Those who follow my blog closely might remember that I started writing a series of posts about the Kwan founders/pioneers of Taekwondo. The reason I started doing that was plentiful. The most important reason for me personally is to do what I say in the headline; honor them. We have a lot to thank them for when practising Kukki Taekwondo (often mistakenly referred to as “WTF” Taekwondo) but unfortunately many Taekwondoin do not even know about them and if they do know their names they only know that they at one point founded a Kwan (School) and usually nothing more. The man in this post is perhaps one of the most unknown pioneers and my sources are therefore limited but I will present what I do have gathered of information because I feel it is a shame that Yun Kwae Byung should go unnoticed in the annals of Taekwondo history.

The reasons behind the series are indeed plentiful and other motivations are:

  • To put the myths of the nearly “untrained” founders of Taekwondo to rest!
  • To put the myth that Taekwondo = Shotokan with added kicks to rest!
  • To spread the “true” and the least propaganda history of Taekwondo as possible (hey I can only be as good as my sources and critical thinking allows.

So if you want to read more about Yun Kwae Byung read on:

Yun Kwae Byung’s early years are virtually unknown to me at this time. I know he was born in Korea in 1922 into what must have been a wealthy family as he too (as the other Kwan founders) was sent abroad to receive the better education Japan had to offer in contrast to Korea which at the time was under Japanese rule.

In stark contrast to Lee Won Kuk, Ro Byung Jik and Choi Hong Hi (founders of Chung Do Kwan, Song Moo Kwan and Oh Do Kwan respectively) Yun Kwae Byung did not study with Gichin Funakoshi. Yun actually started training Karate while attending secondary school in Osaka with Kenwa Mabuni. Mabuni was a Okinawan living in Japan teaching his brand of Karate which he called Shito Ryu. Mabuni had two primary teachers; Yasutsune Itosu and Kanryuo Higashionna. Ysautsune Itosu was also one of Funakoshi’s teachers so Mabuni had some similar experiences in Karate as Funakoshi, but he had also studied Naha-te with Higashionna. Mabuni therefore had access to Hyung (Kata or forms) from both Shuri-te (same source as Funakoshi) and Naha-te (precursor to some styles like Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu etc). Mabuni was famous and respected for his knowledge of many Kata and the deep study he did in them (Boonhae-Boonseok-Eungyoung/ Bunkai-Bonseki-Oyo or Breaking down the forms-analisys-application). Mabuni’s knowledge of Hyung both from Naha-te and Shuri-te as well as his respect for deep knowledge within the forms shaped the early training of Yun Kwae Byung and doubtfully left a deep impression on his take on the Martial Arts. I have very conflicting Sources on the rank he obtained while studying with Mabuni but Yun Kwae Byung is known to have had at least a 4th Dan because he was ranked as an instructor and several sources lay claim to 7th Dan in Shito Ryu Karate, while other say that the 7th Dan was awarded by Toyama Kanken who taught Shudokan Karate. That last sentence brings us very discreetly to what Yun Kwae Byung studied when he started University at Nihon University which was Shudokan Karate by Toyama Kanken. Here too he was awarded instructors rank (at least 4th Dan but some Sources say that it was in Shudokan Karate he was awarded his 7th Dan).

Toyama Kanken was a Okinawan teaching Karate in Tokyo and he had studied with Yasutsune Itosu for many years as well as studying Chinese Martial Arts while he worked as a teacher in China. His style (he never believed in “styles”) of Karate was very influenced by his old school teachings and is said to have had a strong Chinese flavour. Toyama Kanken was just like Kenwa Mabuni very respected in their own time not because of the founding of their “styles” but because of their vast knowledge of Karate. I can not say how much influence Toyama Kanken and Kenwa Mabuni had on Kukki Taekwondo as a whole but I can safely say that they had a profound impact on Yun Kwae Byung.

Yun founded a sister school to Toyama Kanken`s Shudokan in 1940; the Kanbukan (Japanese for Korean Martial Arts School) in Tokyo. It was renamed the Renbukan in 1950. The Kanbukan welcomed both Japanese and Korean students and just about all the great Karate names of the 1940s seemed to train there at one point or another. Some of the more famous ones are: Mas Oyama (Korean name: Choi Hyung Yi founder of Kyokushin Karate) who received his 4th dan from the Kanbukan, Oyama’s Goju-ryu instructor So Nei Chu, and martial arts historian and Zen Bai Butokukai founder Richard Kim. Yun was seen as an innovator in free sparring and especially in sparring with protective equipment full contact continuous sparring. This is important because Ji Do Kwan would later become famous for that very thing later in Korea).

