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What is Taekwondo?
Taekwondo (also known as Tae Kwon Do) is the art of self defense that originated in Korea. It is recognized as one of the oldest forms of martial arts in the world, reaching back over 2,000 years. The name was selected for its appropriate description of the art: Tae (foot), Kwon (hand), Do (art).
Taekwondo in the United States
The introduction of Taekwondo in the United States began during the 1950’s when a handful of pioneering master instructors travelled to America to spread the art. Throughout the next few decades Taekwondo grew in popularity, not only as a martial art, but as an international sport.
In 1973, Korea hosted the first Taekwondo World Championships. In that same year, the World Taekwondo Federation was established as the international governing body for the sport aspects of Taekwondo. Today the WTF counts 120 separate countries as its members, representing 20 million practitioners. These numbers earn Taekwondo the distinction of being the most practiced martial art in the world.
Taekwondo first gained acceptance as an Olympic sport when it appeared as a demonstration event in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Taekwondo became a full medal sport competition beginning in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.
History of Taekwondo
One of the earliest clues of Taekwondo’s existence is a mural painted on the wall of a tomb that was built in the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, between 37 BC and 66 AD. The drawing shows two unarmed figures facing each other in a Taekwondo style stance. Additional drawings in the tomb show figures performing blocks and wearing uniforms similar to those used in modern day Taekwondo training.
The advancement of Taekwondo and its techniques developed as the country of Korea developed. There are examples and history of Taekwondo training in virtually all the records of the different kingdoms that existed within the country throughout the centuries.
The highest form of the ancient art was achieved in the kingdom of Silla. This tiny kingdom constantly faced attacks and opposition from larger and stronger areas. As a result the ruler of the kingdom, King Jin Heung, established an elite group of warriors called the “Hwarang” or “Flower of Youth”.
The Hwarang consisted of the sons of nobles within the kingdom. They were carefully selected and formally trained in all aspects of military skills including unarmed combat, which at the time was known as Tae Kyon. It is significant that the Hwarang were taught not only the importance of developing their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well. In addition to fighting techniques, the young warriors were instructed in history, poetry, and philosophy. The entire body of study was known as Hwarang Do. The Hwarang gained skills not only for battle, but for daily life. This relates directly to modern Taekwondo training, which provides self defense skills as well as improved character, self-discipline, and confidence that can be applied to any task.
Following the Silla dynasty came the Koryo dynasty (935 AD – 1352 AD) from which Korea takes its name. Martial arts practice, known as Subak Do, became popular as an organized sport with detailed rules. The royal family sponsored competitions and demonstrations, and martial arts became deeply rooted in Korean culture.
Jiso has ruled the Kingdom of Silla as regent since King Beopheung died, keeping her young son Sammaekjong hidden outside of the capital Seorabeol and safe from enemies and assassins. As Sammaekjong comes of age, nobles, citizens, officials and Sammaekjong himself have all grown impatient for her to cede power. However the powerful nobles that tried to usurp power in the Kingdom continue to eye the throne and Ji-so fears the consequences of her ceding it.
In order to break the power of the nobles, who have grown accustomed to their privileges under the bone rank system, Jiso plans to create a new elite, the Hwarang, that will cut across the existing power factions, and to bind them to Sammaekjong and the throne. As this new elite of male youths bond and grow they are unaware that within their number is their future king, Sammaekjong, and Kim Sun-woo, a commoner with a secret even he is not aware of.
North-South States Period
With a little help from China, Silla eventually defeated both Baekje and Goguryeo in the late 7th century, unifying the Korean Peninsula for the first time under a kingdom that became known as “Later Silla” or “Unified Silla.” To the north, the kingdom of Balhae emerged in Manchuria as a successor state of Goguryeo. Thus the North-South States Period was born, with both Balhae and Unified Silla being heavily influenced by the Tang Dynasty in China.
“Dae Jo Young”
“Dae Jo Young” traces the life and trials of the founding king of Balhae, as well as other heroes of the time. This drama will teach you a surprising amount about the geography and political alliances of the period, while offering epic battle scenes, a seamless plot, and a cast of veteran actors that bring these legendary figures to life.
A Unified Style of Korean Martial Arts
The Taek Kyon trained warriors became known as the Hwarang. The Hwarang set up a military academy for the sons of royalty in Silla called Hwarang-do, which means "the way of flowering manhood." The guiding principles of the Hwarang warriors were loyalty, filial duty, trustworthiness, valor, and justice. The makeup of the Hwarang-do education was based on the Five Codes of Human Conduct written by a Buddhist scholar, fundamental education, Taek Kyon and social skills. Taek Kyon was spread throughout Korea because the Hwarang traveled all around the peninsula to learn about the other regions and people.
The modern period of Taekwondo began with the liberation of Korea in 1945 after World War II. Korea wanted to eliminate Japanese influences (in martial arts) and began to unite the various martial arts schools and styles into a single style and national sport. In 1965, the name Taekwondo was chosen to represent this unified style of Korean martial arts.
Hwa Rang Do Founder Joo Bang Lee on the History of Korean Martial Arts
Korean martial arts history has never been a simple matter. Many of its twists and turns resulted from the painful Japanese occupation that lasted from 1910 to 1945, but others stemmed from matters as mundane as the Korean-English language barrier. Meanwhile, practitioners and scholars have argued, struggled and fought about the evolution of the various Korean styles.
The best way to conduct research while operating with a handicap like that is to interview people who actually participated in the evolutionary process.
Unfortunately, as we advance into the 21st century, fewer and fewer of those legendary martial artists are still around to testify. Hapkido's Ji Han-jae, kuk sool's Suh In-hyuk and hwa rang do's Dr. Joo Bang Lee are among those living legends who trained and taught during the pivotal period that immediately followed World War II and liberation from Japan. In this exclusive interview, we spoke with with Joo Bang Lee to clarify some of the aforementioned inaccuracies and misunderstandings about the evolution of the Korean martial arts. Joo Bang Lee also offers insights into his training experiences with a Buddhist monk and hapkido founder Choi Yong-sul, and he provides a glimpse into the direction his comprehensive fighting art is taking in the new millennium.
Black Belt: What are the earliest origins of the Korean martial arts? Joo Bang Lee: The origins of the Korean fighting arts [go back] some 5,000 years to the formation of a country called Ko-Choson, which means “Old Choson." During those ancient times, people were focused on sheer survival—maintaining the integrity of their country and defending themselves against other countries and animals. Because of Korea's peninsular position between the Chinese mainland and the sea, as well as its rugged topography, these early Koreans developed strong combative skills. Korea has been invaded more than any other place in Asia, but we've never been conquered. Even when the Japanese tried for over three decades to destroy our culture during their occupation, they didn't succeed.
