Just as the Um and Yang philosophy was an ancient way of explaining nature, the Oh Haeng was a further attempt to explain more complex forces of nature. The Oh Haeng, or 5 Elements/Energies include: Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth. Each element produces a unique energy (Ki) that can be cultivated for Kwon Bup and for health.
Respect > Kindness > Trust > Openness > Honesty > Respect Fear > Anger > Envy > Worry > Sadness > Fear
The destructive cycle is equally as intuitive: Water smothers a fire. Fire melts metal. Metal chops wood. Wood breaks up the earth. Earth muddies water. The destructive cycle also holds true:
Respect > Trust > Honesty > Kindness > Openness > Respect
Fear > Envy > Sadness > Anger > Worry > Fear
Within the context of Kwon Bup (fist fighting), each element has unique attributes and can be sub-divided by Um (internal) and Yang (external). The Oh Bo are the 5 Steps—Advance, Retreat, Right, Left, Center—and refers only to direction of movement. In traditional Ship Sam Seh, the 8 Postures are combined with the 5 Steps so Pong (ward off) could be performed by stepping forward, back, twisting right, twisting left, and maintaining your center.
The internal strategies, called Oh Mal, are much more telling: Listen, Connect, Adhere, Redirect and Yield. Table 4 summarizes the Oh Mal.
||Listen Hands—Listen with your whole body.
||Connect with your opponent. Literally means “Chariots in a row”. Control your opponent.
||Adhere, stick to your opponents (sticky hands).
||Follow and lead as you adhere. Take control.
The O Mal, or 5 Strategies, seem to be a set of ordered instructions on how to face an opponent effectively. Many of these strategies can be found intertwined in the Song of Ship Sam Seh–though the Song of Ship Sam Seh does not discuss Ship Sam Seh directly. The first step is to have good shi sun and “pay attention to the slightest change from full to empty.” Listening hands has to do with reading your opponent based on his eyes, body movement, stance and breath. Once you begin to read your opponent, then you try and connect with him. “Surprising things will happen when you meet your opponent.” Move in harmony with your opponent so that you move as one entity. “Pay attention to the slightest change from full to empty”. This is the beginning of controlling your opponent.
Once you have gained a connection with your opponent, you must maintain it by adhering to him. This can be done physically through an exercise called “sticky hands” or it could be a mu sang exercise where you maintain a harmonious connection with your partner. Learn to follow or lead your opponent without aggression. You will begin to control your opponent without any effort (following) as a result of this connection. Each strategy seamlessly prepares you for the next strategy. Unlike the rest of the Oh Haeng and Pal Gwe groupings, these strategies are to be used simultaneously.
The O Mal can be better explained by Yang Ch’eng-fu’s writing of 1930 called Yang Family Forty Chapters:
“Sticking means lifting and raising high; adhering means clinging and attachment; connecting means giving up yourself and not separating from the opponent; and following means that I respond to my opponent’s movements.”
The principles of Ship Sam Seh that we have discussed thus far have been neatly packaged into a single form called Tae Kuk Kwon. Tae Kuk is the name for the Um/Yang symbol and Kwon translates to “fist”, or the fist fighting style of Um and Yang. Within the hyung, Pal Gwe and Oh Haeng are expressed. By practicing Tae Kuk Kwon Hyung, one can begin to understand the sparring principles of Tae Kuk Kwon. This same pattern can be found today in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan through hyung practice.
Soo Bahk Do & Ship Sam Seh
Soo Bahk Do also has a set of Hyung that we use as guiding principles into our art. These are the hyung created by Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja called Chil Sung Hyung, Yuk Ro Hyung, and Hwa Sun Hyung. It’s also interesting to note that there is another set called Ship Dan Kuhm that are not widely practiced.
After practicing the hyung, we extrapolate sparring concepts and apply them to Ja Yu Dae Ryun. Modern-day examples include Hwa Kuk Jang Kap Kwon and Peet Cha Gi. Even today, we are in the process of evolution as the USA TAC define a new way of sparring at the US National Festival that better demonstrates our philosophy of Um/Yang, connection, and unique Soo Bahk Do technique. This new sparring format better aligns with the principles we learn in our unique hyung.
Though we do not practice all of the 8 postures of Tae Kuk Kwon, many of the principles are the same.
