Kuk Sool Won, reflections on a traditional Korean martial arts system

In Arts

Many martial arts have ancient histories often steeped in mystery and frequently represent traditions of the culture they originated from.  Skills are handed on from one generation to another, tacit knowledge made explicit through teaching and practice.

In Kuk Sool WonTM, a traditional Korean martial art, preservation of the original art and the conservation of the martial arts system’s heritage as introduced by Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh is a central tenet in its teaching.

The Korean people developed unique martial arts and military strategies in order to defend themselves and their territory. In the late 1950’s Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh had begun the monumental undertaking to organize and formulate the extensive yet scattered martial art techniques of Korea into a single system, which he named Kuk Sool. His expansive martial arts career began with instruction from his grandfather, Myung Deuk Suh, master-instructor to the Korean Royal Court Army. Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh is currently also president of the World Kuk Sool Association (WKSA).

The Kuk Sool WonTM system itself is derived from three main groups or branches, namely Tribal, Buddhist, and Korean Royal Court martial arts.

Preserving the authenticity of a system developed during challenging political times in the country’s history has deep significance for this traditional martial arts system.

It was in 1973 that the Grandmaster (Kuk Sa Nim) was invited by Kenneth Duncan, his first American student to bring Kuk Sool to America. He opened the World Kuk Sool Association Headquarters School in 1975 in San Francisco, California.

Crossing the threshold of a dojang is like stepping through a portal into another era where Kuk Sool WonTM can be experienced in its original form untouched by the passing of time. Etiquette, patience and practice are the cornerstones on which this system is built.

Kuk Sool Won of Dublin school CA

Photo 1: California was home to the first WKSA Headquarters School in America. Pictured are Master Seyd Saidi, Instructors and students at the Kuk Sool WonTM of Dublin martial arts school in California

Hand strikes, joint locks, kicking, throwing, falling and pressure points are included in the fundamental techniques in addition to several weapons forms but the system is a unique combination of hard and soft styles that makes it an holistic practice training both mind and body. Meditation, breathing and healing techniques are therefore also taught incorporating the full spectrum of martial arts principles and theory.

The curriculum is extensive and includes 24 different traditional Korean Royal Court weapons in addition to Buddhist and Tribal weaponry.

The techniques of Kuk Sool are taught using the Korean language and elements of its practice such as bowing unite the schools around the world. The grading system for every WKSA accredited school is standardized and begins with a white belt which progresses through several color belts before reaching black belt level. For each rank level, Kuk Sool WonTM practitioners are required to know one or more empty-hand and weapons forms or “hyung” as set out in the curriculum.

Master Saidi Korea beach training quote

Photo 2: Beach training session in Korea

The five guiding principles for Kuk Sool practitioners are:

  1. Mind: Clear
  2. Eyes: Focused
  3. Stance: Low
  4. Hands: Fast
  5. Kicks: High and precise

The instructors tasked with continuing the practice of the art need to be appropriately skilled and determined to teach the art in its original form while respecting its roots. They need to remain focused and portray the art as its founder envisaged.

One such instructor who is celebrating his 25th year of running a Kuk Sool WonTM school this year is Master Seyd Saidi from Dublin, California. He epitomizes the values, commitment and dedication of a Kuk Sool WonTM Master but is also a passionate teacher of the art.

Recognized at a global conference in Korea in 2013 as one of the best Kuk Sool WonTM Masters he has trained thousands of students in his lifetime and continues to motivate and drive his students to reach their full martial arts potential.

Choosing the correct instructor is critical to your martial arts development according to Master Saidi who says “As you begin your journey, your greatest distance is covered by your first step.”

By preserving the traditional elements, the art remains authentic and stays original while connecting students to its heritage and history.

Masters across the globe hand over their skills to students in a timeless, disciplined and respectful process that honors the origins of the art and preserves its uniqueness for future generations.

Footnote: Vanessa Lee Thomas is a freelance writer and Kuk Sool Won student based in California

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  • Ramya

    Great article! I love practicing martial arts. I practice Kuk Sool at Dublin, California school. I feel privileged to practice under the instructor Master Saidi’s guidance. His experience is really humbling and there is so much to learn!

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