Black Belt: Let's skip forward to the Three Kingdoms era. That's supposedly when the Korean martial arts underwent a lot of growth. Joo Bang Lee: Yes. Over 2,000 years ago, the Three Kingdoms period began. The Three Kingdoms were Paekche (18 B.C.-661 A.D.), Koguryo (37 B.C.-668 A.D.) and Silla (57 B.C.-660 A.D.). Each had its own king, army, subjects and combat methods. Because all three kingdoms were vying for supremacy on the peninsula, each had to develop a superior fighting system to give its warriors and soldiers the advantage in battle. The Hwarang culture was born within the Silla kingdom.
Black Belt: The Hwarang warriors are a famous part of Korean culture. How were they organized? Joo Bang Lee: The Hwarang were the heroes of ancient Korean culture. All children learn about the Hwarang and their heroic deeds in elementary-school texts. The Silla period lasted from 57 B.C. to 935 A.D. [as the United Silla dynasty], making it one of the most long-lasting civilizations in history, and the Hwarang warriors were to Silla's descendants like the knights of medieval Europe are to many Westerners. They were organized in bands, which were led by young men of royal descent called the Hwarang. They led bands that ranged in size from 300 to 5,000 young men. These student-disciples were called rang do, which means “disciples of the Hwarang." The do in this term means “disciple," not “way" as many martial arts historians incorrectly think.
Black Belt: Please explain the term “Hwarang." Joo Bang Lee: It consists of two Chinese characters pronounced in Korean. The first character, hwa, means “flower." The second character, rang, is an ancient title of nobility for young men. Bringing the two characters together has the concept of noble boys who are growing, blossoming or flowering into a powerful state of manhood. It signifies the rite of passage that young Silla noblemen had to pass through to achieve their full potential as adults. I have to make something clear: These Hwarang weren't just young brawling men who went around fighting the armies of other kingdoms. They spent a great deal of time really working to develop their potential on all levels: mental, physical and spiritual.
Hwarang bands went to live on a mountain or [near a] river, training together and developing strong values that would serve any soldier or nobleman well: morality, wisdom, emotions, loyalty, respect, obedience and honor. Their training gave them the means to understand human nature and develop martial skills. They became the standard for Silla's military at the time of King Chinhung in 540 A.D. The legendary Buddhist monk, Won Kwang Beopsa, gave the Hwarang their Five Codes to govern their behavior. Because of the Hwarang, the Silla kingdom was able to defeat Koguryo and Paekche, unifying the peninsula. A version of this Hwarang system later spread to Japan and gave rise to their shogun-samurai system.
Black Belt: What made up the training of a Hwarang warrior? Joo Bang Lee: Hwarang training was geared toward developing a human being who used his maximum potential. You've heard of potential and kinetic energy, right? Potential energy is like having a rock on a high cliff. It's useless until someone or something pushes it off the cliff. When it's falling, the rock has kinetic energy, or energy of movement. It can crush anything below it. Human beings are the same.
Most people have a lot of potential. They have the ability to achieve great things, but unless an event or force pushes them in a particular direction, that ability might never be used. Look at all the obese kids in America who would rather sit around playing video games [than] do some sort of exercise. They might have the potential to be great athletes, but they're not using their potential. Nobody's guiding them in the right direction.
Hwarang training provided a direction for people. The noble youth trained under masters who taught them a vast curriculum. Imagine knowing someone who in today's terms could do the work of a doctor, poet, musician, assassin, general, historian, priest and statesman all rolled into one. That's basically what the Hwarang were trained for. They spent countless hours developing fighting skills, which involved every aspect of combat. This included kicking, punching, joint manipulation, throwing, grappling, internal-energy training, pressure-point attacks, acrobatics, breakfalling, horsemanship and 108 weapons.
Black Belt: Did they learn anything else? Joo Bang Lee: They were also well-versed in traditional medicine, which involved treatment of the gamut of injuries they might cause or sustain in combat or training. This part of their training included bonesetting, acupressure, acupuncture, herbal remedies and ki (internal energy) healing. Their meditative practices gave them mental powers that would be considered incredible by today's standards. They could withstand extreme pain and perform feats of mind-over-matter. They were distinguished outside the martial arts as well, developing a style of poetry known as hyang ga. They were the original Renaissance men.
Black Belt: What happened to the Hwarang after the fall of the Silla dynasty? Joo Bang Lee: A Hwarang general named Wanggum assumed control of the country and renamed it Koryo. It lasted from 936 to 1392. The Hwarang institution continued but under different titles such as kuk son do and pung wol do. These titles carried the suffix “do," which means “disciple." The Korean language has many homophones—words that sound the same [but have] different meanings. This suffix does not mean the same thing as the “do" suffix of taekwondo, hapkido or karate-do. The “do" at the end of those names means “way."
Black Belt: How has that observation affected martial arts research? Joo Bang Lee: The public needs to understand that if someone says “hwa rang do," they could very well be talking about the Hwarang disciples and not the martial art of hwa rang do. Without the benefit of seeing the Chinese characters for the terms, people often do not understand the Korean homophones. That's why I tried using the spelling “hwarangdoes" to indicate the Hwarang disciples. As I mentioned earlier, the “rang do" were the soldier-disciples of the Hwarang generals. Thus, they could also be referred to as Hwarangdo, meaning Hwarang soldiers, followers or disciples. The martial art of hwa rang do is a completely different term. The later parts of this interview should clarify the confusion about this once and for all.
Black Belt: Getting back to the history … Joo Bang Lee: In 1392, another Hwarang general, Yi Sung-gye, overthrew Koryo and established the Chosun kingdom, which is also known as the Yi (or Lee) dynasty. It lasted until 1910. It was during the Yi dynasty that the martial arts began their decline in popularity in Korea. Because King Taejong felt that the Hwarang bands were a potential menace to his supremacy and because he knew that Hwarang-trained generals overthrew two preceding kings, he declared that all Hwarang bands must fall under the direct control of the central government, stripping the local warlords of independent control. He then established Confucianism as the state religion.
Black Belt: What does the switch to Confucianism have to do with the growth of martial arts training? Joo Bang Lee: This is important for all students of traditional Asian martial arts to understand. Buddhist monks were responsible for a lot of the development of the martial arts in East Asia. Just look at the Shaolin Temple in China. Taoists have their own self-defense methods as well. Confucianism also had a lot to do with the success of the Hwarang institution, but on a moral level. If you look at Won Kwang Beopsa's Five Codes, you'll notice that some of the rules of conduct have a decidedly Confucian message of filial piety, loyalty to the king and honor between friends.
The last code is the only one with a decidedly Buddhist injunction against indiscriminate killing. The fourth code, which allowed no retreat in battle, imbued the Hwarang and their disciples with amazing courage and strength. However, orthodox Confucianism places a huge importance on academic learning and views the military with great disdain. In fact, Confucianism traditionally ranks people in society by four levels. In descending order of importance, they are scholars, peasants, artisans and merchants. Soldiers are not even considered part of society. So you can say that Confucianism really had a lot to do with the decline of the martial arts when it became a state doctrine.
