HWA RANG DO:
A Personal History by Bob Duggan
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The original version of this article was written September 20, 1993 as a preamble to
the first meeting of the United Federation of Hwa Rang Do. The meeting was called together
by all the First Generation Hwa Rang Do Instructors who for a variety of reasons are no
longer associated with the World Hwa Rang Do Association headed by Grand Master Joo Bang
Lee. I loosely referred to the group as the Renegades, but in truth these Instructors have
been involved with this art and others for twenty to thirty years and have no need to
rebel against anything. They are accomplished martial artists with their own separate
identities and they were seeking a friendship and a platform to discuss the art and the
system in a fraternal atmosphere.
The following letter was widely circulated both before and after the meeting by myself as its author. My purpose was to set the tone, say a number of things that I felt needed to be made public, and try to inspire a sense of critical examination of this art and it's origins. In addition, my interest in posting this personal history is to examine the connections to a whole family of techniques that were assembled to form some of the Korean fighting arts, following the liberation of Korea from the long oppressive Japanese occupation. After all the critical remarks that are made here and elsewhere, one must acknowledge that what the young Korean martial artists who were the pioneers in this effort: Yong Sul Choi, Bok Sup Suh, Moo Moong Kim, Ji Han Jae, In Hyuk Suh,Bang Soo Han, Joo Bang Lee, his brother Joo Sang Lee and others largely spawned after the Second World War through the mid-'60s is to be forever respected. A profound tribute is owed by us and those who follow to all those men, but they are not Gods, not even demigods. They are men, great but flawed, just like us.
An article was written by Robert Young and published in the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, titled "History of Tae Kyon" Vol. 2.2/1993. Young provokes a number of skeptical reactions to the promotional history made by nearly every prominent founder of Korean systems and questions the authenticity of their claims to ancient Korean roots. Young's contention is that both Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do are direct descendants of Japanese and Okinawan styles, mostly of Shotokan. There is considerable evidence for this point of view in the historical record as well as in an examination of the forms and routines inherent in the two systems. The author rightly concludes that there is no historical evidence to connect either art to the ancient Korean forms of combat; he contends that such claims are purely promotional. I won't repeat what he says because the reader can read the article and draw their own conclusions.
He then proceeds to assault the claims of the ancient Korean roots of Hwa Rang Do, and frankly dismisses them out of hand. Since his critique strikes close to home on a subject that many of the Hwa Rang that are no longer associated with the World Hwa Rang Do Association find compelling, I thought that I should respond. My ulterior motive is to begin a collective memory, a re-construction of the history of Hwa Rang Do as we know it, both the myths and the reality.
Young points to the inconsistencies of tracing the history of Hwa Rang Do back 1800 years and the founding of this famous institution that are made in the trilogy, "The Ancient Martial Art of Hwa Rang Do". Since I am the person who wrote those words, and for that matter nearly all words in the three volumes on Hwa Rang Do, I must respond. Except that in this particular point, Mr. Young is absolutely correct. The claim that "Joo Bang Lee was the inheritor of the ancient art and the Supreme Grand Master of Hwa Rang Do in an unbroken line of succession lasting over 1800 years..." is not correct and can be considered part of the promotional mythology of Joo Bang Lee and his organization.
I was guilty of repeating in print things told to me by Joo Bang Lee which are on the face of it false and contradictory. In the first place, we were all told that Hwa Rang Do traces its origins to the founding of the institution of the Hwa Rang in the 6th century A.D. by Won Kwon Bopsa. Well, simple arithmetic tells us that there is a minimum of four to five hundred year discrepancy between 1800 years of unbroken succession and the founding of the institution of the Hwa Rang which was about 540 A. D. I was guilty of wanting to believe the myth more than critical historiography.
In so far as Joo Bang Lee being the inheritor of techniques pasted down an ancient line of Buddhist Monks for 1800 years is pure mythology. The proposition that the historic Hwa Rang were great warriors is without contradiction, but there is no way for us to know what system of fighting techniques were known and passed from one generation to the next.
The system that we know today as Hwa Rang Do has nothing to do with the fighting techniques of the ancient institution of the Hwa Rang, at least there is nothing that can be documented resembling the ancient fighting system. The reason is quite simple: there is no document that survived the centuries of conquest and destruction dating back to the sixth century. There is some documentation of military training manuals dating back to the sixteenth century, but this will hardly do as a claim on a line of descent from the ancient institution of the Hwa Rang Do as they had long disappeared by the tenth century A.D. Indeed, the system that we know as Hwa Rang Do was assembled by Joo Bang Lee in the early and mid 1960's from a variety of sources, including Hapkido, Kuk Sool Won and some Chinese systems that have no connection to the ancient institution of the Hwa Rang.
