Korean Karate?

Discussion in 'General Taekwondo Discussions' started by Kevin, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. Kevin

    Kevin Administrator Staff Member

    About 8 or 9 years ago I was in Bangkok and I saw a book called Tae Kwon Do: Secrets of Korean Karate. I purchased it and still have it at home. It's not a particularly great book though it does have some useful tips.


    The reason I purchased the book was simply because of the term 'Korean Karate' on the front. I initially assumed the book was written in the 60s or 70s but according to Amazon it was first published in 1992. It seems bizarre that any author would refer to Taekwondo as 'Korean Karate' in the 90s as Taekwondo was established by then.

    Has anyone ever heard of this phrase being used before?

  2. MitchG

    MitchG Member

    When Taekwondo was new to the United States the term was used all the time, even by the Korean Masters who were establishing their Dojangs as businesses, and everyone knew Karate. I only know this from books on the history of Taekwondo, but have seen it in several places.

    I am told that my KJN studied Shotokan as well as Kung Fu (in addition to TKD) and am not surprised that some of our patterns are similar to Karate patterns. However whatever the origins are, we are definitely a different art... at least in 2012.
  3. c5sparkchaser

    c5sparkchaser New Member

    Another reason many of our forms are similar to karate is that General Choi was a 3rd Dan in Shotokan karate prior to developing TKD.
  4. Master Fahy

    Master Fahy Active Member

    The term, "Korean Karate" has been used since the 60's to help promote the Korean martial arts. They used the term "Karate" because it was already popular. The old schools from the late 60's/70's continued using the term even after they changed it in Korea. GM H. Cho is one of the old schools. Master Fahy
    UK-Student likes this.
  5. Kevin

    Kevin Administrator Staff Member

    I'm not 100% sure but I don't believe it was commonly used in the UK. Karate was popular here too in the 60s and 70s so I wouldn't be surprised if that term was used.

    I know that Taekwondo was heavily influenced by Karate though I thought it would be a Western term rather than Korean. That book was published in the 90s. I would have thought that Taekwondo would be known by then and wouldn't have to piggy back off the success of Karate.
  6. Pat Thomson

    Pat Thomson Member

    I have never heard it used in australia.
  7. Master Fahy

    Master Fahy Active Member

    Kevin, There are still people using it here in the USA. GM H. Cho is old school and still uses it as does many older schools do! I can't speak for the use in the UK but here it still is used by many. Master Fahy
  8. Kevin

    Kevin Administrator Staff Member

    It seems strange to me that Koreans are using that term. Perhaps that's what it was called in Korea at one point before they agreed on the term Taekwondo (though very few history books mention this).
  9. Master Fahy

    Master Fahy Active Member

    It's basically a selling point! Master Fahy
  10. Kieran Black

    Kieran Black New Member

    We call it Korean Karate on our club webpage because it attracts a lot of the 'karate' searches in the area. Unfortunately Karate is just better known in Australia, probably because of the movie 'The Karate Kid'. However when anyone actually compares the two, Korean Karate is a much easier sell.
  11. Chris J

    Chris J Active Member

    I agree with Master Fahy..... Its a sell. My former Instructor, whom I might add is a dedicated traditionalist. Unfortunately the money to be made seemed to dominate him, it changed my outlook from my first impressions and have since severed ties. He knew the bigger sell to be made from the term Karate and exploited it even though we all knew we were learning TKD. All commands and technique names were in Korean.
    Some also think the word 'freestyle' is a good selling point.
  12. Blue_Knight

    Blue_Knight Active Member

    Although there was an obvious influence of Japans language, culture, and Japanese Martial Art forced on the Koreans during the occupation from 1910 to 1945, the term 'Korean Karate' was used in Korea in the post WWII Kwan era, not because of Japans Karate, but because the term 'Kara-te' had become a generic term referring to any unarmed combat - - particularly those focusing on hand fighting. Tangsudo (Tang Soo Do) and Kongsudo (Kong Soo Do) were other ways to write the term similar to Karate-do ("empty hand fighting" or originally "Tang hand" or "Chinese hand").

    It was clearly a marketing tool in that even though the Kwan founders voted on the term "Taekwondo" in 1955, it was debated among Korean Martial Artists for more than a decade, and even changed to Taesudo before being switched back to Taekwondo. The general public in Korea was not even familiar with the term Taekwondo until the mid 60's to 1970, and the real popularity of Taekwondo did not explode until they obtained Olympic status as a demonstration sport in 1988. Throughout all that time, many pioneering Korean Taekwondo Masters retained their early terminology, including the labels of Tang soo do, Kong soo do, and "Korean Karate."

    However, since Koreans wanted to distance themselves from anything Japanese, and there was a great deal of confusion, where many thought this term was related specifically to the Japanese Karate, many Korean Masters became adamant about not using it at all, and working harder to educate the public as to what Taekwondo was. I have worked with many of those Koreans who encouraged me to continue to use only the term Taekwondo, and not give in to the easy marketing of calling it "Taekwondo Karate" or "Korean Karate." However, the founder of our organization (U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association), 9th Dan Sr. Grandmaster Edward Sell still uses the term "Korean Karate" from his early days, and explains it as the generic term "Karate" for self defense - - not Japanese Karate-do.

