Recently reading a post by Moo Sin magazine about Hwang Kee reminded me of an interesting experience afforded by my interest in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).

When researching extinct martial arts, from which one has no way to verify if the actual performance is in any way like that of the original, there must be a high level of doubt and self-questioning. All interpretation must inevitably be based upon one’s prior knowledge, yet this principle causes all assessment to be distorted in some way or form.

In practicing HEMA, we may recognise where practitioners implement their own background in another martial art, and there is the expectation that the historical martial art would have been performed in a similar manner. Yet this approach must always be interrogated, and one’s interpretation must always be open to revisionism.

The amount of time and energy it takes to make an interpretation of any topic, especially a physical one such as martial arts, means that the interpretation is deeply bound with the interpreter. Often criticism of the interpretation may often be misconstrued as an attack upon the person. But this should be by no means viewed as ad hominem.  Criticisms, especially from those of different backgrounds, with different experiences and views, are liable to view subject-matter differently. It is from this type of insight that interpretation gains new and exciting paths.

But to return to Hwang Kee, his Tang Soo Do is an especial example of the role of interpretation and it’s subjectivity. As reported by Moo Sin author Ørjan Nilsen (May 21, 2014), Hwang Kee had some experience in Tae Kyon and Chinese Martial Arts (about 1 year). However, the majority of what makes up the subject-matter of Kee’s Tang Soo (Soo bahk) Do was what he learned from Funakoshi’s Karate Do Kyohan. For the large part, Hwang Kee self-taught himself Karate, but was vastly successful at networking. He later admitted this in his final publication on Tang Soo Do. And his skills supported this networking, so he was by no means incapable. He was an auto-didact, and performed the task of interpretation of Karate so well that he could interact with traditionally trained Karateka without any sense of inability. One might say that Funakoshi’s book played a substantial role in this success also.

In 1957, Grandmaster Kee came across the Muyedobotongji (Comprehensive Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts) dated to 1790. This text described the Internal Martial Art of Naega Kwon Bop (Internal School Fist Method), describing many techniques and training methods. The origin of the descriptions was from General Qi Jiguang’s Ji Xiao Xin Shu (1561), which outlined 32 postures of the Emperor’s Long Fist (Taizu chang chuan).  Tracing the 32 postures within the Muyedobotongji, we discover that almost all directly correlate apart from a number of extras.

So the postures of Qijiguang might be considered closely parallel to those in the Muyedobotongji described over 200 years later.

What is interesting is that should we look to explore modern correlates to these postures, we discover two styles:

  1. Nan Bing Chuan (Ning bo jia), related to Wudang SiMing NeiJia Quan.
  2. Chen Taijiquan (Lao jia yi lu)

Take a look at the videos of these styles:

If we compare the movements of the three sources together (Muyedobotongji, Ji Xiao Xin Shu and Chen Taijiquan), we find a high density of cross-over between those movements outlined in 1561 by Qi jiguang, with those in modern day Chen Taijiquan. The table below is still a work in progress, and therefore open to correction, but it does demonstrate the level of cross-comparison possible between the sources:

ID Qijiguang/Chuk Kye-Kwang  (trans. Jack Chen) Kwon Bop (trans. Sang H. Kim) Taijiquan (Chen & Yang)[1]
1 Tànmǎ (Mounted Scout). Identifies the nature of a “Host” forward hand and a “Guest” rearhand Scouting Horse Posture Tammase (탐 마 세) 探 馬 勢 High Pat on Horse[2] (Gāo tàn mǎ, 高探马), art the Wild Horse’s Mane (right) – yòu yě mǎ fēn zōng 右野马分鬃
2 ào luán zhǒu (Twisted Phoenix Elbow) Breaking Bird Elbow Yoranjuse (요 란 주 세) 拗 鸞 肘 勢 Fēi Bù ǎo Luán Zhǒu 飛步拗鸞肘 – Flying Step and Twist the Elbow
3 xuán jiǎo (Hang Leg) False Prey Posture Hyunkak Huheese (현 각 허 이 세) 顯 脚 虛 餌 勢 Kicking with the Heel               – dēng yī gēn 蹬一根
4 shun luán zhǒu (Phoenix Elbow) Docile Bird Wing, Sunranjuse (순 란 주 세)順 鸞 肘 勢 Smooth Sparrow Elbow – shùn luán zhǒu 顺鸾肘
5 qī xīng quán (Seven-Stars Fist) Seven Star Fist Posture Chil Sung Kwonse ( 칠 성 권)七 星 拳 Shàng bù qī xīng (上步七星), Step Forward Seven Stars
6 gāo sì píng (High Four-Even), gāo sì píng

