American Tang Soo Do

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American Tang Soo Do
Also known asAmerican Karate, Chuck Norris Karate System
Country of originUSA
CreatorChuck Norris
Famous practitionersPat E. Johnson, Bob Wall, Aaron Norris, John Natividad, Howard Jackson, Darnell Garcia, William Zabka, Michele Krasnoo, Bruce Buffer
ParenthoodTang Soo Do-Moo Duk Kwan, Judo, Shotokan Karate, Shito-ryu Karate

American Tang Soo Do is a Korean/Japanese-American hybrid martial art formed in 1966 by Chuck Norris who combined Tang Soo Do-Moo Duk Kwan, Judo, Shito-ryu Karate and Shotokan Karate. Over the years it has been further developed by former black belts of his and their students.


American Tang Soo Do evolved from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and it combines elements from several different fighting styles. Between 1958 and 1961 Chuck Norris was stationed in South Korea at Osan Air Base, as a member of the military police in the United States Air Force. During this time he trained in various martial arts styles under some of the most respected instructors in the world. These instructors included Tang Soo Do-Moo Duk Kwan with Shin Jae Chul and Judo under an instructor named "Mr. Ahn".[1]

Upon his return to the United States as a Tang Soo Do black belt Norris continued his martial arts training with Shotokan Karate masters Tsutomu Ohshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama, Shitō-ryū Karate instructor Fumio Demura, American Kenpo Karate founder Ed Parker, and Judo expert Gene LeBell. What resulted from this training in what would become known as American Tang Soo Do. Norris would continue to make changes to his art by adding techniques from Hapkido which he learned via his friendship with Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do master Jun Chong whom he sold one of his schools to in the early 1970s. In the late 1970s Norris would train with the late AL Thomas in Thomas' Budo jujutsu system.

National Tang Soo Do Congress[edit]

American Tang Soo Do's original governing body was the National Tang Soo Do Congress (NTC) founded in 1973 by Chuck Norris as its president and Pat E. Johnson as its vice-president and Chief of Instruction after breaking ties with the Moo Duk Kwan. In 1979, Norris dissolved the NTC and formed his current organization the United Fighting Arts Federation (UFAF) and named Johnson as executive vice president. In 1986, Norris promoted Johnson to ninth-degree black belt. At that time due to a philosophical difference of opinion with Norris, Johnson would leave the UFAF and reform the NTC as the governing body for American Tang Soo Do while Norris kept UFAF as the parent organization for his new martial arts system of Chun Kuk Do.

American Tang Soo Do: Notable Figures[edit]

Name Rank Title Note
Chuck Norris 10th degree black belt Grand Master ATSD Founder, Retired as the Undefeated Professional Full-Contact Middleweight Champion in 1974
Dick Douglas 10th degree black belt Grand Master Taught in Las Vegas, NV from 1966–2006. Was the NTC Vice President, President and founder of Western Tang Soo Do Federation (WTSDF), died in 2006.
John Natividad 10th degree black belt Grand Master International Champion, teaches in Las Vegas, NV.
Aaron Norris 10th degree black belt Grand Master Brother of Chuck, Producer. Promoted to 10th degree by his brother in 2018.
Pat E. Johnson 9th degree black belt Grand Master Creator of Karate Point Scoring System, Fight Coordinator, National & International Champion
Robert Wall 9th degree black belt Grand Master Karate Champion, Co-star of Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death
Tom Bloom 9th degree black belt Grand Master 5X World Champion & 3X International Champion, teaches in Westlake Village, CA
Johnny Gyro 9th degree black belt Grand Master 7X World Champion, teaches in Oak Park, CA
Roger Lacombe 9th degree black belt Grand Master Teaches in Agoura Hills, CA
Ron Pohnel 9th degree black belt Grand Master 5X International Karate Champion, Stuntman, Actor teaches in Hawaii
Dennis Ichikawa 9th degree black belt Grand Master Founder and current head of the American Tang Soo Do Alliance
Brian Mable 9th degree black belt Grand Master Current president of the WTSDF; assumed presidency after the passing of Dick Douglas.
Kenneth Herrera 9th degree black belt Grand Master U.F.A.F. Instructor of the Year 1986
Steve Smith 9th degree black belt Grand Master
Joey Escobar 8th degree black belt Grand Master 8X International Champion, teaches in Malibu, CA