A PERSONAL HISTORY
Joo Sang Lee, photo by Vicente Montenegro, approximately 1973.
Here is what I personally know: I started the study of this art in 1968 at the Huntington Park school under the instruction of Joo Sang Lee. He was a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Hapkido at the time, and Vicente Montenegro and I were his first students who joined the school several weeks after it was opened in Huntington Park. The sign above the door read Hapkido. Joo Sang Lee was well known in Korea as a Hapkido instructor who organized spectacular tournament/demonstrations in Korea in the Mid-60's. About a year after I began training, Joo Sang told me that he and his brother, Joo Bang Lee, who was still in Korea, were going to establish a new organization called Fa Rang Do in this country and aboard. However, Joo Sang Lee continued to use the name Hapkido because it had gained considerable notice in the country due to the release of the movie "Billy Jack". "Billy Jack" was a major Hollywood hit of the year, and there was great fascination with the fighting scenes in the movie which were executed by the Hapkido teacher, Bang Soo Han.
The photograph on the left was taken about 1969 by Vicente Montenegro in the Huntington Park school and shows Joo Sang Lee demonstrating a technique on Bob Duggan. Note Karate Gi.
I was aware that Joo Sang Lee and his younger brother Joo Bang Lee, were well known in the Hapkido organization in Korea, and that their break from the organization in 1969 was resented by the Hapkido loyalists. 1969 was the year that Suahm Dosa died, and Joo Sang returned to Korea for an important meeting. He told me before he left that he might return an Eighth Degree Black Belt. He returned in a solemn mood and a Seventh Degree. His younger brother, Joo Bang, was designated Eighth Degree Grand Master and the founder of a new martial art system called Fa Rang Do.
This photograph was taken in 1973 at Joo Sang Lee's school in Huntington Park with the new the logo banner on the wall. Joo Sang Lee is on the Left and his first generation of instructors; Joo Bang Lee is on the right. For an enlargement, click the photograph. It may take three or four minutes to load.
Joo Bang Lee arrived in the United States in 1972, and immediately opened a school in Downey. I accompanied him to help build the school based upon this new system, Fa Rang Do. (I still have a souvenir pennate which I gave to my son in 1974 from the very first tournament sponsored by the Lee Brothers who spelled the word with the letters FA rather than HWA as it is currently spelled). The spelling occurred because I was asked how it should be spelled in English. I said, "it depends upon how you are pronouncing it. If you are saying, Waa Rang Do then the spelling is with a Wha or perhaps a silent H as in Hwa; if you are pronouncing it as Fa Rang Do with a long A, then the spelling is Fa as in Father." At the time, Joo Bang Lee's English was very elementary, and it is completely creditable that it was simply a misunderstanding, but Joo Bang Lee settled on the pronunciation of Fa and for about three years, we spelled it, Fa Rang Do. About 1974 or 5, I was asked to research the correct spelling, and after a lot of discussion and reference to Encyclopedia Britannica, the spelling was changed to Hwa Rang Do. I still have the page from Britannica that I took to Master Lee to show him how it is spelled in the most authoritative source.
The relevance of all this discussion on the spelling is not particularly important to someone who is not an insider of the World Hwa Rang Do Association, but my point is that these were the formative years of the organization. Joo Bang Lee chose the name of a historic warrior band to lend the art and the organization a mystic and historic credibility, but the syllabus of techniques assembled by Joo Bang Lee were purely contemporary and the system has no demonstrable connection to the ancient Hwarang. Joo Bang did not obtain a certificate of recognition for this new organization from the Korean government until 1969 (ironically, he no longer holds this certificate. He allowed it to lapse when he moved to the U.S., and it now belongs to another Korean who is totally unconnected to the World Hwa Rang Do Association under Joo Bang Lee).
