Hwa Rang Do

Hwa Rang Do is a Korean martial art that was created by Joo Bang Lee and his brother, Joo Sang Lee. This martial art teaches and encourages fighting techniques, weapons, spiritual training, intellectual enhancement, and artistic pursuits. It has a very involved technique structure.



The name Hwa Rang Do is Korean for "The way of the Flowering Manhood". It was named after the Hwarang, an elite youth order of the Silla kingdom during the Three-Kingdoms Period, in what is now Korea. The Hwarang were an order of youths, mostly from aristocratic families, who were educated in artistic, academic, and martial fields of study.

While the founders and practitioners of Hwa Rang Do claim that their techniques are inherited from the fighting methods used by the Hwarang, there is a great deal of controversy among modern historians regarding whether or not the Hwarang were primarily a warrior order. (For more information on this controversy, see the Hwarang article.)

In 1942, according to Joo Bang Lee, a monk named Suahm Dosa took in him and his brother, Joo Sang Lee, for training. (Note that "Dosa" is actually his title, and it is roughly equivalent to "hermit sage expert.") They lived with Suahm Dosa at the Suk Wang Sa Temple in the Ham Nam province of North Korea, before later escaping with him to Ohdae Mountain in South Korea during the communist take over. Suahm Dosa had no formal syllabus to teach them, but rather taught whatever caught his fancy that morning.

After their training by Suahm Dosa, the two brothers spent some time learning other martial arts before they set out to create their own martial art. The brothers generated their syllabus from scratch, based on the techniques which they could remember from Suahm Dosa, and then started to teach it to the public. At this time, Joo Sang Lee moved to the United States to spread Hwa Rang Do there.

In January 1969, Suahm Dosa died. However, prior to his death he gave the Hwarang title of Do Joo Nim ("Owner of The Way") to Joo Bang Lee. Because the younger brother was the one still in Korea and, in Suahm Dosa's eyes, the one who cared more about the art, Suahm Dosa gave him the title. This action angered Joo Sang Lee, and led to an estrangement between the brothers in later years.

In 1972, Joo Bang Lee moved to California, taking the World Headquarters of Hwa Rang Do with him. Joo Bang Lee currently claims the title of "Supreme Grand Master" of Hwa Rang Do; it is believed by his adherents that he is the 58th successive holder of the title.


The research of martial arts historians and testimony of contemporary martial artists dispute Joo Bang Lee's assertion that Hwa Rang Do is a martial art derived from the fighting techniques of an ancient warrior order. In addition to the aforementioned dispute regarding the nature of the Hwarang order itself, it is known that he and his brother were both educated in other martial arts, from which the techniques of Hwa Rang Do could have been derived. Likewise, their instructor, Suahm Dosa, was not a person of record or public renown and may not have existed.

Some assert that some modern Korean martial arts were influenced by the martial arts of other countries, primarily China and Japan. When Japan occupied Korea during World War II and attempted to destroy the indigenous Korean culture, martial arts techniques were passed on. Chinese styles were passed on since China took in Korean refugees during this same period. Joo Bang Lee's detractors claim that Hwa Rang Do is an amalgamation of other martial arts Joo Bang Lee learned, namely Hapkido. Joo Bang Lee himself admitted that in 1961 his own school was advertised "hwarangdo and hapkido." Photographs taken from demonstrations organized by his school in the late 1960s display logos commonly associated with kuk sool won and hapkido. In the 1960s Hwa Rang Do was not a well-known martial art so he advertised like a Hapkido name. Joo Bang Lee said he and his brother trained Hwarang martial skills from Su-Ahm Dosa. He also trained in Yu sool and Hapkido between 1960 and 1968. He is known as a hapkido student as well as the Hwa Rang Do founder.

According to Kimm He-Young, Lee also studied under Kim Moo Hong, one of Choi Yong Sul's students, who was a major innovator in the art of hapkido. Kim was also the teacher of Kim Woo Tak who founded the hapki kuk sool kwan and may also have been the teacher of Suh In-Hyuk, founder of Kuk Sool Won although this is disputed by Suh.

There is also controversy surrounding Joo Bang Lee's former top student, Michael Echanis, who trained with Lee only briefly and was apparently promoted to high rank for commercial reasons involving his books and military connections.