American Tang Soo Do includes the practice of forms, (Korean hyung and Japanese kata). The system's forms are taken primarily from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, while many of the advanced level forms from Norris' training with Ki Whang Kim and later modified by Norris. Over the years some former Norris black belts have gone on to further modify the forms and even introduce new forms to their own curriculum.[citation needed]

Basic forms[edit]

Traditional Korean Tang Soo Do includes three basic forms based on the Taikyoku forms of Shotokan and known as Giecho Hyung in Korean. The first form (Il Bu) still remains the same as the one found in the Korean version, however the second (Yi Bu) and third (Sahm Bu) have been modified. Norris would also two new forms (Sang Gup) to the curriculum.

  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu (기초형일부) | Basic Form #1
  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup (기초형일부상급) | Basic Form #1 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu (기초형이부) | Basic Form #2
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu Sang Gup (기초형이부상급) | Basic Form #2 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Sahm Bu (기초형삼부) | Basic Form #3

Intermediate Forms[edit]

These are forms originating on Okinawa created by Anko Itosu and known as the Pinan in most Japanese and Okinawan systems and Heian in Shotokan.

  • Pyong-An Cho Dan (평안초단) | "Peaceful and Calm First Level"
  • Pyong-An Yi Dan (평안이단) | "Peaceful and Calm Second Level"
  • Pyong-An Sahm Dan (평안삼단) | "Peaceful and Calm Third Level"
  • Pyong-An Sa Dan (평안사단) | "Peaceful and Calm Fourth Level"
  • Pyong-An Oh Dan (평안오단) | "Peaceful and Calm Fifth Level"

Advanced Forms[edit]

These are forms required for first degree black belt and above. Many individual schools have made minor changes to these forms resulting in slight variations from the original forms taught by Norris. While most of the advanced forms do resemble their Japanese/Korean counterparts, others are unique due to Ki Whang Kim’s Shudokan Karate influence on Norris, most notably Chin Te and Jion.

  • Bassai (바싸이) | "Form of the Rock"
  • Nianchi Cho Dan (니안치초단) | "Internal Divided Conflict First Level"
  • Nianchi Yi Dan (니안치이단) | "Internal Divided Conflict Second Level"
  • Nianchi Sahm Dan (니안치삼단) | "Internal Divided Conflict Third Level"
  • Chipsu (십수) | "10 Hands"
  • Yun Bi (윤비) or Wang Shu (완슈) | "Excellent Wrist"
  • Chin Te (진태) | "Unusual Hand"
  • Jion (지온) | "Temple of Mercy" or "Temple Sound"
  • Kong Sang Koon (공상군) | "Viewing the Sky"
  • Tae Gi Hyul (大地穴 or 대지혈) | "Warrior's Form" or "Big Earth Hole"
  • Rho Hai (로하이) | "Vision of a Crane" or "Vision of a Heron"

Miscellaneous Advanced Forms[edit]

Advanced forms added by individual associations or schools, not part of the original Norris curriculum.

  • Bassai-So (바사이소) | "Small form of the Rock"
  • Woon Shu (雲手) | "Cloud Hands"
  • Jin Do (진도) | "Fighter to the east"
  • Jiin or Sinjeon (신전) | "Temple Ground"
  • Sei Shan (세이산) | "13 Hands"
  • Oh Sip Sa Bo (오십사보) | "54 Steps"
  • E Sip Sa Bo (이십사보) | "24 Steps"
  • Syupeorinpei or Suparinpei (슈퍼린페이) | "108 Hands"

Sparring & Fighting[edit]

One-Step & Three-Step Sparring[edit]

One-step sparring & three-step sparring techniques are choreographed patterns of self-defense moves against the single strike or triple strike of an attack. Practiced in pairs; one partner attacks, often with a single punch or kick, and the other person will perform a series of prearranged techniques, often in a block-strike-sweep sequence. One-Step sparring teaches beginning and intermediate students how to flow from defense to offense in a safe and controlled training environment, while it allows advanced students to train techniques too deadly to use in live sparring such as strikes to the eyes, throat, and groin. Many ATSD schools have added MMA and grappling techniques to this type of training.