When he arrived in the U.S. in 1972 Joo Bang Lee was still floundering about with his identity. We still wore a Japanese Karate Gi; Joo Bang introduced three or four variations of school uniforms in the early 70's, each time attempting to demonstrate a clear distinction from the Japanese and harder Korean systems. I recall a demonstration in San Diego in the early 70's when I was Joo Bang Lee's regular fall-guy and I noticed the uniform worn by a Korean Monk. It was a loose Gray fabric with a slip-over top and pants that cuffed at the ankle. I inquired of Joo Bang about the Monk and admired his dress; Joo Bang looked at me intently and asked, "Do you like that uniform?" I said, "Yes", and a week later, we had new uniforms made that were exact replicas. I still own that gi, and it was the last time that Hwa Rang Do Headquarters wore the Japanese style Karate Gi. Several variations followed, but the purpose was always the same: to give Hwa Rang Do a sense of separate identity and Korean traditionalism.
Joo Bang's brother, Joo Sang Lee reluctantly took down the Hapkido sign and adopted the new name of Fa Rang Do. But the clash of personalities between the two brothers soon led to Joo Sang Lee's departure from the martial arts business altogether; he opened a furniture shop in Korea town in central Los Angeles and never taught again. Sadly, this pattern was to be repeated right up to the present.
One of the most difficult aspects of training with both brothers during this early period was that they had very different instructional styles and different syllabi. It was immediately apparent that there were significant differences between the two brothers in both form and content. Since I studied under both of them, my first reorientation under Joo Bang was to learn a new syllabus of techniques than the ones I learned from Master Joo Sang Lee who was much more spontaneous in his teaching style. The basic roots of techniques were the same, but important differences emerged that bore the sign of a distinct Signature of the Art that each possessed. It took years to figure it out, but those differences in technique and form were sufficiently distinct that I concluded that the two brothers learned under different masters.
Grand Master Joo Bang Lee always claimed that he was taught by Suahm Dosa, the Buddhist monk who allegedly taught the Lee brothers in the Yang Mi Ahm Temple. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what the Lee Brothers were taught by Suahm Dosa, and what the brothers assembled from a variety of other sources to constitute the art that we know as Hwa Rang Do. In the '60's both the Lees were associated with the Korean Hapkido Federation headed by Han Jae Ji and for a period, Joo Bang Lee admitted to He Young Kimm that he was affiliated with Kuk Sool Won.
Joo Bang Lee told me once that the training regime under Suahm Dosa began when he was a child of only eight years old. The training was rigorous and intense, but the sessions only lasted during the summer months during the school breaks. This routine continued until he reached his early twenties. My impression was that Joo Sang was not a regular part of this regime. It is my personal belief, although I have no independent evidence to confirm it, that the two brothers learned from different Hapkido Masters in Seoul. I am convinced that Joo Bang Lee spend time with Suahm Dosa, but I am no longer convinced that it was the martial art techniques that he learned. I believe that Joo Bang studied meditation and religion from Suahm Dosa and that the evidence is clear that Joo Bang Lee studied martial art techniques from many different Masters such as Moo Woong Kim, Inn Hyuk Suh and Han Jae Ji. I arrive at the conclusion that Joo Sang Lee did not study with Suahm Dosa only because in none of the conversations with Joo Bang about the training with Suahm Dosa, was Joo Sang ever mentioned, nor did Joo Sang ever mention his name or the experience. More to the point, it was Joo Bang that was the one chosen to be the leader of the organization over his older brother. And finally, Joo Sang's Signature Style was very different from that of his brother's.
The Signature or the mark left on a particular fighting technique is like any artistic style....it is distinct and indelible. (NOTE: I repeated this point with more detail in the article,
Once you are familiar with its characteristics, you can identify it like the squiggle of a letter in one's hand writing. This Signature of the teacher can be illustrated for those close enough to recognize the differences by studying something as simple as the Spinning Heel Kick or the execution of joint locks. Bang Soo Han, who popularized Hapkido in this country, and who wrote a book on the art in the mid-seventies, illustrates the spin kick in his book with the body low, and in a straight line to the impact point....upper torso falling backwards, arms akimbo behind the center axis of the body. This is a very common method of throwing the Spin Kick in the Korean arts.
In the book on Hwa Rang Do, Joo Bang Lee executes this kick similarly with the body low, and the arms tucked tight, and the spine is still in a straight line to the point of impact with the foot. This kick is presently being taught at the Hwa Rang Do headquarters with the body erect which leaves the foot in more or less a vertical position at target impact, which I learned as a Spinning Crescent Kick, not a Spinning Heel Kick.
