Are there any “Last Samurai” remaining in Tang Soo Do?

By: Andy Ah Po


Before you read this article, it is important for me to state that my “primary purpose” for writing it, is to encourage all current leaders (Kwan Jang Nim, Grandmasters, Founders, etc.) of the Tang Soo Do community “to strongly consider setting any of their current differences aside and instead unify under the common goal of preserving and promoting the martial art of Tang Soo Do at the highest level possible”.

Although the article begins with a chronology of events that occurred during my last few years as a member of the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation, Inc. and may appear at first to be somewhat negative, that is not my intent. I chose to use this approach to simply use that experience as a “backdrop” or to “set the stage” for the more important issue discussed which is “to seek cooperation between the various Tang Soo Do Kwans for the overall betterment and promotion of Tang Soo Do”.

The Article

Many years ago, after going to the movie, ”The Last Samurai”, I found myself asking, “Why do I (and I’m sure some of my peers) feel like we may be the last Samurai of Tang Soo?” I suppose the reason that I may have asked myself this question at that time was because in the movie, the young emperor of Japan (the Successor) chose to follow the advice of his new advisor (the Executive Administrator) whom he selected, rather than continue to follow the advice of the true remaining Samurai (the original members of the TAC), who were appointed by his Father and who were his most trusted confidants.

More specifically, he chose to ignore the advice of one particular Samurai Chief (a loyal member of the TAC that had been appointed by his Father) who understood and stressed the value of maintaining the ancient traditional customs and ideology even as the country (the federation) was being moved towards modernization.

The young emperor (the successor) chose not to take his advice however primarily because he was afraid that this Samurai Chief could eventually pose a threat to his leadership because of his perceived stature, popularity and unwillingness to let go of the old ideals. The plot of the movie described above is similar to what I experienced during my last few years as a member of the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation, Inc., until I finally resigned my membership and left on my own terms. However, it is important to note that I never resigned from the Korean Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do) Association Mo Duk Kwan, and also was never notified by Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee that I had either been expelled from that organization or considered to have relinquished my membership

In fact, like “the last Samurai” I was also later attacked (sued) by the young emperor’s army (the federation) about a year after I left, for naming my association the Tang Soo Do Moo Do Kwan and for choosing to fly a similar banner (the original Tang Soo Do Moo Do Kwan, Kwan Gi) and designing a uniform patch that linked my Tang Soo Do lineage directly to the Moo Duk Kwan (of which I had been a member for over 40 years) and to his Father the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee, who had been my instructor for nearly 30 years.

I firmly believed that this attack was also strategically waged to make an example of me and to prevent other Samurai (members) from considering a possible uprising in the future. I came to this conclusion after going on the internet and discovering literally hundreds of individuals’ and organizations worldwide who were not affiliated with the federation (or the Moo Duk Kwan) but who continued to use the names Soo Bahk Do and Moo Duk Kwan, and who also used exactly the same or similar logos as the federation but who had never been sued or personally attacked as I had been.

The primary difference between me and the last samurai chief in that movie, of course, is that I did not allow myself to die on the battle field. I chose instead to wage a tactical retreat (settle the case out of court) so that I could continue to do battle where it will count the most. I believe that I am currently accomplishing this by having adopted the following “mission” and goals for my organization:

“To continue to practice, preserve and promote the original teachings, principles and philosophy of Tang Soo Do as were developed by the late founder, Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee, and to make myself totally accessible to all Tang Soo Do practitioners and/ or organizations who have this same intent, interest and goals”.

As I now look back on this experience, I must ask myself if I should really be thanking the federation for helping me to finally find the courage to resign my membership; to just move on; and finally, for motivating me to devise the mission statement and to set the goals identified above. I know, for instance, that had I remained a member of the federation, I would not be able to exercise the freedom to interact with other “non-member” Tang Soo Do practitioners and organizations as I am now able to.

“It is also important to note that I am not bitter about my experience with the federation and bear them no malice. In fact, I wish them well because I know that as long as they are focused on their current mission and goals there will be no further conflict between us.”

Immediately after resigning my membership, I was approached by a group of former members (who had also previously left the federation) to explore the possibility of my assisting them with either forming a Tang Soo Do Congress (an organization that would be comprised of several of the existing Kwans), or of forming my own Kwan. Formation of the Tang Soo Do Congress did not materialize at that time and I subsequently went on to form the Tang Soo Do Moo Do Kwan Association, Inc. (now known as the Tang Soo Do Martial Way Association, Inc.)

However, after going through the experience of the now infamous federation “law suit”, and a few years of being bogged down by the administrative activities that are normally associated with running a large international martial arts organization, I finally came to the realization that this was not the route (Do) that I wished to continue pursuing in my remaining years. Therefore, I made a conscious decision to change my focus and decided instead to adopt the “mission statement” above.

As a result, I have no desire to either grow my own association currently, or to attempt to take over or impose myself on any of the current Tang Soo Do organizations. I have no “hidden agendas” other than to pursue my personal goal; “the battle that I am now waging, which is to encourage all Tang Soo Do practitioners to set their differences aside and instead come together on matters that we can all agree upon, to ensure the future of Tang Soo Do and to promote it at the highest level possible”.

I am in no way suggesting or implying that I am the “only” current senior Tang Soo Do practitioner or organizational founder last (remaining Tang Soo Do Samurai) that is capable of accomplishing this, but I am willing to take whatever initial steps may be necessary to meet and work with my counterparts to see that this battle can, in fact, be won for the right reasons:

“To unite, not as an organization but rather as Tang Soo Do practitioners, for the single purpose of preserving and practicing the original teachings, principles and philosophy of Tang Soo Do as were developed by Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee, in order to promote Tang Soo Do at the highest level possible!”

This is how I have chosen to interpret the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee’s final expressed wish prior to his passing; “to again see all former Moo Duk Kwan members come together towards a common goal”. And, if we are able to make this happen it will invariably become the classic “win-win situation” for all Tang Soo Do practitioners and organizations.

In closing, I wish to share the following comments that I received from my student, Grandmaster Charles Ferraro of the Mi Guk Kwan, after I asked him to review a “draft” version of this article:

“The underlying theme of cooperation between Tang Soo Do Kwans, organizations and groups demonstrates the highest of ideals with regards to the continued growth and development of the Tang Soo Do art form. A few words of caution here are also appropriate…1)- there will always be those that aren’t interested in cooperating with other Tang Soo Do organizations; 2)- there will always be those who will see your words and efforts, no matter how altruistic they may be, as self-serving; and, 3)- even among those that are interested in cooperating with other Tang Soo Do organizations for the good, growth and development of the art form in general, there will always be certain individuals that the cooperating parties still do not want to deal with. Sometimes the wounds, the past wrongs and the current circumstances make certain associations impossible to attain.”

Although I truly value and totally agree with Grandmaster Ferraro’s insights and statements of caution, it is also important to note that he closed his correspondence by stating:

“I share your dream that there may be venues where the Tang Soo Do community can come together and share training, ideas and fellowship.”

I believe that there are others that share this dream and that the responsibility for achieving the goals that are described and proposed in this article is directly in the hands of the current leaders of the Tang Soo Do community.

And finally, I believe that we owe it to the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee and to ourselves to make a genuine effort to find ways to unite for this single purpose.

Tang Soo!