American Tang Soo Do free-sparring consists of point matches that are based on the three-point rule (the first contestant to score three points wins) or a two-minute rule (a tally of points over one two-minute round, with lead and rear-leg kicks and lead and rear-arm hand techniques all score equally, one point per technique). Tang Soo Do sparring is a contact event. Though often billed as "light" or "no-contact," the typical level of contact is moderate, being controlled to both the body and head (in dan divisions). Most Tang Soo Do practitioners feel that contact in sparring is essential to understanding proper technique and necessary for developing mental preparedness and a level of relaxation critical to focus performance in stressful situations. Unnecessarily or disrespectfully harming an opponent in Tang Soo Do sparring is not tolerated. Health and longevity of practitioners are major goals of Tang Soo Do practice. Serious injuries are counterproductive because they inhibit a level of physical training that is needed to foster emotional and intellectual growth. However, minor injuries, such as bumps, bruises and the occasional loss of wind may be invaluable experiences. Each match should begin and end with respect, compassion and a deep appreciation for the opponent. Though Tang Soo Do sparring is competitive, traditional matches are more of an exercise, or a way of developing oneself not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

Hard Sparring[edit]

While free-sparring is the main fight training for most American Tang Soo Do practitioners, there are certain schools (or certain advanced groups within those schools) that train with a more hard-sparring approach. In these training session heavy-duty head gear, shin pads, and Boxing gloves are all utilized; and the sparring sessions more closely resemble kickboxing or full-contact karate training. Training is usually at a 50–60% power output rather than the 25% of free-sparring or the %100 of certain Muay Thai programs. This creates an in between balance that allows a more "hard-core" sparring session while still being safe from the most serious training injuries and knockouts associated with 100% sparring.

MMA & Grappling[edit]

Many American Tang Soo Do schools have added both MMA training and grappling (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Hapkido, Jujutsu, Judo) to their training programs. This includes everything from live sparring with MMA gloves, and live rolling with submissions; to adding specific self-defense focused techniques to the One-Step Sparring.


Hand Strikes and Blocks[edit]

ATSD is a hard style of martial arts consisting of hard blocking techniques and hard striking techniques with the hands. These hand strikes can be employed traditional style with the open hand, or American style with the closed fist as in boxing. The goal of ATSD strike training is to be able to incapacitate an attacker with a multitude of strikes to weak points on the human body.

Basic Strikes[edit]

  • Center Punch
  • Reverse Punch
  • Side Punch
  • Ridge Hand
  • Knife Hand
  • Back Knuckle
  • Bottom Fist
  • Hammer Fist
  • Palm Heel
  • Uppercut
  • Jab

Basic Blocks[edit]

  • Low Block
  • High Block
  • Knife-Hand Block
  • Inside Block
  • Outside Block
  • Parry Blocks
  • Cross Blocks
  • Reinforced Blocks
  • Universal Block (Inside Parry/Low Block)

Kicks & Jump Kicks[edit]

ATSD is based on 50% punching and 50% kicking techniques, but is most known for its kicking. There are dozens of kicks that can be employed by all angles of attacks, which include hundreds of variations. The jump kicks in this art are based on traditional Korean kicking arts, and are very acrobatic in nature.

Basic Kicks[edit]

  • Front Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Stepping)
  • Round Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Spinning)
  • Side Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Spinning)
  • Back Kick (Standing/Stepping/Spinning)

Basic Jump Kicks[edit]

  • Jump Front Kick
  • Jump Spinning Round Kick
  • Jump Spinning Side Kick
  • Jumping Side Kick
  • Jump Spinning Back Kick
  • Butterfly Kick


Self-Defense; along with self-control, self-respect, and self-confidence; is one of the main objectives of ATSD. This not only includes a myriad of life-saving techniques based on Karate, Judo, Boxing, and Kickboxing, but training to have a self-defense and self-preservation mindset.


Breaking wooden boards with punches and kicks is part of the ATSD training as well as mandatory for Intermediate and Advanced belt testing. Some higher level black belts will also break concrete cinder-blocks, bricks, and blocks of ice, as part of their training regimen. To perform this level of breaking takes many years of dedicated training to achieve, and many years of toughening to the skin and bones of the body in order for the skin and bones of the practitioner not to break. This hardening regimen in known as Makiwara training and it can take decades to achieve.


