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Unarmed Martial Arts in the Korean War

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  • #46
    One of the reasons that Taekwondo’s parent arts are obscure is that many of them were banned during the years in which Japan had control over the majority of Korea (between 1910 and 1945). For example, the strictly traditional Korean martial arts such as Subak and Taekkyon were prohibited from being practiced or taught in Japan’s effort to force Korea to assimilate to Japanese culture (Koreans were also forced to disregard their own language and take on Japanese names in place of their own).

    Hmmm. In fact, after 1919, the Japanese promoted a great deal of research into traditional Korean culture. The name policy was only implemented in the last three years of a 35-year colonial period, and was not forced on everyone. See Dr Andrei Lankov's recent piece on this.

    This issue of "traditional Korean MA being banned by the Japanese" is often cited, but I have never seen any proof of this. And why would they ban MA? It was hardly a threat.

    Moreover, MA cannot be "banned" by government: They are easily practiced indoors or in other private places. Efforts to ban MA in Okinawa and Southern China never had any effect historically, nor did Beijing's bans during the cultural revolution have a permanent effect.

    Taekkyun - a martial folk dance, not a martial art; it did not include any weapons - was not widely practiced in late Joseon at all: It was virtually extinct, as evidenced by the fact that only one master bought it into the modern age. All evidence suggests that Taekkyun is practiced by more people in South Korea now than at any point in history.

    The fact is both Subyok and Taekkyun had nothing to do with early TKD: Ask current masters of these arts. (I have.)

    ALL the early kwans that later formed TKD were run by men who had 1st of 2nd dan black belts in the Japanese karate that they had learned during the colonial period. Dr Stephen Capener's writings have made all this quite clear. Early TKD was karate: We can see this in the forms (hyung), techniques, uniforms, ranking systems, etc.

    TKD is a modern MA, with its main technical advances taking place in the 196Os and 70s, when it was moving towards a competitive sport. The only pre-modern technical forms that we can say for certain that had an influence on modern TKD are Japanese/Okinawan.

    The last traditional Korean MA - Taekkyun, Sunmudo/Bulmudo and Subyok (previously Subak) - have and had no technical connection to TKD.

    Anti-Japanesism remains a critical component of modern Korean nationalism on both sides of the DMZ, but enough research has been done on Korean MA to disabuse many of the notions about TKD that were promoted by the Korean government in the authoritarian decades from the 1960-1980s.
    A massive attack...a brigade against an army...three nights of unforgettable tragedy.
    Sixty years later, the full story is told at last:


    • #47
      Creepyhollow. An article that underscores the fact that under the Choseon Dynasty, Korean was generally written using Chinese script.

      And an article that points out that the current family name system in Korea is relatively new, and that the Japanese did not decree the name change until the 1940s. I.e., for the first nearly 40 years of Japanese colonialism (if one counts from 1905), no Korean was forced to change their name.

      an article on Korean Kamikazi pilots which suggests that some Koreans, at least, had voluntarily taken Japanese names:
      dit: Lirelou

      Phong trần mài một lưỡi gươm, Những loài giá áo túi cơm sá gì!


      • #48
        Originally posted by lirelou View Post
        Creepyhollow. An article that underscores the fact that under the Choseon Dynasty, Korean was generally written using Chinese script.

        And an article that points out that the current family name system in Korea is relatively new, and that the Japanese did not decree the name change until the 1940s. I.e., for the first nearly 40 years of Japanese colonialism (if one counts from 1905), no Korean was forced to change their name.

        an article on Korean Kamikazi pilots which suggests that some Koreans, at least, had voluntarily taken Japanese names:
        Thanks for the links Lirelou! Very helpful.


        • #49
          Thanks Andy, Lirelou, I've learnt something new today.


          • #50
            The taekwondo of today is the modern product of martial arts and folk games developed over many centuries in Korea. While there is no doubt the three main East Asian countries of Korea, China, and Japan all had their own indigenous martial arts, it is also quite likely that they shared much of their martial cultures with each other. Korea was heavily influenced by Buddhist and Confucian thought from China and, in turn, Korean Buddhism and other aspects of Korean high culture heavily influenced Japan. Furthermore, there was considerable trade among all three kingdoms from early times. There is little doubt then that the martial arts of all three countries were in some ways influenced by each other. It is equally obvious, however, that the martial arts of each country come to possess the distinct flavor of its country’s culture.

            Korea has a long history of martial arts stretching well back into ancient times. Written historical records from the early days of the Korean peninsula are sparse, however, there are a number of well-preserved archeolgical artifacts that tell stores of Korea’s early martial arts.

            The earliest unarmed Korean martial art which has been identified was call subakhi. A mural found on the walls of a royal tomb called the "Muyongchong" dated at around the end of the 4th century A.D. from the Koguryo era (B.C 37 - A.D. 668), depicts two men engaging in unarmed sparring. While there is some debate over whether this was subakhi or the Korean form of wrestling called ssirum, it is apparent from similar murals in other tombs from the same period that there was a systemized form of unarmed combat at that time. The fact that these murals are found on the walls of royal tombs tells us something about the importance of subakhi in Koguryo society. Only those images which were thought to protect or amuse the kings buried there were permitted on the walls.