Reverse Stab Stance

High Four levels Posture Kosapyeongse ( 고 사 평 세) 高 四 平 勢
7 Throwing Posture Dosahpse (도 삽 세) 倒 揷 勢
8 yí shà bù (Flash Step) Lightning-Step Posture Ilsahpbose (일 삽 보 세) 一 霎 步 勢
9 ào dān biān (Twisted Single-Whip) Single Whip Posture Yodanpyunse (요 단 편 세) 拗 單 鞭 勢 Single Whip (Dān biān, 单鞭), yòu dān biān

右单鞭 (Right single whip)

10 fú hǔ shì (Subdue-Tiger Stance) Prone Tiger Posture Bokhose (복 호 세) 伏 虎 勢 Bào hǔ guī shān (抱虎归山) Embrace the Tiger and Return to Mountain, Fu Hu 伏虎 – Tame the Tiger
11 xuán jiǎo (Hang Leg) False Prey Posture Hyunkak Huheese (현 각 허 이 세) 顯 脚 虛 餌 勢
12 Pinning Posture Hasahpse
13 dāng tóu pào shì (Block Head Cannon Stance) High Block Posture Dangdupose Dang tou pao[3]
14 qí gǔ shì (Flag-Drum Stance) Flag Beating Posture Kigose
15 zhōng sì píng shì (Middle Four-Even Stance) Middle Four Levels Posture Joongsapyeongse (중 사 평 세) 中 四 平 勢 Six Sealing and Four Closing, yòu liù fēng sì bì  右六封四闭
16 Throwing Posture Dosahpse
17 dào qí long (Reverse Ride Dragon) Falling and Riding the Dragon Posture Dokiryongse Black Dragon Emerges from Water – qīng lóng chū shuǐ 青龙出水[4]
18 ào dān biān (Twisted Single-Whip) Single Whip Posture Yodanpyunse (요 단 편 세) 拗 單 鞭 勢
19 mái fú shì (Ambush Stance) Ambushing Posture Maebokse Pull bow to shoot the tiger (named after description from Qijiguang?)
20 xuán jiǎo (Hang Leg) False Prey Posture Hyunkak Huheese (현 각 허 이 세) 顯 脚 虛 餌 勢
21 Pinning Posture Hasahpse
22 dāng tóu pào shì (Block Head Cannon Stance) High Block Posture Dangdupose Cannon Right Overhead – dāng tóu pào 当头炮
23 qí gǔ shì (Flag-Drum Stance) Flag Beating Posture Kigose
24 gāo sì píng (High Four-Even), gāo sì píng

