Yun Mu Kwan

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Yun Mu Kwan (연무관, the 'Hall or Institute for Martial Study') is the name of a now all but forgotten Korean karate (Kong Soo Do) style, one of the original five styles or "kwans" that arose in Korea[1] after World War II in emulation of the karate systems practiced in Japan and Okinawa. It was begun by Korean karateka Chun Sang Sup,[2] after his return from Japan, where it is generally thought that he studied Shotokan karate under the direct or indirect tutelage of that system's founder, Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan educator who first brought karate to Japan from the Ryukyu Islands (annexed by Japan in the nineteenth century).[3] Chun taught at the Yun Mu Kwan for only a few years before disappearing during the dislocations of the Korean War which began in 1950. Many of his former students eventually began training again at a different location under different teachers and under a new name: Jidokwan (meaning the 'Hall or Institute for Wisdom's Way'). The Jidokwan was subsequently rolled up, along with most of the other Korean "kwans" into the newly systematized Korean national combat sport of "Taekwondo" (meaning "Foot Fist Way") in the mid 1950s. This new, unified Korean martial art emphasized different training and fighting methods than did the older Japanese karate styles from which it was derived, including stressing higher, fancier kicking and more acrobatic movements. Unlike the other kwans, however, the Yun Mu Kwan name disappeared very early in the history of Korean karate and so was never formally consolidated into the new Korean national sport of taekwondo—although some practitioners of Korean karate today still make use of the name. Most, but not all, have adopted the techniques, training methods and competitive rules which characterize modern taekwondo.


Japanese and Chinese roots[edit]

Yun Mu Kwan (or Yun Moo Kwan or, sometimes, Yeonmuguan), the "lost kwan" (because it disappeared so early in the history of Korean karate), is one of the original Korean karate styles, now known as Taekwondo, which were derived from Japanese karate in the mid-twentieth century by a number of Korean men who had studied, while their country was under Japanese occupation, at Japanese universities. Karate-do (or "Way of the Empty Hand") was a form of generally unarmed, hand-to-hand combat developed on Okinawa Island, part of the Ryukyu archipelago (annexed by Japan in 1872[4]) which reflected the influences of the kung fu styles then practiced in southern China. Karate was first brought to Japan from Okinawa by the Okinawan educator Gichin Funakoshi, who had trained in the Shuri-te tradition of Okinawa te ("Okinawan hand"), or karate — a tradition that emphasized aggressiveness and direct lines of attack and defense. Other Okinawan karate masters followed him to Japan including Kanken Toyama, Chojun Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Uechi Kanbun, each with his own variation of what Funakoshi was then calling "kempo" (a Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese "ch'uan fa" which translates, roughly, as "law of the fist" and is sometimes used in China in lieu of the more familiar "kung fu" and "wushu"). Funakoshi adopted much of the systematic training format Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, had developed for his art, including white uniforms (the "gi") similar to those worn by judo players, the structured teaching format which begins with formal stretching and warm-ups, progresses to basic techniques and then to fixed routines (kata) and finally to practical applications on the mat. He also adopted judo's colored belt ranking system, culminating in the now universally recognized black belt.

From Japan to Korea[edit]

The Koreans who brought Funakoshi's straightforward (and, some say, simplified) karate system, known as "Shotokan", back to Korea at World War II's end also brought the training format he had adopted (white uniforms, belt ranking system, etc.). But, because of the sharp break with Japan, and Korean nationalism, these practitioners quickly began to Koreanize their fighting methods. The most dramatic Korean innovation was a shift of emphasis from karate's tendency to rely on hand strikes (supplemented by kicks) to a preference for kicking over hand technique. Leg techniques demand more bodily movement (high kicks tend to lower the torso in order to increase leg reach, while requiring shorter, looser and more mobile fighting stances and larger, more sweeping movements to generate greater kicking power) and these changes soon came to characterize the Korean styles (which became more sweeping, circular and continuous in their motion). The greater Korean emphasis on, and refinement of, kicking methods may have reflected Korea's proximity to the northern part of China where kung fu styles tend to utilize higher kicking and more upright (hence more mobile) fighting stances with greater reliance on acrobatic maneuvers. Okinawa, on the other hand, from which Japanese karate originally hailed, is near southern China where the fighting systems tend to use lower, deeper stances and emphasize hand technique over kicking. Subsequent Korean developments in taekwondo (the fighting art which grew out of early Korean style karate) introduced further variation in deference to the greater emphasis on legwork. These include a bouncing motion, thought to maximize striking power, which is radically different from the more level movement found in the classical Japanese, and their Okinawan predecessor, styles. One factor in the changes, which many Koreans themselves often cite for the shift to greater reliance on kicking maneuvers, was a native Korean dance-like fighting art called taekkyon, stylized routines which had been around for centuries in Korea and which rely primarily on kicks and jumping movements.[5]

