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Korean Martial Arts

by Alain Burrese

The Korean martial art of Tae Kwon Do is known around the globe. The spinning, jumping, and aerial kicks are a recognizable trademark that place the Korean art at the forefront of the world's martial arts in kicking techniques. Now that Tae Kwon Do is a full Olympic sport, the world wide membership has grown considerably.

The name Tae Kwon Do was coined by General Choi Hong Hi in 1955 and literally means "foot, hand, way" and is usually translated as "the way of kicks and punches" or "the art of kicking and punching." Currently, there are many Tae Kwon Do federations throughout the world, and though they vary to some degree in instruction, a Tae Kwon Do student will learn a variety of kicks, punches and other moves for sport and self-protection.

What many people do not know, is that Korea offers a plethora of martial arts to choose from. Many of these arts do not have a sport aspect, and are still taught as a form of combat and self-protection. Martial arts such as Tang Soo Do (the art action film star Chuck Norris trained in while stationed in Korea with the U.S. Air Force at Osan.), Tae Kyon, Su Bak Do, modern Hwarang Do, Kuk Sool Won, Han Mu Do and Hapkido are all Korean martial arts, and this list is far from complete.

I personally have a black belt in Hapkido, and find it to be a very integrated combat art. I have been training under the instruction of Sabu-nim Lee Jun-Kyu in Kangnung, and it's been one of the highlights of my stay here in Korea. The name Hapkido is composed from three shorter words: hap meaning "coordination," ki meaning "power," and do meaning "way." Combined, Hapkido my be translated as "the way of coordinated power." While many of the techniques learned can be traced back as far as Korea's history, Choi Yong Sool (1904-1986) is considered the father of modern Hapkido, and students of this art not only learn to kick and punch proficiently, but they also learn a full range of joint-locking and throwing techniques, as well as break falls for when you are the one being thrown. These are taught as hoshinsul, or self-protection techniques, and consist of literally thousands of techniques with the possibility of almost unlimited variations. This is an art that takes considerable time to learn the fundamental techniques, and many years to master.

Learning physical techniques is far from the only thing a person will learn by studying the Korean martial arts. Just as the history of these arts can be traced back for over 2000 years, each art has developed a code of ethical behavior that has also ben passed along throughout the centuries. Many of these codes can be traced to the Hwarang Do Meng Sae (Hwarang Do's Code of Ethics) or Hwarang O Kae (Hwarang Five Rules.) These were given to the Hwarang Warriors by the Buddhist monk Won Kwan Bopsa during the Shilla Dynasty (57 B.C.- 935 A.D.) Those were: Loyalty to one's country, Piety to one's parents, Faith to one's companions, Never retreat in battle, and to kill with discretion. These same principles can be found in The Korea Hapkido Federation oath, which consists of; filial duty, brotherliness, faithfulness, loyalty, humility, knowledge, integrity, justice and courage.

The true arts teach integrated completeness with a balance of wae-gong (physical power), nae-gong (internal and mental power), and shim-gong (spiritual and mental power.) Thus, you have the complete warrior; integrating body, mind, and spirit. To accompany this, ki-gong (Qi Gong in Chinese) is also often studied. This is the life breath, or life energy, that all living things possess. The study of only Qi Gong itself is also very popular, and the combined breathing and slow moving exercises can be practiced well into old age and the health benefits are many. The owner of my Hapkido school, Kwanjang-nim Kim Young-Jong has studied Hapkido for 30 years, and he has practiced Qi Gong for over 20, including trips to China to further his learning and become certified to instruct this Chinese art. He is one of the top Qi Gong instructors in Korea, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to study both Hapkido and Qi Gong from such accomplished masters while living here in Korea.

The teachings one receives in the Dojang (martial arts training hall), go beyond the exercise that benefits the body. The self-confidence, concentration, and respect learned through training carry over into everyday actions. For many, such as myself, the Martial Way becomes a lifestyle, to carry on the best of the warrior traditions passed on throughout the centuries.

I feel a deep sense of respect and gratitude for the Korean masters I have learned Hapkido and Qi Gong from. While I will continue to train in these arts and others when I leave Korea, I intend to return frequently to learn more from my instructors here.

The highest goal of the Korean martial arts is not to protect the body from aggression or to win Olympic medals, but to master one's self through rigorous training and concentration. The greatest opponent is yourself as you strive each day to become better than you were the day before. And though the achievement of this is easier to write about than to attain, it is the goal that all of us strive for. The Korean martial arts are one avenue to help people on this journey.

This was originally in the June 13, 1997 issue of the Korea Herald.

I'd also like to note that I feel that all martial arts, not only the Korean ones, have the above benifits. I wrote this for a Korean newspaper in Korea, so I singled the Korean Arts out, even though Qigong is actually Chinese. I respect the arts from all countries.

The Tao Warriorship Art Article reprinted from Alain Burrese's web site The Tao of Warriorship focusing on body, mind and spirit.

Book Cover / Hard-Won Wisdom Hard-Won Wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks
How to Avoid a Fight and
Things to Do When You Can't or Don't Want To

by Alain Burrese;
Foreword by Marc "Animal" MacYoung

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