            The term subakhi first appears in Korean historical records during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). A reference in the History of Korea tells of a man named Doo Kyung Song (?-1197) who wanted to enter a special branch of the military which was responsible for guarding the king’s palanquin and which recruited men well known for their skill in subakhi.

            Subakhi became popular enough during the Koryo Dynasty that in at least two places the History of Korea records events where subakhi matches were held in front of the king. This is an important bit of martial arts history because it tells us that even at that time the Korean people enjoyed the competitive aspects of martial arts. The character su means hand, bak means to strike, and hi means play or game. From this information and other historical records we can see that subakhi was not only a martial art, but also a competitive sport.

            Therefore, it is possible that Koreans were perhaps the first to systemize this kind of martial art into an early form of sport in Asia.

            During the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910), unarmed martial arts suffered greatly from the heavy emphasis of the ruling class on literary over physical activities. There were, however, two important exceptions to this tendency. In 1790, King Chongjo commissioned a book called the Muyedobotongji which was an illustrated manual of Korean martial arts. This book described in detail Korea’s martial arts of which an unarmed combat style of kicking and punching is extensively illustrated.

            In spite of subakhi and other martial arts being looked down upon by the elite, subakhi, at least, seems to have continued to develop. In what was a kind of encyclopedia of Korean customer and practices written during the reign of King Chongjo (1777-1800) entitled Chaemulbo there is a statement that the martial art subakhi came to be called "takkyon". It is a fair assumption that the "takkyon" spoken of here is what later came to be called "taekkyon".

            What is significant here is not only that the name changed, but also that the techniques themselves changed drastically. In early historical references to subakhi, only hand techniques are emphasized. For instance, "Ui Min struck a post with his fist and the rafters shook," or "Du Kyong Song destroyed a brick with his fist." However, by the end of the 19th century, historical records dealing with taekkyon emphasize that it was an art based mostly on kicking techniques. In fact, by that time it is clear that taekkyon was actually a systemized competition complete with footwork and strategy. According to some scholars, taekkyon had all the characteristics of a modern sport. A famous painting by Yu Suk depicts both taekkyon and ssirum (Korean wresting) matches being held. In the painting, the contestants are surrounded by spectators including fathers who have brought their sons out the watch the matches. Refreshments are also being sold indicating that the events went on for a good part of the day.

            A book written in 1923 by a historian named Choi Yong Nyon titled the Haedongjukchi gives the best description of the systemization of taekkyon and the emphasis placed on difficult kicking techniques:

            "There was a fighting skill in which the players would try to knock each other down using the feet. The lowest skill level was kicking the opponent’s leg, the next highest was to kick the shoulder, and the highest recognition was given to the one who could kick the opponent’s topknot."

            In 1895, an American anthropologist named Stewart Culin visited Korea for the purpose of studying Korean games. In his book Korean Games he includes a picture of two children engaging in a taekkyon match. [note: picture provided in Taekwondo: The Spirit of Korea] Taekkyon had become so popular as a folk sport that people began to bet on the outcome of matches resulting in legislation from the conservative Neo-Confucian government banning its practice. In spite of this, taekkyon was common until around the turn of the century when pressure from the Confucian authorities, who deemed it an inappropriate activity, seems to have lead to its gradual disappearance from common culture.

            At the end of the 19th century, Korea was going through a kind of reawakening to foreign influences. Korea had long been closed to foreigners, with the exception of the Chinese and some trade with Japan. However, toward the end of the century, with the establishment of several foreign missions including those of Great Britain, the United States, and Germany, Korea was moving toward modernization.

            Unfortunately, it was at this time that Korea’s military was at its weakest. Years of neglect by the ruling literati had led to the decline of the national defense. This trend influenced folks culture as well. Games such as taekkyon and another game called sokchon, which was a stone throwing rivalry between villages, usually held on the 5th of May Festival, seem to have been victims of Neo-Confucian conservatism.

            It was in this atmosphere that Korea lost its sovereignty to Japan in a forced annexation. Traditional Korean culture further suffered under the Japanese policy of absorbing Korea into the Japanese Empire. Fortunately, taekkyon did not completely disappear but was preserved in the body of one man, Song Dok Ki (1893-1987), who was responsible for reviving it after liberation in 1945.

            The history of subakhi and taekkyon is a good illustration of the Korean people’s love of spirited combat arts. Furthermore, the development from subahki, which emphasized hand techniques, to taekkyon, which emphasized foot techniques, shows the traditional preference in Korean culture for sport or activities which use the feet. Perhaps even more important to the later development of taekwondo is the tendency of Korean combat sports to value difficult skills over easier and simpler ones. This aspect of Korean culture was to play an important role in developing taekwondo into the highly sophisticated martial sport that it is today.


            • #51

              Have you ever been to Korea?
              The taekwondo of today is the modern product of martial arts and folk games developed over many centuries in Korea.

