Black Belt Pattern Meaning

King Kwang-Gae-Toh-Wang (meaning “broad expander of territory”) was born in 374 AD and ascended to the throne in 391, at the age of just seventeen, to become the 19th king of the Koguryo Dynasty. He ruled over Koguryo at the time in Korea’s history known as The Three Kingdoms, so called because during this time the Korean peninsula was constantly being fought over by the three Koguryo, Silla and Paekche dynasties. He is sometimes referred to as Great King Yeongnak, after the era name selected by him.

He expanded Koguryo’s territories far into the Korean peninsula by advancing southward at the expense of the Paekche dynasty to occupy the north of the Han River, and occupied Manchurian territory to the east of Liaohe. On his death in 413, at just 39 years of age, Koguryo ruled everything between the Sungari and Han Rivers. This gave it control over two thirds of what is now modern Korea as well as a large part of Manchuria. In addition, the chieftains of Silla submitted to the northern kingdom’s authority in 399 to receive protection from Japanese raids. Only Paekche continued to resist Koguryo domination during this period, thereby preventing what would have been the first recognised unification of the Korean peninsula.

During his reign, King Kwang-Gae conquered 65 walled cities and some 1,400 villages, in addition to aiding Silla when it was attacked by the Japanese. In 392 he built nine Buddhist temples in Pyongyang. His accomplishments are recorded on a monument which was erected in 414 in southern Manchuria.


Chong, Mong-Chu was born in 1337, at the time when the Koryo dynasty ruled the Korean peninsula. At the age of 23 he took three different Civil Service literary examinations and received the highest marks possible on all three, and in 1367 he became an instructor in Neo-Confucianism at Songgyungwan University whilst simultanously holding a government position, and was a faithful public servant to King U. The king had great confidence in his wide knowledge and good judgement, and so he participated in various national projects and his scholarly works earned him great respect in the Koryo court. He was most knowledgeable about human behaviour, and visited China and Japan as a diplomat for the king, securing promises of Japanese aid in defeating pirates and managing to secure peace with Ming dynasty China in 1385. He also founded an institute devoted to the theories of Confucianism.

During the beginning of the eleventh century Mongol forces had advanced into China and the Korean peninsula, and by the year 1238 Koryo was fully under Mongol domination and would remain so for the next full century. The Ming Dynasty in China had grown extremely powerful during the 14th century, however, and began to beat back the Mongol armies, so that by the 1350s Koryo had regained its independence, although China garrisoned a large number of troops in the north-east of Koryo, effectively occupying part of the country.

General Yi, Sung-Gae had grown in power and respect during the late 1370s and early 1380s, and many of Chong’s contemporaries plotted to dethrone then-King U and replace him with General Yi. In 1388, General Yi, Sung-Gae was ordered to use his armies to push the Ming armies out of the Korean peninsula. The general, however, was no fool. He realised the strength of the Ming forces when he came into contact with them at the Yalu River, and made a momentous decision that would alter the course of Korean history. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials and the general populace, he decided to return to the capital, Kaesong, and secure control of the government instead of possibly destroying his army by attacking the Chinese.

Yi marched his army into the capital, defeated the forces loyal to the king (commanded by General Choi Yong) and removed the government, but did not ascend the throne right away. King Gongyang and his family were sent into exile in 1392 (where they would later be secretly murdered), but Chong, Mong-Chu faithfully supported the king, leading the opposition to Yi’s claim to the throne. Chong was revered throughout Koryo, even by Yi himself, but he was seen to be an obstacle and as such had to be removed. Yi threw a party for him and afterward, on his way home, Chong was murdered by five men on the Sonjukkyo Bridge in Kaesong. This bridge has now become a national monument, and a brown spot on one of the stones is said to be a bloodstain of his which turns red when it rains.

The 474-year-old Koryo Dynasty effectively ended with the death of Chong, Mong-Chu, and was followed by the Lee Dynasty. His noble death symbolises his faithful allegiance to the king. He was honored in 1517, 125 years after his death, when he was canonised into the national academy alongside other Korean sages such as Yul-Gok and Toi-Gye.

Even if I may die, die a hundred times
Even if my skeleton may become dust and dirt,
And whether my spirit may be there or not,
My single-hearted loyalty to the lord will not change.

Chong, Mong-Chu (Po-Eun)


Little is known of the life of Ge-Baek, including the year and location of his birth, apart from the fact that he was a great general in the Paekche dynasty in the early to mid-7th century AD.

The Paekche dynasty flourished for six centuries from 18 BC until it was defeated by Silla in 660. Paekche was established by refugees from Koguryo in the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula, close to the site of present-day Seoul. It expanded southward and set up a trading relationship with China. A major Paekche expedition to Kyushu, Japan, led to the creation of the Yamato Kingdom and the beginnings of a new cultural legacy.