Black Belt: What happened to those Hwarang who wouldn't follow King Taejong's decree? Joo Bang Lee: This is when many of the Hwarang fled into the mountains and remote places of Korea. They lived their lives like wandering hermits, devoting themselves to spiritual study, passing on their vast knowledge of religion, combat skills and healing techniques to only a select few disciples instead of to the huge bands that they did before.
King Taejong's edict requiring all Hwarang generals to place their soldiers under the direct control of the king meant that the soldier-disciples were no longer ultimately loyal to the Hwarang master who trained and led them, but to the king. This created deep disgust in the heart of many Hwarang generals, causing them to leave society permanently. The Confucian-based government still maintained a combat-skills tradition to protect the country. It even compiled the textbook called Mu Yea Do Bo Tong Ji.
However, the Hwarang combat skills continued to be passed on only in secret from master to disciple. As a result, the vast body of knowledge that the Hwarang had developed began slowly dying out. These masters would occasionally accept disciples, but whenever a master did not find a student who was worthy of receiving the Hwarang legacy, he simply kept his skills to himself. In many instances, they took their wisdom to the grave. A great deal of traditional Hwarang combat skill began to vanish. This signaled the beginning of the end of Korea's golden age.
Black Belt: The Yi dynasty ended in 1910 and from 1910 to 1945, the Japanese occupied Korea. What happened to the Korean martial arts during that time? Joo Bang Lee: That time was disastrous for Korea in all respects, not just the martial arts. All aspects of our culture were subjected to a “revision" process. The Japanese forced Koreans to speak Japanese in public, dress in the Japanese manner and act Japanese in almost every way. We were forced to conduct ourselves as Japanese, yet [we were] treated as less than human.
Anything that followed Korean tradition was banned. Traditional Korean dress, Korean speech, Korean writing, Korean martial arts and even our Korean names were outlawed. The Japanese murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent Korean civilians, kidnapped and raped our women, attempted to rewrite Korean history [to] portray us as inferior to the Japanese and tried to destroy our identity by pressing us into lives of servitude.
Black Belt: How did all that affect Korean martial arts training? Joo Bang Lee: Needless to say, anyone caught practicing or teaching traditional Korean combat skills was put in jail. Those combat skills were already in decline during the later years of the Yi dynasty because of King Taejong's decree, but the Japanese occupation almost completely destroyed what little remained.
Those who chose to publicly practice were forced to learn and teach Japanese martial arts, such as karate, judo or kendo. Luckily, some masters maintained their practice in secret, either training in private or living in such remote parts of Korea that the Japanese did not come into contact with them. That was the case with some Hwarang descendants who lived in the hills.
Black Belt: Let's sidetrack for a moment and talk about your early martial arts training. Joo Bang Lee: My earliest martial training began with my father, who studied judo and kendo under the occupation. That started as soon as [my brother and I] were old enough to walk. My most important training began a bit later with a monk who was a descendant of a particular Hwarang lineage.
He was a dosa, which means “master of the way." The Chinese use it to signify a Taoist master, but the Koreans use it to refer to a wandering hermit-monk who is learned in Korea's three major religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Su-Ahm Dosa, my master, was the 57th-generation heir to one particular lineage of Hwarang training handed down from the Silla period. The martial section of his teachings was called um-yang kwon. It consisted of hard and soft techniques, including kicking, punching, joint manipulation, throws, acrobatics, grappling, ki (internal energy) development and a wide assortment of weapons.
Just before the end of World War II, my father brought my brother and me to Sukwang Temple near where we lived in Anbyungun, Hamnam province, which is now part of North Korea. He asked Su-Ahm Dosa to accept the two of us as his students, and we became the only ones to learn from him. At the time of our acceptance in 1942, I was 4 years old and my brother, Lee Joo-sang, was 5.
Black Belt: So the system you inherited from Su-Ahm Dosa was not hwa rang do? Joo Bang Lee: That is right. I inherited the Hwarang combat system, which was called um-yang kwon. Remember, hwa rang do as a martial art name did not exist 2,000 years ago. I founded the name to identify this new martial art in 1960. It is possible that not all the Hwarang generals and rang do disciples practiced the same combat skills. However, before me nobody claimed any Hwarang combat skills, which proves that the only surviving lineage of the Hwarang warriors is from these um-yang kwon combat skills. Others who claim any Hwarang combat skills are [lying], if they arose after me.
Black Belt: What did your um-yang kwon training consist of? Joo Bang Lee: A typical training session with my master was actually a full-day affair, not at all like the way people train these days. We trained every day: waking at 5 a.m. washing with the cold, mountain water warming up and training for an hour making breakfast and serving our master cleaning up by 8 a.m. training with our master for three or four hours cooking and eating lunch napping for an hour at 1 p.m. training for another four hours with our master and then cooking dinner. After cleaning the dinner bowls, Su-Ahm Dosa would teach us shin gong, which are the mental skills, and in sul, which are the ancient healing methods.
Black Belt: When did Su-Ahm Dosa give you and your brother black belts in um-yang kwon? Joo Bang Lee: The original Hwarang combat skills weren't organized like modern martial arts are. Um-yang kwon was just a continuous process of training without belt ranks. Our training consisted of many different skills. Su-Ahm Dosa taught us how to develop our ability in kicking, punching, jumping, breakfalls, [doing] bone and joint breaks, submission locking, choking, grappling, acrobatic leaping, throwing, pressure-point striking and pressing, and ki training.
There were 260 categories with over 4,000 techniques, along with 108 traditional weapons broken down into 20 categories. In addition, Su-Ahm Dosa taught us the stealth training used by ancient Hwarang spies called sul sa. Once we had learned all these skills, we were recognized as masters.
Black Belt: What happened to your martial arts training when the Korean War broke out in 1950? Joo Bang Lee: My family and Su-Ahm Dosa relocated to Seoul in 1948. My master made his new home on O-Dae mountain, living in solitude in the Yang Mi Am [hermitage]. Some monks are so engrossed in their own mental and spiritual development that they leave the rest of the world behind, choosing to live in seclusion where they can continue to develop their mental skills. My brother and I trained with him daily until our family relocated farther south in 1950.
Black Belt: There's a lot of disagreement about how the post-World War II Korean martial arts came about. It is claimed that many styles were practiced in Korea prior to the Japanese occupation and only resurfaced after the country was liberated. How did the most well-known Korean martial arts—taekwondo and hapkido—come into existence? Joo Bang Lee: Let's talk about them one at a time. Some taekwondo people say that their art came from a style called su bak do, which was the name of the combat skills practiced in the Koryo kingdom.
Others claim that it came from tae kyon. Tae kyon is the soft-style civilian foot-fighting skill from the latter part of the Chosun dynasty. Here's the reality: During the Japanese occupation, a lot of Koreans were forced to learn karate-do, which was pronounced in Korea as kong soo do or tang soo do.
