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Chang Moo Kwan: Taekwondo or Tang Soo Do?

Taekwondo or Tang Soo Do?

What is Tang Soo Do?

What does Tang Soo Do have to do with Chang Moo Kwan anyway?

Arnis black belt

To clear up some common misconceptions about Chang Moo Kwan (and TKD in general), hit that “more” link!

At NWSMA, we do “American Chang Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do.” (Or possibly Chung, a variant spelling). In Washington state, NWSMA is the only Chang Moo Kwan school with a karate program. Most students do not train concurrently in both arts until after they earn 1st degree black belts.

For those of us who have crosstrained, we note that there are striking similarities in the forms for both Shito-ryu and Chang Moo Kwan. Jion, Bassai, Pyung An/Pinan, Jitte/Ship Soo, and so on.

But what’s the real significance of these similarities? The answer follows, in the form of what I believe are the 3 greatest misconceptions about Chang Moo Kwan TKD.

Obligatory disclaimer: I don’t know everything. History is complex. I’m entertaining ideas-in-progress, some of which have more evidence than others. I might have it wrong, or you might be wrong, and we both may have been told wrong.

You also need to read this book: It will blow your mind.

Right then, let’s get started.

  • Misconception #1: Chang Moo Kwan is Tae Kwon Do.

This is neither true or false. Change Moo Kwan is BOTH Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do.

Wait a second, what the heck is Tang Soo Do? Tang Soo Do is Korean-ified Shotokan karate.

Let’s have a brief (sorry, this may have turned out longer than I intended) history lesson.

To back up several centuries, Korea had its own kicking arts for a loooooong time. Subak was one, Taekkyon was another. Japan occupied Korea between 1910 and 1945. Practicing martial arts in Korea was banned and it was during this time that the Japanese Okinawans taught the Koreans karate. The Okinawans were teaching karate to the mainland Japanese during this time too.

When the Koreans returned to Korea, they had a bunch of (Shotokan) karate forms. They liked them all right. But then they were like, “Hey, let’s keep Taekkyon because it’s pretty cool,” and kept, you know, training.

Because that’s what masters do.

Then there were attempts to unify & nationalize Tae Kwon Do, “Korea rulez!!~! <3” These ultimately became the ITF and WTF organizations. They have their own sets of forms, created by the dudes in charge.

Wait, what does this have to do with Chang Moo Kwan being TKD or TSD?

Chang Moo Kwan as it currently is in WA state contains 2 main types of forms.

One type of form is a Shotokan-based form. Tang Soo Do IS Korean Shotokan. Their curricula are very similar to ours, containing Pyung Ans, Bassai, Ship Soo, Naihanchi (which we know as Tekki), Jion, and a few other Korean karate forms which we don’t currently have (like forms from the Kanku/Kusanku/Kosokun series).

The 2nd type of form are things a Tang Soo Do curriculum doesn’t have. Namely, the foot fighting forms: Tae Kyuk, Tae Sun Nom Bok, and Jya Yu.

But the ITF and WTF also don’t have these forms. The ITF has Chang Hon tul, and the WTF has poomsae. Tul and poomsae are alternative words for “form,” which we and the Tang Soo bros know as “hyung.”

Side note: Why can’t we all use the same word??? *shakes fist at people for making more confusion*

My best educated guess on the origin of these forms is twofold: (1) they were forms that were actually codified kicking drills (see: original version of Tae Kyuk Hyung), and (2) they were potentially early versions of forms that later became part of the Chang Hon tul–or at least influence the Chang Hon tul in some way. All were reportedly created by General Choi Hong Hi.

My only evidence for this second is some remarkable similarity in movement sequences between Jya Yu and Chang Moo tul. Incidentally, both are taught at about the same belt level in two completely different styles.

I’ll stop with the mumbo jumbo scholarly talk and give you the goods:

Of course, this is, at best, an exercise in guesswork and examining possibilities. The fact, however, remains: our Chang Moo Kwan is largely Shotokan influenced, but also contains some Tae Kwon Do originals–whatever that might mean.

  • Misconception #2: Chang Moo Kwan is a unified kwan.

I promise the next 2 will not be as long as #1.

Major centers for Chang Moo Kwan exist in WA, Los Angeles, and Chicago. I have found other schools in other states, and I’ve watched lots of forms videos.

We don’t all do the same stuff. It’s pretty obvious.

We WA-staters also all (should) know that SBN Thomas Zoppi and GJN Barrett were both asked by their grandmaster to revise the Chang Moo Kwan syllabus as a part of 4th degree and 5th degree testing. That was when the 5 kibon became 2, and the 5 pyung an became 2.

Sticky hands is also a WA state CMK exclusive.

I love the idea of developing curriculum. (If you do too, you *really* need to read this book:

Improving on the past. I have plenty of ideas about what I might do when I’m in charge. I think it’s a sign of a healthy style: a style that is open to adding new things, changing things, and not always sticking to tradition.

But it’s also important to note what has changed and when, where, and why. Training diaries, people! They are important–part of why we lack information now is because nobody thought to write it down.

Nuff said.

  • Misconception #3: Those Tae Kwon Do guys spar weird. They leave their hands down and they only score kicks.

Every time I visit another karate dojo, I am faced with a conversation that implies Tae Kwon Do is stupid. Why would you spar like this???

First of all, this is not the way we do it in Chang Moo Kwan! We utilize and score hand techniques, and I am glad. It’s more realistic certainly, but there are reasons for other TKD rules.

Like it or not:

  • Modern, sport TKD (NOT Chang Moo Kwan) is an eclectic art. It focuses on the beauty of kicks. Your legs are stronger anyway, why not maximize the ability of your naturally strongest weapon?
  • As for the lowered guard–the rules have usually been written to exclude hand techniques from scoring. A lowered guard means loose shoulders, and therefore less telegraphing of a coming kick.
  • It’s a sport! No Olympic TKD stylist would be dumb enough to attempt to fight in MMA (*cough* still a sport *cough*), or on “the deadly streetz” without a raised guard. See: Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman 1.

In sum, Chang Moo Kwan is quite distinct from sport taekwondo. Our Chang Moo Kwan is different from other Chang Moo Kwans–and that’s okay.

One of the things I am more in the dark about is the influence of Manchurian chuan fa–or kung fu–styles on Korean martial arts. I’ve seen some Tang Soo styles doing things that look more kung fu than karate.

If you’ve ever wondered what your instructors think about, here you have it.

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