Whatever the reason for the changes, the Korean karate systems (called "kwans" after the Korean word for the "hall" in which the different styles were often taught) rapidly differentiated themselves from their Japanese progenitors in this fashion. However, by around 1955, the various Korean kwans began to unify under South Korean government direction, dropping the name "karate" in favor of a new, more Koreanized variant: initially "taesoodo" ("foot hand way") and ultimately "taekwondo" ("foot fist way"). The latter term was said to have been selected, at least in part, because of its similarity to the term used for the old Korean fighting dance called taekkyon, although this remains controversial.[6] Yun Mu Kwan, which means the Hall (or Institute) of Martial Study, was one of the earliest Korean karate styles.[7][8] It was established in 1946 by a young Korean named Sang Sup Chun (or Chun, Sang Sup). Chun had begun teaching a Japanese form of karate, based on the Shotokan style of Funakoshi, at a place called the Chosun Yun Mu Kwan,[9] which was the center at that time for judo training in Korea.

Disappearance and survival[edit]

Chun shared teaching responsibilities for a time at the Chosun Yun Mu Kwan with a colleague, Yoon Byung-in, who had studied karate under Kanken Toyama, who taught at a place called the Shudokan, in Japan (although Toyama declined to characterize his methods as a distinct karate style). Yoon Byung-in moved on to found his own school of Korean karate after only a brief stint with Chun at the Chosun Yun Mu Kwan and Chun, himself, subsequently disappeared during the Korean War (1950–1953). The martial arts system once taught as Yun Mu Kwan by Chun would eventually be restarted (at war's end) under different instructors and with a new name Ji Do Kwan (or Jidokwan), meaning the Hall (or Institute) of Wisdom's Way. Eventually Jidokwan would be absorbed, along with most of the other original Korean "kwans", into the new national art which was ultimately named "taekwondo" and which developed a standardized approach which differed in many ways from the older transplanted Japanese-sourced karate styles it came from.

There's some evidence, however, that the early Yun Mu Kwan of Chun Sang Sup produced more than one offshoot school. According to the U.S. Taekwondo Han Moo Kwan website,[10] its founder, Kyo Yoon Lee, having originally trained under Chun at the Yun Mu Kwan, initially began teaching Korean karate under the Jidokwan banner at the end of the Korean War to fellow returning Chosun Yun Mu Kwan students, but subsequently left to found his own school which he dubbed Han Moo Kwan. In later years he maintained that his school actually traces its roots back to the former Chosun Yun Mu Kwan itself, rather than to Ji Do Kwan, making Han Moo Kwan, like Ji Do Kwan, a derivative school of the older Yun Mu Kwan.

Complicating the picture, somewhat, is the possibility that there may have been more than one early Korean karate system bearing the Yun Mu Kwan name as there appears to have been a second Korean karate "kwan", with the "Yun Moo Kwan" appellation established after the closing of the original Chosun Yun Mu Kwan, the advent of the Korean War and the older style's subsequent revival as Jidokwan. According to KANG Won Sik and LEE Kyong Myong, in "A Modern History of Taekwondo" (Published in March 1999 by Bokyung Moonhwasa at 389-22 Seokyo-dong [Mapo-ku, Seoul, Korea 121-210] and haltingly translated for Stanford University from the original Korean), there was a period between the 1950s and 1960s when efforts in Korea at unifying the different kwans (begun around 1953–1955) into a single national system were in disarray. During this period, the writers report, "more Annex Kwans (sub-kwans) came into existence, such as the Oh Do Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Jung Do Kwan, Han Moo Kwan [referenced in the preceding paragraph], Kuk Mu Kwan, Yun Moo Kwan, Soo Moo Kwan, Chang Hun Kwan, Moon Moo Kwan and others".[11] The authors don't make clear whether this later reference to "Yun Moo Kwan" alludes to a revival of the older kwan by individuals affiliated with the original group, who were reluctant to give up the connection with the original style (like Kyo Yoon Lee), or if this represented different individuals using the old name to establish something new. However, the idea of a second or "annex" "kwan" called Yun Mu Kwan could help explain the persistence of "Yun Moo Kwan" as a karate style outside Korea long after the old Chosun Yun Mu Kwan had closed its doors and its karate practitioners had re-established themselves under different names.