Some of these Korean karate students became masters, and they founded the seven kwan: Son Byong-in of the yon mu kwan, Hwang Kee of the moo duk kwan, Ro Byong-jik of the song mu kwan, Um Un-kyu of the chung do kwan, Lee Nam-suk of the chang mu kwan, Lee Jong-woo of the ji do kwan and Choi Hong-hi of the oh do kwan.
In 1964, these founders united and brought kong soo do, tang soo do and taekwondo together under the taekwondo banner. Gen. Choi Hong-hi held a great deal of political power at the time, and his federation had a growing membership. Claiming taekwondo as a Korean national martial sport gave the Korean people a martial art to identify with. It capitalized on the post-occupation nationalism.
Black Belt: Were there any other reasons why taekwondo grew so quickly? Joo Bang Lee: Eventually, President Park Chung-hee took a strong liking to taekwondo, and he established it as the national sport in the early '70s. After that, the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), which was Gen. Choi's group, fell out of favor with the new regime and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) came to power.
It is the WTF that controls Olympic taekwondo now. In 1968, President Park ordered Ji Han-jae and me to unify all the Korean martial arts. President Park's goal was to make two unique martial organizations: one a martial sport organization and the other a martial art organization. However, there were many differences between these martial arts, and the unification effort was unsuccessful. As a result, I left Korea to spread hwa rang do to the United States.
Black Belt: How did hapkido develop in Korea? Joo Bang Lee: There's controversy only because there are people out there who didn't participate in the growth of the system, yet they go around and act as if they were the ones who invented it. The absolute truth about hapkido is that it began in Korea as a style called dae dong ryu yu sool, which is daito-ryu yawara or daito-ryu jujutsu in Japanese. The term means “great Eastern-style soft skills." Choi Yong-sul, the man who is often credited with founding hapkido, was a house servant to one of the last great Japanese combat-skill masters: Takeda Sogaku.
Choi was taken to Japan during the occupation and lived there with Takeda until the liberation of Korea. Takeda was the headmaster of the daito-ryu yawara system. It's important for people to understand that yawara is the same as jujutsu in Japanese. The Chinese characters are the same, but they can be pronounced two different ways. A judo player named Suh Bok-sup was the first person to “discover" Choi and get him to teach.
Suh was hanging out at his father's brewery in a loft. Pig farmers used to take the distilled grains that the brewers were going to throw away and feed them to their pigs. One day a guy came in with a wheelbarrow to get some of this pig feed, and a scuffle ensued with some local troublemakers. Suh heard the commotion and looked down from the loft. He was amazed when he saw the man send the thugs flying and breaking their joints. As soon as the attackers were dropped, the man picked up the wheelbarrow and started walking away.
Suh jumped down from the loft and chased after the man to find out what kind of incredible martial art he was using. The man pushing the wheelbarrow was Choi Yong-sul, and he accepted Suh as his first Korean student. In 1953, after the Korean War, Choi opened his first public school in his home and began teaching dae dong ryu yu sool.
Black Belt: So Choi Yong-sul actually taught a Japanese system? Joo Bang Lee: Absolutely. He made no other claims. Some people today are saying that hapkido is an indigenous Korean system. If Choi had no problem saying he was teaching a Japanese system, why should his descendants? Choi called his art “yu sool," which means “soft skills." But it's just the Korean pronunciation of jujutsu or yawara. He made no secret that he had learned it from a Japanese master. The name “hapkido" is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters that the Japanese use for aikido. At the time we were training with Choi, he only spoke of his art as dae dong ryu yu sool—never anything else.
But when aikido was founded, Korea cut off relations with Japan. So when Morihei Uyeshiba, another prominent student of Takeda, came out with his art called aikido, we didn't know about it at first. One of my friends in Taegu named Kang Moon-jin [saw] an aikido text or something [that mentioned] that there was a similar style in Japan using the characters meaning “way of harmonious energy," and he thought it sounded appealing. So he started using the hapkido name for his school in 1959 but six months later, Choi took the signboard off the school and closed it down. Regardless of how it came about, I know that he was the very first to use the term “hapkido" in Korea.
Black Belt: Who else was involved with hapkido in those days? Joo Bang Lee: In 1959 Ji Han-jae opened his Yawara Dojang and was teaching in Seoul under that name, and in 1960 I was teaching under the Hwarang Mu Sool banner. In 1961 Kim Mu-hong came to Seoul and opened his school under the name Shin Mu Kwon Hapkido. At the same time, I changed the name of my school to Hwarangdo and Hapkido, and Ji Han-jae switched and founded Sung Mu Kwon Hapkido.
So we three masters were the first to use the hapkido name in Seoul as of 1961. In the winter of 1962, I met Suh In-hyuk while he was visiting Seoul following his military service. It was at that time that we [my brother and I, along with five other charter members] created an organization called the Kuk Sool Hoi, which was the short way of saying Han Kuk Mu Sool Hyeop Hoi (Korean Martial Skills Association). Then Suh In-hyuk went to Pusan and opened his first school, calling it Kuk Sool Hoi Hapkido. The Kuk Sool Hoi organization that we formed at that time was the first hapkido organization in Korea.
Black Belt: So you also trained with Choi Yong-sul? Joo Bang Lee: Yes. In the 1950s during the Korean War, my family moved farther south to Taegu. I met him there. He taught private and group lessons my brother and I took private lessons from him. It's possible that Ji Han-jae and others might have trained at the same time. But we trained at a different time than they did.
When we got to Choi's house, it was only the two of us with him. Because my brother and I already had a strong background in the Hwarang martial skills that we learned from Su-Ahm Dosa, the joint locks, grappling techniques and throws of yu sool were easy to pick up.
So in 1956, my brother and I received master-level [rank] in yu sool, and our family moved back to Seoul. It is no secret that I trained in yu sool, and anyone who trained in Korea between 1960 and 1968 knew that I was a hapkido founder as well as the hwa rang do founder.
Why Hwarang Do is not Hapkido
This text is probably too long for most people to bother reading, but I have to take it step-by-step, otherwise the Korean MA history does not make sence. So here goes.
First of all there are a few ground rules we have to agree on:
1) GM Choi Yong Sul did not teach Hapkido, he taught "Yawara", sometimes called by the full name "Daetong Ryu Yusul" which is the Korean pronounciation of "Daito Ryu Aikijutsu". He did not use the name Hapkido until very, very late (
1968). His original students learned "Yawara" from him, not "Hapkido"
2) The original masters who trained under Choi Yong Sul trained privately (they did not know who else trained there), they came with different previous martial arts experience, and did not learn the same things from GM Choi. He did not have a formal school and he simply taught what he felt like.
3) This also means that "Hapkido" "back in the old days" was NOT one original style. People used the name for many different (also technically different) styles from the start.
Different lineages, different concepts, different arts - same name.
4) At first there were very, very few martial arts schools in Korea.
There were very, very few masters at first, it was not until the mid 60s that the number of masters, schools and styles suddenly increased. Therefore the original masters certainly knew each other and their background, whereas later masters might only know their own master(s).