In 655, Paekche and Koguryo joined forces to attack Silla, although they were eventually driven back when Silla received aid from Tang Dynasty China. In 660, when a huge united army of Silla and the Chinese invaded Paekche, General Ge-Baek organised 5,000 soldiers of the highest morale and courage to meet them in battle. He knew before he set out that his army was outnumbered and that his efforts would be futile, but nonetheless he did not hesitate to try to defend his country, reportedly stating

“I would rather die than be a slave of the enemy.”

He then killed his wife and family to prevent them from falling into the hands of opposing forces, and to prevent the thought of them to influence his actions or cause him to falter in battle.

His forces won four small initial battles, but then he was forced to move his forces to block the advance of General Kim, Yoo-Sin on the Paekche capital, Puyo. The two generals met on the plains of Hwangsan Field, in present day Hamyang, near Chiri Mountain. Ge-Baek’s forces fought bravely but they were outnumbered ten to one and, in the end, he and his men were completely defeated.

The Paekche dynasty was destroyed after 678 years of rule, but the name of Ge-Baek is still recognised for his bravery and his fierce loyalty to his country.


Son, Byong-Hi was born in 1861 in Chungcheong Province. In 1884 he heard of the Dong Hak religion* and its ideals of supporting the nation and comforting the people, and decided to become a member.

After joining Dong Hak, Son entered into a period of profound training that included reading and reciting the Dong Hak “Incantation of Twenty-One Letters” thirty thousand times a day. In addition he made straw sandals, which he sold at the market in Cheongju. He is thought to have lived in this manner for roughly three years.

After this period Son, Byong-Hi became the student of Ch’oe, Si-Hyung, who was the 2nd Great Leader of Dong Hak, and entered a life of devoted study. In 1894 Ch’oe, Si-Hyung led the Gabo Dong Hak Revolution in protest at the corruption of the Korean Joseon government, and Son, Byong-Hi served as a commander. This revolution quickly grew into a resistance struggle against foreign invasion and occupation, in which Japan was the principal target. Ch’oe’s forces met defeat in 1895, however, and the revolution was put down at the hands of Japan’s superior modern weaponry. After living for some years as a fugitive Ch’oe, Si-Hyung was captured by pursuing government troops in 1898 and executed, although he had foreseen that his time was marked, and on December 24, 1897 he had ordained Son, Byong-Hi as the 3rd Great Leader of Dong Hak.

In 1898, following the execution of Ch’oe, Si-Hyung, Son, Byong-Hi sought political asylum in Japan. After the Russo-Japan War in 1904, he returned to Korea and established the Chinbohoe (”progressive society”), a new cultural and reformist movement designed to reverse the declining fortunes of the nation and to create a new society. Through Dong Hak he conducted a nationwide movement that aimed at social improvement through the renovation of old customs and ways of life. Hundreds of thousands members of Dong Hak cut their long hair short and initiated the wearing of simple, modest clothing. Non-violent demonstrations for social improvement organised by members of Dong Hak took place throughout 1904. This coordinated series of activities was known as the Kapjin reform movement.

Members of Dong Hak were severely persecuted by the Japanese government, and so, on December 1, 1905, Son decided to modernise the religion and usher in an era of openness and transparency in order to legitimise it in the eyes of the Japanese. As a result he officially changed the name of Dong Hak to Chondo Kyo (”Heavenly Way”). The following year, Chondo Kyo was established as a modern religious organisation. Its central headquarters were based in Seoul.

Over the years of Japanese colonial rule since the annexation in 1910, Son, Byong-Hi, like all Koreans, longed for freedom and independence. As a result of these years of oppression, he helped to set up a systematic underground anti-Japanese movement throughout 1918 which saw uprecedented cooperation between Chondo Kyo, Christians and Buddhists as they united under a common cause. Son’s Chondo Kyo gave financial support to the movement, and he insisted that the independence movement must be popular in nature and non-violent. A Declaration of Independence was prepared and 33 national leaders selected, 15 of which were members of Chondo Kyo. Son, Byong-Hi was the most prominent of these.

The climax came on March 1, 1919 when, during a period of public mourning for the recently deceased Emperor Ko-Jong, the Declaration of Independence was publicly proclaimed at Pagoda Park in Seoul. This spark ignited the public, who took to the streets and demonstrated, calling for Korean independence. This initiated a nationwide movement in which many people took part, regardless of locality and social status, but the Japanese immediately mobilised their police and army and brutally put down the demonstrations, despite their peaceful nature. More than 6,000 Koreans were killed, some 15,000 wounded, and around 50,000 arrested, including Son, Byong-Hi.

