The Facts About the Korean Martial Arts Styles

Chuck Norris is a famous practitioner

Tae Kwon Do, two women in mid-air jump kicking each other
Mike Powell/Getty Images

Action star Chuck Norris first received martial arts training in the Korean styles. He started out with tang soo do, to be specific. While the masses have seen his martial arts movies or heard one of the jokes about him, the public doesn't necessarily know that his combat style has Korean origins. But tang soo do is far from the only Korean martial art. There's also tae kwon do, the most practiced martial art in the world. That's right, it's even more popular than karate and kung fu.

So, what are Korean martial arts known for? What makes them unique? Acrobatic kicks, similarities to some Japanese styles and sheer popularity make these styles stand out. With this review, find out what the Korean martial arts are all about.

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The Korean martial arts have a judo equivalent. The style's name is hapkido, and it is a throwing art designed to put people on their backs quickly and effectively. The art also relies on strikes. 

Hapkido means "the way of coordination and internal power." It has been traced to two Korean men: Suh Bok Suh and Choi Yong Sul.

One day, Suh watched a man (Sul) fight off multiple attackers. A judo black belt, Suh invited Sul to train with him. Sul did, exposing Suh to the style of Daitô-ryû Aiki-jûjutsu.

The style gained prominence after Suh defeated one of his father's political adversaries with the art in hand-to-hand combat. The fact that the adversary was much larger than Suh only added to the discipline's appeal.

Later, Ji Han Jae helped to popularize hapkido. He taught Korean President Park Jung Hee's body guard the style. In 1965, he started the Korea Hapkido Association. He tweaked the martial by adding more Korean punching and kicking techniques. The unique style he created was called sin moo hapkido.

Jae controversially claimed in 1986 that he founded hapkido, but his assertion has been highly disputed.

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Kuk Sool Won

The sport of mixed martial arts or MMA has become very popular in recent years. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has shined a spotlight on MMA since 1993. And today many martial arts studios teach mixed martial arts rather than one style exclusively.

But when In Hyuk Suh created the martial arts style of kuk sool won, he likely did not have a sports focus. That said, he definitely did want to combine the various Korean martial types into one effective discipline, even if the various styles have some notable differences.  

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Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is said to be the most practiced martial arts type in the world today. This striking art is known for its acrobatic kicks, graceful movements, and usefulness from a distance. This exciting Korean martial arts style was also influenced by Japanese styles, since at one time Japan occupied Korea, and Korean martial arts were forbidden. But tae kwon do, which is really the umbrella name for several styles of Korean martial arts, managed to thrive -- albeit with a Japanese twist. 

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Taekkyon is an ancient Korean martial arts style that teaches practitioners hand strikes, foot strikes, joint locks and even head butts. Its movements are fluid and dance-like. Many of the Korean arts borrowed something from this style, which took a major hit during the Japanese occupation.

Because taekkyon teaches so many different techniques, it is a great martial art for the person who can't decide between stand-up, ground and grappling styles. You can find a bit of everything in this style.

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Tang Soo Do

When Korea attempted to unify all of its martial arts under one name, tang soo do founder Hwang Kee held out. Although there are several similarities between tang soo do and tae kwon do, major differences can be found as well. Tae kwon do, for example, is more sports and competition oriented.