Taekwondo vs Tang Soo Do


The oldest fighting art in the world is somewhat disputed, but it is likely to be either wrestling or grappling, or boxing. Both of these arts date back to 2000 - 3000 BCE or perhaps even further.

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However, Korea can lay claim to having one of the oldest martial arts too in Taekkyon. This particular martial art involved fighting with bare hands, and feet, to either strike an opponent or trip them.

If you search for Taekkyon on Google though, you are more likely to see returns listing Taekwondo instead. Taekwondo is the best known martial art from Korea and is practiced across the globe.

There are organizations in the US such as AITKD, and the BTC in the UK, which aim to help develop Taekwondo in students and to further the art of self-defense and sport.

Yet, there is another Korean martial art, Tang Soo Do, which came before TKD, and yet is less well known.

What is Tang Soo Do?

There have been many martial arts movies involving wrestling and boxing. Hollywood is no stranger to Kung Fu either, and of course, there is also The Karate Kid, which has recently had a resurgence with the TV show Cobra Kai.

But, where and what is Tang Soo Do?

Compared to many martial arts, Tang Soo Do is relatively recent, that said, it has been practiced for many centuries and still has proponents today. The name Tang Soo Do translates to the Way of the China Hand and dates back to the Tang Dynasty.

The martial art, Tang Soo Do is what could be called a mix of Chinese and Korean fighting styles, with a 60% emphasis on Soo Bahk Do. This martial art dates back as far as 618 AD, but in the 20th century was mixed with Chinese moves to create a modern version of Soo Bahk Do.

How popular is Taekwondo today?

There are currently around 70 million people practicing Taekwondo around the world although this number is only an estimate and there could be many more proponents. Taekwondo is recognized as a form of self-defense, and as a sport, and there are regular national and international tournaments.

Taekwondo competitions today attract many fighters and practitioners to compete by putting on the pads or with patterns. While trophies are still awarded at these competitions, now cash prizes are enticing the best Taekwondo practitioners to compete.

The average salary of a boxer is about $29,646 according to Zippia, and the best fighters can command multibillion-dollar purses. Taekwondo fighters can’t hope to win these types of cash prizes, but the WTF world tournament handed out $70,000 to the winner. This is some leap from the old days of martial arts competitions where you’d be happy with a plastic and fake marble trophy.

How does Taekwando compare to Tang Soo Do?

Boxers and wrestlers have perhaps more options to go professional than some other martial arts fighters, but it isn’t an impossibility.

The options to go pro with Taekwondo are probably higher than with Tang Soo Do, but you could become a sabom, or compete regularly on the circuit. Another possibility would be to get involved with MMA and UFC perhaps.

Apart from the possibility of turning professional, there are other similarities and differences between Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do.


Both TKD and Tang Soo Do can be used for effective self-defense, but their styles are slightly different.

Taekwondo places more emphasis on kicking, and at long range, than Tang Soo Do does which includes hand strikes.

Style and origins

Like almost all martial arts, TKD and Tang Soo Do both borrow elements from other styles. Taekwondo draws from Taekkyon and other fighting arts. Tang Soo Do borrows heavily from Soo Bahk Do and Kung Fu from China.

What connects both of them is that they were both created to provide Korea with one unified style of martial arts, but Taekwondo has become the more recognized of the two. It is also the national sport in South Korea and North Korea.

Associations and rankings

Both styles of martial art have national and world federations and many Taekwondo associations recognize Tang Soo Do rankings and belts.

Olympic recognition

Unlike Tang Soo Do, Taekwondo is an official Olympic sport. It was introduced in the 1992 Summer Games, and Kim Je Kyoung won the first gold medal in Taekwondo.

Although this introduction was as a demonstration sport, the 2024 games will see TKD return for the sixth consecutive time as a full medal event.

The Second World War

The modern versions of both martial arts were introduced around the time of the Second World War. Grand Master Hwang Kee introduced Tang Soo Do to Korea at the end of World War 2, and Taekwondo also arrived at the time Korea was liberated from the Japanese.

One of the reasons that Taekwondo was introduced at this point was to try and eliminate Japanese influences such as Karate.


As a martial arts fan, you may well know that Karate differs from Kung Fu in styles, but also through the use of weapons.

Karate means empty hand, and no weapons are used by practitioners, but, in Kung Fu, weapons can be used including staffs, swords, and spears.

Likewise, Taekwondo sticks to hand-to-hand combat, while Tang Soo Do allows the use of some weapons, most commonly a staff.

Pros and cons of Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do

There has been much talk of boxing dying, but there are possibly more people watching and practicing martial arts than ever before. The recent Jake Paul v Tommy Fury fight shows that promoters still know how to attract an audience, and by now you surely know the result of the Paul - Fury fight.

The UFC is globally popular today as well, and this has attracted many people to try Ju Jitsu, and look at other martial arts. Taekwondo is far more popular than Tang Soo Do, but that doesn’t mean the latter should be overlooked.

The only pros and cons regarding TKD and Tang Soo Do are whether you want to be able to compete regularly, have easy access to training facilities, and which style you prefer.

Both martial arts help to develop self-confidence, boost esteem, teach respect, and aid in individuals' growth. Not to mention, practicing martial arts involves exercise and will make you fitter.

Do people still practice Tang Soo Do?

Not only do people still practice Tang Soo Do, but there have been many famous practitioners over the years, including Chuck Norris.

It was the martial artist and actor, Norris who helped to create American Tang Soo Do. This version introduced Tang Soo Do to Different elements of Karate and Judo. And if you are interested, there is a World Association for Tang Soo Do going strong today.


Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of MMA is that it has not only seen fighters from different styles meet in competition but it’s encouraged people to broaden their views on martial arts.

Instead of rigidly sticking to karate, for instance, practitioners are introducing elements of Ju Jitsu to improve their groundwork and grappling. So, anyone who is interested in Taekwondo could do well by also observing Tang Soo Do instead of completely separating them.

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