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Revised RomanizationSubak

Subak is an ancient martial art originally from China. A long time ago it branched off into Korea. It no longer exists in China as its lineage has died off. However it still exists in Korea practiced by a dwindling few.

Within Korea each region had their own style of Subak. Subak styles from region to region differred slightly.

Only two Subak styles remain today. One is taught as purely as Subak. And the other Subak style has been absorbed into modern Taeekyon by Master Shin Han Song.

When Master Shin Han Song tried to reserect Taekkyon after the Korean war, he sought instruction from the Taekkyon master Song Doki, & instruction from the Subak master Il Dong. Shin Han Song then combined Taekkyon & Subak together.

Subak is of ancient origins and is different to Soo Bahk Do, which is a modern martial art using the same name (same pronunciation yet different spelling).


Historically, Subak may refer to the old Korean martial art of taekkyeon, but historians are still uncertain since little is known about it. It is acknowledged, however, that Subak flourished during the Yi dynasty. During the Yi dynasty, a book was published to teach the game as a martial art.[1] Since then, Subak has contributed to the evolution of Korean martial arts, which also included the yusul.[2]

By the 18th century, the king practiced Subak, as the text Dongsa-gangmok (동사강목) from this time suggests:

The king himself went and watched a match of Subak (왕이 상춘전에 나가 수박희를 구경하였다)

At this point, Subak was not only considered martial art but was also practiced as an organized sport that was staged as a form of spectator entertainment.[3]

The word Seonbae (also romanized as sonbae, literally: "elders" - 先輩/선배) is sometimes translated to mean "a man of virtue who never retreats from a fight", and was used to signify a member of Koguryo's warrior corps. Members of the Seonbae lived in groups and learned archery, Gakju (ancestor of ssireum) and Subak (ancestor of taekkyon), history, literature, and other liberal arts. Although they were constantly training in combat, during peace time they committed to relief periods, such as by helping construct roads and fortresses and assist after natural disasters.[citation needed]


Subak took a heavy blow[citation needed] during the Joseon period, which was founded on the ideology of Confucianism, stressing literary art over martial art. Subak was only allowed to be practiced in competitions called subakhui (수박희).[citation needed] After three consecutively successful subakhui bouts, only then could the winner become employed as a soldier.[citation needed]

During the beginning of the Joseon dynasty, Subak became Taekkyeon. Yusul (meaning "soft art") and Taekkyeon both share "yusul" movements.

Subak is suspected to be the same art as Taekkyeon with a different name.[4] Yusul [유술/柔術] is written with the same Hanja as Jujutsu and since 柔 means "soft/pliable/yielding" any yusul techniques would naturally "redirect" an opponent's force rather than meet it head on. Kwonsul [권술/拳術], is the contrasting term and although it literally means "fist technique" it no doubt included strikes made with the feet as well as the hands. Taekkyeon 택견 was a term regarded more in line with a game or idle training methodology, whereas kwonsul [권술/拳術] or kwonbeop [권법/拳法] was the terminology usually associated with hand-to-hand fighting techniques. A similar argument could be made regarding ssireum [씨름] (a game) and japgi [잡기] (grappling skills).[5]


  1. ^ Soo, Kim Pyung (2002). Palgue 4 5 6 of Tae Kwon Do Hyung. Santa Clarita, California: Ohara Publications. p. 12. ISBN 9780897500135.
  2. ^ Crudelli, Chris (2008). The Way of the Warrior: Martial Arts and Fighting Styles from Around the World. Penguin. p. 126. ISBN 9780756651855.
  3. ^ Soo, p. 12.
  4. ^ Robert W. Young The History & Development of Tae Kyeon - Journal of Asian Martial Arts 2:2 (1993)
  5. ^ Hwang, Kee (1992). Tang Soo Do Soo Bahk Do: Vol 1 & 2. Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Headquarters. ISBN 978-0963135803.