Rich in history and tradition, Song Moo Kwan is the oldest and most famous school of Taekwondo in Korea. Its founder, Taekwondo pioneer Supreme Grand Master Byung Jick Ro, is the highest ranking Taekwondo Black Belt in the world.
Byung Jick Ro was born July 3, 1919 in Kaesung City, Korea. Frail health forced him to enter school a year later than the other children. At the age of twelve, his strong interest in the ancient martial arts was intensified as he witnessed the techniques practiced in the local temples. His youthful spirit drove him to train with intense dedication subsequently strengthening and improving his health.
As a young man, Supreme Grand Master Ro traveled to Japan to attend college. It was during this time that his passion for the martial arts led him to seek out Shotokan founder and the “Father of Modern Karate”, Gichin Funakoshi. In May of 1936 he began training under Funakoshi, subsequently earning his black belt in Shotokan. During college vacations he returned home and taught friends and neighbors the techniques he had learned. In February of 1944 he returned to Korea, where he continued to create additional hand and foot techniques of his own. It is the combination of these techniques along with the ones he learned during his early years of training that we know as Song Moo Kwan Taekwondo today.
Honoring numerous training requests, he opened the Kaesung dojang on March 20, 1944 in the Kwan Duck Jung archery school, establishing the first of the “original founding kwans”. Unfortunately, due to the situation in Korea during this time the dojang was forced to close within three to four months after opening. It was the end of World War II and Korea was under Japanese occupation. Survival was the first priority for the people of Korea and training in the martial arts was far from their minds. On May 2, 1946, Supreme Grand Master Ro re-established his art at Dong Hung Dong. For the next few years martial arts swept through the Korean general population and began to thrive as additional Kwans sprung up. However, war would again cause Supreme Grand Master Ro and the rest of the founders to abandon their dreams as the Korean War forced them to close their doors.
Not allowing themselves to be hindered, on May 25, 1953, Supreme Grand Master Ro, along with one delegate from each of the original founding Kwans and seven representatives, held a conference and established the Korean Kong Soo Do Association. Supreme Grand Master Ro was chosen to serve as its Executive Director. He was also made the Chairman of the Rank Promotion Committee and the Master Instructor. Sadly, due in part to the Korean War, Supreme Grand Master Ro is the only founder of the original founding Kwans still active in Taekwondo today.
Early Song Moo Kwan practice sessions started with an hour of warm up exercises consisting of lift-ing weights and then practicing on the Kwon Go (makiwara). Byung Jick Ro was known as a powerful puncher and kicker from his students. He always let his students punch the Kwon Go at least 100 times and then started the real practice. If students received the 4th Guep or higher, he let them spar. He was known to have his students practice in cold weather during winter and in the hot weather during summer.
One of Byung Jick Ro’s original students, Young Sup Lee reflects: ‘Every six months, there was testing for promotion. Mainly one step sparring, three step sparring, free sparring and forms were used to decide promotions. But free sparring was for 4th Guep and higher, and 1st Dan required breaking a board. If these rules were broken, the Kwan Jang was very upset.