rang Do syllabus from scratch, including the philosophies of old and the structure of new to give students what they learn from today. Before receiving the first black sash, a student must go through several stages and receive other sashes before beginning true instruction with weapons and advanced grappling techniques.


The progression starts with a white sash and goes forth to orange, yellow, green, purple, blue, brown, red, and half-black. Each sash color also has a name that corresponds to a grade from 9th (white) to 1st (half black), respectively. The names (in order from white to half black) signify the student’s progression through the syllabus. They are: Goo Kub, Pal Kub, Chil Kub, Yuk Kub, Oh Kub, Sa Kub, Sam Kub, E Kub, and Il Kub. The first word of each of these names is a Korean number from nine to one and the second word translates to “grade.” After these sashes, the student is then awarded a black sash once he or she has demonstrated that the appropriate knowledge has been gathered. With a black sash, a student may become a teacher and can go on to earn higher degree black sashes ranging from 1st to 10th degree and signify different levels of mastery from Assistant Instructor to Supreme Grandmaster.


As a student progresses through the beginning stages up to earning a black sash, they are taught many philosophies in addition to sparring techniques, self-defense moves, and early training in weaponry. The Meng Sae is a code of rules and principles meant to encourage Hwa Rang Do students to use their skills in accordance with the code and conduct themselves as people of virtue and respect. First are the five rules, which are expressed by the Korean numbers Il, E, Sam, Sah, Oh which translate to 1-5.


“Il: Sa Kun E Choong translates to ‘Loyalty to one’s country.’

E: Sa Chin E Hyo translates to ‘Loyalty to one’s parents and teachers.’

Sam: Kyo Woo E Shin translates to ‘Trust and brotherhood among friends.’

Sah: Im Jeon Moo Tae translates to ‘Courage to never retreat in the face of the enemy.’

Oh: Sal Saeng Yoo Teek translates to ‘Justice Never to take a life without a cause.’ “

Source: Wikipedia


The second part of the Meng Sae code is the nine virtues, expressed by Korean words and also part of the expected ways that a student should utilize his or her skills:


“In translates to ‘Humanity’

Oui translates to ‘Justice’

Ye translates to ‘Courtesy’

Ji translates to ‘Wisdom’

Shin translates to ‘Trust’

Sun translates to ‘Goodness’

Duk translates to ‘Virtue’

Chung translates to ‘Loyalty’

Yong translates to ‘Courage’”

Source: Wikipedia

The rules and virtues correspond to each other in balance, as the ways of Hwa Rang Do’s linear and circular techniques also balance. This is part of the comprehensive form that makes up this martial art.


Physical Practices and Weaponry

Hwa Rang Do expresses four divisions of power called Nae Kong, Wae Kong, Moo Gi Kong, and Shin Kong.

  • The first division, Nae Kong, deals with inner energy. Physical and meditative exercises are used to teach the student how to control their power or “Ki” using the five senses of Ki to control, develop, and direct this energy. The senses include making the body light (kyung), heavy (jung), numb (Chyel), hard as steal (Ma), and increasing mental concentration and awareness (Shin). These exercises are about letting go of the limitations of human energy and applying the body and mind’s resources at will.
  • The second division, Wae Kong, deals with using the techniques in the first division to exhibit proficiency in the combinations of defensive combat. The student learns to externalize the meditative exercises used in Nae Kong to master over 4,000 combinations of physical combat in both defensive and offensive categories including: trapping and grabbing, kicks, throws and falls, learning weak points of the body to control an opponent, joint manipulation, grappling, choking/breaking techniques, ground fighting, offense against multiple assailants, and more all in a controlled environment that is safe for the student.
  • The third division, Moo Gi Kong, deals with utilizing several types of weaponry systems so that the student can learn to find a weapon in any situation. Generally, the student learns to master defense against the nunchaku, long staff, and sword while earning a black sash and may learn more extensive weaponry skills after reaching that point.
  • The fourth division, Shin Kong, deals with total awareness. The student learns focus and concentration skills designed to utilize the full potential of the mind. A student may learn various skills such as practical psychology, the study of human characteristics, and more advanced topics such as stealth movement and the art of concealment at the discretion of the instructor.


Each of the disciplines studied in the four divisions are based on something deeper, encompassing the intricacies of each division within these basics. They are called Um (soft) and Yang (hard), each with three elements that provide the foundation of Hwa Rang Do. Um uses the elements of flowing water (Yu), circular directions (Won), and unity and combination (Hap). Yang uses the elements of steel or stone (Kang), angles (Kak), and maintaining proper distance (Kan). Without these six elements, the other principles, rules, and divisions have no meaning. All are necessary in order to learn the full spectrum of Hwa Rang Do techniques.


As shown in the topics above, the Hwa Rang Do curriculum is not only quite comprehensive but also very complicated. Since it includes study of the mind and the body, the hard and the soft, the linear and the circular, this discipline is often preceded by several years of “undergraduate” study before the student begins to earn his or her first white sash. It is recommended that the student undergo such extensive study in order to receive the full benefits of what Hwa Rang Do has to offer. It is, after all, a lifestyle and not only a martial art, requiring a lifetime of study to understand and master.