Kuk Sool Won is a Korean martial arts system founded by In Hyuk Suh (the Kuk Sa Nim or Grandmaster) in 1958. The name Kuk Sool Won translates to "National Martial Art Association" (often shortened to 'Kuk Sool') and it is currently taught worldwide. Founded as a martial arts system and not merely a martial arts style, Kuk Sool is not limited to any single discipline. It attempts to be a comprehensive study of all Korean martial arts. In Hyuk Suh's philosophy regarding his system is to "Integrate and explore the entire spectrum of established Asian martial arts, body conditioning techniques, mental developement, and weapons training."
The study of Kuk Sool also includes many modern day techniques such as gun defense and weapon improvisation. Kuk Sool has many facets and is performed for self-defense, healing, conditioning, competition, fun and aesthetic purposes.
Kuk Sool encompasses many different "styles." However, it still has some discernible characteristics that set it apart from other traditional martial arts. It is typically characterized by having low stances and fluid, graceful motions. There is also an emphasis on joint locks and pressure points. Kuk Sool is also described as being a hard-soft style, which includes hard and forceful strikes in addition to circular and fluid movements.
Kuk Sool students are all expected to abide by the Kuk Sool Won Pledge
- As a member of the Kuk Sool Won, I pledge to obey the rules of the association and to conduct myself in accordance with the true spirit of martial arts.
- I pledge to be loyal to my country and to promote the development of a better society.
- I pledge to work together with all classes of people without regard to politics, race or religion.
- I pledge to promote international goodwill and strive for world peace through the practice of martial arts.
You won hwa
One of the key aspects of Kuk Sool revolves around the theory of "You Won Hwa". Translated literally, this would mean "Water Circle Harmony". The first part, 'you' or 'body' (water), symbolizes adaptability and softness as well as power. The second part, 'won' (circle), suggest that there is a personal circle around you, and that one should always be active and ready to redirect aggression. The redirecting of attacks in Kuk Sool is typically characterized by circular movements. The third and final part, 'hwa' (harmony or togetherness), represents the desire to achieve harmony between mind and body. In practice this is obtained through repetition. The idea is to combine these three aspects and use them to govern all of the practitioner's movements.
Kuk Sool includes (but is not limited to) the following sets of techniques:
- Joint locking/breaking: Various joint locks are employed in Kuk Sool, including wrist locks, arm-bars, and small joint manipulation.
- Soo Ki (Hand Striking): Palm, fist, wrist, finger, closed hand, open hand, arm, shoulder and pressure-point striking techniques.
- Johk Sool (Kicking Techniques): Spinning, jumping, combination, double-leg, and pressure-point kicks.
- Throwing and Grappling (Tu Ki & Jap Ki): Body throws, projection throws, leg throws, pressure-point grappling, grappling defense, wrestling, and ground-fighting techniques.
- Nak Bup (Falling Principles): Falling techniques are taught in Kuk Sool. These techniques allow a practitioner to fall into a variety of positions while minimizing injury. This is typically accomplished through maximizing the surface area on impact to prevent damaging force on an isolated area of the body.
- Animal-Style Techniques: Tiger, Mantis, Crane, Dragon, Snake, Bear, Eagle etc.
- Traditional Korean Weapons: Sword (short, long, single and double, straight and inverted), staff (short, middle and long, single and double), jool bong (double and triple sectioned; also known as nunchucks and sansetsukon), knife, spear, wol do (Moon knife - a Korean halberd), dang pa (triple bladed spear, or trident), cane, rope, fan, and the bow and arrow (taught in the traditional style, using a thumb draw).
- Martial Art Healing Methods: Acupressure, acupuncture, internal energy, herbal medicine.
- Meditation and Breathing Techniques: Meditation and breathing postures and concentration techniques.
These principles and styles guide the following facets of Kuk Sool Won.
At each rank level, Kuk Sool martial artists are required to know one or more empty-hand forms or "hyung
". These forms are performed solo. Each form has an overall guiding significance to it, which may range from balance and linear motion to preparation and practice for a knife form. Once a student has attained a black-belt level, they are introduced to solo weapons forms. These are similar to empty-hand forms, except they incorporate a weapon.
Also at black-belt rank or above, a student may learn partner weapon forms, or sparring forms. These are performed with two people in a scripted series of events. Caution is taken at first to learn the form and not to injure your partner, but true mastery is demonstrated (amongst other things) by full speed and full contact.
