Reader Submitted Questions


Titles in Tang Soo Do


"I am a Cho Dan studying Tang Soo Do and have a question about the difference between Master and Grandmaster.

I was under the assumption that upon reaching Sa Dan, the title of Master was awarded, and that was that. You could test for O Dan, Yuk Dan, etc. but could not be granted the title Grandmaster since that was reserved for Grandmaster Kee Hwang.
I was wondering if you could elucidate this for me. If the title Grandmaster can be awarded, at what Dan level? I have seen on the Who's Who of your website that several Dans were called Master, and several other Dans, Grandmaster. I would greatly appreciate any clarification you could offer, since I am serious about my training and would like to learn more.
Thank you very much for your help. I greatly appreciate it."

This question was posed to Kwan Jang Nim Andy Ah Po because of his long, close personal association with the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee and his first hand knowledge of Tang Soo Do's evolution in the U.S. Here is his response.

Historically, Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee treated the Sa Dan and Sa Bom tests as two separate and distinct tests. Sa Dan for the 4th Dan ranking and Sa Bom which is the official certification for a "Master Instructor". He felt strongly that if an individual at the Sa Dan level and above was not the head instructor of a dojang or region within the organization, and did not have any major teaching or leadership responsibilities in their instructor's dojang or the Tang Soo Do organization that they were a member of, then there was really no justification to certify them as a "Sa Bom".

He also felt that the Kyo Sa (instructor) certification should not be awarded to any Dan who either did not own their own dojang or did not do a significant amount of teaching at their instructor's dojang. If they were merely assisting, then the Kyo Sa certification could also not be justified.

When Grandmaster Hwang Kee was alive, he was the only person in the Moo Duk Kwan that was rightfully regarded as the Grandmaster. This actually began however in the late 1970's, when he started to address some of his most senior students (existing Sa Bom at the time ) with the title of "Master". Prior to that, he was identified by all of us as simply "Master Hwang Kee." But, when he began addressing us as "Masters" we then began to address him as the "Grandmaster", since there was no way that any of us could consider ourselves to be his equal.

So, the title of "Grandmaster" in Tang Soo Do actually evolved as a result of Grandmaster Hwang Kee bestowing the title of "Master" on those of us who were certified as Sa Bom at the time. There are also a number of individuals today who have awarded and address themselves with the title of "Grandmaster" which is historically not really appropriate. However, if their students and members of their organizations choose to address them in that way out of respect, as we did with the late Grandmaster Hwang Kee, then that would be considered acceptable.

Editor's note: Another misconception today is that the term "Grandmaster" is the equivalent of "Kwan Jang Nim". On that, Kwan Jang Nim Ah Po had this to say:

The titles "Grandmaster" and "Kwan Jang Nim" are not synonymous. In Korean martial arts, the title "Kwan Jang Nim" is usually only bestowed on the "founder" of an organization or particular style of martial art. Again, when Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee was alive he was the only one that was recognized as the founder of the Korean Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do) Moo Duk Kwan Association, the U.S. Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do) Federation and the Tang Soo Do system. 

Technically, it would not be correct for any organization's successor to be addressed as "Kwan Jang Nim" because they were not the original founder. However, if the members of the organization wish to identify and address them in that way, it is certainly their right and privilege to do so.

As you are aware, there are several Tang Soo Do organizations currently that have been formed by some of Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee's most senior Sa Bom. In their case, because they have now formed their own Tang Soo Do organizations, the title of Kwan (organization) Jang (of several schools) Nim (most senior or head person) is appropriate for them to use but they still are not the founders of the Tang Soo Do system.

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