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Kuk Sool Won


Over thousands of years, three main branches made up the types of martial arts practiced in Korea. The tribal (SahDo MuSool), Buddhist (BoolKyo MuSool), and Royal Court (KoongJoong MuSool) were practiced separately within their different respects until 1958 when In-hyuk Suh (Grandmaster) officially founded Kuk Sool Won. He organized all three branches of old to create something new and comprehensive that is actively promoted, celebrated, and practiced today. Kuk Sool Won incorporates several types of practices and principles to give the student a complete experience and is actually considered to be a martial arts system instead of just a simple style. Today, Kuk Sool Won is a highly organized discipline with established schools in hundreds of cities worldwide. It is an official baccalaureate program at Young-San University and continues to gain wide spread media and literary coverage on the achievements of its students. In-hyuk Suh himself says that every distinction or honor granted to him or any member is a credit to the entire organization and every individual included within it. His view personifies the unification that Kuk Sool Won strives to achieve in every student.


Three Ancient Histories Come Together

It all began with the Tribal Martial arts, to which many TaeKwonDo techniques can be attributed, as the earliest form of martial arts in Korea. Commoners formed volunteer militias to defend their homes using this type of martial arts as it developed over time. Later, when Buddhism was introduced in the year 347 within the Koguryo kingdom, Buddhist monks and martial artists worked together to create a way to defend themselves along their travels. The Buddhists peaceful natures made for a unique combination of self-defense and meditative techniques to improve health, concentrating on both internal and external training. This eventually led to the surprising development of warrior monks, who were incredibly accomplished as well as ethical and compassionate. The private armies of the elite (such as kings and government officials) brought the Royal Court Martial Arts and the use of easily concealable weapons and techniques that are often used in the modern Japanese art of Jujitzu like the utilization of pressure points. Despite royalty later discouraging the use of weapons and martial arts for fear of rebellions, all of these disciplines developed and grew throughout centuries and generations of dedicated instructors passing on their gathered knowledge.


In 1910, when Japanese forces occupied Korea, all of these martial arts were banned. Master Instructor Suh MyungDuk did not stand for this and was diligent in ensuring that traditional Korean Martial Arts were preserved and passed on. Determined to keep 16 generations of a rich heritage alive, Suh Myung Duk began teaching his grandchild In-hyuk Suh at a very early age and continued even after his death by way of arrangements and letters of introduction to Buddhist temples and private instructors that he had written in anticipation of his death. Even with these tools, In-hyuk Suh still had a bumpy road throughout his martial arts education. Buddhist temples and private instructors alike had many qualms about passing on their knowledge in addition to the temples having changed from martial arts facilities to strictly education-based places.


For decades, In-hyuk Suh gathered the knowledge of every Korean martial arts heritage that he could find, over years of extensive training and travels. In the late 1950s, he sought to put all of it together into a single system that would later become known as Kuk Sool Won all over the world. By 1974, the system was accepted and celebrated by the public and In-hyuk Suh brought it to the United States to establish the World Kuk Sool Association officially in 1975, which is what it is known as today.


The Pledge

When a student first begins instruction in Kuk Sool Won, he or she is expected to learn and live by the Kuk Sool Won pledge.


“1. As a member of the Kuk Sool Won, I pledge to obey the rules of the association and to conduct myself in accordance with the true spirit of marital arts.

2. I pledge to be loyal to my country and to promote the development of a better society.

3. I pledge to work together with all classes of people without regard to politics, race, or religion.

4. I pledge to promote international goodwill and strive for world peace through the practice of martial arts. “

Source: World Kuk Sool Association


This pledge is based on the principles that the student will learn throughout their years of study in Kuk Sool Won. Each part of the pledge comes from a culmination of the different branches of traditional Korean Martial Arts.


Being a Student of Kuk Sool Won

There are several sets of techniques that a student of Kuk Sool Won sets out to master throughout his or her education. As the student moves through the colored belts, different sets are to be mastered in order to advance. The colored belts begin with white (Huin Tti) and continue on through yellow (No-Ran Tti), blue (Cheong Tti), red (Hong Tti), brown (Ja Tti), brown-black (Dahn Bo Nim), and end when the student earns the rank of black (Yu Dan Ja). This progression can take several years depending on the student’s dedication. After this, the student may move forward to the master levels. At the Dahn ranking, students must undergo some of the most difficult tests and master several (sometimes more than twenty) sets of techniques to gain black stripes on their brown belts for a minimum of 6-10 before they can begin the mandatory two years of training and then two years of testing to reach the rank of Yu Dan Ja. This part of training can take up to 4-6 years, depending on the student. Until students reach the rank of Dahn Bo Nim, it is common practice to refer to their rank as the color of their belt instead of by the traditional name of the rank.


At the level of black belt, the student is able to begin teaching starting at the rank of Instructor in Training all the way up to Grandmaster. Advancing through these levels is extremely difficult and often takes extensive study in both the physical and mental disciplines.


Students are expected to wear a traditional Kuk Sool Won uniform called a “dobok” while in training, as it is designed to give them the full range of movement necessary for learning the techniques. The uniforms are black instead of white like many other martial arts uniforms and there are specialized formal uniforms for black belt holders and special occasions (called a “general’s uniform”). Students wear a practice uniform which includes the dobok as well as various patches according to the practitioner although no patch may be worn to specifically signify the school that the student attends in order to promote a sense of unity and family between the different schools.


Several sport competitions are held all over the world for students and instructors of Kuk Sool Won to showcase their skills, spar with others, and often there are belt promotion ceremonies. Students participate in sparring and board breaks in order to score points during competition. While this is an enjoyable part of Kuk Sool Won, competition and sparring are not emphasized as prominently as they are with other martial arts as this system stresses to incorporate all aspects of mind and body conditioning as well as healing techniques and meditation.


The Comprehensive Techniques

Kuk Sool Won incorporates the styles of all kinds of Asian fighting styles, body conditioning techniques, and traditional elements of martial arts. Although this system is highly organized, the different things that it covers are vast and numerous, which is why it takes many years of study to master them. Some of these techniques include open and closed hand combat such as striking, parrying, and blocking, leg techniques like various types of kicks, jumping and spinning, grappling defenses, ground fighting, joint locking, pressure point techniques, acrobatics and agility training, stretching, flexibility, muscle toning, and many others. These examples are only of the combat, defense, and body conditioning techniques offered when studying Kuk Sool Won but there is much more to learn.


In addition to these examples, this system also employs the study of meditation and breathing techniques as well as animal styles, martial art healing methods, and traditional Korean weapons. Healing methods that are taught include but are not limited to herbal medicines and acupressure and the traditional Korean weapons that students train with vary from sword and staff to the folding fan and even the bow and arrow. Each student is different and may train differently, master different principles at different paces, and move forward more quickly or slowly than others.


Kuk Sool Won incorporates all of the spiritual values of a true martial artist, asking students to learn about the rich history behind its roots as well as the development of inner power and its utilization in controlled breathing methods, meditation and concentration, and the appreciation of the system as a whole.