What To Expect in Tang Soo Do | A Martial Arts Overview

Tang Soo Do is a modern martial art with an equal focus on self-defense, offense, and life philosophy. Tang Soo Do has a holistic approach to constantly improving the practitioners’ skills, knowledge, and accomplishments. Here’s what you can expect from Tang Soo Do.

You can expect Tang Soo Do to be a traditional martial art that is focused on discipline. This is applied to every stance, form, and movement. Tang Soo Do martial artists prioritize posture, balance, and control.

Tang Soo Do, while it is a traditional martial art, is not completely focused on the spiritual aspects of practice. It works towards building a harmonious balance of the practitioner’s physical and mental states. Read on to learn more about how it works to achieve this goal.

A Brief History of Tang Soo Do

The origins of Tang Soo Do lie in the ancient Korean martial art Hwa Rang Do—as old as the 1st century B.C. A few other martial arts have influenced Tang Soo Do, such as Taek Kyun, Moo Sul, Soo Bahk Ki, Kyuck Too Ki, and Soo Byuck Ki.

While Tang Soo Do is primarily based on those Korean martial arts, it also draws heavily from Shotokan karate. This intermingling of different fighting styles happened during the Japanese occupation of Korea when all prevailing Korean martial arts were banned by the imperialists. 

In this environment, grandmasters like Won Kuk Lee and Hwang Kee developed new styles based on existing Korean martial arts and Japanese karate. These transformations throughout the 20th century paved the way for contemporary Tang Song Do, Taekwondo, and Soo Bahk Do.

The Philosophy of Tang Soo Do

Tang Soo Do has more than one school of philosophy. There are multiple associations in the United States and worldwide. However, they all share similarities. The World Tang Soo Do Association’s core philosophy comprises:

  • Physical techniques
  • Humanity
  • Righteousness
  • Etiquette
  • Wisdom
  • Trust

The Popular Variants of Tang Soo Do 

The World Tang Soo Do Association promotes the original martial art championed by its founding grandmaster Jae Chul Shin. A student of grandmaster Hwang Kee, Shin established the first U.S. Tang Soo Do Association, an extension of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association.

Today, there are at least five popular Tang Soo Do variants practiced by the following: 

  • World Tang Soo Do Association
  • The United States Tang Soo Do 
  • Traditional Global Tang Soo Do Association
  • International Tang Soo Do Federation
  • Chuck Norris System (formerly Chun Kuk Do) of United Fighting Arts Federation

These five Tang Soo Do styles have subtle differences in their training techniques. However, their goals stem from the original Tang Soo Do: to create comprehensive self-defense and offense style with a goal to lead a blissful and disciplined life. 

What Do You Wear for Tang Soo Do?

In Tang Soo Do, you wear a uniform called dobok during training and competitions. The dobok comprises a shirt, trousers with elastic drawstrings, and a belt representing the level of the practitioner. 

Generally, the shirts and trousers are a blend of cotton and polyester. The uniform may include a traditional jacket, especially during special events and the colder months.

Do You Wear Shoes in Tang Soo Do?

You do not wear shoes in Tang Soo Do during training. However, many schools require laceless foam boots for sparring. These norms usually depend on the federation’s rules, level of training, and the decision of the instructor. 

What Equipment Is Required for Tang Soo Do?

The equipment required for Tang Soo Do is the sparring gear and weapons like a wooden staff and a sword. Standard sparring gears include a mouth guard, helmet with face shield and chain guard, gloves, shin pads, boots, and sometimes a groin protector.

Apart from the personal sparring gear and uniform, Tang Soo Do practitioners get to use a wooden staff, knife, sword, and cane during different levels of training. The schools usually provide this and other essential training equipment, such as kick and punch bags. 

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Tang Soo Do?

You do not need to be fit to start Tang Soo Do. Beginner’s training is easy for most adults and children. Tang Soo Do is a stand-up martial art, so the minimum fitness requirement is holding a stance and form. 

Tang Soo Do requires natural physical posture and balance. A beginner’s routine generally doesn’t demand any advanced fitness levels because the basic stances, forms, and movements are simple. Beginners don’t have to perform complex movements or several techniques in one sequence. 

Do I Need To Be Strong for Tang Soo Do?

You do not need to be strong for Tang Soo Do. The focus is on physical posture, breathing, stance, technical form, and movements. Strength does play a role, but can be built through regular training. 

Tang Soo Do is not a martial arts discipline focused on being a combat sport, so an emphasis on building strength is not present. However, most practitioners develop more strength as they continue to train.

Weapons training that includes items like the staff or sword requires a bit more strength. Still, these weapons are introduced only for advanced Tang Soo Do practitioners so most of the time dedicated strength training is not required.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Tang Soo Do?

