The Midnight Blue Belt

The Unique Characteristics of Soo Bahk Do

Author: Eric R. Rickert, Dan Bon 38744

Date of Article: February 15, 2001

Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is not just another martial art in a giant sea of faceless and similar styles. It has attributes that set it apart from all the others. While I am not saying that Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is better than other martial arts, I am saying that it is distinct in many ways. These individual distinctions are shared in part with other styles, because all martial arts are similar in regards to training and general purpose. Here are some specific characteristics of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.

Characteristics and meaning of the name. Soo Bahk Do literally means "hand strike way," while Moo Duk Kwan means "school of virtue and preventing inner and outer conflict." "Soo Bahk Do" is the name of the style, while "Moo Duk Kwan" is the name of school. Since there is actually more than just one instructor and more than one location where Soo Bahk Do is taught, Moo Duk Kwan includes all of the schools that are recognized by Grandmaster Hwang Kee as teaching Soo Bahk Do. As a result, these schools as a collective are sometimes referred to as the "World Moo Duk Kwan."

Originally, Grandmaster Hwang Kee named his style "Hwa Soo Do," which means "Way of the Flower Hand." Shortly thereafter the name "Tang Soo Do" was adopted, but Grandmaster Hwang Kee changed the name to "Soo Bahk Do" in 1957, after discovering the name in the "Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji." Soo Bahk Do became a registered corporation in Korea in 1960. The Term Tang Soo Do literally means "Way of the hand of Tang," with "Tang" referring to the Tang Dynasty of China.

The Chinese characters translated into Korean as Tang Soo Do, are also translated into Japanese as "Kara-te," or Karate. Many people still use the generic name of Tang Soo Do even to this day, but Soo Bahk Do is the official name. Several Senior Dans broke away from the Moo Duk Kwan and formed their own organizations using the name Tang Soo Do, but all of these organizations originated from the original Moo Duk Kwan.

Characteristics of the purpose of Soo Bahk Do. As a martial art, Soo Bahk Do is designed as an empty handed combat system with techniques that are both offensive and defensive. This combat system comes about as a result of physical development, mental training, and learning the characteristics of the hand and foot striking techniques.

Kendo. Soo Bahk Do practitioners do not use any weapons other than the human body. Kendo is a martial art that is also a combat system, but is not empty handed. It centers on the use of the sword. The sword is a powerful weapon that is used by many styles as the central focus of combat technique. Kendo stylists practice sword forms to perfect their techniques. Many Soo Bahk Do practitioners will also pursue and learn to use all types of weapons and techniques from other martial arts styles. This in itself is not wrong. But to preserve the purity of technique, and the original philosophy of our art, it is important to segregate these other techniques from official Soo Bahk Do activities. Soo Bahk Do instructors should not teach techniques from other styles to their students as if these techniques were part of Soo Bahk Do. Even though all styles will evolve over time by necessity, it is not up to the individual instructor to intentionally dilute, change, modify, or even add techniques.

Tae Kwon Do and Judo. Other styles of martial arts have evolved from combat systems into "sport" martial arts. When we say sport martial arts, we mean that a major focus of that style is on games and competition. Two of these sport martial arts are Tae Kwon Do and Judo. Even though these are sport martial arts, that does not mean they can not be used in combat. It is just that sport is their central focus.

Tae Kwon Do made a major step forward in the international scene when it recently became an official event in the Olympics. This major step was due largely to the world wide popularity of Tae Kwon Do, and the fact that Tae Kwon Do competition is based on a structured point system. Tae Kwan Do was easily adopted by the International Olympic Committee due to its emphasis on sport and competition.

Judo is also considered a sport martial art, but there are no kicks or punches. Instead, there are only holds and throws, with the main emphasis on victory to the competitor who can throw his (her) opponent to the ground. Judo has been an Olympic sport longer than Tae Kwon Do.

Characteristics of the techniques of Soo Bahk Do. Soo Bahk Do offensive techniques focus on striking with hands and feet, while the defensive techniques focus on blocking with hands and feet. The various striking and blocking techniques are learned, practiced, and perfected through the use of forms (Hyung) and one-step sparring. Techniques from other styles focus on certain holds for twisting and breaking of an opponents limbs. Hap Ki Do (Aikido) is one of these. Soo Bahk Do one-step sparring techniques and certain hand techniques do involve some of these holds for twisting and breaking, but this is not the main emphasis of technique in Soo Bahk Do.

Characteristics of the mental training of Soo Bahk Do. Mental training in Soo Bahk Do is similar to most martial arts. Awareness of your surroundings and incorporating your being into nature are central to this training.

This does not mean that you must become an environmental activist or take any extreme view. Instead, you must learn to appreciate nature as it is and take notice of it as a whole system in which you are a part.

Being aware of your surroundings means that you should always be observant. Do not be distracted by day dreams, even while you are idle. Just because you are not involved in a conflict at the moment does not mean you should be careless. At the same time, unless the situation demands, you should not be constantly looking over your shoulder for an enemy. This discipline of the mind is important to all areas of your life as well. As a student and scholar, you must always be alert for that next bit of information or explanation of a process, and how it fits into the overall scheme of things. This is how we stimulate our intellect and improve ourselves.

