Hwarangdo: Its Korean History And Introduction To America

(Black Belt Magazine January 1977)
By Peter Koenig

The present nation of Korea was once divided into three kingdoms. They were Koguryu, Paekche and Silla. Koguryu was the largest, at least in the beginning. It occupied the entire territory of present-day Manchuria as well as the northern part of the Korean peninsula.
In the fifth century, Koguryu made a bid to take over its two smaller neighbors. Paekche was almost overrun and forced to move its capital southward. Silla was constantly harassed. But here an unusual phenomenon was taking place that would one day make Silla the leading Korean kingdom.
Silla didn't break under the military pressure of Koguryu. Rather, the kingdom united and created new institutions to make it a formidable fighting machine. Foremost among the new institutions was the Hwarang. It included a core of young men of nobility who would produce the generals, statesmen and other leaders.

The great period of the united Silla was from 661-935 A.D. It was a time of immense development. Says martial arts historian, "The Hwarang entered a monumental period of peace, prosperity and development, inventing movable type 200 years before Gutenberg. It [Silla] also became a profoundly Buddhist country, printing lengthy Buddhist scriptures and constructing countless Buddhist temples and sculptures throughout the country."

Prior to 57 B.C., in the peninsula now known as Korea. a group called Won Hwa, a group of women, met for philosophical and intellectual discussions and learning sessions. This group was the ancient forerunner of hwarangs.

At the time when Silla was being threatened by its larger and stronger neighbor, Koguryu, the people and government of Silla organized under the leadership of the Supreme Buddhist Monk Won Kwang Bopsa, a school of intellectual pursuits and martial arts thinking. This school came to be known as the Hwarang, or "Flower knights." To this temple school, the king of Silla sent his sons and trusted soldiers to be trained in the philosophical codes and lurn combat skills developed by Won Kwang Bopsa.

Because of the combat skills training and particularly the philosophical and moral codes taught by the hwarang system, the tiny country of Silla eventually overcame the strength and size of its neighbors, Paekche and Koguryu, and ruled the peninsula known as Korea for many centuries.

Two of the Hwarangs, Kui San and Chu Hwang, were instrumental in obtaining from Won Kwang Bopsa a set of five rules by which they could govern their lives and purify their minds. Adding these rules to the virtues practiced by hwarang students already, the warriors had an all-encompassing set of guidelines by which they could conduct themselves properly as Silla Kingdom warriors and as human beings. This set of guidelines is still remembered and practiced today by students of martial art hwarangdo:

Five Rules (Hwarang OKae):
1. Loyalty to one's country.
2. Loyalty to one's parents.
3. Trust and brotherhood among friends.
4. Courage never to retreat in the face of the enemy.
5. Justice never to take a life without cause.

Hwa Rang Do Founder`s Nine Virtues (Hwarang Do KyoHoon):
1. Humanity
2. Justice
3. Courtesy
4. Wisdom
5. Trust
6. Goodness
7. Virtue
8. Loyalty
9. Courage

From the earliest period in Korea, Won Kwang Bopsa's monastery was simultaneously a temple for the teaching of religious beliefs and a college for the instruction of higher learning as well as a gymnasium for the practice of the combat skills. It became a kind of spiritual-physical West Point for the intelligentsia of Silla. The Hwarang system became go to Japan develop code of Bushido, popular in Japan.
Here, Won Kwang Bopsa and other priests trained many of the leading generals of the royal family. The establishment of the military religious school led to the development of the Hwarang warriors who became legendary fighters. This ferocious fighting spirit led to the successful unification of Korea under Silla rule. Among the famous Hwarang warriors was General Yoo Sin Kim (595-673 A.D.). Even next kingdom koryo kingdom, these hwarang system continues name changed to kuksundos(kuksun warriors), pungweoldos (pungweol warriors).

During the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910 A.D.), the martial arts and the hwarangdo code fell into decline. The purely intellectual arts rose in stature and official recognition. With it came a dynastic policy of "favoring the arts and despising arms."
This led to the banishment of the warriors, with some taking refuge in Buddhist temples. There the art was preserved for centuries until the modern period. Much like the monks and monasteries were centers of learning during the so called European Dark Ages, the Buddhist monks and temples in Korea preserved what they could of both the physical and religious aspects of hwarangdo.

Hwarangdo remained in Korean temples until the early 1950s. At that time, two Korean brothers, Joo Bang and Joo Sang Lee, began to study the art. They would soon bring it to the Korean population and later, America.
The Lee brothers were born in the 1930s. Their father was a martial artist, having black belts in judo and kendo, the only martial arts available under the Japanese occupation. Father Lee began the boy's martial arts training early, training them at home as early as the age of two years old.
At the age of five, Joo Bang and Joo Sang were enrolled in the So Gwang Sa Buddhist temple for religious and martial arts training, this temple being the residence of the57th generation title holder of hwarang and secrete holder of Hwarang combat skills (Um Yang Kwon), a monk named Suahm Dosa.

In 1950, the Lee family moved to the southern tip of Korea, and the boys were enrolled in the Yang Mi Ahm temple on O Dae Mountain, where Suahm Dosa had also relocated. The Lee brothers' training continued here, and in 1960, they founded martial art name Hwa Rang Do and open a hwarangdo school in public, this secrete martial art the first in modern times, in Seoul, Korea. Subsequent to the opening of the first school in Seoul, the Korea Hwarang-Do Association was granted a Korea government permit to function as a martial art HwaRangDo Governing organization in Korea.

In 1968, Joo Bang Lee was presented with the Lion's Award as the Martial Artist of the Year. 1968 was also the year hwarangdo first came to the Western world. In that year, Head Grand Master Joo Sang Lee came to the United States and opened a hwarangdo school in Huntington Park, California.

In 1969, Master Suahm Dosa died and the position of 'Owner of Hwarangdo' - Supreme Grand Master was passed to Dr. Joo Bang Lee. This position made Dr. Joo Bang Lee the Supreme Grand Master of hwarangdo in an unbroken line of succession lasting over 1,800 years. In 1972, Dr. Joo Bang Lee came to the United States to spread the his art of hwarangdo. Today, there are approximately 56 hwarangdo schools in Korea and another 38 in the United States and Europe. Joo Bang Lee is the Supreme Grand Master (DoJoo Nim) of hwarangdo and President of theWorld Hwarang-Do Association, and his brother Joo Sang Lee is the Head Grand Master (KukSun Nim)and Chairman of theWorld Hwarang-Do Association.

WHRDA ArchivesWHRDA Homepage

Copyright 1968-2001 World Hwa Rang Do Association