You do not need to be flexible for Tang Soo Do. Average flexibility is enough for beginner stances, forms, and movements. However, advanced practitioners get to be more flexible, especially at the core and hips through regular practice.

Even if you’re not flexible when you start, anyone who practices Tang Soo Do for months or years will progressively develop formidable flexibility. 

Is Tang Soo Do Good for Getting in Shape?

Tang Soo Do is good for getting in shape. The training routines improve posture, flexibility, and strength. The combined movements and advanced techniques work as compound exercises. Tang Soo Do lets you work on all major muscle groups. 

Is Tang Soo Do Good for Self-Defense?

Tang Soo Do is good for self-defense. For a traditional martial art, it is relatively effective for self-defense. That being said, if your true goal is to become a competent unarmed fighter you should probably lean towards a combat sports discipline.

Some of the best martial arts disciplines to pick up include judo, wrestling, muay thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. MMA is probably the best all-around training option if unarmed fighting proficiency for self-defense is your main goal.

What Style of Fighting Is Tang Soo Do?

Tang Soo Do is primarily an unarmed fighting style involving strikes with hands, kicks to the upper body, self-defense blocks, stances, grappling, and joint locks. The most prominent styles that influenced Tang Soo Do are Karate and some traditional Korean martial arts. 

Does Tang Soo Do Include Live Sparring?

Tang Soo Do includes live sparring, but only for intermediate and advanced practitioners. Live sparring is an integral part of the evaluations needed to win a new belt. In most cases, beginners participate in choreographed sparring.

Many schools do not emphasize the live sparring aspect of training.

Are There Tang Soo Do Competitions or Tournaments?

There are Tang Soo Do competitions and tournaments. They are organized by the federations and their licensed schools or instructors. However, there is no world title. The belts awarded by one association, grandmaster, or master are not identical to those of others. 

Is Tang Soo Do Dangerous To Practice?

Tang Soo Do is not dangerous to practice, provided a beginner does not try advanced techniques or weapons. Beginners do not typically train in techniques that are dangerous or at an intensity that comes with higher injury risks.

As with any other sport or martial art, there’s always a risk of injury. However, if you practice Tang Soo Do safely and with partners you trust, most of this is avoided.

Is Tang Soo Do Hard To Learn?

Tang Soo Do is hard to learn, but it takes a while to get familiar with the stances and movements. The combined movements and striking, kicking, and blocking techniques become challenging for advanced belts. However, low-level techniques aren’t as difficult.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Tang Soo Do?

Beginners with no prior experience in Tang Soo Do may require 2 to 3 months or around 16 classes to learn the fundamentals. You may need an additional 6 to 8 months or about 50 classes to reach the intermediate ranks. 

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Tang Soo Do?

A beginner needs around 36 months and 260 classes to reach black belt level mastery in Tang Soo Do. Many Tang Soo Do schools award a deep, navy, or midnight blue belt, with or without stripes, instead of a black one.

As with any martial art, mastering Tang Soon Do is a lifetime pursuit.

Can You Learn Tang Soo Do at Home?

You can learn Tang Soo Do at home, but your training will probably be limited to the basic stances. Tang Soo Do masters will be able to teach you how to learn complex techniques, kicks, strikes, and blocks. Besides, you need instructors to give your feedback when you make a mistake.

What To Expect at Your First Tang Soo Do Class?

Here’s what to expect at your first Tang Soo Do class:

  1. The master introduces themself. 
  2. A sit-down routine with breathing exercises.
  3. Warm-up and stretching exercises. 
  4. Basic stances, forms, and hand movements. 
  5. Elementary hand strikes and blocks.
  6. Simple foot movements.
  7. A sit-down breathing routine. 

What Does Tang Soo Do Cost?

Tang Soo Do monthly tuition can cost from $50 to $150 depending on the region, with many schools offering discounts for quarterly and yearly memberships. Most schools have separate costs for the uniform, sparring gear, periodic tests, and special events, such as tournaments.  

Is Tang Soo Do Good for Kids?

Tang Soo Do is good for kids. It cultivates values like discipline, persistence, and responsibility. It also gives them self-defense skills and a chance to make friends. The environment in a Tang Soo Do is safe and controlled by experts.

Is Tang Soo Do Good for Women?

Tang Soo Do is good for women since it does not emphasize sparring in training. The focus of the art is on technique and balance, so effective training is possible with partners of all sizes and genders.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a traditional martial arts experience Tang Soo Do is a great option if there is a dojo in the area. Like most traditional martial arts in modern times it emphasizes discipline and character growth and does not focus on sparring and combat sports effectiveness.

This martial art can be a solid choice if you are looking for a more relaxed training experience that blends in balance and posture into a martial arts curriculum.


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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