This technique done by Joo Sang Lee, however, was executed with the body low and torqued deeply into the leg so that the heel and toes were as flat as possible, and the hip led the foot and body weight through the impact point. No one I know ever executed this technique in this manner. I learned the Spinning Heel Kick from Joo Sang Lee, and spent many years perfecting it. I believe that I have advanced the mechanical aspects beyond what I learned, but the point here is that my students bear the Signature of Joo Sang Lee's kick that I learned more than thirty years ago in the Huntington Park school. I am also convinced that the method of the Spinning Heel Kick as taught in the Headquarters is weak and because the weight distribution of kick is on the wrong side of the axis at impact, it is more of an exhibitionist style kick. It lacks velocity and follow through, but that is a discussion that is conducted elsewhere on this Site. What interest me is the Signature of a technique which passes from one generation to the next, at least until it is altered by someone in the line of descent.
There are many illustrations of the Signature trace, but the point of the discussion is that evidence suggest the two brothers studied under different masters. They each bare the Signature of different masters in techniques like the Spinning Heel Kick and many other aspects of the art. I do not know who Joo Sang Lee's master was but it was unlikely to have been Suahm Dosa; I believe that Joo Bang Lee learned his techniques from Grand Masters Ji and Kim. He Young Kimm says in his monumental series on Hapkido, Kuk Sool Won and Han Mu Do that Han Jae Ji and Moo Woong Kim were the ones who developed the powerful and distinctive kicking style of Hapkido when they were friends in the early 1960's. Kimm quotes Joo Bang Lee as having studied with Moo Woong Kim and In Hyuk Suh. Joo Bang says that he considered Suahm Dosa his teacher, but we will just have to leave as an unanswered question what he learned precisely. I think that the signature left on the technique tells us more than the oral history.
THE FAMILY OF KOREAN ARTS
The close proximity of Hapkido and Hwa Rang Do are apparent, but the near identical instructional syllabus of Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won is a puzzle and more than a simple coincidence. There are many rumors circulated by Kuk Sool Won disciples that the Lee brothers studied under In Hyuk Suh in the early sixties. In 1977, I repeated one of these rumors to Grand Master at the Headquarters. Furious, he immediately picked-up the phone addressed In Hyuk Suh in the most demeaning and, I must admit, threatening tone of voice. In Hyuk Suh demurred and apologized. Joo Bang is famous for his violent temper, and it was clear to me who dominated that situation. It did not settle who was right.
After Grand Master hung up the phone, he told me that in the early sixties, he, In Hyuk Suh and four others from various Hapkido and other styles formed a circle of peers who shared techniques. From this circle numerous techniques were developed and traded, and became the basis for the training syllabus for at least Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won. This had the ring of plausibility and seemed to explain the Signature overlays between Kuk Sool Won and Hwa Rang Do. The proposition that In Hyuk Soo was Joo Bang Lee's master did not have the right feel about it. In the first place, In Hyuk is the same age as I am; he was born in 1939, a year later than Joo Bang who was born in 1938. But since that is not so incredible, the one profound difference I noted was the presence of inner power and technique which Joo Bang Lee seemed to possess and is was an evident distinction between the two men. However, Joo Bang Lee did admit to He Young Kimm that he studied open handed striking techniques with Suh for a period. The evidence shown in the photograph on this Web Site under the File: A Photo Journal History of Hwa Rang Do came to me recently and suggest a more formal relationship between In Hyuk Suh and Joo Bang Lee. The photograph, taken in Joo Bang Lee's school in Seoul, Korea, shows a Kuk Sool Won banner on the wall and the Kuk Sool Won logo painted on a wooden plaque, and Lee's students are wearing Kuk Sool Won uniforms. When Joo Bang arrived in the U.S. in 1972, we were wearing Japanese style uniforms and we kept that style for several years.
I think that one must deduce these men interacted with one another. How precisely they did will require more research. However, I have one last anecdote worth repeating here. In 1977, I taught a seminar for some of my students in Arkansas. In 1975, Joe Twiggs and Gerald Edmondson, both students of mine from the Aspen Academy of Martial Arts, attended a seminar in Louisiana sponsored by He Young Kimm who introduced In Hyuk Suh to martial artists shortly after his arrival in the U.S. At the seminar Joe was given a Kuk Sool Training Manual. The manual was a photo illustrated book of all the techniques in Kuk Sool Won through Fifth Degree Black Belt. At my seminar several years later, Joe gave me a copy of this Manual; I still have the copy in my library.