Technique structure

Hwa Rang Do is a martial art with over 4,000 techniques, as well as 108 weapons. These are taught in a progression as a student gains sashes (items to signify skill level attained), with many of the more difficult ones only taught after a black sash is achieved. Due to the extensive nature of the curriculum, typically attaining a black sash may take between 8 - 15 years. More dedicated students may possibly achieve it in less.

The sashes

In Hwa Rang Do, practitioners are given sashes to signify their progression through the martial art. Before first dan (first black sash), the belt order goes from white to half-black:

After receiving a black sash, a practitioner earns the title Jo Kyo Nim (or alternatively, Yu Dan Ja), and can now be an instructor. In addition, every degree of black sash has its own title, and shows a respective knowledge level. Note that there can only ever be one ninth degree and one tenth degree at any one time.

The physical techniques

During the course of study up until black sash, a practitioner will learn a long form, eight basic techniques, around 30 "one step sparring" techniques and about the same number of self-defense techniques, and some short forms, every sash level. In addition, three main weapons will be taught: The Ssang Jyel Bong (nunchaku), Jang Bong (long staff), and the Gum Mu (sword). Defense against other weapons, such as the knife, are also taught, but training with those weapons does not occur until black sash. Hwa Rang Do students will also have extensive study in grappling, joint manipulation and submission fighting, and new curriculum rollouts allow studying kumdo and weapon fighting earlier in the program.

Tae Soo Do

Tae Soo Do is an abridged version of the Hwa Rang Do syllabus, also created by Joo Bang Lee, and is often used as an introductory course for students that have not practiced martial arts before. After achieving a black belt in Tae Soo Do (it uses belts instead of the sashes from Hwa Rang Do), a student is given a yellow sash and is shifted into the Hwa Rang Do syllabus. Some new students are allowed to skip Tae Soo Do, and go straight into Hwa Rang Do. Typically this is an arrangement between the instructor and student, and is more common if the new student has extensive previous training. Some schools have a policy that all students wishing to learn Hwa Rang Do must obtain a TSD black belt. Programs also exist to get this very rapidly in the case of experienced students, but this requires a lot of dedication on the part of the student. While Tae Soo Do is easier and less comprehensive than Hwa Rang Do, it is a complete martial art in itself, and a student learns quite a lot of striking (kicking and punching), and the basics of joint locks, throws, grappling and simplified weapon forms. In many schools both Tae Soo Do and Hwa Rang Do are taught.


The Hwa Rang Do Meng Sae

Hwa Rang Do attempts to teach moral principles in additional to physical techniques, out of a belief that those who receive martial arts training must also be taught to use their skills responsibly. The foundation of Hwa Rang Do's code of behavior is the Meng Sae, which is composed of five rules and nine philosophical principles.

Hwa Rang Do O Kae (Five Rules of Hwa Rang Do)
Romanized Chinese number Aphorism Transliteration
Il Sa Kun E Choong Loyalty to one's country
E Sa Chin E Hyo Loyalty to one's parents and teachers
Sam Kyo Woo E Shin Trust and brotherhood among friends
Sa Im Jeon Moo Tae Courage never to retreat in the face of the enemy
Oh Sal Saeng Yoo Teak Justice never to take a life without a cause
Hwa Rang Do Kyo Hoon (nine virtues)
Korean English
In Humanity
Oui Justice
Yea Courtesy
Ji Wisdom
Shin Trust
Sun Goodness
Duk Virtue
Choong Loyalty
Yong Courage

Meaning of Hwa Rang Do

Hwa = Flower

Rang = Man

Do = Way

The common English translations are "The Way of the Flowering Manhood" or "The Way of the Flowering Knights." The "Man" idea in this title refers to an ideal man: one of honor, strength, responsibility, and virtue. The reason for the word "Flower" is to state that just as a flower grows and then blooms, so should a man grow and then bloom into something beautiful. Also, just as a flower is beautiful just by being, so too should a man be honorable, loyal, strong, and virtuous by simply existing, without having to try to be any of these things. Obviously, since it is in the name of the Art, this idea is central to all aspects of Hwarangdo: one should be without needing to try to be. By this concept a practitioner is taught to be humble, strong, and honorable.