Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Chinese heritage of Tang Soo Do

This is to finish off the series of articles on the subject of the history and influences of Tang Soo Do. In the last article I focused much on the Japanese influences owing to the occupation of Korea by Japan (1905-1945) and the influence it had on Tang Soo Do: kata and framework of the style seem to have been drawn largely from karate. Contemporary Tang Soo Do differs in many ways from karate, notably with its acrobatic and powerful kicks and this is what I'll examine here.

Some official Tang Soo Do training manuals are swift to point out that this Korean art can trace its lineage back 2000 years and has particularly been developed by the Hwarang warriors. It's easy to see why this claim is made as the Hwarang were an elite fighting corps which unified a once fractured Korea. What I don't understand is how this claim can be substantiated given that the forms are of Japanese origin and many of the drills and combinations are also shared by Japanese and Okinawan styles. What is certain about Tang Soo Do is that the kicks used in this style are different from the Japanese styles. There are much more acrobatic kicks used and this, I feel, is where the indigenous Taekyyeon and Subak may have passed on some of their martial arts 'DNA'. 

Northern Chinese style Kung Fu must have influenced Korean martial arts such as Subak and indeed King Sunjo (1567-1608) took an interest in Chinese arts after having read a Ming dynasty martial arts manual by Chuk Kye-Kwang. He was so interested that he invited the Ming military officers to demonstrate their warring arts and the notes which were taken eventually became the Muye Jebo (Martial Arts Illustrations) which is seen as the benchmark of martial arts documentation in Korea. As well as technical aspects of martial arts the Chinese may well have passed on some of the Northern style of Kung fu with its high kicks, flowing movements and jumping techniques. This is said to come from a people who lived in the plains of China where horse communication was made easy by the lack of great mountain ranges or rivers to bar progress. Jumping techniques may have been developed to dislodge mounted warriors and the Korean arts were certainly influenced by the Chinese martial systems of the time.

Check out this impressive performance of Chang Quan - a Northern style of Kung Fu. It isn't Tang Soo Do but the kicking techniques seem closer than to karate. Even to the extent of the way this practitioner turns and flows into jumping and spinning techniques.


Sue C said...

I was fascinated by the video! Though I recognised some of the blocks and strikes as being similar to karate the whole performance was much more flowing and 'dance' like than in a karate kata. I'm sure there was a bit of ballet and gymnastics in there too! However, though it was aesthetically pleasing to watch I didn't get the impression that the 'performer' would do much damage to his opponent - it didn't seem very snappy or powerful in the video. Is this typical of a kung fu kata or is this particular example intended to be a performance kata only?

NB. I'm just jealous - I'd love to be able to do those high quicks and flowing movements.

Littlefair said...

Hm. I really don't know much about kung fu forms or their fundamental principles of movement, evasion or power generation. I'm sure there are plenty of 'hidden' martial applications in there...!

Littlefair said...

Potted history of Korean Martial arts prior to Japanese occupation.