In addition, all forms have five guiding principles:
- Mind Clear & Focused
- Eyes Bright Like Sunshine
- Body Low & Stable
- Hands Fast & Precise
- Kicking Slow & Controlled
Kuk Sool systematically divides applied principles of martial arts into techniques which are organized into technique sets. Each belt level has one or more sets a practitioner is required to know before advancing. The number of techniques in each set can range from as little as six to more than twenty, and are ordered and grouped by principle. For instance, there is a throwing technique set, as well as a counter-to-throwing technique set.
Technique sets also range in level of mastery, with some higher-ranking technique sets similar to lower-ranking technique sets, but with a more difficult and/or precise method of application. Individual techniques are performed with one or more partners from a predetermined stance. Most techniques end with a proper application of a joint lock, choke, strike, throw or a combination of any of these. In order to be effective, Kuk Sool techniques must be performed with speed, accuracy and control.
Kuk Sool Won uniforms or "dobok
" are standardized, and consists of black medium weight martial arts pants and martial arts training top. The uniform material is stronger than a standard Tae Kwon Do uniform, but lighter than a Judo uniform, as it must allow the user to perform the complete spectrum of martial arts techniques.
Following in Korean tradition, Kuk Sool Won uniforms are black and not white due to the fact that white is a color associated with death in Korea.
There are three types of Kuk Sool Won uniforms.
Practice uniform This is the most used and plain uniform of Kuk Sool practitioners. It contains just the basic dobok, but also has several patches which may very slightly from practitioner to practitioner. In general, a vertical Kuk Sool Won patch written in Korean is worn over the right breast, while a South Korean national flag patch is worn over the left breast. The back of the uniform often has Kuk Sool Won written in either English or Korean, with a Kuk Sool Won logo patch in the middle of the back. These patches are also present on every type of Kuk Sool Won uniform.
An American flag patch may also be worn on the shoulder. However, no patches may be worn to identify a particular school. This is to help promote Kuk Sool Won as a unified association and to encourage a friendly, family like atmosphere between schools.
Black Belt uniform This uniform is a practice uniform with a yellow frill attached to a longer top skirt. It may only be worn by 1st degree holders and above. However The uniform will not have yellow frill if worn by an instructor or assistant instructor.
Generals uniform This uniform is for formal occasions which include but are not limited too testings, promotions, demonstrations and competitions. The uniform itself is modeled after the armor and uniforms worn by ancient Korean generals. Like the Black Belt uniform, it contains a longer skirted top which is cut into sections. The sleeves are held tight against the wearer's wrists and a scarf is worn underneath with an emblem on the throat.
There is no belt with the generals uniform, and rank is denominated by the decorative outline or trim on the uniform in addition to the color scarf and emblem displayed.
General uniform outline denominations
- 1st degree - Silver Trim with White Scarf, Korean Flag Emblem
- 2nd degree - Silver Trim with White Scarf, Korean Flag Emblem
- 3rd degree - Silver Trim with White Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 4th degree - Silver/Red Trim with White Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 5th degree - Red Trim with White Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 6th degree - Red Trim with Red Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 7th degree - Red/Gold Trim with Red Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 8th degree - Red/Gold Trim with Gold Scarf, WKSA Emblem
- 9th degree - Gold Trim
- 10th degree - Gold Trim
- Grandmaster - All Gold Dobok
Color belts and Rank
| Huin Ddi
| Noh Rahng Ddi
| Chuhng Ddi
| Hohng Ddi
| Jah Ddi
| Dahn Boh Nim
| Yoo Dahn Jah
Kuk Sool Won uniforms include a belt which indicates rank and length of study. Individual schools may also issue stripes of the next belt level, notably at the brown belt level. These stripes indicate proficiency in some of the requirements needed to attain the next rank. Between brown and black belt is an intermediary stage where the student is required to gain at least 10 black stripes before advancing to Jo Kyo Nim. Advancement from Huin Ddi to Jo Kyo Nim depends largely on the student's dedication and practice. Achieving the rank of 1st Degree Black Belt could take anywhere from 2.5 to 4 years.
At black belt there are 10 levels:
- 1st degree - Jo Kyo Nim (Instructor in Training)
- 2nd degree - Kyo Sa Nim (Assistant Instructor)
- 3rd degree - Pu Sa Bum Nim (Deputy Instructor). Pu Sa Bum Nim and higher may wear a wider than normal black belt.