While in prison Son became ill and was eventually released from custody on sick bail. His illness worsened, however, and in 1922 he died at home in Sangchunweon. Son, Byong-Hi selflessly devoted his life, both in terms of his spiritual ideals and his political ideals, to the oppressed Korean masses and the Korean nation.

* Dong Hak (”Oriental Culture”) was a Korean religion founded in 1860 by Ch’oe Suun. Dong Hak venerated the god “Hanulnim” (”Lord of Heaven”), and believed that man is not created by a supernatural God, but man is instead caused by an innate God. Koreans have believed in Hanulnim from ancient times, so Dong Hak could be seen to be a truly Korean religion, unlike Buddhism or Christianity.


Kim Duk Ryang was born in 1567, in Lee Dynasty Korea. He joined the army and rose to become a commander of the royal troops.

When Japan invaded in 1592, he was promoted to the rank of general and, in 1594, he was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Honam district. He was immediately called upon to defend his district, and succeeded in repelling the Japanese invaders. He and another commander, Ja, Woo-Kwak, followed the routed Japanese troops and destroyed their camps. As a result of this his reputation grew, and the Japanese forces became afraid of him. He was nicknamed General Ho-Ik (”tiger wing”) as a result of his bravery.

He was regarded jealously by King Sonjo’s subordinates, and they engineered his arrest and imprisonment in 1595 on falsified charges relating to the killing of a slave girl, but he was later released by decree of the king. He was eventually implicated in the rebellion orchestrated by Lee, Mong-Hak in 1596 and sentenced to death by poisoning, although he was later exonerated and absolved of any dishonour.


The Juche Idea was improvised in the 1950s by Kim, Il-Sung, and became the official state ideology of the Democratic People’s Rebublic of Korea (DPRK) in 1972.

Juche is often described as “self-reliance”. When applied to an individual this can be interpreted as meaning that man is the master of his own self, his own world and his own destiny. The true meaning of Juche is more nuanced, however, as it was devised as a political rather than a personal philosophy. Kim, Il-Sung explained:

“Establishing Juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting dependence on others, using one’s own brains, believing in one’s own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving one’s own problems for oneself on one’s own responsibility under all circumstances.”

The Juche philosophy carries a great deal of controversy with it due to its political purpose and application in North Korea by Kim, Il-Sung and subsequently Kim, Jong-Il, and full understanding of it would require extensive exploration of its many aspects. This, unfortunately, goes far beyond the remit of this website.


One of the earliest displays of Korean nationalism under the Japanese occupation of Korea came in the form of the Sam-Il (meaning literally “three-one”, referring to the first day of the third month) Movement, which occurred on the 1st of March 1919.

The inspiration for these actions came from the “Fourteen Points” and the right of national “self-determination of weak nations” proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace talks earlier that year. After hearing news of the Wilson’s talk and realising its consequences, Korean students studying in Tokyo published a statement that demanded Korean independence. When this news reached the underground movement in Korea that had been secretly forming throughout 1918, composed of 33 Chondo Kyo, Buddhist and Christian leaders including Son, Byong-Hi (Eui-Am), it was decided that the time to act was nearing. Secret plans were drawn up and information disseminated by word of mouth throughout the towns and villages of Korea.

It was decided that the movement should be staged two days before the funeral of Emperor Ko-Jong. From a Korean point of view this funeral brought to an end not only the Lee Dynasty but also one of the last symbols of the Korean nation. With the death of their Emperor, Koreans realised that any possibility of an independently ruled nation was lost, and that Korea lay solely in the hands of the colonial Japanese. This situation provided the necessary momentum for the Korean independence movements to mobilise themselves.

At 2pm on the 1st of March, the 33 patriots who formed the core of the Sam-Il movement assembled at Pagoda Park in downtown Seoul to read the Declaration of Independence that they had drawn up, and the crowds that had assembled in the park to hear it formed into a procession. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Japanese Governor General, with their compliments. They then telephoned the central police station to inform them of their actions. As such, the Japanese police fell upon the procession and it was soon crushed and the leaders of the movement arrested. It is said that the crowd was fired upon by the officers. According to reports issued by the Yon-Hap news agency, “…more than 6,000 demonstrators were killed and about 15,000 wounded. Some 50,000 others were arrested by the Japanese police”. According to another report the crowd cheered the arrested men.

Coinciding with these events, special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2pm on that same day, but the nationwide uprisings that resulted were also brutally put down by the Japanese police and army.

As international response to the incident was virtually non-existent, one of the most important teachings resulting from the Sam-Il Movement for the nationalists was that they essentially needed to rely solely on their own efforts. They could not expect assistance from other, foreign nations to fight a battle that was not their own.

It is said that the Sam-Il Movement was one of the most extraordinary examples of passive resistance to foreign domination that the world has ever seen.


