Before there was Taekwondo, there was… Song Moo Kwan®

This past year, I have been contacted by many individuals seeking affiliation with the origins of the martial arts. Some because they have trained under masters that have passed on or retired. Others because they feel, and see, that something is missing from today’s martial arts programs that encompasses the true origin of the arts.

It isn’t just the difference between “sport” Taekwondo and Tae Kyun, Hwa Rang, or Subak. It is a true difference in philosophy that denotes someone who has dedicated their life to self-perfection under a rigorous combination of spiritual tenets and physical prowess. Exemplified by the ability to pass on those tenets to those who are of like mind. Those whose quest for knowledge cannot equate to the simplification of sport martial arts.

What then is the Song Moo Kwan?

Reading can only bring a person so far in this quest for enlightenment. Speaking with Doju-nim Ro, Byung-jik, or his chosen successor Senior Grand Master Ro, Hee-sang, would frustrate the unprepared mind. Yet, the simplicity of their direction is a constant reminder that we “each” are on a personal path of growth – that never ceases.

Taekwondo Greatest Pioneers Grandmaster Hee Sang Ro, Supreme Grandmaster Byung Jick Ro and Eric Ro photographed at the Headquarters of The WSMKA in 2006

The Song Moo Kwan is a place where tradition and future sciences meet through dedication to continued learning. ‘Tradition’ in reassessing the origins brought before the instructors and students by our grandmasters. The ‘sciences’ as we test the presumed limitations of our mind’s eye. All with the underlying principle that “Anything the mind can conceive, the body will achieve.”

That still does not explain, or define ‘Song Moo Kwan.’ Or, does it?

Years ago, one grandmaster or another would refer to me as ‘Song Moo Kwan.’ Sometimes to delight in the consternation that followed. Puzzled looks that this “white” kid could be of that house of discipline and training. Constant stares as I took the mat followed. Always with an air of pride did I seek to do my best. Gaining a measure of respect and honor for those before which I performed.

But it wasn’t always so. For when I first approached Taekwondo (Tae Kwon Do), I trained with a school that knew no such roots. The first time someone asked me what “form” of Taekwondo I practiced, I knew not what to answer. I asked my teacher. He told me of the kwans, and the formation of the two main governing bodies for all of Taekwondo (the World Taekwondo Federation and International Taekwon-do Federation).

What then was the difference?

I kept my eyes open, watching people of Mu Duk Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, and Ji Do Kwan. Seeing variations in hard/soft techniques, more (or less) takedowns, sweeps, hand techniques, etc. Or at least that is what I presumed. Then I set out to find Song Moo Kwan roots.

In Song Moo Kwan, I came to an understanding of its beginning through Grand Master Park, Byung-hoon. Not all at once. But in the proper amount of time.
Under Grand Master Kim, Yong-kil, I reveled in the excitement his eyes reflected, as he showed me his old Song Moo Kwan diplomas from Korea. Time spent correcting my missteps was offered without hesitation. Pride in the next generation being extolled. My desire to take it in – becoming one of those who sought to make a difference…

When Doju-nim Ro, Byung-jik returned to Korea after World War II, he opened the very first Dojang in Korea. He brought with him the knowledge garnered in years of service to his craft of martial arts training. He brought with him the knowledge of Japanese Shotokan ways… and the ability to transcend the limitations found therein.

He was elevated to Senior Grand Master over all those who would come to be known as Grandmasters of the martial art of Taekwondo under the Korean Taekwondo Association, then World Taekwondo Federation. He sat as Senior to all rank certification and advancement. The most senior of all. What an honor, and burden.

While assisting in years of transition, Doju-nim Ro counseled those under his care to remain steadfast to the ancient ways. To practice continually the Song Moo Kwan way. Adapting as necessary, but preserving what others had thought outmoded. The very thing sought as so precious today. And, in this, the Song Moo Kwan remains faithful to its roots. The “Martial Art,” meaning “way.”

Others that have walked in faithful adherence to their systems are not called pretenders. They are in every respect true to the same principles of all martial artists. Yet, for those whose journey is in adherence to a stronger set of principles, a more purified system of application, and a higher standard of morality in judgment, there is nothing more that can compare to the purest philosophy: “One man can make a difference. Leading where others choose to follow.”

In this instance, the Song Moo Kwan is an all-inclusive system of martial arts training for mind, body and spirit. Song Moo Kwan training does not exclude the impossible. It provides a combination of strengths from past and present achievements (which have never been overshadowed by any other martial art), and establishes a bond between systems of martial arts from every place of origin. Respecting the commonality in differences. The differences become so small in the advancement of skills.

That skill-set, devoted to the truth of martial prowess — not left for the hobbyist notion of sport martial arts. Strong enough to encompass each individual aspect (such as ‘sport’) as an integral part of overall martial training.

We aren’t a hybrid, wannabe, system of training. We don’t seek numbers at the expense of our members. We seek those whose wisdom and knowledge can withstand a proven refiner’s fire. We are sons and daughters of Taekwondo’s greatest pioneers. We are martial artists of the first order, the first house, the first Do-Ju.

We are Song Moo Kwan… and we invite your fellowship.