This is basic stuff, without knowing this there is no way of understanding the history and development. If you disagree with any of the above you are certainly welcome to bring it up though.
Let's make a timeline, I suggest:
1. MA in Korea before Yawara influence
3. The early styles
5. Unification attempts
6. Final breakup
7. Continious development
1.period: MA in Korea before the Yawara influence
What martial arts were in Korea after World War2?
During the Japanese occupation Kendo (Kumdo) and Judo (Yudo) were certainly taught in Korea. GM Choi Yong Sul trained Yawara (Yusul), or full name "Daito Ryu Aikijitsu" (Taedong Ryu Yusul) in Japan and brought it to Korea. Among the millions of Koreans who were in Japan others are likely to have trained martial art. Koreans serving in the Japanese army whould probably have trained JuJutsu(?) and we know many trained Karate.
Korean monks still today train martial arts, and are known throughout Korean history to have trained martial arts.
The Chinese minority in Korea are likely, as Chinese in other countries, to train martial arts. There is a large Korean minority in Manchuria, which also were occupied by the Japanese. So there were definitly martial arts in Korea.
The whole idea that Korea, as the only country in Asia, did not have any MA (Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, India, the Philipines, Japan, China etc certainly do) seems strange to me.
2.period: Yawara influence
Everybody agrees, according to ground rule #1, that GM Choi Yong Sul taught Yawara, not Hapkido. It seems that everyone with a background in Korean MA - who could afford it - went to Taegu and trained under him. Some trained for a long time, some for a short time but all the original masters were there.
My personal guess is that GM Choi became famous in Korea, and everyone who were already training some form of martial art wanted to see what he was doing. People who were interested in MA, but hadn't trained before also went, probably because they had heard about him.
This often happens in Korea - something gets popular and soon everybody does it, or would like to do it. It's a very homogenious country.
There were probably also others (very few) who taught other Japanese styles, but these were much less influencial, and are only interesting when documenting their lineages.
3.period: The early styles are taught
In the late 50ies and early 60ies the early masters started teaching (for instance GM Lee: Hwarang Do, GM Ji: Yusul, Suh Bok Sup: Yu Kwon Sul). Shortly after, people started using the Hapkido name. There are many stories about who started using the name, for now the interesting part is that 'Hapkido' was used *after* the other names were used.
4.Period: the "Hapkido" name is used
So as it often happens in Korea something spreads and very soon everybody does it. From
1961 all Korean (non-"Taekwondo") martial arts used the Hapkido name to describe their styles. People were still doing their own thing as they had from the beginning (teaching their own styles), they just used the Hapkido name as a common identifier - ground rule #3 (maybe as in America "Karate" can mean any MA?).
Some people, like GM Joo Bang Lee, had extensive previous MA experience before training Yawara, other started with Yawara, but they all learned different things from GM Choi. They took their knowledge and taught their individual styles, Hanpul taught Hanpul, Hwarang Do taught Hwarang Do, Seong Mu Kwan taught Seong Mu Kwan. And they all also used the Hapkido name.
5.period: Unification attempts are made
As ground rule # 4 says - during the 60s the number of schools and masters drastically increased and some attempts to unify the schools were made. In 1965 'Taekwondo' was unified and recieved strong goverment backing, and after this several attempts to do the same with the many different styles using the 'Hapkido' name were made.
But where the different Karate styles were relatively easy to combine, this was not the case for 'Hapkido', which of course where very different styles from the start. And for this, and other, maninly political reasons, it was impossible to unify the 'Hapkido' styles.
6. Final breakup
In 1968 GM Joo Bang Lee had enough. He had been a founding member of the Kido Hwe, had been promoting both the HanKUK MuSOOL HyupHWE (Kuk Sool Hwe) and the big unification drive in 1967-68 and now he said stop. He dropped all ranks and started from the bottom, swearing never to use the Hapkido name. He built Hwarang Do in Korea from 1968 and when he left Korea for America in 1972 there were 68 Hwarang Do schools in Korea (16 in Seoul).
Many people in 'Hapkido' would certainly have prefered GM Lee to work for them, but after promoting and using the 'Hapkido' name together with the Hwarang Do name for 7-8 years (1961-1968) he has never since used the name, and he has never since promoted himself as a 'Hapkido' grandmaster. Eventhough he received the highest ranking in HKD by GM Choi.
7.period: Continious development
GM Lee has continued to develop Hwarang Do for 35 years and the various 'Hapkido' styles have developed in their separate directions.
Today there is not *a* style called Hapkido, there never were, and there never will be. The styles are just too different.
We can try another way - why do people say Hwarang Do is a Hapkido style?
a.k.a. I've heard that GM Joo Bang Lee taught Hapkido, is that true?
Answer: Yes, sure, absolutely true but! - and the but! is important.
GM Lee opened his first Hwarang Dojang in 1960, this was before anyone used the Hapkido name in Korea. If he was teaching before the Hapkido name was used, how can it be a Hapkido style?
68, that is 7 years, GM Lee used the Hapkido name together with Hwarang Do. During the last 36 years he has not used the Hapkido name. Is it a Hapkido style then? Is Tugong Musool a Hapkido style?
Please understand that if GM Lee wanted he COULD promote himself as a senior Hapkido Grandmaster, together with GM Ji he WAS the higest ranking master at the time. But he does not. In 1968 he had enough of the politics and went his own way.
Eventhough he had been promoting the Hapkido name he dropped all ranks and started from the bottom with his own style. He swore not to take advantage of the Hapkido name and left it for the people who wanted to use it.
So to put it nicely, for people to call Hwarang Do a Hapkido style is to pi** both on his work and on his influence on the Korean martial arts.
Q and A:
Q. GM Joo Bang Lee trained under GM Choi?
A. GM Choi taught Yawara, not Hapkido
Q. Why do you keep it secret that GM Lee trained under GM Choi?
A. It was never a secret. Why would you keep it secret, and how could you? There are thousands of Koreans who knows GM Lee as one of the leaders of "Hapkido".
GM Lee left the name with the 'Hapkido' people in 1968 because he was tired of the politics, and he has *never* used 'Hapkido' to promote neither himself nor Hwarang Do. However, he has *always* said he had two teachers when you talked with him (the monk Suam Dosa and GM Choi (Yawara)). It is in writing in Dojang Magazine (1995) : http://www.hwarangdo.com/dojang1.htm, in the 2000 Black Belt articles and on hwarangdo.com
Q. OK, but why did GM Lee not write anywhere that he also learned Hapkido from GM Choi?
A. GM Choi did not teach Hapkido, and the 'Hapkido' people were promoting their various styles as an ancient Korean martial art.
Why should GM Lee destroy their stories by telling people about Yawara?
Q. My master says/I have heard/I have read that Master XYZ says he taught GM Joo Bang Lee
A. People promote themselves, things gets lost in translation, things are misunderstood. I will say this though: If your master claims that he taught GM Joo Bang Lee please do me a favor. Politely let him know that I am a student of GM Lee and I'll be happy to let GM Lee know that the person said he taught GM Lee. Please make sure the person understands that this is a public request.
