American Tang Soo Do

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American Tang Soo Do
Also known as American Karate, Chuck Norris Karate System
Focus Hybrid
Country of origin United States United States
Creator Chuck Norris, Pat E. Johnson
Parenthood Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, Shotokan, Shito-ryu, American Kenpo, Boxing, Judo

American Tang Soo Do (American Karate) is a Tang Soo Do based, American hybrid martial art style founded in 1966 by Chuck Norris.


American Tang Soo Do evolved from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and it combines elements from several different fighting styles including Judo and Boxing. Between 1958 and 1962 Chuck Norris was stationed in Korea at the Osan Air Base, South Korea, as a member of the Air Policeman 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 founder Hwang Kee and his chief instructor Shin Jae Chul, and Judo instructor 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. Norris later began training in Rio with the Gracie family in Gracie Jiu-jitsu under Helio Gracie and his sons Royce Gracie and Rickson Gracie, and he was instrumental in bringing the Gracie family to America.[2] He later trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Machado family, namely Carlos Machado who promoted Norris to black belt.[3]

After his military service ended in 1962 Norris began to open karate schools across Southern California where he taught traditional Korean Tang Soo Do to American students. During this time he was also becoming a well known World Champion karate fighter. Being proficient in Judo as well as in Boxing, Norris incorporated the techniques of these fighting arts into his Tang Soo Do instruction which became at one point known as the Chuck Norris System. In doing so he created a new American martial art of his own design, American Tang Soo Do, which helped to fuel the American Karate craze of the 1970s and 80's.[1]


"Tang Soo Do" translates to "Way of the Chinese hand"; thus American Tang Soo Do is meant to describe the American variation of an empty hand fighting system that originated in Korea. It is the Korean term for the more well known Japanese term of "Karate-Do", which at one point meant "Way of the Chinese hand" but eventually was changed to "Way of the Empty hand", although remaining phonetically the same. In English translation, although "Way of the Chinese hand" is the correct meaning of Tang Soo Do, both translations are acceptable. "Tang Soo Do" has also been used in Korea as a general term for martial arts/or fighting for hundreds of years; similarly to the umbrella term Kung Fu in China. It was the specific Tang Soo Do school of Moo Duk Kwan (The School of Martial Virtues) founded by Hwang Kee that Grand Master Norris first studied under while in South Korea. In order for the American population to better understand what type of martial art system he was teaching them Norris began to use the already popularized term Karate instead of Tang Soo, thus "American Karate" was born. Tang Soo Do was at the time in which Norris introduced it to America also referred to as "Korean Karate".

National Tang Soo Do Congress[edit]

American Tang Soo Do was originally organized by Norris under the governing body of the National Tang Soo Do Congress (NTC) which he founded with Pat E. Johnson and named Johnson as vice-president and Chief of Instruction. In 1979, Norris disbanded 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. The National Tang Soo Do Congress is now a defunct organization, but the art of American Tang Soo Do has been kept alive through the continued instruction of former Norris and Johnson students now Masters and Grand Masters themselves.[4]

American Tang Soo Do: Grand masters and master instructors[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. Note: Awarded 10th degree black belt by WTF.
Pat E. Johnson 9th degree black belt Grand Master Co-founder, 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
Aaron Norris 9th degree black belt Grand Master Brother of Chuck, Producer
Ron Pohnel 9th degree black belt Grand Master 5X International Champion, Stuntman, Actor teaches in Hawaii
John Natividad 9th degree black belt Grand Master International Champion, teaches in Las Vegas, NV.
Dennis Ichikawa 9th degree black belt Grand Master teaches in Thousand Oaks, CA
Brian Mable 9th degree black belt Grand Master Current president of the WTSDF; assumed presidency after passing of Dick Douglas.
Joey Escobar 8th degree black belt Grand Master 8X International Champion, teaches in Malibu, CA

Moo Duk Kwan[edit]

The Moo Duk Kwan is the School of Martial Virtues founded by Hwang Kee in 1945 through which he taught the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do to many U.S. servicemen in Korean during the 1940s, 50's, and 60's, including American Tang Soo Do founder Chuck Norris. While many American Tang Soo Do schools pay homage to the Moo Duk Kwan through explaining the art and systems original development in Korea to their students, or through the use of the name Moo Duk Kwan on their school patches and logos; in reality American Tang Soo is not, nor has it ever been a member of the Moo Duk Kwan organization in Korea. The Moo Duk Kwan has taught the martial art of Soo Bahk Do since the 1960s and no longer teaches Tang Soo Do. This is why system founder Chuck Norris founded the National Tang Soo Do Congress and later the United Fighting Arts Federation to create an American school association for his American art. Most American Tang Soo Do schools today operate independently from instructor to instructor, but still remain loosely connected based on cross-training together.


American Tang Soo Do includes the practice of forms, (Korean hyung and Japanese kata). The system's forms are taken from the original Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan before the Moo Duk Kwan style became Soo Bahk Do and the Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee added new Korean forms he created based on the ancient Korean martial arts book Muyedobotongji. The original Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan forms now used in American Tang Soo do were actually borrowed from Japanese Karate (Shotokan), and Chinese Kung Fu. This was due to the fact that during the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII all Korean culture and martial arts were outlawed. Due to this reason many Koreans at that time began to study martial arts in either Japan or China, and on a rare occasion would find an old Korean master who would teach them Taekkyeon which is the traditional Korean kicking martial art which has a dance-like appearance, and where Tang Soo Do gets its acrobatic kicking techniques from; or Subak an ancient Korean form of Jujutsu.

