There has been a great deal of confusion about the relationship of Hwa Rang Do and the ancient Hwarang. Some of this confusion is caused by misunderstandings about terminology. It is important to be aware that the Korean language uses both hanja (漢字 – Korean writing borrowed from the characters of the Chinese writing system) and hangul (한글 – the Korean alphabet) to produce a written form of their language. In many cases words with identical pronunciations have completely different meanings. For example, “Mudo” (무도) can refer to martial arts (武道 – lit. “military path”), to inhumanity (無道 – i.e., “not the path”), or to a dance (舞蹈). Because of this, the discussions provided here provide the hangul and hanja alongside the phonetic English spelling — e.g., Hwarang (화랑 花郎). This will correct some of the misunderstanding caused by inaccurate accounts in histories of the Korean martial arts. Of particular concern are the ideas associated with the following terms:
Hwarang (화랑 花郎) – “Flower man.” The term Hwarang is used in ancient Korean historical texts to refer to the leaders of a youth organization in the ancient kingdom of Silla. Although this term occasionally encompasses all the members within this organization (i.e., “Flower knights”), it technically designates the young men who were cultivated to fill significant roles in politics, civil service, and the military. These individuals were selected exclusively from the royal family and aristocracy and led members of the broader public who are described below as Rang-do.
Rang-do (랑도 郎徒) or Hwarang-do (화랑도 花郎徒) -”Fellows of the Hwarang.” The title Rang-do was used to describe the student-disciples and soldiers of the Hwarang. The Rang-do came from the civilian class. The “DO” (徒) suffix used here means a group of people or followers. So the term Hwarang-do (花郎徒) means a “group of flower men” or “followers of the Hwarang.”
Hwa Rang Do (화랑도 花郎道) – “The Way of the Flowering Manhood.” The name Hwa Rang Do is the martial art identity founded in 1960 by Dr. Joo Bang Lee. He is the one who created the syllabus of this martial art system for public instruction. He combined the spirit and philosophy of the ancient Hwarang warriors with the ancient secret Hwarang combat skills of Um-Yang Kwon (음앙권 陰陽拳) that were passed to Dr. Lee from his master Suahm Dosa. As evident from their hanja spelling, the ancient Hwarang-do (花郎徒) and the martial art name Hwa Rang Do (花郎道) are different identities. They have the same Korean and English spellings, but their meanings are different. The historic term Hwarang-do refers a group of people (徒), while the name associated with the martial art Hwa Rang Do refers to a “Way” or “Art” (道).
In addition to the confusion caused by terminology, there are many martial arts and practitioners who make unfounded claims about their art and its relationship with the ancient Hwarang system. There are claims that Korean Tae Kwon Do came from the Silla Hwarang. Other Tae Kwon Do practitioners say that their art came from the ancient Koguryo kingdom. Hapkido practitioners make similar claims of connection to the Silla Hwarang, to Silla royal court martial skill techniques, and even Koguryo or Kochoson roots.These claims have arisen from inaccurate historical accounts and in some cases are mere fabrications. There are many who claim and copy the history of ancient Silla’s Hwarang and use this as the history of their own martial art. This is not just a problem for the martial art Hwa Rang Do, but it is also a problem for all other martial arts. The quality of the identity and integrity of our martial arts is our honor. As this quality diminishes, the honor of all martial arts is destroyed and creates great public confusion. That is why we must know the truth of history and follow the tradition of our martial art that history has left us. This is a clearly a serious problem related to the history of all martial arts, and the modern martial art of Hwa Rang Do in particular.
The problems related to the history of the ancient Hwarang have not all been introduced deliberately. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica once confused the identities of the ancient Hwarang and the martial art Hwa Rang Do. Before 1974, they translated the references to the ancient Hwarang (화랑 花郎) and Hwarang-do (화랑도 花郎徒) accurately as “Flower Knights.” However, in later editions they changed their translation to “The way of the Flowering Manhood.” This is the translation that we first used for the martial art identity Hwa Rang Do. As our martial art name gained popularity in the 1970′s the Encyclopedia Britannica derived this translation from our publications. Please remember that the traditional terms Hwarang (화랑 花郎 – “Flower Man”) and Hwarang-do (화랑도 花郎徒 – “Followers of the Flower Knights”) and the martial art Hwa Rang Do (화랑도 花郎道 – “The Way of the Flowering Manhood”) are different names related to different identities. This is an example of how mistaken historical references have been created. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, it demonstrates how careful we must be in confirming historical data.
Hwa Rang Do is very unique from other martial arts in that its founder is still present to clarify the origins of the art. The founders of most other martial arts have passed away and their students have created many different “kwan” (관 館), “ryu” (류 類), or “won” (원 院) from their one original martial art name. Because of this there are so many different and conflicting histories for the same martial art name.
However, the history of Hwa Rang Do set forth here is the one true history of our art’s identity. Our founder, Dr. Joo Bang Lee, is the one who brought this art to the public and is the one and only source for the aspects and techniques from this tradition. The roots of the martial art Hwa Rang Do are from the ancient Hwarang warriors of the kingdom of Silla. These combat skills and the Hwarang title have survived the test of time by being passed down for fifty-eight successive generations to our founder. The Hwarang system is still intact, and we too regard our instructors and masters as Hwarang, and our students and disciples as Rang-do. Through our adherence to the Hwa Rang Do Maeng Sae, the five traditional tenets of the Hwarang, and our founder’s nine principles of human morality, we will have the strong moral mentality to ensure that our martial art Hwa Rang Do will be passed on for at least another 2,000 years!