Hwarang would be born to a farming community in the vast peninsulas and islands of the southern hemisphere of Zhongqian, as a child, the farmland of his family would be destroyed by local wildlife, with no further choices, Hwarang's father would journey north to the core cities of the planet. knowing they had recently been opened to the south, and would be accepted as a literati underling, a low grade of chapter serf, assisting the mortal documentists and orators of the chapters in their historica records.
At this young age, Hwarang would be noticed as talented by the literati serfs, and forwarded to become a brother of the chapter, excelling in his battles against the Tau Sept of Vior'La as a scout, his aggressive tactics and headstrong nature greatly amused and impressed his sergeants and was rumoured to have drawn the attention of even his Captain, Chen Long, and would be upgraded to Primaris, with his advancement to Intercessor in the Fifth company under Zhuhou Zhang Yi.
The Fifth Company is known for its mastery of ranged firepower, possessing no squads of melee capability as dictated in the Fadian Zhu. As a result, astartes within the company are expected to train rigorously in all forms of ranged firepower. Therefore Hwarang was trained extensively as both an Intercessor and Hellblaster, excelling as a forward scout, he earned his squad the moniker of "torch bearers" as they were often first among the battle, their scoped bursts of bolter fire and plasma streams streaking across the battlefield, these bursts of fire became synonymous to the company as signalling flares, lighting up the positions of the enemy forces for his brothers to advance on.
Hwarang's squad would work closely with the company Librarian Xia Shen, often functioning as a bodyguard unit for the psyker. Shen was known to the company as "the tiger" for his aggressive nature and forceful use of his librarius discipline, fighting at the head of battles with devastating force as he summoned bolts of fire, and walls of earth to bring enemies to heel.
During a battle against the Tau auxiliary race known as the Kroot, Hwarang's squad was placed at the vanguard with Xia Shen, as had become the norm in these harassing campaigns. However a surprise deployment of battlesuits would separate them from the main force. With their retreat cut off by these super heavy battlesuits, the squad were forced to adopt a defense against kroot ambushes, the bolt weapons of the squad alongside the elemental powers of the librarian made quick work of the first waves. however the true threat was yet unknown, as stealth suits advanced upon the squad. preoccupied with the Kroot attackers who harassed and contained the small force.
Too late would the squad become aware of the stealth suits presence, only becoming aware after the force decloaked to fire upon the Librarian, who would be saved by Sergeant Jimin. blocking the burst cannons fire by way of his own body.
After the death of his Sergeant, Hwarang would act as the team's de facto leader alongside Xia Shen, cutting a swathe out of the advancing tau with aggressive disregard. Upon returning to the Company forces on the far side of the battlefield, carrying the body of his former leader. his actions in battle were commended to Captain Yi by Xia Shen. and he would be promoted to the rank of sergeant.
His position was short lived however, as he would be quickly seconded to the Deathwatch, notable for being the first of the chapters Primaris to be given the honour.
However the placement to the Deathwatch is a deep source of conflict for Hwarang. His former Captain Zhang Yi is known for his exile to the Deathwatch and he knew many brothers reprimanded for asking probing questions about such. From those in the company who knew him before his service, he was known to be an exuberant and deeply spiritual commander and the man who returned was considered a hollow, vacant shell of the man they had known. A suddenly dour and broken man.
Perhaps his movement to the Deathwatch was an honour, to be chosen for his aggressive actions against the Tau and xenos experience. Or perhaps it was a punishment by his leaders for being rash and impulsive, for failing to protect his sergeant. An exile like his captain before him.
Hwarang provides examples of the following tropes:
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: Not big, but the Royal family and most of the Noble families are definitely screwed-up.
- Chivalrous Pervert: It's been stated that Sooho has seduced pretty much all the girls in town except for Aro and, well, his sister.
- The Cutie: Hansung. The youngest, he's innocent, wide-eyed and only interested in the arts, and he only joins the Hwarang because of family pressures.
- Gilded Cage: Much to his displeasure, Jinheung spent the majority of his life hidden from the world by his mother to protect him from potential usurpers, and is under constant vigilance. He infiltrates the Hwarang and puts himself in a position that forces his mother to let him stay there, all so she can see he can make decisions on his own.
- I Have Many Names: Jinheung and Dog-Bird both have several aliases. Ironically, Dog-Bird doesn't have an official name.
Gu Family Book had a great story, OST, and cast. This was one of the first dramas I was SUPER into. I'd grab some food and binge several episodes. I wasn't a fan of the ending. - u/life-finds-a-way
2. Empress Ki
Korean Drama - 2013, 51 episodes
Empress Ki - Not historically accurate but you fall in love with the wise and badass female protagonist. Some funny scenes in the beginning but mainly series kdrama . I dont usually binge on long kdramas but it felt fast pace for a series period drama compared to Queen Seonduk. It took me about 6 eps to get into it but man it is rare to see a strong female protagonist in a kdrama imo. - u/properintroduction
Empress Ki is also a popular one that has a LOT of, well, everything. Action, love triangles, betrayal, politics, comedy, deaths, etc. Ji Chang Wook had his best acting moments here, and anyone who says otherwise can fight me, no cap. Ha Ji Won also shines with her badassery as usual. I guess the only downside is that it heavily relies on its creative license, meaning yes it's inspired by the real Empress Ki, but a lot of what they show about her is distorted/fake. Got a lot of flak for that in Korea, but just as a drama, its good. - u/jaceydarling
3. Sungkyunkwan Scandal
Korean Drama - 2010, 20 episodes
Sungkyunkwan Scandal: A fantasy historical about a girl cross-dressing to attend the Sungkyunkwan school, which was the school for the best and brightest of the aristocrat class preparing for their government careers. She forms an extraordinary friendship with three guys, each immensely different in personality but all exceedingly smart and courageous. There are hijinks, crushes, and lots of guts from these youngsters who fight for justice and help take down corruption. This drama is a good intro historical to watch because it basically dresses up a modern rom-com in historical clothing. - u/myweithisway
Sungkyunkwan Scandal is a nice historical. Romance and sort of coming-of-age. Real good core cast, bit of mystery and mischief, and fun times. - u/life-finds-a-way
4. Warrior Baek Dong Soo
Korean Drama - 2011, 29 episodes
Warrior Baek Dong Soo based on the person who first created the martial arts guide in Joseon. - u/Enter_Text_Here
Warrior Baek Dong Soo - Great story of two friends who take completely different paths and how those choices impact their relationship. Has a bit of a longer lead in with child actors to set up the background, but it sets up each characters choices later in the drama. - u/Kordiana
5. Moon Embracing the Sun
Korean Drama - 2012, 20 episodes
The Moon Embracing the Sun is a good one to start with bc it's not as tragic as all the other ones are lmao. Also the story/music gives a fairy tale vibe. Also, the only drama where you can see Kim Yoo Jung, Yeo Jin Goo, and Kim So Hyun act all in one screen as the main characters, just i c o n i c and a classic. - u/jaceydarling
Korean Drama - 2008, 20 episodes
Iljimae: Iljimae is a folklore hero who battled corruption to help the poor, essentially a Robin Hood figure. This drama version is mostly focused on action and comedy and light on gravitas. Some of the props/setups was truly hilarious to see. Might be worth it for a Lee Joon Ki fan to check out for giggles but not a really great drama overall. - u/myweithisway
Iljimae - Great revenge action historical. - u/Kordiana
7. The Return of Iljimae
Korean Drama - 2009, 24 episodes
Return of Iljimae is not a sequel, and received a lot of praise. It has an interesting back story. - u/Nottoolatetolearn
Return of Iljimae: Another drama portraying the story of Iljimae, this drama is more of a traditional sageuk even though it has a bit of fantasy at the very beginning and at the very end to anchor the story. It basically portrays the growth of a young man from his very unfortunate beginnings into a folk hero. There's quite a bit of tragedy in the story and the overall drama has a somber tone. During its initial airing, it earned a lot of praise for its sweeping cinematography, which was not as common back then. A decade on, this drama will likely feel dated for new viewers in terms of both the story and visuals. - u/myweithisway
8. Dong Yi
Korean Drama - 2010, 60 episodes
Dong Yi is best for me. - u/kfan345
Dong Yi - follows life story of a peasant girl who rises to a high position in the court. Comparable to Jewel in the Palace ( with the same ML). Also has a young Lee Kwang Soo in a humorous role. May be slow, tame compared to more modern Historicals, but well worth it! - u/LcLou02
9. Jewel in the Palace
Korean Drama - 2003, 54 episodes
Jewel in the Palace - Based on a probably true story of the first royal female physician. It's number 10 on the highest-ranked drama list for public tv. This is an excellent drama that really provides a lot of background on the workings of Palace life.