Contemporary developments[edit]

Post-Unification events[edit]

Some practitioners of the original kwans, including some using the "tang soo do" name (another Korean version of the original meaning of the Japanese term "karate-do"), remained outside the new system of "taekwondo". Both Jidokwan and Han Mu Kwan exist today largely within the taekwondo family rather than as active, stand-alone styles, while the Yun Mu Kwan name lingers in different places.[12] There are still practitioners, for instance, using "Yun Moo Kwan" or "Yun Mu Kwan," particularly in parts of Latin America. For the most part, these practitioners have continued to emphasize the Korean reliance on high kicking, large movements and flashy leaps and acrobatics. One variant evolved, however, in New York City where a Korean practitioner named Min Pai began teaching the style after emigrating to the United States in the 1950s. His early efforts led to the introduction of the style to parts of Central America through one of his early students, Francisco Miranda, who helped popularize karate in his native country of El Salvador.[13][14]

Pai had come to the United States at the age of twenty and, according to his successor, James Stewart, worked as a hospital orderly for a time to earn enough to survive while attending a local college. He taught himself English as he went along, largely, as he confided to Stewart, by going to English language movies. But he found his true vocation when he began teaching the Korean fighting art he had become accomplished in back home. In the early days of his involvement in the martial arts scene he would seek new skills by apprenticing himself to more senior karate masters, Stewart has stated, like Jhoon Rhee, one of the early pioneers of taekwondo in the United States. But his desire to grow his skills did not end with taekwondo and he began to reach out to other styles and systems. His original New York school (he ran two including a second in Connecticut), called the Yun Mu Kwan Karate Institute (somewhat redundantly since "kwan" and "institute" are effectively synonymous in this context) was first documented in a contemporary article in Popular Science Magazine in the late 1960s.[15] The school was close to New York City's Chinatown district and, as a result, Pai became deeply involved with a number of local Chinese martial artists who were then teaching their arts (mostly behind closed doors in those days) nearby. Pai's methods of practice and of teaching slowly began to change through contact with these martial artists and the absorption of elements from their systems into his. Pai's activities in the 1960s and later were documented by Ramon Korff, a staff photographer, in 1964, for El Nuevo Día.[16]

The Tournament circuit[edit]

His early students often distinguished themselves on the tournament circuit, including the free-fighting and kata competition champion, Monroe Marrow,[17][18] although there was often resistance to the Chinese techniques his students frequently brought to their matches since karate tournament judges of the time were unfamiliar with (and so unwilling to credit) these moves. Pai eventually distanced himself from the tournament world and turned inward, to the development of a synthesis of Chinese methods, as he found them in New York City, with the older Yun Mu Kwan he had brought with him from Korea.

The Later Yun Mu Kwan[edit]

By the early 1970s, Min Pai's teaching methods had changed so significantly that they ceased, in many ways, to resemble the older form of Yun Mu Kwan with which he had begun. The most important influence on him at this time was Yang style t'ai chi ch'uan, a soft or internal Chinese martial art which was quite different from other forms of kung fu (among which it was categorized in China). By the early 1970s, Pai had become a formal student of fourth generation Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan master Cheng Man-ch'ing. Cheng, himself, had come to New York City from Taiwan some years earlier and was a renowned senior student of Yang Chengfu, whose version of the t'ai chi form, dating from the earlier twentieth century, is only to be found in old photographs today.[19] Yang Cheng-fu was a grandson of the founder of the Yang style of t'ai chi, Yang Luchan, who had developed and practiced his style of t'ai chi in the 19th century based on the older, secretive Chen martial art system, now known as Chen style t'ai chi ch'uan.

It was Yang Luchan's style of t'ai chi that became the most widespread in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries thanks to the reputation Yang's skills earned him, becoming, by the twentieth century, the best known of all versions of t'ai chi ch'uan practiced around the world. (Beginning in the late twentieth century, as a result of China's opening, the older Chen style of t'ai chi has caught up to its younger sibling to become at least as well known as Yang style and perhaps even more so, at least in the martial arts community). Min Pai's training in Yang style t'ai chi under Cheng Man-Ching eventually led to the most marked changes in the methods he taught in his later years.

