Ryu Pa is a Korean term that means “a river flowing down divided”. This is the term used for the word “style”. Ryu Pa denotes the natural progression and change of a craft or art throughout history. It is akin to the natural evolution of life as the world in which we live changes. The martial arts (moo yei) is no different. The Moo Duk Kwan style was created by the late Hwang Kee in 1945. Anyone associated with martial arts styles such as Tae Kwan Do, Tang Soo Do, Hwa Soo Do, Soo Bahk Do and other Korean Karate styles likely share Hwang Kee’s Moo Duk Kwan as the foundational Ryu Pa (Style).
For any Korean martial art practitioner that can trace his/her roots to the Moo Duk Kwan, it is important to understand the history, traditions, and philosophy of Hwang Kee Chang Shi Ja (Founder) and how it applied to his martial arts training and style. Only then will your eyes begin to open to who you are as a practitioner. This is similar to mankind’s curiosity towards his personal ancestors. We seek after those who have gone before us as they are a part of our unique identity.
The scope of this article is to highlight Hwang Kee Chang Shi Ja’s personal training history as well as the training history of his direct line. To begin, Hwang Kee’s training can be divided into 4 specific areas: Tae Kyun, Master Yang Kuk Jin, Okinawan Karate, and Soo Bahk.
When Hwang Kee was only 7, he witnessed a fight with a Tae Kyun master defend himself against a large group of men. Hwang Kee was so impressed that he followed the man home and eventually asked to learn. Hwang Kee was refused because he was too young. Determined, Hwang Kee woud watch from a distance as the master would teach Tae Kyun. Though he never received formal training in Tae Kyun, some considered him a master in his own right by the age of 22.
Master Yang Kuk Jin
Later, Hwang Kee went to Manchuria to work on the railroad. There he was able to train with Yang Kuk Jin, a master of the Chinese martial arts. Here Hwang Kee received his only formal training which included Seh Bop (Postures), Bo Bop (steps) and Ryun Bop (Conditioning). He also trained in Dham Toi Sip E Ro (12 Step Tan Tui) and Tae Kuk Kwon (Tai Chi). This is all that is written in the history books, however, after further study of the Chinese Arts, it’s safe to assume that the Seh Bop and Bo Bop was Ship Sam Seh training that comprises 8 postures and 5 Steps. See my article on the Ship Sam Seh. Ryun Bop was most likely conditioning of the hands and feet as well as Ki Gong (Internal Energy Exercises) such as Moo Pahl Dan Kuhm (Ba Duan Jin or 8 Section Brocade) and Yuk Keun Kyung (Yi Jin Jing or Changing Tendon Exercises). You will find that the Chil Sung and Yuk Ro Hyung were greatly influenced by Dham Toi Sip E Ro and Tae Kuk Kwon. Future articles will be written on this topic.
When Hwang Kee returned to Korea, he read books on Okinawan Karate. The exact titles are unknown.
After World War II, Hwang Kee opened a school teaching a new system that he created called Hwa Soo Do. This style was heavily influenced by his training in Manchuria. However, because of the Japanese Occupation of Korea, his art was not very well received. One day, he spoke with the founders of Ji Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan. Chung Do Kwan was teaching Tang Soo Do, which had roots in Shotokan. Ji Do Kwan was teaching Kong Soo Do, which had roots in Judo. Both of these styles had many more students than the Moo Duk Kwan. After meeting these two founders, Hwang Kee decided he needed to integrate the art of “Tang Soo Do” into the Hwa Soo Do discipline. At the time, Tang Soo Do was the only term for a “Karate-type” discipline that the public would recognize and accept because of their Japanese doctrinization during the past 50 years. From the knowledge he had acquired from studying Japanese books, he began teaching Tang Soo Do while applying the Hwa Soo Do discipline of techniques. This included a unique use of offensive and defensive hip movements in all hand techniques. Kicks also had a unique way of extending the hips on all thrust kicks. These along with other characteristics distinguished the Moo Duk Kwan system from others teaching “Tang Soo Do”.
In 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the Kwon Bup section of the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji, the oldest Korean martial arts text known today. Kwon Bup means “fist method”. The Kwon Bup section describes the Kwon Bup fighting style and talks of an older style called “Soo Bahk Ki” or Soo Bahk Hee” which means hand striking techniques or dance. He recognized the importance of “Soo Bahk” as a Korean traditional martial art and studied the book in depth. The Moo Duk Kwan began another transformation as Hwang Kee implemented the Soo Bahk system into the Moo Duk Kwan. This implementation has continued until the present day where the Moo Duk Kwan now practices forms taken from and based upon the teachings from the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji. In the 1990’s, the Moo Duk Kwan in the United States formally changed its name from the United States Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation to the United States Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. The change of the name outwardly demonstrates the Moo Duk Kwan’s change of focus from the Tang Soo Do curriculum that had a strong base in the Okinawan Karate forms to the unique Soo Bahk Do forms created by Hwang Kee such as Chil Sung, Yuk Ro, and Hwa Sun.
Ryu Pa Today
The Moo Duk Kwan today teaches the combined knowledge that Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja left to his son and successor, Hwang Hyun Chul Kwan Jang Nim. The system is largely influenced by his teacher in China and his findings in the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji along with his unique contribution on the execution of basic techniques (unique use of hip). The “Tang Soo Do” forms are also taught, but less emphasis is placed on them today.