Personally it's my favorite historical and it would be a very easy first drama but it can be very heavy at times. - u/Sephdar
Jewel in the Palace is a historical unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s what got me into historicals and was my first ever kdrama too. It’s a beast at 54 episodes (not as much as DongYi’s 80something though) but the character development is so good. The female lead is very intelligent and a great refreshing character when you look at how others are portrayed. Slow burn but it makes the journey worth it. - u/dianapharah
10. Queen Seon Duk
Korean Drama - 2009, 62 episodes
Queen Seon Duk: Based loosely off real historical figures, the drama depicts an epic fight between two opposing sides, each led by a strong female. At the time of airing, it captured the attention of the general public and its villain became a byword for evil. In fact, the villain had a piece of music that was played whenever she was being evil and you can still hear this music being played on variety shows when they are cueing an evil person. If you're fan of melodramas, this is a good drama to satisfy those cravings since it's basically a melodrama wearing historical clothing. - u/myweithisway
Queen Seon Duk, another based on a real person and events. Girl power drama, and the villian. It's so good. Don't be scared by the episode count. It's worth it. - u/Sephdar
11. The Princess's Man
Korean Drama - 2011, 24 episodes
Princess' Man - a Romeo and Juliette type drama involving a Princess in Joseon and the son a Nobleman who is her father's enemy. - u/Enter_Text_Here
If you're into angst, Princess' Man is the angstiest drama PERIOD. So good, and the chemistry is off the charts. One of my all time favs. - u/jaceydarling
12. Heaven's Order
Korean Drama - 2013, 20 episodes
Mandate of Heaven/The Fugitive of Joseon
One of my favorite and underrated dramas of 2013!
Quick summary: Set during the reign of King Injong, the protagonist is a royal physician desperate to cure his ailing daughter. He becomes a fugitive when he gets entangled in an assassination plot to poison the crown prince, and fights to save both his daughter's life and his own
The main leads were ok. Not that I didn't like them (I did) but they were pretty boring and stagnant throughout the show compared to others. The supporting cast really shined (especially the Woo-young/Jung-hwan couple was amazing and had a crackling chemistry. As Dramabeans put it "It's like if the prosecutor from City Hunter got together with City Hunter's sister). There was a diverse and full cast with a lot of different personalities which made the world seem real, if that makes sense
One thing that I loved was that it was consistent. No random, wtf twists, no wild swings, just a fun story that it wanted to tell. I know some people prefer it the other way but it was really nice not constantly yelling at my screen and just enjoying the show.
Rang is the cutest thing ever. Trust me.
13. Secret Investigation Record
Korean Drama - 2010, 12 episodes
Joseon X-Files - It's a Sci-Fi sageuk. Supernatural/paranormal, but not in a really hokey way. Shot beautifully, and the writing is pretty tight. No romance, but no disasters. Very cerebral once you hit the middle, and it continues until the end. - u/life-finds-a-way
14. The Bridal Mask
Korean Drama - 2012, 28 episodes
Bridal Mask - set in Japanese occupied Korea. It's pretty intense in some parts, but it is really interesting. Great character development with both main male leads. - u/Kordiana
Gaksital - gut-wrenching hero’s tale that is set during the Japanese occupation era. Epic in the best of ways. It has dark and complex characters, excellent acting, terrific action scenes, and breathtaking music. - u/latteh0lic
Korean Drama - 2010, 24 episodes
Chuno is probably the best action sageuk I've seen. I really like the cinematography in this bc it's not like the typical historical dramas nowadays where everything is visually aesthetic and all fluffy. This one is more gritty, but it fits the drama bc its about slave hunters. - u/jaceydarling
Korean Drama - 2010, 36 episodes
Jejoongwon revolves around the first Western medicine hospital in Korea. The main setting is the hospital and the characters are diverse (Western doctors, an incredibly smart FL, a ML who rejects his class in society to learn medicine). - u/serendipitious333
I'm not big on historical dramas, but I loved Jejoongwon. - u/Aksalon
17. Gunman In Joseon
Korean Drama - 2014, 22 episodes
Joseon Gunman - It’s historical, but bridges the period of modernization in Korean History. - u/roseweldrmr
18. Secret Door
Korean Drama - 2014, 24 episodes
I enjoyed Secret Door a lot.
I knew enough about Crown Prince Sado before watching the drama, and I was very interested in seeing how everything would be treated. The drama was initially marketed as "just how did Sado die?"
The writers hit the ground running and never really looked back. There are usual sageuk tropes: political scheming, King and Prince fights, etc. But there are enough smaller story arcs that fade out when another appears to keep things interesting.
Also, you can read up on Crown Prince Sado before or after the drama. Lee Je-hoon did such a great job with the role, you'll feel a host of conflicting emotions in the best way possible.
There's an unfortunate loss of momentum around the halfway mark or so. It's with a supporting character. I feel that's a product of the writers changing things due to a live shoot system. Something happened. But that's honestly negligible in the grand scheme of things. - u/life-finds-a-way
19. The Three Musketeers
Korean Drama - 2014, 12 episodes
The Three Musketeers is now one of my favorite dramas.