By 1973, Min Pai's martial art, except for its general karate format, was no longer recognizable as the older form of Yun Mu Kwan with its emphasis on Korean style high kicking and the hard, direct and aggressive methods of classical Japanese Shotokan. Instead Pai introduced principles of movement based on t'ai chi (yielding to give way and redirect an opponent's force, sensitivity in order to facilitate yielding before incoming force, and circular bodily movement, around an imaginary central axis, to redirect incoming attacks). In 1992, Pai relocated to a Zen monastery he had arranged to have built, with the advice and support of then head Abbot of the Zen Studies Society Eido Shimano Roshi, turning his New York City school over to two of his senior black belts, James Stewart and Carolyn Campora. Campora continues teaching today. In 1995, Pai began devoting himself exclusively to monastery affairs, teaching only a small cadre of students until his death in 2004.

Despite the significant differences in the methods he had developed from those he had brought with him from his native Korea, Pai retained the Yun Mu Kwan name for most of his career, until some time after 1987 when he re-dubbed his style "Nabi Su" (meaning "butterfly hand" or "way"), a name he took from a form (a fixed practice routine, called "kata" by the Japanese and "hyung" or "poomse" in Korean) which he had developed in his later years to capture and crystallize the changes in combat methods he had embraced. A number of his former students, however, continue to practice the style he developed and once taught as Yun Mu Kwan under that older name.[20]


  1. ^ Shaw, Scott (2006). Advanced Taekwondo. Tuttle Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-8048-3786-6. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Traditional Taekwondo Ramblings: Honoring the Pioneers of Taekwondo; Chun Sang Sup". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  3. ^ O'Neill, Simon John (September 2008). The Taegeuk Cipher. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-4092-2602-4. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  4. ^ "Okinawa History". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Taekkyeon, a traditional Korean martial art - YouTube". Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Ch'oe Hong-hui was responsible for proposing the name t'aegwondo, a name he says he chose for its similarity in pronunciation to t'aekkyon. The name was proposed at a meeting of prominent businessmen, soldiers and martial artists in 1955; however, it took 11 more years before the name was to be officially accepted, when in 1966 the Korean T'aesudo Association changed its name to the Korean T'aegwondo Association." (p. 6) But, as Capener goes on to point out, Ch'oe, who claimed to have, himself, learned the taekkyon art and so justified making the connection with the new Korean system, "was not one of the founders of the original five schools. These schools were the Chongdogwan founded by Yi Won-guk, the Mudokwan, founded by Hwang Ki, the Yonmugwan founded by Chon Sang-sop, the Kwonbop Tojang, founded by Yun Pyong-in and the Songmugwan founded by No Pyongjik. All five of these original school founders received their training in Japan in Japanese karate and of the five gyms, all but the Kwonbop Tojang used the name karate (either kongsudo or tangsudo)." (Spellings reflect Capener's transliteration of the original Korean and are not the standard ones in current use.) If Capener is right, the link between taekwondo and taekkyun may extend no further than the similarity in their names, a connection of Ch'oe's own devising. Nevertheless, the emphasis the Koreans put on legwork over use of hand strikes (incorporating higher, more complex kicking methods than are found in the classical Japanese systems) cannot be denied. "Problems in the Identity and Philosophy of T'aegwondo and Their Historical Causes by: Steven D. Capener" (PDF).
  7. ^ Kim Pyung Soo (February 2001). Young, Robert W (ed.). "History of Korean Karate, part 3". Black Belt. Active Interest Media, Inc. 39 (2): 22. ISSN 0277-3066. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  8. ^ "". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Membership". Archived from the original on 2002-08-20. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  10. ^ "U.S. Tae Kwon Do Han Moo Kwan Association". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  11. ^ KANG Won Sik and LEE Kyong Myong (14 January 2002). "A Modern History of Taekwondo" (PDF). Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  12. ^ "Membership". Archived from the original on 2004-12-30. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 14, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Black Belt. Active Interest Media, Inc. February 1974. p. 12. ISSN 0277-3066. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  15. ^ Gannon, Robert (March 1968). Heyn, Ernest V. (ed.). "How I Became a Deadly Walking Weapon". Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation. 192 (3): 72. ISSN 0161-7370. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  16. ^ "Ramon Korff Photography". Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  17. ^ Newhall, Roger (August 1968). "The All-American Karate Tournament of Champions". Black Belt. Active Interest Media, Inc. 6 (8): 14. ISSN 0277-3066. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  18. ^ "World-Wide Tourneys". Black Belt. Active Interest Media, Inc. 5 (10): 55. October 1967. ISSN 0277-3066. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  19. ^ "Still images of Yang Cheng-Fu's T'ai Chi Postures Available on Youtube".
  20. ^ "Min Pai's Yun Mu Kwan". Retrieved 18 October 2014.