Reverse Stab Stance

Four levels Posture Kosapyeongse ( 고 사 평 세) 高 四 平 勢
25 Throwing Posture Dosahpse
26 lǎn zhā yī (Lazily tuck in clothes) Drizzling Walking Posture Ilsahpse Lazily Tying One’s Coat – lǎn zhā yī 懒扎衣[5]
27 ào dān biān (Twisted Single-Whip) Single Whip Posture Yodanpyunse (요 단 편 세) 拗 單 鞭 勢
28 qiū liú shì (Hill Stance) Five Flowers Winding Around the Body Posture Ohwa Junshinse Turn Over Flower & Brandish Sleeves (fān huā wǔ xiù, 翻花舞袖); Fēng Sǎo Méi Huā 岡掃梅花 – Winds Swirls the Plum Blossom;
29 Yan Zi (Goose wing) Goose Wing Posture Ahnshi Chukshinse Bái hè liàng chì (白鹤亮翅) White Crane Spreads its Wings
30 kuà hǔ shì (Step-Across Tiger Stance) Straddling Tiger Posture Koahose Tuì bù kuà hǔ (退步跨虎) Step back and Ride the Tiger
31 xuán jiǎo (Hang Leg) False Prey Posture Hyunkak Huheese (현 각 허 이 세) 顯 脚 虛 餌 勢
32 Focus and Winning Posture Kooyuse
33 yīng chì (Eagle-Wing) Goose Wing Posture Ahnshi Chukshinse
34 kuà hǔ shì (Step-Across Tiger Stance) Straddling Tiger Posture Koahose
35 xuán jiǎo (Hang Leg) False Prey Posture Hyunkak Huheese (현 각 허 이 세) 顯 脚 虛 餌 勢
36 Focus and Winning Posture Kooyuse
37 Yan Zi (Goose wing) Goose Wing Posture Ahnshi Chukshinse
38 kuà hǔ shì (Step-Across Tiger Stance) Straddling Tiger Posture Koahose
39 fú hǔ shì (Subdue-Tiger Stance) Prone Tiger Posture Bokhose
40 qín ná shì (Seize Stance) Arresting Posture Kumnase
41 fú hǔ shì (Subdue-Tiger Stance) Prone Tiger Posture Bokhose
42 qín ná shì (Seize Stance) Arresting Posture Kumnase
43 pāo jià zi (Throw Shelf) Throwing Shelf Posture Pogase Pī Jià Zi 劈架子 – Splitting Pose
44 Nian zhou shi (take elbow in hand) Picking Elbow Posture Jumjuse 肘底捶    Zhǒu dǐ chuí            Fist Under Elbow
45 xià chā shì (Low-Stab Stance) (image: Lan zha yi) Low Encountering Posture Nachaluichoolmun
46 jīn jī dú lì (Golden-Chicken Solo-Stand) Single Leg Throwing Posture Kumkye Doklip Jugi Jangtoi Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg (left then right) – zuǒ yòu jīn jī dú lì 左右金鸡独立
47 jǐng lán sì píng (Well Four-Even) Spring Railing Posture Jungranse
48 guǐ cù jiǎo (Ghost Kick) Ghost Kicking and leg striking Posture Kichuk Kakchange
49 zhǐ dāng shì (Point-Block Stance) Open Finger Attacking Posture Ji Dang Se Punch Downward – zhǐ dāng chuí 指裆捶
50 shòu tóu shì (Beast-Head Stance) Beast Head Shield Posture Soodoose Shòu Tóu Shì 獸頭勢 – Beast Head Pose
51 shén quán (Divine-Fist) Heavenly Fist Posture Shin kwon Shēn Chuí 庇身捶 – The Fist Brushing Body Pounding,
52 yì tiáo biān (Single-Whip) Whipping Lunging Posture Iljo Pyunhweng Se
53 què de long (Ground-Dragon) Dragon Prey Snatching Posture Jakjiryong Habantoibup Dragon Rolling Downward – què dì lóng 雀地龙
54 Cháo yáng shǒu (Morning-Sun Hand) Slanting Hero Hand Posture Joyangsoo Pyunshin Bangtoi Yǎn Shǒu Gōng Quán 掩手肱拳 – Hidden Thrust Punch

[1] ‘Tai Chi Chuan – Bare hand – 56 Form – Chen style, According to the teaching of Master Yuan Hong Hai’ (wǔ shí liù shì 五十六式 –

[2] Lao jia yi lu, movements 28 & 64;

[3] Lao jia yi lu, movement 73;

[4] Lao jia yi lu, movement 17; Also appears in Dan dao, movements 3 & 15, and Dan Jian movements 4 & 7;

[5] Lao jia yi lu, 3 & 49; Lao jia er lu, 3;

I highly recommend acquiring Jack Chen’s work ‘Essentials of the Fist’, from his website: In Chen’s translation, it is clear that a number of the descriptions which Qijiquang gave to the postures are used by Chen and Yang Taijiquan today.

I also highly recommend Sang H. Kim’s translation of ‘Muye Dobo Tongji: Complete Illustrated Manual of Martial Arts‘ (2010).

More recently, there have been movements in Korea, just like those in Europe, to interpret the Muyedobo tongji and to practice its martial arts. Ship Pahl Ki (18 methods), as well as Gyung Dang (24 methods) are the martial arts recreated from this source, forming the Muye Eeship Saban. Modern interpreters such as Master Kwang-Suk Kim have made their own interpretations of the Kwon Bop (Fist Method) found in the source-material. Below we may see the interpretation of Master Kwang-Suk Kim:

And here’s another example from the Ship pahl ki Preservation Society:

We may see how different this modern interpretation is from that of the existing Internal Martial Arts above, which I have shown to correlate well with the source-material. Without a detailed break-down and dialogue on the basis for Master Kim’s interpretation, we may only speculate why some of the techniques do not follow the performance found in Chen Taijiquan’s Lao Jia Yi Lu.

