Tracing the history of Korean martial arts can be a bit tricky. They have had so many influences from Okinawa, Japan and China that there doesn’t seem to be any single, clear answer to the historicity of their various martial arts.
For the efforts of this article, the focusing in on the path of a single Korean Grandmaster has become the essence my format.
Grandmaster Yoon, Pyong-in was born in Mu-son, Manchuria, China around 1920. He studied under a Mongolian master and began at a very young age. His first style was Ch’uan Fa which translates the “art of the fist” or “fist art”. This style in the Korean language is Kwon Bup (Bop) with the same meaning. The forms (fists) are comprised of Chinese military techniques (Pa Chi Ch’uan) as well as ones commonly known to be of the Shaolin Temples.
Master Yoon grew up in China and it wasn’t until the late 1930s that Master Yoon entered into Nihon University in Tokyo, Japan. He became a student and friend of Master Kanken Toyama. It is well known that Yoon had received the high rank of 4th degree black belt from Master Toyama and that the two traded a lot of their martial art ideas and experiences. Master Yoon taught Toyama his Ch’uan Fa Kung Fu while Master Toayama taught Yoon Shudokan Karate. Master Toyama loved the Chinese martial arts and had studied them himself for approximately seven years while in Taiwan. The original characters of Kara and Te meant China and Hand, respectively. It wasn’t until the middle 1930s that there was a important Master’s meeting and a new character was chosen for Japanese martial arts that means “Empty”. Early Japanese Karate-Do meant: “the way of the China Hand”. For example, Tang Soo Do of Korea also means “the way of the China Hand” following the early lead of Japan.
After WWII, Master Yoon returned to Korea where he opened his first Kwon Bup school at the Korean YMCA. At the time, there were many Korean instructors opening and developing schools which eventuated the original 8 Kwans of Korea: chung do kwan, song moo kwan, moo duk kwan, ji do kwan, yun moo kwan, oh do kwan, han moo kwan and chang moo kwan. These styles were all developed from Chinese martial arts although many of the forms came via Japan rather than China. Keep in mind that the Japanese styles were primarily comprised of Chinese forms which were handed down to them primarily from Okinawan masters.
Master Yoon originally called his martial art Kwon Bup (Bop), art of the fist, but soon he renamed it to Chang Moo Kwan which is often translated as House of Creating (developing) Martial Arts. It is occasionally translated differently but this is one generally accepted definition. He taught a mix of forms: many were directly from his training in China and others were ones he diligently learned from Master Toyama. The term Korean Kung Fu became a popular expression though, indeed, it was actually Chinese Kung Fu martial arts.
While Master Yoon had ended up missing in the Korean war, his style continued on. Lee, Nam-suk took over the Chang Moo Kwan and then by 1955, Master Hong and Master Park, Chul-hee splintered off and renamed the school Kang Duk Won. Soon, Master Park was the official head of the school and continues to teach today.
Master Suh, Young-ik was the earliest master to bring Kang Duk Won to the United States. He opened his first school in the middle 1960s.
The story goes on. Korean Kung Fu systems continue to flourish world wide and millions of students have trained and continue to train the kung fu of these various traditional Kwans. From Korea to America, the Chinese Kung Fu of Korea proliferates throughout the world. And the ancient Chinese styles of the Kwans, in spite of the insurgence of sport, remain alive and well today.