- 4th degree - Sa Bum Nim (Instructor)
- 5th degree - Pyung Kwang Jang Nim (Master) Masters are presented with a thick white belt to symbolize a new beginning
- 6th degree - Joo Im Kwang Jahng Nim (Head Master)
- 7th degree - Ji Do Kwang Jahng Nim (Senior Master)
- 8th degree - Suhn Im Kwang Jahng Nim (Executive Master)
- 9th degree - Su Suhk Kwang Jang Nim (Senior Executive Master)
- 10th degree - Kuk Sa Nim (Grandmaster or National Teacher)
Non black belt students are often referred to as "colored belts", or by their belt color. Although, each color belt has a title, and Kuk Sool Won uses a Kyu/Dan Rank system, colored belts are never called by their title or Kyu (or Kup in Korean) rank i.e. "2nd kup". This is true with the exception of 'Dahn Boh Nim' (or Black Belt candidate). This rank carries a brown belt with a black stripe on one side of the belt, which runs all the way through its center.
The World Kuk Sool Association officially hosts many yearly tournaments every year in the United States, Korea, and the UK. Kuk Sool Won News And Events
These tournaments test various aspects of Kuk Sool and may include a demonstration or belt promotion ceremony as well. In the United States, Kuk Sool practitioners may compete in empty hand forms, weapon forms, techniques, sparring, and board breaking.
Forms, techniques, and board breaking
Competitors in these categories are judged on a 10 point scale, by three judges whose scores are added together to determine a winner. For forms, a competitor must perform the form of their previous belt level. For instance, a brown belt would perform the form they learned at red belt. The same is true for techniques, where the competitor must perform three techniques from any set of their previous belt's curriculum.
Board breaking is judged on technique and power. Each competitor breaks the same amount of boards, in the same position relative to their height, with the same techniques. The board breaks are designed to be difficult to further spread out competitor's scores, and competitors often do not complete all the breaks.
Kuk Sool Won sparring is point based and light to no-contact. Matches are three minutes long, and whomever has the most points at the end wins. The match is also over if a competitor's score is 5 or more than his/her opponent. Legal striking targets include the chest, sides above the waist, neck, and head. There are no strikes allowed to the back or to the back of the head. Excessive contact is forbidden and can result in warnings, point deductions and disqualifications. The points are as follows:
- One point - Kick to the body, punch to the body, punch to the head.
- Two points - Kick to the head
In addition to scoring a point, a fighter must clearly show technique and that they could have successfully executed the strike at full force. Points are determined by a center judge, and two side judges. Two of the three judges must agree on the point for it to count. At any time, any judge may stop the fight and ask for a judge's decision about a point. Fighters start approximately 3 feet apart from each other in the center of the ring, and are reset to the center if a judge asks for a decision, if a penalty occurs, or if a competitor steps out.
The Korean principle of dae ryuhn bub guides Kuk Sool Won sparring.
- Dae - Posture and right mind
- Ryuhn - Combinations
- Bub - Circling your opponent
Although sparring is considered an important aspect of Kuk Sool, it is not emphasized as much as many other sport martial arts.
Kuk Sool Won Milestones
- Founding of Kuk Sool Won.
- Founding of the Korean Kuk Sool Association.
- First Kuk Sool Won tournament held in Jang Choong gymnasium in Seoul.
- Kuk Sool Won recognized in the World Athletics dictionary as a traditional Korean martial art.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in The United States.
- In Hyuk Suh emigrates to The United States.
- World Kuk Sool Association established in San Francisco.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in the United Kingdom.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in Canada.
- Korean Ministry of Culture and Tourism produces the documentary film "Ho Kuk Moo Yea" (Arts Used to Defend the Nation). Kuk Sool masters featured prominently in this film.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in Venezuela.
- Panama International Film Festival bestows its Culture Award to Kuk Sool Won for its role in the documentary, Ho Kuk Moo Yea.
- Commenced annual seminars and special training in U.S.A.
- Kuk Sool sponsors first open tournament in San Francisco.
- In Hyuk Suh honored as "Man of the Year" by Black Belt magazine.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in Iran.
- Publication of Kuk Sool handbooks and instructional videos.
- In Hyuk Suh honored as "Instructor of the Year" by Inside Kung Fu magazine.
- Commenced annual seminars and special training in United Kingdom.
- First Kuk Sool tournament held in Canada.
- Commenced annual seminars and special training in Canada.
- Kuk Sool instruction made available as an extra curricular activity at the West Point Military Academy.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in Germany.
- World Kuk Sool Won headquarters relocated to Houston, Texas.