    Personally, I stick with the term Taekwondo, but like Master Fahy says, Master Cho is old school, and some of them will continue to use it to cling to their early days. In America, the term Korean Karate was used because people were more familiar with the term Karate, and I still battle this today. I tell my students and parents that there is a distinct difference, and we teach Taekwondo - not 'Karate', yet some parents still say they are taking their kids to Karate class! The education continues.

    Blue Knight
  13. UK-Student

    UK-Student Active Member

    Kevin - about your comment about use of the phrase in the UK. I trained at the university club in Norwich which had a golden club flag emblazoned with the phrase Korean Karate. I think in the local martial arts centre they still describe themselves in the brochure as "Eastern Region Taekwondo - Karate from Korea". Their heritage is Jidokwan.

    When I first saw the phrase being used, I didn't like it. When I understood more about the history of TKD, I realised it is a perfectly apt description because TKD can be considered a style of karate. When people ask what TKD is, I usually say "basically Korean Karate" but then go off on the fluidity, etc. In my study of TKD, I read and use many books written by Karateka - probably my favourite author in the martial arts today is Sensei Iain Abernethy.
  14. UK-Student

    UK-Student Active Member

    Another point - Maybe some consider this controversial but isn't the phrase "taekwondo" a selling point? Choi and others created an art out of Karate and then changed the name to "sell" it (to koreans, to President Syngman Rhee, to the world). Choi et al could easily have named the art something with the Karate suffix and no-one would have batted an eyelid, just like that other Korean student of Funikoshi Mas Oyama when he founded his Kyokushin Karate. The Korean Kwans were Karate schools before they were Taekwondo schools (using the Korean names for Karate - Kong Soo Do and Tang Soo Do - the latter used by the Chung Do Kwan, the original kwan).

    Just trying to point out the other side of the coin and how other people may see the idea.
  15. Blue_Knight

    Blue_Knight Active Member

    I don't find this point controversial at all (except that it is not a "phrase" but a compound word). The search for a new name in 1955 was, to a great extent, a "selling point," but not as a facade for "Korean Karate" as some would interpret. It was a distinction between the Karate, Judo, and Aikido that was forced on the Koreans as the only option, and what they had known about their own, pre-Japanese occupation, Martial Art.

    To be precise, General Hong-Hi Choi did not create Taekwondo, and although his contributions are many, he should not be put at the forefront of the development of Taekwondo. His authority came from his position in the military. In the civilian Kwan movement, he was low man on the totem pole, so to speak. Although he "brow beat" others (his own words) into getting his way, and he was elected the first President of the KTA, he was later asked to resign as the other Kwan leaders considered him a "trouble maker."

    Technically, Choi did not name the art. He wanted "Tae kwon" as the name since it resembled the former Korean "Tae Kkyeon" (kicking method), and pushed for a meeting, but it was done by vote. He submitted the word "Tae Kwon" on ballot, and it was approved to be used as an umbrella title for all of the Kwans in unifying their systems, and combining what they taught, but he did not create the art, and did not name it himself. What he did do was to create his own Kwan (Oh Do Kwan), and use the term "Taekwon-Do" to promote what he taught in his Chang Hon system, which was different than the unified KTA.

    Conversely, Masutatsu Oyama learned Karate, and taught his own version of Karate. That is not the same as what occurred when the Korean Kwans restructured their new art to focus on Kicking as the primary weapon, and returned to the roots of their native art that existed before the Japanese influence.

    This would be a controversial statement, and one that I would disagree with. The Korean Kwans were not Karate schools. The Chung Do Kwan was a new method of teaching devised by Professor Won-Kuk Lee as he combined his knowledge of Korean kicking (Tae Kkyeon), Chinese Hand Fighting (Tangsudo / Tang Soo Do), with his knowledge of Shotokan Karate-Do from Funakoshi. Several of the subsequent Kwans were off-shoots of the Chung Do Kwan, and based more on the Korean Kicking than Chinese "su," Okinawa "te," or Japanese "Karate-Do." Other Kwans were mostly grappling schools of "Yudo" (Korean Judo), and "Hapkido" (Korean Aikido and Aikijutsu). To lump them all together as "Karate schools" is far from accurate. However, what they came together to form between 1955 to 1972 was a new national art based mostly on Korean customs, philosophy, and ancient kicking skills native to Korea which had been researched, modified, and expanded on to form Taekwondo. It has very little to do with Karate.

    Also, the term "Karate" is vague and generic with multiple meanings and origins. So to say that using "Tangsu" (China hand) is in any way connected to Japan is to ignore that Japan's "Karate" (Funakoshi's "empty hand") was formerly Okinawa's "Kara-te," meaning "China hand" or "Tang hand" from the Tang Dynasty of China. So Won-Kuk Lee's choice of using Tangsudo was a tribute to what he learned in China, even though the all mean basically the same thing. The influence of forms practice from Shotokan is undeniable, but that is merely a training tool, and not the root, nor core of the Korean art.