Below is a description of our school’s Rya Pa, which is also the lineage of all of the Moo Duk Kwan practitioners within the United States Region 8 (geographic area of the Moo Duk Kwan comprising Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico). Jeff Moonitz, Hu Kyun In is currently the head of our Region and all of the certified studio owners and instructors come under his leadership. Let us take a moment to understand some of the unique contributions of each of these Moo Do Pioneers that have helped mold our Ryu Pa into what it is today.
Oh, Sae Jung
Not much is known about Oh, Sae Jung. He trained in Seoul at the Y.M.C.A. and trained beside C.I Kim. He would be 87 if he were alive today. More research needs to be done to learn more.
Shin, Jae Chul
Shin, Jae Chul was a direct student of both Oh, Sae Jung and Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja. After achieving Cho Dan, he began teaching at Osan Air Base in South Korea. There he taught Koreans and Americans a like. It was there that he began teaching Chuck Norris, likely the most well-known Moo Duk Kwan practitioner of all time. Later, Chuck Norris would sponsor Master Shin, Jae Chul to the United States, becoming one of the first Korean Moo Duk Kwan instructors to come to the United States. Master Shin, Jae Chul would be instrumental in helping to establish the US Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation in Springfield, New Jersey. In 1982, he left the Federation and the Moo Duk Kwan for personal reasons and created the World Tang Soo Do Association.
Carlos “Chuck” Norris
Master Carlos Norris trained at Osan Air Base in Korea. In his early days, Master Norris was a very successful tournament fighter and held on to the Professional Middleweight Karate champion title for six years. Later on he would rise to fame as a martial arts actor for a variety of action films.
For many of his direct descendants, we remember Master Norris for creating a variation of the Ki Cho forms called Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup and Ki Cho Hyung E Bu Sang Gup. These two forms add variety to our training and we hold it as a unique tradition within Region 8. Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup is performed by executing a front thrust kick prior to each punch in Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu, working on proper posture and balance. Ki Cho Hyung E Bu Sang Gup is the same as Ki Cho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup except for the run down the center performs the following combination: low block, reverse center punch; high block, reverse center punch; inside/outside block, reverse center punch; outside/inside block, reverse punch.
Victor Martinov, Sa Bom
Martinov, Sa Bom Nim is one of a handful Gu Dans (9th degree black belt) in the world. He was promoted by Hwang, Hyun Chul Kwan Jang Nim–the son of Founder Hwang Kee. Martinov, Sa Bom Nim is a charter member who helped bring Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja to the United States and helped created the United States Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation, later named the US Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. Martinov, Sa Bom Nim spent decades as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee and is now a member of the Senior Advisory Committee and acts as a personal advisor to Hwang, Hyun Chul Kwan Jang Nim. His contributions and reach spans the entire United States and is considered the Grandfather of Region 8. Many of the lessons learned include: Unbendable Arm Technique, Aikido-style footwork such as step and a half pivot, Effective Knife Defenses, and a sense of natural heaviness in your technique. The list will go on and on.
Martinov, Sa Bom Nim was a direct student of Master Norris until Master Norris decided to leave the Moo Duk Kwan. He took Moonitz Sa Bom Nim as a student and came in direct contact with Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja.
Jeff Moonitz, Sa Bom
Moonitz, Sa Bom Nim is currently a Pal Dan (8th degree black belt) and was promoted this honorary rank by Hwang, Hyun Chul Kwan Jang Nim. Like Martinov, Sa Bom Nim, he was an original charter member, who helped found the US Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. He currently sits as a Hu Kyun In, or Guardian of the Art and is an advisor to the current Technical Advisory Committee. Moonitz, Sa Bom Nim was on the sparring team under Master Norris and was a very successful competitor. After Master Norris left the Moo Duk Kwan, Moonitz, Sa Bom Nim began training under the direction of Martinov, Sa Bom Nim while running his own successful school as a red belt.
Moonitz, Sa Bom Nim is well known for creating within our Region the Tae Kuk breathing exercises. Being a successful tournament fighter, Moonitz, Sa Bom Nim has also taught his students his signature, high speed round kick and reverse punch.
Oliver Whitcomb, Sa Bom
Oliver Whitcomb, Sa Bom Nim is my personal instructor from Hailey, Idaho. Where I am today is because of him and his mentorship over the years. He is currently a Yuk Dan (6th Dan) and is the Regional Examiner for Region 8. Whitcomb, Sa Bom Nim is known for his strong moo do and unique conditioning techniques. He received a BA from the University of Washington in East Asian Studies and speaks Korean.
The Future of Ryu Pa
Luckily, the art continues to evolve in a natural direction. A special thanks to all of the individuals listed for their sacrifices and contributions to the art of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. Many of them have dedicated their life to this art and have greatly influenced the natural progression of Ryu Pa through their leadership. As the rising Gups, Dans and Ko Dan Ja continue on their moo do path, may we remember to train hard, maintain perspective of our unique history, and dedicate ourselves to the preservation and natural development of Ryu Pa into the future.
If you have a personal memory, story, or lesson learned related to anyone listed in this article, please post a comment.