I officially started my martial arts journey in 1985, earning my first black belt in Tang Soo Do while stationed in South Korea. I would go on to train in Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do and Shotokan Karate and while I continued down my martial path I learned that there are many more similarities between these arts than differences.
Now in my fifties, and over thirty five years later, I no longer focus on style in my personal training, and neither should you. I love the art of Tang Soo Do and my instructor, the late Master Yun Tak Bong, and have taught Tang Soo Do for years, but I realize now that it is the art of Karate and that Tang Soo Do is just one of the many branches.
You can see the true history of Tang Soo Do in the video below.
As I began looking deeper into the roots of Tang Soo Do, I realized that it was NOT a Korean system over 1000 years old, but in fact was Shotokan Karate brought to Korea in 1944 by Grandmaster Won Kuk Lee, a student of Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi.
This actually changed things dramatically, because if you went by the history taught in most Tang Soo Do schools, you couldn’t really go back any further than GM Hwang Kee. Beyond that there is no mention of Tang Soo Do as a Korean martial art, and very little about the art of Subak which they claim Tang Soo Do evolved from, so you can not learn anything else on the art you study other than what your instructor teaches you.
However, if you look at Tang Soo Do (or other styles) as Karate, and trace the roots, you soon see that Tang Soo Do is just one of many branches of the large tree of Karate, which has very deep roots.
Looking at my training as being in the art of Karate rather than just the style of Tang Soo Do opens a whole new world of learning from other styles going through the roots in Japan, Okinawa, and China. It frees me to learn techniques that are better suited to me and my physical limitations, and that I find more practical or effective, making me a better martial artist and going deeper into the art than ever before.
Stop Focusing On Style
I know that some of you may be training under an instructor or in a dojang teaching a specific style, and if you haven’t reached black belt, then focus on learning the style you are studying.
But if you have attained a black belt, then I urge you to stop focusing on the style you are training in and begin seeing it as the art of Karate, free from style, and opening your learning to a whole new world.
You can explore all of the Japanese and Okinawan styles and possibly find a better way to perform your strikes, blocks, or kicks. You can learn the true meaning and intent of the forms you practice, and go deeper than ever before.
Taking this step this past year has made me a student again, and renewed me desire to continue learning and reaching new heights. I am studying the Bubishi, known as the “Bible of Karate”, a translation written by Hanshi Patrick McCarthy.
I have even gone so far as to purchase a white gi, free from markings and patches, with no affiliation to any style. I still keep the Tang Soo Do Gi with the black trim and Master Yun’s dojang patch when teaching and passing on Tang Soo Do, but I believe that in some way, by freeing myself from the style of Tang Soo Do, I am fulfilling my promise to Master Yun, to pass on what he I learned to others, and spread the art of Tang Soo Do, Korean Karate.