In 1948 Yun returned to Korea to teach animal husbandry at a University in Seoul (he was highly educated in Japan as a veterinarian) and he was approached and hired by Chun Sang Sup as an instructor in Yun Moo Kwan Kong Soo Do Bub. In addition to the teaching at the Yun Moo Kwan Kong Soo Do Bup, Yun is reported to have taught Tang Soo Do or Kong Soo Do at 3 different Universities.

In 1953 after the Korean war and Chun Sang Sup’s dissapearence Chun Sang Sup`s original students voted Yun Kwae Byung as their new Kwanjang (headmaster). He reopened Yun Moo Kwan as Ji Do Kwan (Wisdom Way School) and is therefore by some said to be the founder of the Ji Do Kwan (while others count Chun Sang Sup as the founder). Despite his vast knowledge of forms both from Naha-te, Shuri-te and probably some Chinese ones too he continued to teach the Shotokan derived Shuri-te forms when he reopened Yun Moo Kwan as Ji Do Kwan. The reasons why he did this might be plentiful, but he was probably intimately familiar with the Shotokan standard from his time teaching and training at the Kanbukan, the early students of Ji Do Kwan had lineage back to Chun Sang Sup and he had taught Shotokan forms plus many other Schools also used the Shotokan forms or very close variations (Oh Do Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, Song Moo Kwan for instance all used shotokan forms) so using the Shotokan forms made it easier to judge in forms competitions as well as joint gatherings and later belt tests.

Yun Kwae Byung and Hwan Kee in Japan 1961

Yun Kwae Byung and Hwan Kee in Japan 1961

Under his guidance as Kwanjang the Ji Do Kwan became one of the leading schools of the era and the Ji Do Kwan really made a reputation for itself as nearly unbeatable in sparring competition. According to my teacher the Ji Do Kwan even sent a sparring team to Japan at one time and they beat the Japanese in competitions on their own home turf. Eric Madis also mentions this in his excellent article series “Storming the fortress” and say it happened several times and that it also contained Moo Duk Kwan students in the Group. The years Eric Madis give is: 1961, 1964, and 1970.

The sparring was continuous and full contact but with chest protectors something that set the Ji Do Kwan apart from some of the earlier Kwan that practised closer to the modern “point sparring” where the match stops at each point and is reset.

Yun Kwae Byung worked hard to unify the different Kwan into one organisation and he was part of the Korean Kong Soo Do Association until it was put down, the Korean Taekwondo Association, and the Korean Tae Soo Do Association (he was only in one organisation at a time though). In 1961 he joined Hwang Kee`s Soo Bahk Do Association so that explains why they sent a joint team to Japan as mentioned earlier in the post. He was part of the KTA (Korean Taekwondo Association) after this but as With the other Kwan founders the younger generation of instructors and students wanted to shift the focus more toward a Martial Sport and Yun Kwae Byung`s influence started to wane. In the end he left the KTA in 1962 focusing his efforts With Hwang Kee`s Soo Bahk Do Association instead. In 1967 Lee Chong Woo who would go on to make a huge name for himself in the KTA and Kukkiwon took over the leadership of the Ji Do Kwan and joined the KTA again as he saw more potential in this organisation and the sportive focus on this organisation appealed more than the more “old fashioned rigid” Soo Bahk Do Association.

According to Eric Madis Yun Kwae Byung lost a lot of his influence in the later 60s and 70s and withdrew from the growing Taekwondo movement to put more effort into his business instead. He died in 2000 and his death went almost unnoticed within the Taekwondo community.

Yun Kwae Byung along with the other Kwan founders laid a very solid foundation of a very holistic Martial Art. The mainstream focus since the early 70s has been on developing the Martial Art into a Martial Sport and in this the KTA and later WTF has succeeded enormously. Taekwondo is today 1 of only 2 Asian fighting arts in the Olympics and while other sports has used decades or more on trying to get into the Olympics Taekwondo succeeded in a remarkably short time.

The reason why I say that the foundation Yun Kwae Byung and the other Kwan founders laid is solid is because that while the focus on Taekwondo in the mainstream has been sport for so long, and that we today have managed to get into the Olympics, Taekwondo is still taught some places as a holistic Martial Art. This is a testament to the efforts laid down by the Kwan founders and their students and I think that we should try to honor their memory. Taekwondo (and especially Kukki Taekwondo) has many influences stretching both backwards in time and out from the borders of Korea. Focusing only on the history backwards in time within Korea as many organisations do and overlook the Kwan founders or only briefly mentioning them in passing does not honor their memory. I think they deserve more and this series is my little personal attempt at spreading the word about them.