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The History of American Tang Soo Do

Master KemmerAMERICAN TANG SOO DO is a combination of systems from the Asian continent. The native Korean art of SOO BAHK DO, Okinawan forms, and Northern Chinese KUNG FU form the basis for the system. Tang Soo Do (Korean Hangul: 당수도) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters 唐手道. The literal translation of the name breaks down as follows: TANG referring to the Tang Dynasty of China, where many of the art’s techniques were borrowed; SOO meaning “hand” in Korean; DO which means “the way” or “art of”; more literally, CHINESE HAND WAY. The Korean characters for TANG SOO DO, when read in Japanese translate as KARATE. This complicated and often undocumented translation or meaning has sometimes made it difficult to know the true translation of TANG SOO DO; the above explanation is the most commonly accepted version.

Various influences can be recognized by the advanced student of the art. The Tang Soo Do forms are Okinawan “katas” adapted to the Korean style of basics. Chinese influence can be found in many of the Black Belt forms such as Jion, Wang Shu, Rohai, and Chipsu with their sweeping circular hand techniques and one legged stances. The major influence is the native Korean Soo Bahk Do, with the dynamic kicking techniques, emphasis on devastating power, and the arrogance of posture in the basic stances.

ClassThe founder of the art is Grandmaster Hwang Kee. As a young martial artist in Korea during the Japanese occupation prior to World War II, Hwang Kee was not allowed to practice his art openly. He was forced to secretly train wherever and whenever possible. He subsequently fled to Manchuria and into Northern China to train openly and learn from the Chinese masters. His return to Korea after the war was hardly triumphant. The Korean government began a movement to nationalize all Korean karate under one banner.......Tae Kwon Do. However, Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do are divided principally, with Tang Soo Do striving to remain as a traditional martial art, while Taekwondo held its world games and sport. After constant pressure to align with Tae Kwon Do, Grandmaster Kee opted to move his headquarters to a place where he could see his art grow and flourish without outside scrutiny. That place was New Jersey, in the United States of America.

Fate brought a young Air Force man named Chuck Norris to Osan Air Force Base in Korea for a tour of duty. Norris had been a Judo practitioner when a shoulder injury temporarily sidelined him. Being a fitness buff, he began searching for an alternate means of exercise. He came upon a class of fellow airmen practicing Tang Soo Do. He joined the class, and before returning home from is stay in Korea with the Air Force, he earned his Black Belt.

After being discharged from the Air Force, Mr. Norris began competing in tournaments. He learned that, although he had very good kicking techniques, he was lacking in superior hand skills. Always wanting to improve, he began to train in different styles incorporating their hand techniques into his Tang Soo Do and eventually developing “American Tang Soo Do”. He then became one of the most decorated tournament fighters in history. He passed these championship techniques down to his students, who also won at an unprecedented rate.

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