Kim, Yoo-Sin was born in Gyeyang, Jincheon in 595 AD, became a Hwa-Rang warrior at just 15 and was an accomplished swordsman and a Kuk-Son (Hwa-Rang leader) by the time he was 18 years old. By the age of 34 he had been given total command of the Silla armed forces.

Yoo-Sin felt that Paekche, Koguryo and Silla should not be separate countries, but should instead be united because all the people had the same ethnic background. He is regarded as the driving force in the unification of the Korean peninsula, and is the most famous of all the generals in the unification wars of the Three Kingdoms, but his victories were tempered by his regret that they had to be at the expense of people he considered to be ethnically the same as him.

His first military engagement is believed to have occured around 629, and through it he quickly proved his capabilities as a warrior. Silla was in a constant struggle with its neighbor to the west, Paekche, over territory. There had been gains and losses on both sides, and the struggle lasted for many years. It was during this period that Kim rose through the ranks of the military, rising to the position of general and becoming a skilled field commander.

Many stories exist about General Kim, Yoo Sin. It is told that once he was ordered to subdue a rebel army, but his troops refused to fight as they had seen a large shooting star fall from the sky and believed it to be a bad omen. To regain control, the General used a large kite to carry a ball of fire into the sky. The soldiers, seeing the “star” return to heaven, rallied and defeated the rebels. It is also said that General Kim ingeniously used kites as a means of communication between his troops when split between islands and the mainland.

Another story tells that once, while Silla was allied with China against Paekche, an argument broke out between Yoo-Sin’s commander and a Chinese general. As the argument escalated into a potentially bloody confrontation, Yoo-Sin’s sword was said to have leaped from its scabbard into his hand. Because the sword of a warrior was believed to be his soul, this occurrence so frightened the Chinese general that he immediately apologised to the Silla officers. Incidents such as this kept the Chinese in awe of the Hwa-Rang, and meant that in later years, when asked by the Chinese emperor to attack Silla, the Chinese generals refused, claiming that although Silla was small, it could not be defeated.

When Koguryo and Paekche attacked Silla in 655, Silla joined forces with Tang Dynasty China to battle the invaders. Although it is not clear when Kim first became a general, he was certainly commanding the Silla forces at this time. Eventually, with the help of the Silla navy and some 13,000 Tang forces, Kim attacked the Paekche capital, Puyo, in 660 in one of the most famous battles of the 7th century. The Paekche defenders were commanded by none other than General Ge-Baek, although the Paekche forces consisted of about 5,000 men and were no match for Kim’s warriors, which numbered about ten times as many. Paekche, who had been experiencing internal political problems, crumbled. Kim’s Silla forces and their Tang allies now moved on Koguryo from two directions, and in 661 they attacked the seemingly impregnable Koguryo Kingdom but were repelled. The attack had weakened Koguryo, though, and in 667 another offensive was launched which, in 668, destroyed Koguryo forever. Silla still had to subdue various pockets of resistance, but their efforts were then focused on ensuring that their Chinese allies did not overstay their welcome on the peninsula. After some difficult conflicts, Silla eventually forced out the Tang and united the peninsula under their rule.

Kim was rewarded handsomely for his efforts in these campaigns. He reportedly received a village of over 500 households, and in 669 was given some 142 separate horse farms, spread throughout the kingdom. He died four years later at the age of 78, leaving behind ten children.

General Kim, Yoo-Sin lived to the age of 78 and is considered to be one of Korea’s most famous generals of all time. Following his death in 673, General Kim was posthumously awarded the honorary title of King Heungmu, and was buried at the foot of Mt. Songhwasan, near Kyongju on the southeast coast of Korea, in a tomb as splendid as that of kings.


Choi Yong was born in 1316 in Ch’orwon, Kangwon Province. His beginnings were humble, and his lifestyle would best be described as spartan. He paid little heed to his own clothes and meals, and eschewed fine garments or other comforts even when he became famous and could easily have enjoyed them. He disliked men who desired expensive articles, and he viewed simplicity as a virtue. His motto, inherited from his father, was “Do not be covetous of gold”.

Such a man was well suited for military service, and Choi quickly gained the confidence of both his men and his king during numerous battles with Japanese pirates who began raiding the Korean coast around 1350.

At 36 years of age he became a national hero when he successfully put down a rebellion by Cho, Il-Shin after his insurgents had surrounded the palace and killed many officials and Cho had proclaimed himself king. Then, in 1355, an armed rebellion took place in the troubled Mongol Yuan Dynasty that occupied part of China. Choi Yong was sent to help the Mongols quash the rebellion, and his success in nearly thirty different battles won him even more fame and favour at home. Upon returning to Korea, he dutifully reported to King Kongmin the internal problems experienced by the dying Yuan Dynasty, which gave the king the idea that the time was right to reclaim some of the northern territories previously lost to the Mongols. Choi commanded his troops well and recovered many towns west of the Yalu River, to the great delight of his king.