- Twenty-five American cities hold "Kuk Sool Won Day".
- In Hyuk Suh honored by presentation of commander’s sword by West Point Military Academy.
- In Hyuk Suh honored as "Master of the Year" by Tae Kwon Do Times magazine.
- In Hyuk Suh honored by presentation of commander’s sword by U. S. Air Force Academy.
- Several universities in the U.S.A. include Kuk Sool Won as a regular athletic activity.
- Kuk Sool Won hosts First Annual Tournament at the U.S. Military Academy.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in the Netherlands.
- In Hyuk Suh awarded Seogryu Order, Medal of Civil merit by government of South Korea.
- Commenced annual seminars and special training in Europe.
- Kuk Sool Won dojang established in Spain.
- Victory of a Little Giant, a special documentary about In Hyuk Suh produced by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS aired 3/17).
- Kuk Sool Won recognized as an Official Governing Body for martial arts by the South Korean Government.
- Kuk Sool Won participates in the KyungJu Cultural Expo, demonstration members include masters from all over the world and conclude with a final performance for the President of South Korea.
- World Kuk Sool Association headquarters relocated to Tomball, Texas
- Establishment of a traditional Korean martial arts complex that includes a training hall, meditation center, equestrian facility and archery range.
- International Kuk Sool Won tournament and televised master’s demonstration held in Gyeongju Civic Auditorium.
- On March 25, Kuk Sa Nim has received a full-scholar Professor appointment from Young-San University in Pusan, South Korea. This appointment to a professorship is not an honorary one, but it allows Kuk Sa Nim to visit and lecture as guest lecturer on a regular basis. His position in the university allows Kuk Sool practitioners to attend and receive a college degree, the university will also offer a Kuk Sool degree under its Martial Arts Department.
Kuk Sool Won has a strong foundation and history based on the traditional and ancient martial arts from the Korean peninsula. The three branches of traditional Korean martial arts which comprise the basis of Kuk Sool Won and are:
- Sah Doh Mu Sool (Tribal or Family martial Arts) is the earliest form of martial arts developed in Korea; meaning tribal, clan, or family martial arts, as this type of martial art was mainly passed down from one generation to the next. Sah Doh Mu Sool was popular among the ancient tribes, city-states and smaller kingdoms that formed in the Korean Peninsula and parts of what is now China. This was evident well before the first unified Korean kingdom of Ko-Cho Sun which was founded in 2333 BC by the king, Dahn Goon Wahng Guhm. Later, Sah Doh Mu Sool was further developed and made widespread by voluntary militias of the common people, who often fought in battles to defend their villages. Traditional athletic activities such as Taekkyon, and Ssireum are considered to have originated from Sah Doh Mu Sool.
- Bool Kyo Mu Sool (Buddhist Temple Martial Arts) has been practiced by Buddhist monks throughout Asia. In China, the famous Shaolin monks developed techniques and forms based on their observations of animals. Buddhist monks originally developed and then practiced Bool Kyo Mu Sool to improve their health while meditating and to defend themselves while traveling. As a result, Buddhist martial arts include both internal training, with emphasis on special breathing and meditation methods, as well as external training, with emphasis on extremely effective self-defense techniques. Many Buddhist monks were so accomplished as martial artists that they were occasionally called upon during national emergencies to fight in battles by forming unprecedented armies of warrior monks.
Today, the tenets of Bool Kyo Mu Sool are prevalent in Kuk Sool as they help teach practitioners meditation skills and the philosophies of non-violence and compassion for all living things.
- Koong Joong Mu Sool (Royal Court Martial Arts) is unique to Kuk Sool Won. Some of the weapons used in Kuk Sool were a part of the traditional daily court life. The rope or sash, cane, fan, and short sword were all used among members of the Korean royal court. There were also many unique open handed and joint-locking principles of Koong Joong Mu Sool that are used extensively in Kuk Sool. Weapons training in Kuk Sool is very extensive involving 24 different weapons in its curriculum (see Weapons of Kuk Sool Won)
1910-1945 Japanese Occupation
Kuk Sool's modern history can be indirectly traced to the dissolution of the Korean royal court and the Japanese occupation in 1910. During this period almost all aspects of Korean culture were suppressed by the Japanese government, including the teaching of Korean martial arts. Those caught practicing Korean martial arts were severely punished, and many leading Korean martial arts instructors were forced into hiding.