Returning back to Grandmaster Hwang Kee, such as we have seen with Master Kim, we discover that his interpretation bears little resemblance to that of Chen Taijiquan, despite the Muyedobotongji’s explicit direction that the system is Internal, rather than External. This suggests that an Internal correlate would be possible, and that such a correlate may still exist.

Based upon Grandmaster Kee’s study of the Kwon Bop section of the Muyedobotongji, Kee created three classes of forms:

  1. Chil Sung Hyung (7-star forms, 1952)
    1. Chil Sung Il Ro
    2. Chil Sung Ee Ro
    3. Chil Sung Sam Ro
    4. Chil Sung Sa Ro
    5. Chil Sung Oh Ro
    6. Chil Sung Yook Ro
    7. Chil Sung Chil Ro
  2. Yuk Ro Hyung (6-path forms, 1958)
    1. Yook Ro Cho Dan – Du Mun
    2. Yook Ro Ee Dan – Joong Jol
    3. Yook Ro Sam Dan – Po Wol
    4. Yook Ro Sam Dan – Yang Pyun
    5. Yook Ro Oh Dan – Sal Chu
    6. Yook Ro Yook Dan – Choong Ro
  3. Hwa Sun Hyung (Pure Flower form)

The performance of some of these forms may be viewed below:

Chil Sung Il Ro Hyung

Chil Sung Ee Ro Hyung

Chil Sung Sam Ro Hyung

Yuk Ro Hyung (all 6 paths performed side-by-side)

Hwa Sun Hyung

When we compare the performance of these forms to those of Chen Taijiquan, we may observe how much contrast there is between the two styles. The interpretation made by Hwang Kee is observably based upon Shotokan Karate Do, and so many of the positions appear quite awkward, suggesting that Grandmaster Kee overlaid Karate Do’s mechanics onto the pictures and descriptions he witnessed in the Muyedobotongji.

Where Grandmaster Kee viewed postures in the source-material, he inevitably interpreted them within the framework of techniques he already understood. So positions of putting the hands together, separating and turning all were translated into the Karate Do habitus.  The movements became Karate knife-hand blocks, or other amalgams of techniques not found in traditional Karate Do, but found within Taijiquan. The result is a curious mix of Taijiquan performed with the tension and strength of Karate Do, and in absence of the internal training we might have expected as part of the original source-material.

Both Grandmaster Hwang Kee, and Master Kwang-Suk Kim have both interpreted precisely the same text, with precisely the same descriptions and images. The results are quite different, but both offer a feel of something strange. When we observe the motions of Taijiquan, we discover a depth of performance lacking in Kee and Kim’s interpretations. Both interpretations feel oddly like they are performing two-dimensional actions, originating from a two-dimensional form of information transfer. In order to make the performance match the source, there is often little in the way of the kind of stepping across the floor we witness in Taijiquan. In fact, Grandmaster Kee’s interpretations loads the performance into an embusen, akin to Shotokan’s own normative performance. Such conventions might well be outside the basis for interpreting this source.

This study therefore casts light on the importance of shedding one’s own conditioned views in a bid to discover the meaning of the source, without the subject filters and lenses of one’s own finite experience. Sometimes, in order to interpret source-material, we must to look to a wider existing basis upon which to make comparisons, not necessarily those already familiar or even convenient. We must also be ready to undergo further training in order to gain further insights into the source-material. For example, exposure to Internal Martial Arts, particularly Chen Taijiquan’s Lao Jia Yi Lu might well be a good pre-requisite for the interpretation of both Qijiguang’s Ji Xiao Xin Shu, and the Muyedobotongji.

This type of pre-requisite may be seen in the work of Grandmaster Patrick McCarthy, whose translation of the Karate Bible (Bubishi), was based upon his experience of Southern (Fujian) Crane styles.

The source-material must be appraised, and re-appraised perpetually, from numerous angles until many options have been determined to not work via falsification. We cannot accept anything to fit, but we can test those which do not fit as well as others. In this way, we are capable of narrowing the focus of the interpretation into one which might more closely resemble the original method expounded in the source-material.

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