He served briefly as the Mayor of Pyongyang, where his efforts at increasing crop production and mitigating famine won him even more attention as a national hero. Then, in 1363, he distinguished himself further when a powerful government official named Kim, Yon-An tried to take control of the government and Choi was forced to defeat a 10,000-man Mongol force that attacked Koryo in support of the rebellion.

Meanwhile, following a dream that he thought predicted that a Buddhist monk would save his life, King Kongmin promoted a monk named Shin Ton to a lofty position within his court, and allowed him considerable influence. Shin Ton , though, was ruthless and corrupt, and Choi – who vigorously opposed corruption in the kingdom – found himself at odds with him. Shin Ton engineered false accusations of misconduct against Choi that resulted in a punishment of six years in exile, and brought him dangerously close to the death penalty. When Shin Ton died, though, Choi Yong was restored to his previous position and was immediately asked to prepare a fleet to fight the Japanese pirates and eliminate the remaining Mongol forces on Cheju Island. He engaged the Mongols first, who fought tenaciously, but Choi’s forces eventually freed the island. Then, in 1376, the Japanese pirates advanced into Koryo and captured the city of Kongju. Chong, Mong-Chu (Po-Eun) secured assistance from the Japanese Shogun to eliminate these pirates, but the Japanese were of little help and General Choi Yong and his subordinate Yi, Sung-Gae managed to rout and eventually defeat them and reclaim Kongju.

The Ming Dynasty in China had become powerful during the 14th Century, and had driven back the Mongols and occupied part of north-eastern Koryo. In 1388, General Yi, Sung-Gae was ordered to use his armies to push the Ming armies out of the Korean peninsula. Knowing of the support he enjoyed both from high-ranking government officials and the general populace, however, he decided to return to the capital, Kaesong, and secure control of the government instead of possibly destroying his army by attacking the Chinese. When Yi returned, the loyal Choi Yong put up a gallant fight at the palace but was overwhelmed. Records differ as to what happened next, although it seems likely that he was banished to Koyang and later beheaded.

Choi Yong is remembered as a great general who was wholeheartedly devoted to the protection of his country. He risked his life many times for Koryo, and his unswerving loyalty eventually cost him his life.


Yon-Gae Somoon was a famous general who lived in 7th century Koguryo.

Koguryo was an aggressive and warlike nation with wide territories. It had developed a horse-riding culture and placed great emphasis on its military. These circumstances led to the formation of the Koguryo “Sunbae”, an organisation of strong warriors that served to protect and strengthen the state and its centralised authoritarian ruling system. Both Yon-Gae Somoon and his son Namsang were known to have been members of the Sunbae.

In 612, Sui China had attempted to invade Koguryo, and would have done so if it had not been for the efforts of the great General Ul-Ji Moon Dok. The Sui Dynasty in China was overthrown by the Tang Dynasty in 618, and the new regime held greedy expansionist ambitions. When Emperor Taizong took over the Tang throne in 627 he dispatched troops to northern Koguryo to dismantle Koguryo monuments at the sites of Sui Dynasty soldiers’ mass graves.

In 642, General Yon-Gae Somoon seized power from King Jianwu, and over the next few years the Chinese attacks grew more and more successful so that by 645 they had conquered a number of fortresses and towns, including Liaodong, the main base on the frontline. Taizong was serious enough about his conquest to have had 500 ships built to support it. In 645, though, the Tang offensive reached the fortress at Ansi.

At the fortress the army and general population of Koguryo, led by Yon-Gae, made a great stand and fiercely confronted the invading Tang, managing to resist the concentrated attack for 60 days. They fought valiantly, injuring Emperor Taizong himself, and the combination of their valour and the inclement winter forced the Chinese to retreat.

Taizong continued his campaign against Koguryo for two years, but was unable to deal the killer blow and, in 647, he withdrew. His death in 649 and the subsequent confusion in the Tang Dyasty allowed Yon-Gae to consolidate his forces and retake much of the territory conquered by the Tang.

After the death of Yon-Gae Somoon in 654, bitter dissent gradually began to arise amongst the leading Koguryo generals. When Silla and Tang came to learn of this internal turmoil, they took advantage and attacked Koguryo. After resisting the attack for a year, Pyongyang fell and the Kingdom grew weaker and weaker, until it was eventually destroyed in 668.


It is not known exactly when or where this great man was born, and unfortunately it is also not known exactly when he died. The best that can be said is that he was born in the mid-6th century and died in the early 7th century, sometime after 618.

