Taekwondo vs Tang Soo Do [7 key points!]

Taekwondo vs Tang Soo DoIf you’ve ever seen a Taekwondo (TKD) display then no doubt you too have been amazed at the athleticism involved as the athletes perform a dazzling array of spinning jumping kicks.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why its popularity has skyrocketed.  However, perhaps, like me, you may be surprised to know that Taekwondo isn’t the only martial art to come out of Korea.  

Tang Soo Do also came in being at around the same time as TKD and in this article we look at some of the similarities and differences between Taekwondo vs Tang Soo Do.

History of Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo

Martial arts developed in what is now modern day Korea during the Silla dynasty (from 57BC).   This era saw an explosion in the development of fighting styles and scenes of combat are depicted on ruins, tombs and mural paintings from this time.

This period saw the development of the Hwarang Dan – a military group made up of young aristocrats which are credited with being the founding fathers of Korea’s martial arts heritage.   One particular fighting style was Soo Bahk Do which became highly popular amongst the military society and general public over the following centuries.

This development of their own martial arts styles came to an abrupt end in 1910 when the Japanese occupied the Korean Peninsula.  The Japanese quickly banned the practice of Korean martial arts and instead imposed their own style, namely Karate.

The Japanese left Korea in 1945 following the Second World War.  Shortly afterwards, nine martial arts schools or kwans were established in Korea.  Each kwan was practicing its own particular fighting style.  This included Master Hwang Kee’s school – Moo Duk Kwan.

Master Hwang Kee had spent time outside of Korea in China where he had worked on the railway and whilst there had practiced kung fu. When he eventually returned to Korea in 1937, he studied books on Okinawan karate at his local library.  

To help restore national identity after the Japanese occupation, the Korean government ordered that the nine kwans merge to create a single united organization in an effort to rekindle Korean nationalism.. However, Hwang Kee’s Moo Duk Kwan school did not unify and stayed independent. Later in 1960, Hwang Kee registered the Korean Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do)  Association.  From these roots Tang Soo Do went on to spread around the world.  

On September 16, 1961, the remaining kwans agreed to unite and were called collectively the  “Korea Tae Soo Do Association”. In 1956 the name was changed to  the “Korea Taekwondo Association” under the presidency of General Choi of the Oh Do Kwan.  

General Choi wanted all the kwans in the Korea Taekwondo Associate to adopt his own Chan Hon-style of fighting.  When the other kwans refused, General Choi emigrated to Canada to establish his independent organisation – the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF).

Back in Korea, under the influence of the Korean Government, the World Taekwondo Federation was established in 1973 to promote the sporting side of TKD and in 2000 it became an official medal event at the Olympic games in Sydney.

Both Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo originate in Korea at similar times but they stem from different the schools or kwans of martial arts that were established at the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.  Taekwondo, as taught by General Choi, stems from the Oh Do Kwan , whereas Tang Soo Do was taught at the Moo Duk Kwan by  Grandmaster Hwang Kee.

Styles of Fighting

Both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do have a similar love of high kicks and jumping kicking techniques

This is somewhat surprising.  Such kicks are limited in traditional Japanese Karate, which because of the Japanese occupation, had a significant impact on both these martial arts.

Where did the emphasis on high kicks and jumping kicks come from?

The answer lies in the traditional Korean martial art of Taekkyeon which influenced both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do.  This art has a large repertoire of dynamic kicking techniques and is very athletic in nature.  

Whilst both Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo include high and jumping kicks in their repertoire, both arts do have a key difference.

Taekwondo is very much considered a “hard” martial art: hard attacks are countered with equally hard blocks and counters.  It’s very much a case of force meets force.

In contrast, Tang Soo Do incorporates many softer, more fluid movements that are reminiscent of certain traditional Chinese martial arts.  Strong attacks may be met by a more yielding block designed to absorb much of the impact of the strike.  This reflects  the range of martial arts that Master Hwang Kee’s was exposed to, both in his home county of Korea and also from when he lived in China.  His training in kung fu would have enabled him to incorporate element of this style into Tang Soo Do.

Both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do feature an impressive array of kicking techniques including  jumping and high kicks.  However, one of the factors that differentiates them is Tang Soo Do’s inclusion of the ‘softer’ style movements that are reminiscent of some of the techniques in kung fu.

