A Brief History of Kong Soo Do Korean Karate

A Brief History of Kong Soo Do
Korean Karate

Note from Great Grandmaster Rick Jessee

This is one version of the published history of the beginnings of Kong Soo Do however while living in Korea and being a Japanese karate practitioner I heard many different versions of this tale.

The popular version goes as follows:

Kong Soo Do is a Korean martial art. Its name is composed of the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “karate-do”. In English it means “empty-hand way”. However, it is different from Japanese karate-do. It is influenced by individual backgrounds of instructors.

“Chosun Yun Mu Kwan (sometimes Yun Moo Kwan) Kong Soo Do Bu” and “YMCA Kwon Bop Bu”, two of the original five Kwans used the ‘Kong Soo Do’ name in its youth.

Yun Mu Kwan’s founder Chun Sang Sup learned Okinawan Karate from Gichin Funakoshi. Chun had a very close relationship with Yoon Byung-In the founder of YMCA Kwon Bop Bu. Chun and Yoon would travel to train with other martial artists, sometimes traveling to Manchuria. They trained with each other so much that they became known as brothers.[1] Chun went missing during the Korean War; subsequently, this kwan voted to change its name to Jidokwan. After Chun disappeared in Korean War, the original students of Chun voted Master Yoon who trained in Chuan Fa in Manchuria as Jidokwan 1st President.
Kwon Bop Bu/Chang Moo Kwan – founded in 1947 by Yoon Byung-In who had studied Chinese kung fu (chu’an-fa, or ‘fist method’) in Manchuria and Okinawan versions of Chinese martial arts karate with Kanken Tōyama in Japan. When Yoon trained karate at university karate club in Japan with Kanken Tōyama, Japanese karate students pursued the Korean student and beat them up. Yoon Byung-in angered from the Japanese karate students, Yoon Byung-in sprung into action using Chuan-fa. He skillfully deflected and evaded the karate students’ strikes and kicks to the point that they gave up and ran back to tell their teacher about what happened. Teacher Kanken Tōyama invited Yoon Byung-in to tell him about the skillful non-karate martial art he used against his students. Yoon Byung-in explained to Toyama about his Chuan-fa education in Manchuria. Toyama appreciated the Chuan-fa background since he (Toyama) had studied Chuan-fa in Taiwan for 7 years, previously.

They decided to exchange knowledge; Yoon Byung-in would teach Toyama Kanken Chuan-fa and Toyama Kanken would teach Yoon Byung-in his Shudo-Ryu karate. Yoon later created his art and called as Kwon Bop Kong Soo Do. Early Chang Moo Kwan was mainly based on Chinese Kung Fu (ch’uan-fa). The early Chang Moo Kwan taught Palgi kwon (which influenced by Bajiquan).
Yoon went missing during the Korean War. His teachings were carried on by his top student Lee Nam Suk, who changed the name of the school to Chang Moo Kwan. Even though Yoon disappeared during the Korean War, information about him was later recovered by original Chang Moo Kwan student, Kim Pyung-soo in 2005, when he found Yoon Byun-in’s family. Yoon’s teachings were carried on by his top students Lee Nam Suk (Chang Moo Kwan), Park Chul-hee and Hong Jong-Pyo (both Kang Duk Won). During the Korean unification of the KTA in the 1960s a small sub Kwan broke away to form the Kong soo do kang yu do style founded by grand master Jae Soo Kwon. Its location was Yongsan District Korea outside of the U.S. military base; it then made its way to the United States. Outside of Korea very few martial artists know or practice this style today. The art stands for the hard and soft way or path of Korean empty hand.

A Deeper Look

To get an even deeper understanding of the roots of modern Kong Soo Do lets now look at the founder of the Karate System Yoon the originator of KSD studied. It was mentioned above that Kanken Toyama taught Yoon the system of Shudo-Ryu karate do. Not Shotokan as is professed by many. This system predates Shotokan. This system is purely Okinawan not Japanese although Toyama Sensei moved to Japan and opened what he named the Shudokan Dojo where Yoon trained. Here is an article that gives information on Toyama Sensei and Master Yoon.

The following are two versions of the life of Grand Master Kanken Toyama, whose karate teachings inluenced so many instructors and students studying martial arts today. The first is directly from Mikio Tanaka, his highest-ranking successor, which is short and concise, while the second and more detailed version was compiled by Takeo Hayashi – 5th Dan, a student of Mr. Tanaka for over 35 years.
Dai Shihan,
Okinawa Seito Karate Do (Traditional Okinawan Karate)

Born on 24th September 1888, the 21st year of Meiji Era, in the Castle Town of Shuri, Okinawa, he trained Karate since childhood under the grand masters such as ITOSU, HIGAONNA, ITARASHIKI as well as his Bo Jutsu and Sai Jutsu by OGUSUKU, TANA, and CHIBANA.

In 1924, he moved to Taiwan and trained under CHIN Bussai of Taihoku, and RIN Kendo of Taichu to study Chinese Kenpo of Nan Ken Hoku Tai. He then moved to Tokyo in 1930 to establish his Karate Dojo, Shudokan.

He died in November 1966, at the age of 78.