    If anyone studies the history thoroughly, and understands the depth of the art completely, it is clear that Taekwondo and Karate are two completely separate systems with different origins, but greatly influenced one another during a relatively brief period of Japanese occupation. Korean Martial Art changed forever as a result of that influence, but so did each and every other Martial Art system forever change due to the developments brought about through Taekwondo. The exchange of military and Martial Art information has gone on throughout Asia for centuries with no way of determine exactly when or where the origins of each variation began, but clearly the isolated Koreans had their own unique methods documented hundreds of years ago, suppressed during WWII, and revived with an initial blurring of the line between Japanese influence, and Korean methods. The distinction has been made more clear, but it would be an error to conclude that Taekwondo is a version of Japanese Karate, or that one came from the other. I know both to well to make that mistake.

    Blue Knight
  16. UK-Student

    UK-Student Active Member

    Seem to have struck a chord with Blue Knight. Maybe I am a trouble maker as well! Most ITF guys today would freely acknowledge that Choi was only one of many masters who developed TKD and yes he basically did so by using his influence and bullying the others. Personally, I still think he was the most important of many because the Kwans reverted to the name Tae Soo Do when he was in Malaysia and because he was the first to create new forms but I specifically wrote "Choi et al" to mean that there were many many many many many many masters who should be credited but I am an ITF stylist so I don't know all their names and don't have the time to write them all out. I felt I was being fairly balanced not giving Choi an undue spotlight but maybe not - in any case that was my intention. I am not a mindless cheerleader but I feel that the depth of your response might mean that I gave you another interpretation.

    Oyama also focused on kicking far more than comtemporary martial artists. Later he and his students added Thai style kicks to their arsenal such was the focus on kicking. As you will know, in Knockdown competition the only allowable technique to the head is a kick, similar to WTF rules.

    At one point Oyama considered joining his art to the TKD movement but said that he could not because he felt too much loyalty/gratitude to the Japanese (paraphrasing, please don't pick up on my poor wording anyone).

    In my mind, the only difference between an Oyama and the Kwan leaders was whether or not they wanted to rename their art. The Kwans did. Oyama didn't. All other changes came later.

    Please. Lee was the only person in Korea with a 2nd degree black belt in Karate at that time and based his syllabus entirely on Karate. He was a direct student of Funikoshi and the only forms he taught were the Shotokan ones. Many masters will later add in stories about their experience in Chinese and Native Korean systems but we have to look at the truth here. During Lee's term as head of the school, I don't think that there is one documented technique that was added at this time that did not already appear in Shotokan.

    I believe that there are two translations of the term with any validity (Empty Hand and Chinese Hand). Yes, Karate is descended from the Chinese arts but there is no surviving or documented martial art in China that bears the name "Tang Soo Do" or that includes the Pinan/Heian forms that were taught in early (and for some, current) TKD. To me, this is evidence that most of what we started with came from the Japanese interpretation, not direct from China (skip to my last paragraph for more on this).

    Did Won Kuk Lee have a verifiable certification or recorded lineage from any Chinese master? Would the Japanese have let him teach if they believed he would teach anything other than Karate? Whatever experience he had other than Shotokan would have been subsumed in the fact that Lee was the most highly ranked Korean in Shotokan and a very significant rank under Funikoshi. If his knowledge was even 80% shotokan and 20% everything else, it does not follow that Shotokan was not the core of the art. For one thing, the forms he taught (that every instructor taught at this time, even Choi) were taken from Shotokan and all the line-work and partner-work techniques were based on the forms with the exceptions of the kicks that were already used in Shotokan at the time (other kicks came later). Where is the Kung Fu style that resembles our Taekwon-do techniques as well as Shotokan does?

    They will also find that the founders of Taekwondo were Karate Black belts who had no formally recognised rank in any other martial art and no formally verifiable or documented link to Taekkyon. They taught the Karate forms and copied Itosu/Funiskoshi in that the 1st and 2nd forms are reverse compared to Okinawan karate (the fingerprint on their techniques that links them directly to Funikoshi, not through the same forms learnt from some Chinese source). They taught the new art under a name that was a Korean translation of the word Karate and even started doing so (in the Chung Do Kwan) under Japanese Occupation when native Korean martial arts were strictly forbidden. They will find that high and low blocks, guarding blocks, stances and so on are so similar to Karate even to this day that if I showed you pictures of people performing certain techniques in their underwear you would not be able to tell the difference between practitioners of either art. The hit rate of such a test is much lower with any Chinese art that exists today.

    I am sorry to drone on and on but I do so because as a TKD student, I am proud of my art and its origins. I don't feel the need to deny the fact that the founders of TKD were Karate black belts and took Karate as the base of their new art to which they added and innovated new techniques. It doesn't invalidate our art to say this. In fact, I view Karate as a sibling art to Taekwon-do. When I train with a Karate person, we have so few differences, it is really easy to find common ground and common techniques. I am not a lone kook in having this perspective. Mr Alex Gillis and Mr Eric Madis have written wonderful histories of the art with journalistic honesty.

Share This Page