American Tang Soo Do belt ranking consists of 12 ranks for students and 10 “Dan” or "degrees" for black belt. As with other systems the 12 student grades are represented by various colored belts and stripes. Traditionally in ATSD no stripes are worn on black belts to signify rank. First degree black belts wear all white uniforms with black trim similar to those worn in traditional Korean Tang Soo Do. At second degree black belt, practitioners may wear black pants. Several ATSD organizations and schools have begun adding stripes to black belts and even awarding “master” and “grandmaster” belts similar to those used in traditional Tang Soo Do.

It takes on average 5 years (3 years minimum) of dedicated training to achieve the rank of 1st degree black belt. Each degree varies depending on organization and school. Some follow the time and grade system commonly used by Japanese/Okinawan systems. For example, to move from 1st degree black belt to 2nd degree black belt takes an additional 2 years of training/teaching minimum, from 2nd degree black belt to 3rd degree black belt it takes an additional 3 years of training minimum, and so on. Under the NTC the minimum amount of time to go from 1st degree black belt to 2nd degree black belt is 2 years. All ranks 3rd degree black belt and above are 3 years minimum per degree.

American Tang Soo Do Belt System[edit]

     No gup White Belt- Beginner
     11th gup Yellow Belt - Beginner
     10th gup Purple Belt - Beginner
     9th gup Orange Belt- Beginner
     8th gup Bue Belt One stripe - Adv. Beginner
     7th gup Blue Belt Two stripes - Adv. Beginner
     6th gup Green Belt One stripe - Intermediate
     5th gup Green Belt two stripes - Intermediate
     4th gup Green Belt three stripes - Intermediate
     3rd gup Red Belt one stripe - Advanced
     2nd gup Red Belt two stripes - Advanced
     1st gup Red Belt three stripes - Advanced
     1st degree Black Belt - Assistant Instructor
     2nd degree Black Belt - Instructor
     3rd degree Black Belt - Instructor
     4th degree Black Belt - Master
     5th degree Black Belt - Master
     6th degree Black Belt - Master
     7th degree Black Belt - Grandmaster
     8th degree Black Belt - Grandmaster
     9th degree Black Belt - Grandmaster
     10th degree Black Belt - Grandmaster

Special Notes[edit]

  • In many schools Yellow Belt often reserved as a youth grade inserted between white belt and purple belt.
  • Depending on the school, the order of Orange Belt and Purple Belt can vary.
  • 10th degree Black Belt although rare are Grandmasters who have founded their own martial arts association.

Old Style Korean Adult Belt Grades[edit]

     No grade White Belt- no stripes
     10th grade White Belt- one stripe
     9th grade White Belt- two stripes
     8th grade Blue Belt- one stripe
     7th grade Blue Belt two stripes
     6th grade Green Belt one stripe
     5th grade Green Belt two stripes
     4th grade Green Belt three stripes
     3rd grade Red Belt one stripe
     2nd grade Red Belt two stripe
     1st grade Red Belt three stripes
     Black Belt (1st - 10th Degree)[2]

Terminology / Korean commands[edit]

Though Some American Tang Soo Do schools still use Korean terminology for the techniques, most have opted to use the American translations or even Japanese terms such as kumite or kata.

American Tang Soo Do Descendant Arts[edit]

Chuck Norris System (formerly Chun Kuk Do)[edit]

Chun_Kuk_Do was founded in 1990 by Chuck Norris and evolved from Chuck Norris' training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Gracie and Machado families and inclusion into his system. Norris had dropped the name "Tang Soo Do" because he believed that he had modified his system so much from its traditional Korean version that he felt it was no longer appropriate to use the name. In July 2015 at Norris' organization's annual convention it was announced that his system would no longer go by "Chun Kuk Do" and would be officially referred to as the "Chuck Norris System".[3] UFAF has also eliminated all but two of the original black belt forms (Kong Sang Koon and Jion) from the syllabus and added


  1. ^ "Chuck Norris profile".
  2. ^ Norris, Chuck; Tirschel, Dick (1973). The Chuck Norris Karate System. Fitness Media. p. 191.
  3. ^ "About the Chuck Norris System".

External links[edit]