I watch the BBC series, so I wanted to see what Korea was going to do with it. It was a faithful enough historical adaptation for sure. It also had some key "goddamnit" dramatic elements, and that kept things grounded.
The cast was great. Always some intentionally funny and even some unintentionally funny moments. This was supposed to be a three season venture, but it looks like they're stopping at the first. Which is fine. Enough of the story had been told and enough had been set up for us to know how the story carries out. That is, unless you don't know the novel or movies or show. - u/life-finds-a-way
20. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
Korean Drama - 2016, 20 episodes
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo: A time travel drama based loosely off the original Chinese work, Moon Lovers depicts an epic love story. Filled with characters good and bad engaged in an intense fight for power, the drama suffers a bit from trying to do too much without having enough time. The cinematography of this drama may be a deal-breaker for some viewers since it can be very distracting. (My favorite part about this drama is arguably the fantastic behind the scenes content that came out of it.) - u/myweithisway
Moon Lovers is a perfect gateway sageuk drama for anyone who has ever been intimidated by this genre. It has piece of everything a good sageuk has in pretty packaging and with engaging story. - u/Egg-Mont
Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo - One of sageuk drama that stand the most for me. I rarely watch Sageuk, but this one won over me easily. It has a bit of time-travelling, strong character development, sweet romance,amazing ost. - u/dxfaa
Korean Drama - 2016, 20 episodes
Hwarang - Very cute and fun drama about young scholar-warriors who are assembled to protect the interests of the throne. It's got a lot of bromance, and there's a lot about the nature of friendship, family, and what makes a king. - u/eroverton
Hwarang - A cute, fun drama with so much eye-candy it almost hurts haha. Romance was there, but it's the bromance that keeps you watching :) - u/UkEuropeEarth
Hwarang - although it has its flaws I enjoyed watching it - u/iluvbiology
22. Love in the Moonlight
Korean Drama - 2016, 18 episodes
A girl pretending to be a guy gets on the bad side of some bad guys and ends up being "castrated" and sent to live as a palace eunuch. She falls in love with the crown prince, but their relationship is kinda complicated. This one is loads of fun and piles of cute. - u/eroverton
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds - does not feel historical. Female lead entered the palace as eunich. Prince fell in love with her. Very cliche but an easy watch. - u/onioncube79
Love in the Moonlight - A lighthearted rom-com with some basic palace politics. The ML and FL are adorable and their chemistry was spot on. The SML and other side characters are also lovable. I especially enjoyed the bromance in this drama. This one’s an easy watch and if you’re watching your first ever historical drama then this is perfect for it. - u/Fatooz
23. Six Flying Dragons
Korean Drama - 2015, 50 episodes
Six Flying Dragons: Arguably the best sageuk to come out after 2000, it portrays the founding of the Joseon Dynasty. It has all the elements that you want in an epic historical drama: fantastic action, sweeping cinematography, a stirring OST, and career defining acting. On top of all this, the drama is anchored to an epic story that explores topics ranging from human desires, to political systems, to justice and morality, to love. Truly worth watching for its take on humanity regardless of whether you like the sageuk genre or not. This is the sageuk by which I personally measure all other sageuks. - u/myweithisway
Six Flying Dragons is the prequel to Tree with Deep Roots. SFD is action, political intrigue, drama, love stories, and history all in one. One of my all-time favorites! - u/life-finds-a-way
This was great! Loads of action, twists, 'omg' moments and even a tiny touch of romance. - u/eroverton
I have watched it and I absolutely fell in love. The character arc of the male lead (Yi Bang Won, played by Yoo Ah In) was stunningly portrayed. From a reckless boy to a wise leader, the journey was amazing. The other characters' stories were developed quite well too. No one was freeloading in the drama and each character played an important piece. The political portion of the drama was compelling because of the well-versed dialogues accompanied with some historical significance. - u/jamthedrestoyer
24. The Legend of the Blue Sea
Korean Drama - 2016, 20 episodes
Legend of the Blue Sea - Timeline hops back and forth from present-day to Joseon. Technically it's mostly present day, but the sageuk sections are integral to the plot. u/eroverton
Legend of the Blue Sea - Semi-historical drama where the historical parts come only when the ML dreams of his past life. I absolutely loved the connection that was built and shown in the drama, the scenes that went from Joseon era to modern time was really nicely done. A cute rom-com with two adorable characters falling in love, some wholesome underrated friendships and goofball characters. This drama is really close to my heart. It’s a perfect watch if you don’t want to watch too much of historical but also want to watch little bit of historical. - u/Fatooz
25. Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People
Korean Drama - 2017, 30 episodes
Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People - Amazing OST!! Gil Dong champions the rights of the common people on his path to becoming Joseon’s first revolutionary activist. - u/thabz2281
Rebel Thief Who Stole The People: Korean historical version of Robin Hood with some excellent social commentary on the class system that still relevant to this day. It has well-written female characters, fleshed out and layered characters, beautiful OST that maintained authenticity with the time period, and a heart-fluttering romance. - u/latteh0lic
Rebel: Thief Who Stole The People - I usually don't watch sageuks but this one was amazing. Definitely worth watching. - u/razer981
26. Chicago Typewriter
Korean Drama - 2017, 16 episodes
Chicago Typewriter - takes place during the Japanese occupation, so that is the focus. Chicago Typewriter begins in modern times and then you see the past woven through the story. - u/LcLou02
Chicago Typewriter, so this one isn't much for historical accuracy but it's set in the 30's and was a very interesting drama. - u/Sephdar
Chicago Typewriter - Well, again this one’s also semi-historical. The past life story which is the best part about the drama is set in the Japanese Occupation of Korea era. The main trio has great chemistry and just loved their friendship and patriotism. Kind of an easy watch which will make you laugh, cry and smile. Love the soundtrack too! - u/Fatooz
27. Queen for Seven Days
Korean Drama - 2017, 20 episodes
Queen for Seven Days is a favorite. Beautifully shot, plus the actors delivered. You might want to check it out if you enjoy melodrama, this one made me cry buckets. - u/yawniez
Queen for Seven Days, from the title you may be able to guess this one isn't all rainbows and sunshine. It's very short for a historical, only 20 eps. Also based on the true story of our poor 7 day queen. This drama was an emotional roller coaster, but you really shouldn't miss out on it. - u/Sephdar
Queen for Seven Days is a tragic historical drama, if you're into sad stories. Also based on a real king&queen, which kinda makes things sadder. - u/jaceydarling
I haven't seen much historical but I personally loved Queen for Seven Days for an interesting storyline (no dull old guys talking to each other), focuses on family and friendships (the mad king was brilliantly portrayed in a way we could sympathize with him yet never agree with him), and a romance that was ill-fated but had good development. Also the costumes were gorgeous and I cried the hardest I've ever cried while watching this one. breaks your heart so good! - u/keroppi-pond