Experience is an important element to mental training, as you cannot expect to gain acute awareness at the beginning of your training. To most of us, this experience can only come as we actually grow older. Some things cannot come before their time, and experience is one of them. Just because you have gained the rank of Cho Dan, that does not mean you have gained all of the experience you need. Experience is an ever-expanding possession that cannot be taken away or transferred. It is yours, and yours alone. Some people can benefit from your experience and build upon it. The people who invented the video cassette recorder did not have to start from scratch, but built on existing technology. In the same way, newer techniques are built upon a foundation of existing techniques. But personal experience is different. You must start from scratch. Even though you may observe others who are more advanced, and gain an intellectual understanding of a technique, you must do your own training to develop your own skills.

Culture is also an important element of your training. A culture of strict regimentation will facilitate both mental and physical training, while a culture of total freedom to behave as you please may even hamper this training. That is not to say freedom is bad. But in order to exercise self control of both your physical and mental activities, you must voluntarily restrict yourself. The culture in which you are born and raised is not permanent, because all things are dynamic with time. You may change your personal culture as much as you need to if you really want the change. This change may be very slight, or it could be sweeping across most aspects of your life. This is a personal choice to change, and it cannot be forced upon you if it is to be successful. This decision requires careful consideration, and if it is to be successful, the change must be compatible with other parts of your life. For example, if you decided you will not drive a car anymore because you want to lead a more simpler life, this may not be compatible with a need to travel to work on a daily basis. This desire for change must be tempered with common sense.

Characteristics of the organization of the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. The Moo Duk Kwan was started by Grandmaster Hwang Kee in 1945 after the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. It is the same organization today, even though several aspects of the organization have evolved, such as the organization is now pretty much world-wide. Several things about the Moo Duk Kwan should be noted.

First, as of the date of this article, there has only been one grandmaster of the Moo Duk Kwan since its inception. This will not remain permanent, of course, because all people will die some day. But the Moo Duk Kwan leadership is still intact with depth, and younger leaders with great experience are ready to move up and into the forefront when their time comes.

Second, every person that has reached the level of Cho Dan (1st Dan), is given a unique Dan Bon (Dan number) that stays associated with that person permanently. The Dan Bon system has remained in place and unbroken since the beginning, and each Dan holder retains the same Dan Bon even when they reach higher Dan levels. As of the date of this article, nearly 39,000 people have been awarded Cho Dan in the World Moo Duk Kwan.

Third, the colors of the Do Bok (uniform) and Dee (belt) have symbolic meaning. The four basic colors of white, green, red, and midnight blue (midnight blue is a little bit darker than navy blue) correspond to the four seasons and are symbolic as follows. White is symbolic of purity, beginnings, emptiness, and a willingness to not shed blood, and corresponds to the season of Winter. Green is symbolic of growth and advancement, and corresponds to the season of Spring. Red is symbolic of ripening, and corresponds to the season of Summer. And finally, Midnight blue is symbolic of maturity and harvest, and corresponds to the season of Autumn. The color of the belt of Cho Dan and above is midnight blue, while just about every other style in the world uses the black belt for their Dans. The midnight blue belt is traditional and distinctive, and continues to represent the maturity of the Soo Bahk Do practitioner, just as the Grandmaster originally intended.

Finally, there is a great support system in place to aid the instructor and student alike. Senior Dans under the supervision of the Grandmaster have produced several video tapes that demonstrate correct techniques. There are also many books, including Volume 1 of Soo Bahk Do by Grandmaster Hwang Kee. These books demonstrate in photographic sequence and illustrations many of the forms, blocks, punches, and kicks of Soo Bahk Do. These photographs and illustrations include a scientific analysis of all of the techniques. Volume 1 of Soo Bahk Do also contains the principles of martial artistry, history of ancient and modern martial arts from various countries, and the specific attributes of Soo Bahk Do. No other style has near the wealth of information available to its members that will ensure techniques are correctly passed on to the younger generation of practitioners.

Conclusion about the characteristics of Soo Bahk Do. While Soo Bahk Do shares many characteristics with other styles, the collective of these characteristics are what defines what Soo Bahk Do is really all about. This collective of characteristics is unlike the collective characteristics of any other individual style. This really makes every style unique in its own way, and gives all practitioners of the style of their choice something to call their own.

As for me, my style is Soo Bahk Do, and I am proud to be a member of the World Moo Duk Kwan with Dan Bon 38744. I suppose I could investigate other styles in more depth and learn those techniques, but that is not my goal at this time. Although I fully support Soo Bahk Do and the World Moo Duk Kwan, my hopes are that all martial artists will excel in their chosen styles, whether it is Tae Kwan Do, Hap Ki Do, or Soo Bahk Do. So to all, I wish you good luck in your martial art endeavors.

For more information about becoming a member of the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan federation, go to

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