Use of Weapons

One key difference between these two styles is in the training in the use of weapons as part of their syllabus,  Taekwondo has no weapons training whatsoever.  In contrast, a martial artist studying Tang Soo Do will learn how to use the Bo – a long wooden pole used in a weapon in Karate.  There’s even a Bo kata in Tang Soo Do.

 

Use of Katas/Forms

Tang Soo Do contains a number of forms (called hyung).  These are set patterns of techniques that include punching and kicking techniques.  When performing the form, the idea is that the practitioner fights against an imaginary opponent. 

Many of Tang Soo Do’s hyungs are based on Shotokan Karate kata. To see the influence Karate has had on Tang Soo Do’s forms, you only need to look at Karate’s Kanku Dai and compare it to Kong Sang Kun.

 

Taekwondo also incorporate katas (called forms) into their training.  Like Tang Soo Do, they involve punching, kicking and blocking techniques.

Both Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo teach patterns  (hyungs or forms) – set sequences of movements involving punches, kicks and blocks.

Focus

Perhaps the main difference between Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo is the focus of these two martial arts.

Taekwondo is very much focussed on competition sparring and competing in tournaments.  This is perhaps unsurprising as it’s a Olympic event. 

This is fine if you like sparring and competing in a sporting event.  However, having watched Taekwondo at the Olympics, many of the fights look more like games of tag played with the feet rather than the hands.   I wonder how effective some of these techniques would be in a self defense scenario. 

Tang Soo Do is a much more traditional martial art, focussing on the development of the whole person both physically and spiritually, particularly around the concept of martial virtue..  It also retains the focus on the self defensive perspective of a martial art.  There are competitions involved in Tang Soo Do but there’s perhaps less emphasis than in Taekwondo

Summary: Taekwondo vs Tang Soo Do

There are a number of key differences between Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do:

  • They stem from different the schools or kwans of martial arts that were established at the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.  Taekwondo, as taught by General Choi, stems from the Oh Do Kwan , whereas Tang Soo Do was taught at the Moo Duk Kwan by  Master Kwang Kee.
  • Tang Soo Do’s includes the ‘softer’ style movements that are reminiscent of some of the techniques in kung fu.
  • Taekwondo has no weapons training whatsoever.  In contrast, Tang Soo Do students learn how to use the Bo – a long wooden pole used in a weapon in Karate. 
  • Taekwondo is very much focussed on competition and competing in tournaments.  Tang Soo Do is a much more traditional martial art, focussing on the development of the whole person both physically and spiritually.

There are some similarities:

  • Both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do feature an impressive array of kicking techniques including  jumping and high kicks.
  • Both are influenced by a number of different martial arts
  • Both Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo teach patterns  (hyungs or forms) – set sequences of movements involving punches, kicks and blocks.

FAQ

What does Tang Soo Do mean?

Tang Soo Do literally means “China Hand Way”.  

What does Taekwondo mean?

The literal translation for tae kwon do is “kicking,” “punching,” and “the art or way of.”

Is Tang Soo Do a good martial art?

Tang Soo Do is an excellent martial art to learn.  It’s rooted in the techniques of Karate but incorporates jumping and high kicks of traditional Korean martial arts.  It maintains its focus on self defense techniques but also has tournaments for those looking to compete.

Did Taekwondo come from Tang Soo Do?

No, they come from different martial arts schools in Korea.

In 1945, after the Japanese occupation, nine martial art schools (kwans) emerged in Korea, all teaching their own type of martial art.  The Korean government ordered that the nine kwans merge to create a single united organization. However, Hwang Kee’s Moo Duk Kwan school did not unify and stayed independent.  From these roots Tang Soo Do went on to spread around the world. 

The remaining schools did merge and went on to be called collectively the  “Korea Tae Soo Do Association”. In 1956 the name was changed to  the “Korea Taekwondo Association” under the presidency of General Choi of the Oh Do Kwan.  

Sometimes, Tang Soo Do is referred to as ‘traditional taekwondo‘ but this is incorrect. It is a seperate martial art in it’s own right.

Is Tang Soo Do same as Karate?

I’ve written an entire article on this which can be seen here

Featured Image:  “Mr. Jesse” flickr photo by scottfeldstein https://flickr.com/photos/scottfeldstein/230612112 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license