He was born and raised in the kingdom of Koguryo, in a turbulent era of Korean history. It was a powerful and warlike kingdom, constantly warring with its neighbours, Silla to the southeast and Paekche to the southwest. The balance of power was roughly equal between the three kingdoms, however, and it took the injection of an outside influence to tip the balance. This influence was supplied by the kingdoms’ much larger western neighbor, China. In 589 China had been united under the Sui Dynasty, and this new dynasty, hungry for power, would be the deciding factor in the struggles between Paekche, Koguryo and Silla. This was the background for Ul-Ji Moon Dok as he grew up.

He was an educated man, and eventually became a Minister of Koguryo, with skills in both the political and military sciences. He was called upon to render service as a military leader, however, when the very existance of the kingdom became threatened by alliances between its rival neighbors.

The Sui Dynasty was suspicious of Koguryo and saw its aggressive ways as threatening, so in 612 Sui Emperor Yang Je decided to subdue this dangerous neighbour and prepared to attack. He mustered an army of over one million men and personally led them against Koguryo. They quickly overran Koguryo outposts, camped on the banks of the Liao River and prepared to bridge it. General Ul-Ji Moon Dok was called upon to assist in the defence of the nation, and so he prepared to meet the superior Sui forces with a strategy of false retreat, deception and attack.

After the Sui forces crossed the Liao River, a small contingent was sent to attack the Koguryo city of Liaotung, but General Ul-Ji sent his forces to meet them there and drove them out. As the rainy season progressed, the Sui forces tried other probing attacks, but these were not really of any significance, as they were mainly biding their time until the rainy season passed.

When the rains stopped, Yang Je moved his forces to the banks of the Yalu River in northwestern Korea and prepared for a major assault. General Ul-Ji visited the Chinese camp under the pretense of surrender in an attempt to discover any Sui weaknesses. Emperor Yang Je listened to General Ul-Ji and allowed him to leave the camp, but shortly after changed his mind and set out after him. But it was too late – the general had discovered what he needed to defeat the force. He had learned that the Sui forces were short of provisions and had overstretched their supply lines, and so he decided to pursue a strategy of gradual retreat, hoping to lure his enemy deeper and deeper into hostile territory. He drew the Sui on, fighting a kind of guerrilla warfare, picking when and where he fought and allowing the Sui forces to feel as though victory was close at hand, all the while luring them deeper into his trap.

A Sui advance force of over 300,000 men was sent to take the city of Pyongyang. General Ul-Ji continued to lure them closer and closer to the city, but led them to a strategic point where he could strike. His forces attacked from all sides, driving the Sui troops back in utter confusion. His troops pursued the retreating army, slaughtering them almost at will, so that it is said that only 2,700 troops successfully made it back to the main body of forces. This was the great battle of Salsu, and it has come to be known as one of the most glorious military triumphs in Korea’s history. Following this defeat, winter began to set in and the Sui forces, short on provisions, were forced to return home.

The Sui Dynasty was beginning to disintegrate and Yang Je decided that he urgently needed to expand his empire in order to regain power, but the two more desperate attacks on Koguryo by Yang Je following spring met with similar disaster, and eventually internal rebellion in China forced the Sui to give up its desires on Koguryo. By 618, the relatively short-lived Sui Dynasty was replaced by the Tang Dynasty. General Ul-Ji Moon Dok’s strategy and leadership had saved Koguryo from the Chinese.

Probably the most distinguished military leader of the Koguryo period and one of the most well-known generals in Korean history, General Ul-Ji Moon Dok’s leadership and tactical acumen was the decisive factor in saving Koguryo from destruction at the hands of the invading Chinese. He faced forces of far superior numbers and not only turned them back but was able to pursue and destroy them with such vigor that they were not able nor inclined to return. His life was filled with enough spectacular success to earn him a permanent place among Korea’s most remembered. He is still celebrated as a great Korean hero, and a main street in downtown Seoul, Ulji-ro, is named after him.


Moon-Moo was born Prince Bubmin, and was the son of King Mu-Yal, 29th king of the Silla Dynasty. He took the name Moon-Moo when he succeeded his father to the throne in 661.

He ascended to the Silla throne in the midst of the long conflict against Paekche and Koguryo, shortly after General Ge-Baek and Paekche had been defeated at Puyo by General Kim, Yoo-Sin. The first years of his reign were spent trying to defeat Koguryo, following an abortive attempt in 661. Finally, in 667, he ordered another attack which led, in 668, to the defeat of Koguryo. After the small isolated pockets of resistance were eliminated, King Moon-Moo was the first ruler ever to look upon the Korean peninsula and see it completely unified.