When I returned to Headquarters, I showed the manual to Joo Bang Lee; he was stunned and disquieted. He left the Dojang early that night, and a week later he produced a hand written training syllabus of every technique in Hwa Rang Do from White Belt to Fifth Degree Black Belt. There was a remarkable similarity between the two manuals. John Huppuch, also a former student of mine from the Aspen Academy, moved to Los Angeles to devote his life to service under Joo Bang Lee. Lee assigned Huppuch the task of typing these notes into a manual form, using English letters but copying the Korea terms.
For my personal use, I took this manual and prescribed English terminology to the list of techniques because the Korean version only identified technique by number, for example, Yellow Belt number 1 through 28. Even though many instructors still teach by the rote memory of numbering techniques, I gave common names like Chicken Wing and Arm Bars, or I came up with special terms like Vertical Cant to describe a technique because the word would convey a mental picture. Numbers convey nothing. I still possess the original copy of this manual as well as the copy of the Kuk Sool manual in my library. It was Joo Bang Lee's manual that became the training regime for all Hwa Rang Do schools until I left for Aspen in 1980 to start ESI. In 1985, I decided to add the techniques that I learned from other sources, including Joo Sang Lee and those that I either discovered on my own or acquired from others. Yet, I was inhibited from alternating the "Traditional" syllabus, so I simply added the "new art forms" to the list as they accumulated. The Twenty-eight Yellow Belt Single Hand Defenses grew to Fifty, and the Fifty Blue Belt Body Grab Defenses grew to Eighty. After studying the organization of joint locks for so many years, one of my former students, Bruce Carleton, argued that all joint locks can be more efficiently organized according to whether they are Extensions, Rotations or Flexions. By organizing techniques according their anatomical function, the student begins to understand the mechanics of the lock and the Flow of one lock to another. The Fourth Edition of the Training Syllabus represents this re-organization. The Revisions made by myself and others represent a break in the Line, a new Signature Trace; whether this re-organization of the syllabus survives will depend upon future generations.
The compelling point about two manuals written by Inn Hyuk Suh and Joo Bang Lee is that both systems are approximately identical, except for the belt rank when certain techniques are introduced. In most instances, the joint locks are exactly the same, taught in exactly in the same sequence...only the belt rank order differs. The kicks are, of course, identical with one important exception that in the early years there was the difference of power. In my opinion, a large number of Kuk Sool practitioners seemed to deliver exclusively a tournament style snap kick. Power kicks in which there is a shift in body weight through the center axis and through the target was not emphasized. Today, the difference between the two schools no longer seems to be so distinct. My personal opinion is that the source for the early distinction in kicking style between Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won was attributable to Joo Sang Lee who was a masterful kicker and teacher, and he had closer roots connected to his Hapkido teachers.
The one other Signature overlay between the two systems is the near identical Forms or Hyungs shared by Kuk Sool Won and Hwa Rang Do. Certainly with all the lower rank Hyungs, the similarity is almost identical with variations more attributable to stylistic changes than systemic differences. Hapkido, of course, does not bother with forms. The question is why are Kuk Sool and Hwa Rang forms so similar? Who taught them originally? Where did they come from? While I do not know the answer to these questions, my belief is that Joo Bang Lee acquired them during his brief association with Kuk Sool Won, and then improvised his own for the upper ranks.
After years of research and personal experience, I believe the following: Both systems are a collection of techniques assembled from many different sources, some Japanese, some Korean and probably some Chinese, and certainly borrowed from each other. Who precisely developed the organization of the training material into a hierarchical Belt Rank progression is yet to be determined. Both Hwa Rang Do and Kuk Sool Won appear to have all the markings of a contemporary assemblage of martial arts material which is what made them into a living art form rather then some dead and arcane scroll. I believe that this process of assemblage took place in the mid-60's and then was exported to the U.S. in the late 60's and early 70's by men like In Hyuk Suh, Joo Bang and Joo Sang Lee, Bang Soo Han, and the others associated with Hapkido. I am also convinced that claims made by these same men of ancient lineage, Buddhist monks and the ancient Hwa Rang Warriors is pure promotional mythology. It is what these talented young men thought they required to give their teachings mystery and credence. Personally, I don't know why; their talent spoke for themselves, and there is nothing irreligious to borrow, steal and absorb knowledge from other sources. Every generation does it and it does not diminish the art to know that fact. However, to learn that you have been deceived certainly does diminish the men who do it.
A FAMILY FEUD