Much of the influence of this Hwarang tradition stems from the time of King Chinhung (540-575 A.D.) of the Korean kingdom of Silla. The Hwarang system probably existed before King Chinhung, however he was the individual who significantly developed the power and strength of this system within his administration and military. This Hwarang system was comprised of groups of youths who went to mountains, rivers and other places of natural beauty to learn to develop human morality, loyalty, and mental and emotional control along with combat skills. Through the development of strong mental, physical, and spiritual training they were taught to act as models of their culture and to serve as chivalrous warriors. They were Silla’s elite warriors. They were called Hwarang (화랑 花郎 – Flower Knights) and Rang-do (랑도 郎徒 – a Hwarang’s disciple or soldier). These young men exemplified the warrior-intellectual ideal that influenced the Silla kingdom’s history for many centuries. A thirteenth century monk stated that the Silla kingdom ordered a selection of “virtuous youths from good families and called them Hwarang.” The Hwarang Sorwon (설원 薛原) was the first to be admitted as a Kukson (극선 國仙), a role that included the responsibility of head general (Dae Jang Gun – (대장군 大將軍). This was the beginning of the special integration of Hwarang and Rang-do into the military system as generals (Jang Gun – 장군 將軍) and soldiers (Sa Byong – 사병 私兵). During this time these warriors were called Hwarang-do (화랑도 花郎徒), the “Followers of the Flowering Knights.”
Besides religious instruction, the Hwarang were taught traditional dance and songs for their emotional development. Literature, the arts, and sciences were taught for their academic development. They were also taught the art of warfare, archery, combative skills etc. Their combat skills are based upon the concept of the unity of opposites embodied in the um-yang (음양 陰陽). Their empty-handed fighting techniques were known for their blending of the hard and soft, linear and circular attacks. A linear thrust punch could break through the wooden armor of an opponent and kill him instantly. They could also spin kick at such speeds that their enemies frequently thought that the feet of the Hwarang warriors were swords. Also they learned 108 different weapons within their curriculum.
The eighth century Silla historian, Kim Taemun, noted in his Hwarang chronicle. “Sagacious counselors and loyal ministers follow the Hwarang and Rang-do; they produce great generals and brave soldiers.” The rank of Hwarang signified the position of a teacher of the their combat skills and he commanded 500 to 5,000 students, who were called Rang-do. A Kukson possessed the rank of head general (Dae Jang Gun) in the army. The ferocious fighting spirit of the Hwarang warriors became legendary, and their exploits were recorded for posterity in Hwa Rang poetry and literature. The Hwarang narratives of the Silla dynasty became the basis of the classical novel that formed the backbone of Korean literature for a thousand years.