              Utter nonsense. TKD is a sportified offshoot of Japanese karate learned by Koreans in the 1930s and 1940s.

              Muyedobotongji was largely a copy of an existing Chinese manual that was imported to the Korean peninsula by Ming Troops durnig the Imjin War (1592-1598). Chinese originals are available and it is a very simple thing to compare and contrast. There are now various schools and associations which have resurrected the MA of th Muyedobotongji, in the same way that Europeans have used ancient combat manurals to resurrect old European MA. Some of them carry out horse combat. Most of Muyedobotongji's material is armed (unlike TKD); its unarmed section is very short, and is based 100 percent on the original Chinese manual.

              As noted, Taekkyun was virtually extinct in modern Korea; only one practitioner in South Korea carried the art into the modern age. And Song was NOT associated with any of the kwans that formed TKD (or Hapkido), nor did he found a TKD kwan. He only ever taught Taekkyun, and only ever called what he did Taekkyun. Ergo: There was no connection between TKD and Taekkyun.

              Choi Hong-hi admits he learned Shotoka karate, and claims he learned Taekkyun in Northern Korea - but if he did, there is no reflection of the latter influence in his early MA, which was entirely karate-like, as evidenced by his various training manuals.

              Modern TKD is a sportified outgrowth of mid-20th century Japanese karate, and there is nothing more to it than that. TKD has no historical, technical or personal relationship to ancient Korean martial arts, be they from the Goguryeo (!) Goryeo or Joseon Dynasties.

              So: Contrary to what you post above about Japanese colonialism eradicating Korean culture, in the case of MA, it greatly contributed to Korean culture. (Assuming you consider TKD a significant segment of Korean culture - which many Koreans would not. There is no "Living Cultural Treasure" master of TKD, for example, unlike in the cases of dance, pottery and other traditional art forms)

              Moreover, if you visit South Korea today, you will find that there are three main uses of TKD, none of which fall under the rubric of "traditional MA":

              (1) Phys ed/character building for children (I'd guess that 90 percent of TKD students in ROK dojangs today are under the age of 18)

              (2) Sport for active competitors (Although TKD is officially the country's national sport, it is not a popular spectator sport, and is very rarely seen on TV or in newspapers, bar the Olympics. In fact, UFC is far, far more popular on TV, and Korea's UFC athletes are much higher profile in terms of media coverage and advertising contracts than any TKD player)

              (3) PT for the military. Moreover, different units also have different MA; The paratroops/special forces have Tukong Musool ("special forces MA" which is largely an adaption of Hapkido) and the 777 Battalion (the ROK Army's Delta/SAS unit) have "White Tiger" (itself an adaption of Philippino MA, from what I have seen of it). In recent years, the ROK Special Forces have even been training BJJ.

              If you are interested in Korean traditional MA, Taekkyun is very widely taught nationwide, especially on university campuses. Sonmudo is increasingly widely taught, both in and outside temples. AFAIK, there is only one master and school teaching Subyok (aka Subak).

              It is clear just by looking at their body method and techniques that these arts are unrelated to TKD, and if you speak to people in these, arts they will make very clear that their styles have no technical connection to TKD.

              TKD has found widespread international acceptance as a sport. It is no longer necessary to claim (as it was during the ultranationalist years under authoritarain governments of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s) a false history for it; it stands on its own feet; it is what it is.
              A massive attack...a brigade against an army...three nights of unforgettable tragedy.
              Sixty years later, the full story is told at last:


              • #52
                Hello to everybody!

                This is my first post on this forum.

                I hope I can contribute something useful to the topic.

                A man called D-Eliscu developed a program for the paratrooper school in Fort Benning (1950) and wrote a manual about it.

                The marines also had been trained in unarmed combat for this war. (as a reference you might check - the usmc publication "cold steel" written from John Styers (1952)). Last but not least exists the army field manual FM 21-150 published 1954.

                As for the korean side:

                I assume that the founders of the 5 first Taekwondo styles (Changmu-Kwan, Cheongdo-Kwan, Mudeuk-Kwan, Seongmu-Kwan, Yonmu-Kwan) might had some influence on the army training.


                Last edited by gaowu; 18 Apr 11, 17:09.


                • #53
                  There are several hand to hand combat programs from the korean war era.

                  The korean war era field manual contains a version of combat judo using edge of hand blows, kicks, knees, some judo-like throws - although executed in combat versions, choking techniques, using other various holds as well as the defenses against these techniques and some weapon defenses.

                  There is also an armed side of h2h training (using bayonet, knife, garrotte and improvised blackjacks)- It is said that this part is based on the experiences during the korean war (as the manual was written 1954) - which might shed light on what kind of h2h situation occured during the war?!

                  An unarmed combat program designed for an elite unit (ranger h2h program in 1950) included an even better and far more interesting approach.

                  Very up to the point techniques - which had been used from one of the first korean war ranger units. An really impressive timeless training program. (concerning unarmed h2h) - which seems had only little influence on the 1954 edition.


                  Last edited by gaowu; 01 Oct 11, 12:32.


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