Among them was Myung Deuk Suh, In Hyuk Suh's grandfather and head martial arts instructor to the Korean royal court before it was dissolved by the Japanese. Prior to 1910, the elder Suh taught three types of Korean martial arts: kwan sool, a kicking and hard punching style; yu sool, a soft style with emphasis on locking and throwing techniques; and yu-kwan, a combination which could be either hard or soft, but never used force against force.
Despite the Japanese invasion, the Suh family continued its 16 generation tradition of practicing and teaching martial arts in extreme secrecy. In Hyuk Suh was chosen by his grandfather to carry on this family legacy.
1945-1961 in Hyuk Suh's training
By the time he was 20 years old, In Hyuk Suh had traveled to hundreds of Buddhist temples and private martial arts teachers, studying many aspects of Korean martial arts. During this intensive training-period Suh learned special breathing skills, meditation techniques and internal power (ki) knowledge, which is taught as a fundamental to all Kuk Sool students.
In the late 1950s In Hyuk Suh began to integrate the many scattered martial art techniques of Korea into a single martial art system. Hence the name 'Kuk Sool'. In the Korean Language the word 'kuk' means 'national' and 'sool' means 'martial art' (the Korean word 'won' is best translated as 'organization' or 'association'). Suh opened his first Kuk Sool school in 1958, and officially founded Kuk Sool Won in 1961.
1961-Present organization and instruction
In 1974, when Kuk Sool Won in Korea was becoming well known by the public, In Hyuk Suh brought his martial art to the United States. Currently the World Kuk Sool Association headquarters is located in Tomball, Texas, which is roughly forty miles northwest of Houston. Kuk Sool Won is practiced all over the world, and has schools located in Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, the United States as well as many others. Official Kuk Sool Won tournaments are held every year all over the world, including the U.S. and European tournaments, and attract many competitors to each event. They are also famous in the Kuk Sool community for their outstanding Masters' Exhibitions.
Other perspectives on the source of Kuk Sool
Over the years differing versions of the sources of Kuk Sool have emerged. Early sources presenting conflicting information on the source of this material include the writings of then Kuk Sool representative Kimm He-Young, the early statements of Seo In-Sun,
The first red Kuk Sool book published by In Hyuk Suh never mentions his grandfather, who died when Suh was 12 years old, as a source for Royal Court Martial Arts which he studied. This fact was not mentioned until published in "Fighting Weapons of Korean Martial Arts" in 1988.
In Kimm He-Young's "Kuk Sool” it is written:
"While compiling Kuk Sool techniques, he (Myung-Duk Suh) taught these arts to his grandson, In-hyuk Suh. Before the old master died in 1952, he handed down five compiled books of Kuk Sool to the young Suh. They are: (1) Yu Sool; (2) Kwon Sool; (3) Yu Kwon Sool; (4) Whal Bub; (5) Hyul Bub.
"After his grandfather died, the Suh searched other aspects of Korean Traditional Martial Arts for the next eight years from many other masters. These are some of the masters he studied under:
"1. Choi Yong-Sul: The Suh visited many private martial arts schools and villages to study Tribal Martial Arts or private martial arts. One of the influencial [sic] in this area is Yong-sool Choi. From Choi, he received further education in Yu Sool.
"2. Hai Dong Seu Nim (The Great Monk of the East Sea): In order to learn Buddhist Martial Arts, the Suh visited many temples throughout the country. One of his great teachers was Hai Dong Seu Nim. From this great monk, he learned Kwon Sool, Ki Bub (Ki Exercise) and breathing techniques.
"3. Tai-eui Wang: The Suh also visited old masters of Royal Court Martial Arts. One of his teachers of this art was Tai-eui Wang. From Wang, he learned Yu Kwon Sool"
Also according to Suh in the Kuk Sool Won Textbook: Volume 1 (Suh 1993:33)
"Another of Suh's influential teachers was Yong Sool Choi, the founder of Korean Hapkido and a master of Korean tribal martial arts, as well."
Oddly, Choi Yong-Sul never claimed to have studied native Korean "tribal arts" himself but rather claimed to have studied the Japanese system of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu having lived in Japan from age 8 to 42 during the Japanese colonial period. (1911-1945) Interestingly Choi Yong Sul and his students often referred to his art in its early years as yu sool (jujutsu) or yu kwon sool before settling on the name hapkido for the art.
Suh is also known to have had associations with members of Kim Moo Hong's Shin Moo Kwan hapkido school in Seoul
, especially with people like Kim Woo Tak and other senior members who founded the Kuk Sool Kwan school of hapkido, predating Suh's own efforts.