Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

Tang Soo Do


Derived from Manchurian martial arts during Japan’s occupation of Korea, Tang Soo Do incorporates several Chinese and Japanese styles into its principles. The name translates to mean “the way of the Chinese hand” which displays the great influence that Chinese martial arts had on this system. It is similar to Taekkyeo and Taekwondo with influences from Japanese karate and kung fu but Tang Soo Do has its unique qualities as well.


A Brief History

The founder of Tang Soo Do has been speculated as one of the founders of the original kwans (schools) that emerged after Japan’s occupation of Korea ended. However, there is no real documentation to solidly support who this founder was. The term Tang Soo Do is used in reference to all of the different influences that make up the philosophies and techniques of this art.


The Japanese influenced many Korean martial arts during their occupation of Korea in the early 1900s and Tang Soo Do was no exception. In addition to Manchurian martial arts and some aspects of early Korean martial arts, aspects of Shotokan karate and kung fu are included in this system.


Tang Soo Do was part of the effort to unify all of the kwans that occurred in Korea in the early 1960s. It was briefly merged with Taekwondo and not fully recognized until decades later when it became popular in western culture and officially allowed in competition alongside Taekwondo.


Tang Soo Do Rankings

Like many martial arts systems, Tang Soo Do uses colored belts to signify student rankings and several black belts for the “dan” or master rankings, mostly adhering to the Karate-do belt system with some slight variations according to the discretion of each school. One such variation is the use of midnight blue belts instead of black belts for the dan rankings. It is said that Korean tradition views the color black as the color of perfection or a color to which nothing new can be added. By using a midnight blue belt for the dan rankings, Tang Soo Do practitioners are suggesting that no one, not even a master, is ever perfect and that he or she is always able to learn (or add) more. The original colored belts for rankings below dan were white, green, and red, which many schools still incorporate the use of today. Several other colors have been added over the years since 1970 to indicate rankings in between these original colors. These extra levels are predominately of Western influence.


The Way of the Chinese Hand

The techniques in Tang Soo Do are known as “Hyung” and each curriculum varies according to the teachers and the roots that their education comes from. Tang Soo Do is mainly a defensive art, and the hyung are composed of several sets and combinations of actions that react to an attack from an opponent. There are nine traditional forms divided into three categories that must be mastered in order to reach a dan level.

  • The Kee Cho forms are based on shorin ryo karate. They are called kee cho il bu, kee cho ee bu, and kee cho sam bu.
  • The Pyung Ahn series is derived from Okinawan and Japanese karate. These forms are called pyung ahn cho dan, pyung ah nee dan, and pyung ahn sam dan.
  • The Bassai form is also derived from karate. This form does not have three specific names for the technique sets that must be mastered.

Although the original nine kwans differed in their curriculums in many ways, these nine forms were taught by all of them which is why they are required in Tae Soo Do for advancement.


In addition to the nine forms, Tang Soo Do students are expected to learn techniques in meditation meant to cultivate self-confidence and strengthen their character. The system is meant to be comprehensive, teaching not only self-defense and mastery of the different Hyung, but also to use these skills responsibly. Students are taught to also treat each other with these same ideals. Competitions are full of respect (despite the full contact blows) and serious injury is not tolerated, especially when it is unnecessary.


Meditation is taught in order to balance the mind with the body. In order to fully master the techniques of the curriculum, a student must be able to completely control their attacks and thus control their muscles, strikes, blows, and other moves. Controlled breathing and concentration of inner power helps to balance the body as it is conditioned, making Tang Soo Do a comprehensive system.


Sparring and Competition

Tae Soo Do holds standardized competitions where the competitors aim to score points in most cases. However, there are variations in the way that points are scored and competitions are held within the different Tae Soo Do federations. There is a close historical connection between Tae Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do so many of the trick combinations are similar, although Tae Soo Do does not allow full contact to the head in order to score points.


There is a one-step sparring technique that is also displayed as choreographed moves that are used in defense against a one-step attack. This technique is performed in pairs and not always utilized in competition. There are several types of free sparring that are done in competition. Variations between the different schools and organizations exist but, for the most part, there is a standard set for scoring based on positioning and execution of blows.


Some aspects of American-freestyle sparring may be seen in Tang Soo Do competitions, especially because of the variations between schools and federations. Techniques such as rapid kicking and punching and other similar ways of point scoring are often used. However, the techniques should ultimately be considered linear and powerful, delivered from reliable stances.


Serious injuries are not encouraged and often not tolerated during competition. The health of Tang Soo Do practitioners is important to teachers and masters and injury is not conducive to such a thing. The contact that is delivered during competition is meant purely for scoring points and is to be done in a controlled way that does not hurt the opponent seriously, always ensuring that the competitors treat each other with respect.


Dress and Traditions

The uniforms of Tang Soo Do are similar to that of other martial arts, using a Korean dobok that implements the billowy pants and jacket tied with a belt. Sometimes, in competition, protective padding or mouth guards may be worn but the practice uniforms are meant to promote ease of movement in order to safely execute each of the moves and combinations.


Students wear their colored belts in practice and in competition in order to indicate rank. They wear them in competition as well but during practice it is also important to recognize rank. This is not only for respect, but also so that students who are much more advanced are not sparring against students that are not proficient which can result in injury and disrespect.


During training, Tang Soo Do students are expected to bow to each other to show respect. Although this is traditionally a Japanese custom, it was adopted by this system in order to teach strength of character and pay homage to the traditions that make up the practices in Tang Soo Do. In many Korean martial arts, including Tang Soo Do, there are a multitude of Japanese customs integrated into the practices because of Japan’s occupation of Korea and their implementation of their own customs into Korean society. Korean traditions were kept but, as with the corroboration of other cultures, the techniques that seemed to enhance the practices were kept even though they were Japanese.


The important thing is that each match must begin with respect and end with respect, hence the bow. Students and teachers alike are taught to hold each other in high esteem while also recognizing rank and appreciating those with higher skills for the time and study that they put into their technique.


Confusion with Taekwondo

Tang Soo Do is often confused with the popular art of Taekwondo, especially since the two share some competitions. While there are many similar aspects between the two, it is important to recognize that Tang Soo Do is a different system. While Taekwondo incorporates several different types of martial arts, Tae Soo Do mostly uses Chinese and Japanese techniques along with Korean ideals and the traditional methods set forth by the original nine kwans.


Although the nine kwans differed greatly in their curriculums, there were many core values that both Tae Soo Do and Taekwondo share as well as the history that brought the kwans into existence, hence the confusion. Also, many people lump the names together, not realizing how unique they are and that they mean something completely different.


The unique qualities of Tae Soo Do include the ways that sparring is scored and the different styles that competitive and practice sparring incorporate. Taekwondo is much stricter in this respect and does not allow several of the ways of Tae Soo Do into their competitive competitions.

Learn more about different types of martial arts, katana and samurai swords at Swords Of The East.