Chain of Command
Soo Bahk Do is known for it’s unique Use of Hip and clear understanding of chain of command from your mind, to your waist, elbows/knees, to each weapon on your hand and foot. Today, we reference Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion (F=ma) to explain the concept scientifically, but the application is the same. This principle is integral in Tae Kuk Kwon and is taught side by side with Ship Sam Seh. Jang Sam Bong, the legendary founder of Tae Kuk Kwon wrote a treatise on Tae Kuk Kwon, called the Tae Kuk Kwon Kyung. Within the text, he prefaced his explanation of Ship Sam Seh by explaining chain of command7:
“Let the postures be without breaks or holes, hollows or projections, or discontinuities and continuities of form. The motion should be rooted in the feet, released through the legs, controlled by the waist, and manifested through the fingers. The feet, legs, and waist must act together simultaneously, so that while stepping forward or back the timing and position are correct. If the timing and position are not correct, the body becomes disordered, and the defect must be sought in the legs and waist.”
Centuries later, The Song of Ship Sam Seh was written that alluded to these same principles with the following quotes:
“The source of the will is in the waist.”
“When the base of the spine is erect, energy rises to the top of the head”
8 Ways of Moving the Huri
Pal Gwe, or the 8 directions, can be likened to the 8 different ways of moving your center: front, back, up, down, right, left, twisting clockwise, twisting counter clockwise. I’ve found that every technique incorporates one or more of these directions. Ahp Cha Gi is primarily front. Dullryo Cha Gi utilizes front and twisting with the direction depending on which foot is kicking. Hu Gul Choong Dan Soo Do Mahkee includes twisting, back, and down.
Applying Oh Bo (5 Steps) to Soo Bahk Do “postures”
As the mass moves in the 8 various directions using Soo Bahk Do techniques or “postures”, we can also apply the 5 steps. We attack generally by moving forward and defend by moving back. Oftentimes, a better defense is to step left or right into what we call a “sidestep.” The term “bujuhang” is of particular interest because it can mean non-aggression. This is done traditionally by standing your ground and yielding to an attack without necessarily using footwork.
Bujuhang (following without aggression)
Bujuhang is a great way to summarize our philosophy towards sparring. Our blocks are very yielding and receptive in nature. We prefer to receive or redirect energy rather than attempt to stop or destroy it. Our focus on side stepping and creating distance from the attack are ways that we prefer to not oppose a force. A good example of this is the application of Do Mal Shik E Bon against a high attack.
Harmony of Um and Yang (Tae Kuk)
Our sparring is very unique with the purpose of creating harmony with a partner rather than creating conflict. This is a result of moving and responding according to the laws of nature. When one is offensive, the other is defensive. Clashing is discouraged as this creates disharmony by both parties moving offensively simultaneously. As discussed above, our blocks are truly “Um” in nature, receptive rather than aggressive. Most self defense systems portray a defense as an opportunity for offense and the block is done in an aggressive fashion. This is contrary to the laws of Um and Yang. Though our techniques are primarily from Weh Ga Ryu, our philosophy and approach is very Neh Ga Ryu, similar to Tae Kuk Kwon because we follow the same Ship Sam Seh philosophy.
The history of our martial art is richly based in Ship Sam Seh philosophy which centers around the interaction between Um and Yang. The way we move and the way we approach combat is in alignment with Um and Yang. It is clear that Hwang Kee, Chang Shi Ja greatly valued the Ship Sam Seh and its elements can be found scattered throughout the forms he created. As we continue to better understand Ship Sam Seh and how it relates to our training, the art of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan continues to evolve based on the principles of Ryu Pa.
Much of this article was a result of my personal readings from the publications below as well as conversations with Jang, Dae Kyu, Sa Bom Nim who gave me many insights into the meaning of Ship Sam Seh, Um Yang, and Chil Sung.
1 Meir, Shahar The Shaolin Monastery 2008 p. 137-140
2 Hwang, Kee, Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) 1992 p. 40
3 Hwang, Kee Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) 1992 p. 34-37
4 Wile, Douglas Lost Tai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty 1996 p. 108
6 Wilde, Douglas Lost Tai-chi Classics from the Late Ch’ing Dynasty 1996 p. 67
7 Lo/Inn/Amacker/Foe The Essence of Tai Chi Chuan The Literary Tradition 1979 p.20-21
8Segarra, Dan Secrets of Ship Sam Seh p. 6
*The following article was submitted as a part of my O Dan Shim Sa for the Euro Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan™ Technical Advisory Committee. All of information provided here is based on my own personal research and may not align with the official teachings of the US Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan™ Federation.