King Moon-Moo ruled over unified Silla for 20 years, until he fell ill in 681. On his deathbed, he left his last will and testament, and abdicated to his son, Prince Sin-Moon. Before he died he said

“A country should not be without a king at any time. Let the Prince have my crown before he has my coffin. Cremate my remains and scatter the ashes in the sea where the whales live. I will become a dragon and thwart the Japanese invasion.”

King Sin-Moon did as his father asked and scattered his ashes over Daewangam (the Rock of the Great King), a small rocky islet a hundred metres or so off the Korean coast. Moreover, King Sin-Moon built the Gomun Temple (the Temple of Appreciated Blessing) and dedicated it to his father, he built a waterway for the sea dragon to come to and from the sea and land, and he built a pavilion, Eegun, overlooking the islet so that future kings could pay their respects to the great King Moon-Moo.

In a dream, King Moon-Moo and the famous general Kim, Yoo-Sin appeared to King Sin-Moon and told him that blowing on a bamboo flute would calm the heavens and the earth. King Sin-Moon awoke from the dream, rode out to the sea and received the bamboo flute Monposikjuk. It was said that the blowing of the bamboo flute invoked the spirits of King Moon-Moo and General Kim, Yoo-Sin and would push back enemy troops, cure illnesses, bring rain during drought and halt the rains in floods.


Little is known of the early life of Choi, Hyong Ung, other than that he was born in 1520 and that he became a monk. As was common for monks in this time, he travelled from place to place, living in a succession of monasteries. Buddhist monks had been forced to keep a low profile since the end of the Koryo period, as General Yi, Sung-Gae had been forced to eject Buddhism from its state of total permeation of government, in order to gain the support of Neo-Confucian scholar-officials to consolidate his position against his Buddhist political opponents when he overthrew King Gongyang in 1392. This was the beginning of the suppression of Buddhism, which came into full flower during the succeeding Lee Dynasty.

Before ever having tested his hand as a military commander, So-San was a first-rate Seon (Korean Buddhism) master and the author of a number of important religious texts, the most important of which is probably his “Seon gugam”, a guide to Seon practice which is studied by Korean monks even today. Like most monks of the Lee Dynasty, So-San had been initially educated in Neo-Confucian philosophy. Dissatisfied, though, he wandered through the mountain monasteries. Later, after making a name for himself as a teacher, he was made arbiter of the Seon school by queen Munjeong, who was sympathetic towards Buddhism. He soon resigned from this responsibility, returning to the itinerant life, advancing his Seon studies and teaching at monasteries all around Korea.

The mountains where the monasteries were located were dangerous, and so the monks had to learn to defend themselves. So-San recognised that the development of armour made striking and kicking much less effective, but he also noticed that wherever the armour bends, so does the body. He saw that by manipulation of these joints one could defeat an armoured opponent on the battlefield. He also applied this same principle to the use of a rope or belt as a weapon, which he discovered can be wrapped around the body of your attacker, trapping weapons and, when necessary, breaking joints as it wraps. It was used by So-San and the soldiers he trained to immobilise, carry and even kill their opponents. Wrapped around the mouth and nose the rope would prevent the opponent from breathing, bringing about unconsciousness and allowing them to be taken as a prisoner. Many of these techniques were adopted and developed to give birth to the modern art of Hapkido.

At the beginning of the 1590s, Japanese Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, after stabilising Japan during this era of warring nations, made preparations for a large scale invasion of Korea. Korea was unaware of the situation in Japan, however, and was unprepared for the Japanese aggression. In 1592, after rebuffing Japan’s request for aid in conquering China, approximately 200,000 Japanese soldiers invaded Korea, and the Waeran (Japanese War) began. At the beginning of the invasion, King Sonjo fled the capital, leaving a weak, poorly-trained army to defend the country. In desperation he called on Master So-San to organise monks into guerilla units. Even at 73 years of age he managed to recruit and deploy some 5,000 of these warrior monks, who enjoyed some instrumental successes.

At first, the Korean armies suffered repeated defeats, and the Japanese marched north up to Pyongyang and the Hamgyong provinces. At sea, however, the Korean navy, under the command of Admiral Yi, Soon-Sin, enjoyed successive victories. Throughout the country, loyal volunteer armies formed and fought against the Japanese together with the warrior monks and the government armies of Korea.

The presence of So-San’s monks’ army, operating out of the Heungguksa temple deep in Mt. Yeongchwisan, was a critical factor in the eventual expulsion of the Japanese invaders in 1593 and again in 1598.

