Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge



This ancient martial art is believed by many to be the ancestor of all Korean martial arts practiced today. There are several techniques that can attribute their roots back to Subak and its practices are still referred to in the education of modern students. Although Subak is not practiced today, it is still remembered and celebrated as part of Korean martial art’s ancient history. It is unclear exactly what movements were used in Subak or how its students were trained as its history is so old that most of it is undocumented.


A Lost History

Before martial arts were ever developed formally in Korea, there were tribal artists who practiced fighting instinctively to protect their villages. The exact ways of these tribes and their protectors are not well known, but several of the techniques were past on through generations, paving the way to the martial arts of modern times. It is believed that this martial art was simple and that the movements were limited to the strengths of its people. For instance, in the mountains, men climbed on a regular basis and had very strong legs so their methods of Subak likely focused on kicks and takedowns that incorporated those kicks with empty-handed techniques to balance them. This is widely believed to be said of the Goguryeo people, of one of the original three kingdoms of Korea.


The three kingdoms of Gogureyeo, Silla, and Baekje existed during a period called the Three Kingdoms period. Baekje attempted to invade Silla and Gogureyeo assisted their king with 50,000 men trained in the Subak discipline. The influence of Subak on Gogureyeo during this attack is what began the spread of Subak through the disciplines of Taekkyeon and other systems down centuries later.


Even though there is very little that is documented and known for sure about Subak, Korean traditions have attempted to preserve its history over the centuries. As time moved on and the need for more advanced techniques came about, the moves of Subak were taken and added to with sword, spear, archery, and other hand-to-hand combat techniques. Taekkyeon is a more documented martial art that is said to incorporate ancient Subak in its curriculums. Several other martial arts that branched off of Taekkyeon also attribute their roots to Subak for this reason. Several wars and invasions gave way to the need for more and more advanced martial arts techniques ranging from the hwarang soldiers to the popular taekwondo form of modern times. As the battles raged, new techniques came to light from the aid of other cultures and were added to the ones that were already in place. All the while, Subak may not have been documented but it was always remembered as the ancestor of Korean martial arts.


During the Joseon period, Subak became almost completely lost. Confucianism and the Japanese invasion of Korea meant the near eradication of all Korean martial arts and traditions. For some time, it is said that Subak tournaments were still held and winners were awarded jobs as soldiers. While these stories are passed from generation to generation, there is no real documentation that tells about what happened to Subak or exactly how it was practiced. The complete history seems to exist solely by word of mouth and thus is considered to be lost by many.


Although Subak is not practiced today, except perhaps by small groups that have learned the history through family stories, it has come through its mysterious roots and is cited by several different systems as part of their ancestry.


Practices in Modern Culture

Since not much is known about the exact practices of Subak, there isn’t much application in modern Korean martial arts. In many cases, Subak is used as simply a name for a school in homage to the ancient Korean history. Taekkyeo is still practiced in modern Korean martial arts and it draws its roots from Subak and still uses many of the same kicks that Subak is said to have used, among other moves. Its practices are peppered throughout several other styles and those styles often name their schools or clubs after the ancient art.


The Ways that Subak Lives On

The Koreans did not want to give up their traditions during the Japanese occupation of their country and held on to them as much as possible throughout the decades of eradication of their practices, especially in martial arts. Among the nine schools that emerged before the unification of martial arts in Korea in the late 1950s, all of them used some form of Subak in some of their moves. Those schools all went on to be the paths to Taekkyeon, Taekwondo, Hwa Rang Do, and several other systems that utilize the leg techniques of Subak that were passed on through the generations.


In Korean education, history sites Subak as a significant part of the Three Kingdoms period and was integral in the crossover in culture during its part in the invasion of Baekje. Its practices may not be well documented but pieces of the stories live on in these textbooks.


Taekkyeon is the art most associated with Subak, as it goes back in history closest to the supposed origins of Subak.  Taekkyeon emerged at the time of the Japanese invasion and survived throughout the decades of oppression. The moves and philosophies that it encompasses are drawn from Subak in many ways and bring the supposedly lost ancient art into the modern era to live on through future generations.


The Subak Philosophy

There are no actual written philosophies about Subak or that are drawn directly from it but several practices are derived from the stories told by word of mouth. Masters that hid from the Japanese and secretly taught what they knew kept these philosophies alive to be passed on to other traditions.


Many Korean martial arts site the ideas of both “soft” and “hard” techniques to come together and create a complete system. The parts of these techniques that are likely derived from Subak are the “hard” techniques. One of the most common stories is that the Gogureyeo people developed this system because of the strong legs that were obtained from a lifetime of climbing mountains. The kicks that they delivered were harder and stronger than that of others and so this system was based on that, from what is known. The “hard” techniques are ones that exhibit short and derisive blows meant to inflict damage quickly. It is likely that Subak encompassed this philosophy in its movements.


The Three Kingdoms period, when Subak was said to have been developed, is a very early period in Korean history and so there weren’t as many documented meditation practices in play. However, many histories will tell that there is no decisive origin for these practices. The monks may have traveled through the mountains where Subak was first developed and late on through the areas where its influence brought on more practices in martial arts. Many Korean martial arts systems today include both meditative and body conditioning techniques for a comprehensive program. These meditation techniques as well as those that showcase Eastern medicine and the harnessing of inner energy have roots in Subak like the rest of Korean martial arts do. It all came from these origins, which is why Subak is considered the ancestor of many Korean martial arts systems.


There is no official governing organization for the practice of Subak and no creed or ranking

system that the students live by and follow. Several school boast that they teach Subak or some form of it but the truth is that there is no documentation that tells of the specific practices and no manual to show how to teach them. Anyone practicing Subak is likely learning from family member or family practice, using gathered information passed on through generations by word of mouth. If a school did emerge practicing only Subak, it would likely be extremely traditional, bringing back the ancient history that this art is steeped in.


Like other Korean martial arts, it can be said that Subak teaches students to respect each other and their comrades as the king of its people showed by providing support to their neighbor when they were being invaded. Several Korean martial arts have differing creeds or codes of conduct but all of them appear to ask students to stand up for injustice, to use their skills responsibly, and to have pride in their country. These ideals may all be traced back to Subak.


Upon further research, any enthusiast will find that there isn’t much to be found about Subak that is backed up by credible information. The art seems to have been lost after the invasion by the Japanese but underneath every Korean martial arts system, there is a trace of Subak to be seen. Although the information available may be little and mostly undocumented, the stories told through the generations that live on today prove that the ancient art of Subak was never really lost. It has survived within the traditions that are recognized and popular in modern times. To learn more about Subak or samurai swords check out our about swords section.