A Brief History of Hwang Kee, Founder of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan®

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When it comes to the martial arts, each style has different things to offer and is heavily influenced from the guidance of the founder.

The martial arts style taught at Dojang X is : Soo Bahk Do from the Moo Duk Kwan®, founded by Hwang Kee.

Hwang Kee was an exceptional martial artist in his time. His actions inspired many across the world, to such a great extent that his vision continues to live on through practitioners in our World Moo Duk Kwan® today.

In this article, we look into the life of the Founder of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan®, so that as practitioners, we can appreciate a deeper meaning to our training.

Founder Hwang Kee : Early years and inspiration

Founder of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan®, Hwang Kee. Photo used under Fair Use.

Hwang Kee was born on 9th November 1914, in Jang Dan, Kyong Ki province in Korea.

In 1921, at the age of seven, Hwang Kee witnessed a man successfully defend himself from a group of seven or eight other men during the Dan O festival. The style of the martial art used by the defending man was identified by onlookers as Tae Kyun / Sip Pal Ki.

Inspired by what he saw, Hwang Kee sought to become a student of this man. However, he was refused because he was very young.

Hwang Kee resorted to secretly watching the man train where he could and undertake self-directed martial arts training.

Hwang Kee: Becoming a student

In 1936, Hwang Kee started employment in Manchuria with a railway company.

It was here that he had the opportunity to meet Master Yang, Kuk Jin, a Chinese Master.

Although at first Master Yang refused to take Hwang Kee and his friend as students, their persistence eventually paid off and they were accepted on their third visit to become his students.

This was the first time that Hwang Kee received any formal martial arts training. His previous training experience to this point was from self-study and personal practice.

Hwang Kee’s last opportunity to visit and train with Master Yang was in 1941. From 1946, he was no longer able to travel or communicate with his instructor because China became a Communist country.

Okinawan Karate influence

From 1937, Hwang Kee sought the opportunity to continue his martial arts training and to teach in Korea.

However, he faced great difficulty in this ambition due to Japanese occupation and influence on Korean culture.

During this time of self-study, Hwang Kee discovered books about Okinawan Karate. This was a pivotal moment that shaped his martial arts path. Later when Hwang Kee would go about forming the Moo Duk Kwan, he would apply knowledge about Okinawan Karate into his own martial arts system.

Hwang Kee: Becoming an instructor

Korea gained independence on 15th August 1945, following the end of World War II. This event opened up opportunities that were previously unavailable to Hwang Kee.

And so, turning his lifelong dream into reality, on 9th November 1945, Hwang Kee founded the Moo Duk Kwan.

His martial art was originally called “Hwa Soo Do” (Art of the Flower Hand).

Unfortunately, his first two attempts to acquire long term students were unsuccessful. This was due to the public not understanding and lacking a general awareness of the martial art style.

In 1947, Hwang Kee changed the name of his martial art to “Tang Soo Do” (Korean Karate). This was a more generic name that had wider familiarity. Along with the familiarity, this third attempt became successful to acquire and retain students.

Perseverance to overcome obstacles

In 1950, a new challenge emerged for Hwang Kee’s Moo Duk Kwan, in the form of the Korean War.

Throughout this time, he did his best to deliver classes despite several hardships.

After the war, he returned to Seoul to find much of the city destroyed.

In 1955, Hwang Kee leased a government building in front of Seoul Central Station. This later became known as the Central Do Jang.

Discovering the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji: Soo Bahk Do

In 1957, Hwang Kee discovered the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji. This was a historical document that captured the Korean martial arts techniques of “Soo Bahk”. It dates back to more than 300 years ago.

After careful study, he fused the contents of the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji into his martial art.

In 1960, Hwang Kee’s martial art was renamed to “Soo Bahk Do” to recognise the traditional Korean martial art nature of the style.

For Hwang Kee, he recognised Soo Bahk Do as the martial art style to guide practitioners to prevent internal and external conflict.

Moo Yei Si Bo: Martial Arts Newspaper

In 1960, Hwang Kee began a publication to share his scientific study of his martial art.

This regular publication delved into detail about techniques.

The tradition of the Moo Yei Si Bo has been reignited in recent times. Practitioners in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan® are welcome to access the publication, which is released every three months.

You can subscribe to receive this for free, here.

Soo Bahk Do : A desire for positive global relations

Arguably influenced from his experiences of conflict, Hwang Kee placed great emphasis to promote human relationships through the martial arts.

In 1961, he was involved in the Goodwill Martial Arts Championship in Japan. The event led to Hwang Kee receiving international recognition. He later became the first President of the Asian Martial Art Federation. The countries that participated were: Japan, China and Korea.

The struggle of unification

With Hwang Kee’s organisation becoming popular and prominent in Korea, this attracted many motions to hinder its growth and success.

One of the earlier triggers was a military revolution in 1961. This forced Hwang Kee to cease his newspaper publication and dismissal as instructor from various locations.

Then came discussions to unify Soo Bahk Do and Tae Kwon Do, which due to various reasons that were deemed unfair to his Moo Duk Kwan, was rejected. This subsequently led to more political pressure against Hwang Kee and his students, which resulted in many leaving to join Tae Kwon Do. Despite the pressures and loss of students, Hwang Kee maintained conviction in his ambitions for his martial arts organisation.

After many years of hardship, in 1966, Hwang Kee won a key lawsuit against the Korean Government. This secured the future of his organisation.

What we can learn from Hwang Kee

Above all else, the underlying theme is one of a person who had an ambition, who then set out turning that into reality despite the obstacles he faced. This was achieved because Hwang Kee truly believed that the traditional Korean martial art of Soo Bahk Do had value and significance in the world of martial arts and as a pathway to promote human relationships.

Practitioners in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan® continue to train with Hwang Kee’s foundational vision in mind. We can consider the care given to learn the techniques, to the respect and learning of philosophy and values (i.e. train the mind and the body), and to the global friendships formed through global seminars and events available each year in the World Moo Duk Kwan®.

We can also consider Hwang Kee’s struggles in an environment of war and conflict. From this, we can reflect with humility that we too can overcome the challenges that we face in training and more wider in life.


We captured key moments in the Founder’s life, from “The History of Moo Duk Kwan® by Hwang Kee”and “History of the Founder of the Moo Duk Kwan Organization” by Steven Lemner SBN. We also drew upon accounts from attendance at Soo Bahk Do classes and seminars by senior practitioners for this article.

To read a comprehensive timeline of Hwang Kee and his achievements, see “History of the Founder of the Moo Duk Kwan Organization” by Steven Lemner SBN here.

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