So-San died in 1604 leaving behind some 1,000 disciples, 70 of whom were monks and nuns, and many of whom held a prominent role in the later transmission of Korean Buddhism. One of the most important reasons for the restoration of Buddhism to a position of minimal acceptance in Lee Dynasty Korea was the role of So-San’s monks in repelling the Japanese invasion. So-San is also known for his efforts in the continuation of the project of the unification of Buddhist doctrinal study and practice, and in his works strong influence can be seen from Won-Hyo. He is considered the central figure in the revival of Korean Buddhism, and most major streams of modern Korean Seon trace their lineages back to him through one of his four main disciples, all four of whom were lieutenants of his during the war with Japan.


Se-Jong was born Yi Do on the 15th of May 1397, the third son of Prince Chong-An and a grandson of Taejo (Yi, Sung-Gae), who started the Lee Dynasty in 1392. He was born near the royal palace in the capital Hanyang (now Seoul).

Yi Do’s older brother was in line to become king, which suited him, as the young Yi Do was apparently not concerned with becoming king. He was instead interested from an early age in learning and spent most of his time reading books, although at the age of just 12 he found the time to marry Sim On, a young girl two years older than himself.

Prince Chong-An ascended to the throne in 1400 and took the name Taejong. He watched his young son grow in wisdom as he continued his studies, and by the time Yi Do was 22 years old King Taejong decided to make him Crown Prince and successor to the throne over his older brother. Soon afterward, his father decided to abdicate in favour of his son. Many in the king’s court (including Yi Do himself) protested that the young man was not yet ready to shoulder such responsibility, but the king insisted and so in 1418 Yi Do became king and took the name Se-Jong.

King Se-Jong believed that good government could only come when a king recognised and trained talented men and installed them into influential governmental positions to administrate the various branches of government. To this end he established the Chipyonjon (Jade Hall of Scholars), an amalgamation of the Hall of Art and the Hall of Literature that he made sure included an extensive library. King Se-Jong then chose twenty of his most able scholars and made them Masters of Learning, a position that freed them to devote themselves full time to advanced learning. He also set up a system that encouraged local governors throughout the country to report to the king any individuals who distinguished themselves. These individuals were then given the chance to become government officials, or other positions according to their talents.

One of King Se-Jong’s goals – the one for which he is most famous – was to make his people more educated by making it easier for them to become literate. At that time the Koreans used the Chinese script to document their spoken language, but Chinese writing consisted of thousands of individual characters that takes significant effort to master. King Se-Jong recognised that this was a barrier to learning, and threw his efforts into developing a system of writing that was simple and effective, and by 1443 he had completed the Hangul alphabet. He was so concerned with its perfection that he kept it for another three years so that he could test and modify it until he was satisfied. There was much resistance to the language, when it was first unveiled, from scholars who thought it would, among other things, limit the scholarly study of the Chinese classics. The king insisted, however, and ordered many of his scholars to begin translating classic books and Buddhist scriptures into Hangul. This greatly increased the ability of the layperson to become educated. In addition, he ordered that books be written that would be of help to the common man, such as the Farmers’ Handbook, which provided guidance on farming methods and techniques to increase production. He also ordered more technical books to be written, such as a complete medical dictionary, and an 85-volume pharmaceutical encyclopaedia that contained medical therapies, acupuncture techniques and herbal prescriptions to treat 959 different diseases.

King Se-Jong also had some impressive political achievements. It was during his reign he was able finally to subjugate the Japanese pirates who had been raiding the Korean coastline for so many years. He extended the territory of Korea as far north as the Yalu River, and, domestically, he tried to control corruption and raise the moral standards of the entire country.

Towards the end of his life, King Se-Jong tragically (and somewhat ironically) became afflicted by a paralysis that prevented him from speaking more than a few words at a time. He later developed a cancer and died in 1450 at the age of 52, after nearly 30 years on the throne.

He is proudly remembered as a king who was concerned for his people and fully committed to their intellectual advancement. Today, the main thoroughfare running north to south in front of Kyongbok Palace in Seoul bears his name. In addition, two holidays are related to him: Hangul Day (9 October) and King Se-Jong Day (15 May).


After Japan occupied Korea in 1910, the country remained part of the Japanese Empire until 1945. Following Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, Korea was liberated from the Japanese. As it was liberated by both Soviet and US forces, the responsibility for overseeing the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Korea was divided between the two sides, and the country was divided along the 38th parallel. The USSR occupied Korea north of this line, the USA occupied the south.

Under the auspices of the UN, a democratic government established the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1948, with its capital in Seoul. The Soviets established the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) with its capital in Pyongyang. The peninsula remains divided in this way to this day.

Korea has not been truly free since Japan started to encroach in 1876, and has been divided since 1945, not just in terms of being two separate countries – the ideologies and politics of the two countries are also vastly different. Maybe one day the two Korea’s will reunite and become one!

It was the dream of General Choi Hong Hi to see a unified Korea. Many other Taekwondo master’s see the same vision and strive to help build the bridge towards peace and unity.