Basic forms[edit]

Rudimentary modified forms based on the Taikyoku forms found in many Japanese karate systems and known as Giecho Hyung in Tang Soo Do.

  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu | Basic Form #1
  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup | Basic Form #1 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu | Basic Form #2
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu Sang Gup | Basic Form #2 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Sahm Bu | Basic Form #3

Intermediate Forms[edit]

Forms originating on Okinawa created by Anko Itosu form older forms Kūsankū and Channah.

  • Pyong-An Cho Dan | "Peaceful and Calm First Level"
  • Pyong-An Yi Dan | "Peaceful and Calm Second Level"
  • Pyong-An Sahm Dan | "Peaceful and Calm Third Level"
  • Pyong-An Sa Dan | "Peaceful and Calm Fourth Level"
  • Pyong-An Oh Dan | "Peaceful and Calm Fifth Level"

Advanced Forms[edit]

These are forms required for first degree black belt and above. It should be noted that many individual schools have made minor changes to these forms resulting in slight variations from the original forms taught by Norris.

  • Bassai – "Form of the Rock"
  • Nianchi Cho Dan | "Internal Divided Conflict First Level"
  • Nianchi Yi Dan | "Internal Divided Conflict Second Level"
  • Nianchi Sahm Dan | "Internal Divided Conflict Third Level"
  • Chipsu or Shipsu | "10 Hands"
  • Yun Be or Wang Shu | "Excellent Wrist"
  • Cheong or Jion – "Temple of Mercy"
  • Rho Hai | "Vision of a Crane" or "Vision of a Heron"
  • Kong Sang Goon | "Viewing the Sky"
  • Tae Gi Hyul | "Warrior's Form"

Miscellaneous Advanced Forms[edit]

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


Chil Sung & Yuk Ro[edit]

Most American Tang Soo Do practitioners do not study the 13 Chil Sung & Yuk Ro Hyeong/forms created by Hwang Kee for the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.

However, a few of the students from the original school still learn and practice the forms individually, and pass along their knowledge to their students.

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 (BJJ, NOGI, wrestling) 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. Some schools have even brought in outside coaches or created affiliations with MMA/Grappling schools such as Grandmaster Joey Escobar in Malibu, CA whose ATSD school in now an official Hayastan MMA (Gokar & Gene Lebell) affiliate.


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 one blow. This is a lifelong practice that most never achieve, but as far as physical ability this is the ultimate goal.

Basic Strikes[edit]

  • Center Punch
  • Reverse Punch
  • Side Punch
  • Ridge Hand
  • Chop
  • Back Fist
  • Bottom Fist
  • Hammer Fist

Basic Blocks[edit]

  • Low Block
  • High Block
  • Knife-Hand Block
  • Inside Block
  • Outside Block
  • Parry Blocks
  • Cross Blocks
  • Reinforced Blocks
  • General Defense (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. The flying side-kick is the signature kick of American Tang Soo Do.

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
  • Flying Side Kick
  • Jump Spinning Back 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 10 “gup” or "grade" levels for students and 10 “Dan” or "degrees" for black belt. As with other systems the 10 student grades are represented by various colored belts. 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. It should be noted that 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 grade White Belt- Beginner
     10th grade Purple Belt- Beginner
     9th grade Orange Belt- Beginner
     8th grade Blue Belt one stripe- Beginner
     7th grade Blue Belt two stripes- Beginner
     6th grade Green Belt one stripe- Intermediate
     5th grade Green Belt two stripes- Intermediate
     4th grade Green Belt three stripes- Intermediate
     3rd grade Red Belt one stripe- Intermediate/Adv.
     2nd grade Red Belt two stripes- Intermediate/Adv.
     1st grade Red Belt three stripes- Advanced
     1st degree Black Belt- Assistant Instructor
     2nd degree Black Belt- Instructor
     3rd degree Black Belt- Senior 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 (System/Style/Assoc. Founder)

Special Notes[edit]

     Yellow Belt is a youth grade inserted between white belt and purple belt.
     10th degree Black Belt is reserved for Grandmasters who have founded their own martial arts training system, style, or martial arts association.

Old Style Korean Adult Belt Grades[6][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 no stripes
     2nd grade Red Belt one stripe
     1st grade Red Belt two stripes
     1st grade Red Belt three stripes

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.

American Tang Soo Do Descendant Arts/Hybrid Systems[edit]

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

Chun Kuk Do was founded in 1990 by Chuck Norris and it is a descendant art from American Tang Soo Do. It evolved from Chuck Norris' training in various martial arts styles and under various instructors such as Tang Soo Do instructor Shin Jae Chul, Shotokan Karate masters Tsutomu Ohshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama, Shitō-ryū Karate instructor Fumio Demura, American Kenpo Karate founder Ed Parker, Judo/Jujutsu expert Gene LeBell, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu legends the Gracie family and the Machado family. It is organized under the United Fighting Arts Federation (UFAF). 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".[7]


  1. ^ a b "Chuck Norris profile". 
  2. ^ "Chuck Norris Tells His Jiu-Jitsu Story – Gracie News". 
  3. ^ "Carlos Machado". 
  4. ^ "Pat Johnson profile". 
  5. ^ "The Forms of Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do)". 
  6. ^ Norris, Chuck; Tirschel, Dick (1973). The Chuck Norris Karate System. Fitness Media. p. 191. 
  7. ^ "About the Chuck Norris System". 

External links[edit]