The pattern Hwa-Rang consists of 29 movements and is required
for advancement from 2nd geup (red belt) to 1st geup (high red belt). This pattern
is named after the Hwarang youth group that originated in the Silla Dynasty about 1,350 years ago. The Hwarang movement is considered the most influential driving force in the unification of the three kingdoms
of Korea. The 29 movements in this pattern refer to the 29th Infantry Division,
where Taekwon-Do was developed into a mature martial art.
The Hwarang were leaders of military bands of the Silla Dynasty. They
were chosen from the young sons of the nobility by popular election. Each Hwarang
group consisted of hundreds or thousands of members. The leaders of each
Hwarang group, including the most senior leader, were referred to as Kukson. The
Kukson were very similar to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table in England around 1200.
Chosen from their ranks were government officials, military leaders, field generals, and even kings who served
Silla both in times of peace and war. Most of the great military leaders of Silla
were products of Hwarang training, and many were Kukson.
|Stone Monument to King Chin Hung
Silla, established in 57 B.C.,
was the smallest of the three kingdoms comprising what is now Korea. The citizens
of Silla were outnumbered and under continual threat of military domination from the neighboring kingdoms of
Baekje and Goguryo for over 700 years.
The Hwarang were established by Chin-Hung, the 24th King of Silla (540 A.D.), who was a devoted Buddhist and
loved elegance and physical beauty. He believed in mythical beings
and male and female fairies (Sinsun and Sunnyo). These beliefs led him to hold
beauty contests to pick the prettiest maidens in the country, which he called Wonhwa (Original Flowers). He taught them modesty, loyalty, filial piety, and sincerity so they would become good wives. In one contest among 300-400 Wonhwa, two exceptionally beautiful young women were favored, Nam-Mo
Unfortunately, the two
began to struggle for power and influence between themselves. Finally, in
order to win the contest, Jun-Jung got Nam-Mo drunk and killed her by crushing her skull with a rock. When the unfortunate maiden's body was found in a shallow grave by the river, the king had Jun-Jung
put to death and disbanded the order of the Wonhwa.
|Silla during the 6th Century
Several years after this incident, the King created a new order, the Hwarang.
"Hwa" meant flower or blossom, and "rang" meant youth or gentlemen. The
word Hwarang soon came to stand for Flower of Knighthood. These Hwarang were
selected from handsome, virtuous young men of good families. Their selection
was carried out by popular vote among their followers; then they were presented to the king for nomination as a Hwarang or
Kukson. They learned the five cardinal principles of human relations (kindness,
justice, courtesy, intelligence, and faith), the three scholarships (royal tutor, instructor, and teacher), and the six ways
of service (holy minister, good minister, loyal minister, wise minister, virtuous minister, and honest minister). The education of a Hwarang was supported by the king and generally lasted ten years, after which the
youth usually entered into some form of service to his country. King Chin-Hung
sent the Hwarang to places of scenic beauty for physical and mental culture as true knights of the nation. For hundreds of years, the Hwarang were taught by Kukson in social etiquette, music and songs, and patriotic
The Hwarang were taught the
martial arts and Buddhist faith and indoctrinated in the ways of cultured and chivalrous warriors. They climbed rugged mountains and swam rapid rivers in all months of the year, conditioning their minds
and bodies for endurance and discipline. Much of their training time was spent
in the mountains, at the seashore, and on wilderness excursions; training, meditating, and composing songs and poetry. They were taught dance, literature, arts, and sciences, and the arts of warfare, charioteering,
archery, and hand-to-hand combat. The hand-to-hand combat was based on the um-yang
principles of Buddhist philosophy and included a blending of hard and soft, linear and circular techniques. The art of foot fighting was known as Subak and was practiced by common people throughout the three kingdoms. However, the Hwarang transformed and intensified this art and added hand techniques,
renaming it Taekyeon. The - punches could penetrate the wooden chest armor of
an enemy and kill him; foot techniques were said to be executed at such speed that opponents frequently thought that the feet
of Hwarang warriors were swords. In later centuries the king of Goryo made Taekyeon
training mandatory for all soldiers, and annual Taekyeon contests were held among all members of the Silla population on May
5th of the Lunar Calendar.
|Picture of the Sam-Guk-Sagi
The rank of Hwarang usually meant a man had achieved the position of a teacher of the martial arts and commanded
500 to 5,000 students called Hwarang-Do. A Kukson was the master and held
the rank of general in the army. Hwarang fighting spirit was ferocious and was
recorded in many literary works including the Samguk Sagi, written by Kim Pu-Sik in 1145, and the Hwarang Segi. The latter
was said to have contained the records of lives and deeds of over 200 individual Hwarang; sadly, it was lost during the Japanese
occupation in the 20th century.) The zeal of the Hwarang helped Silla
become the world's first "Buddha Land" and led to the unification of the three kingdoms of Korea. Buddhist principles were so ingrained in the code of the Hwarang that a large number of monks participated
in the Hwarang-Do, and during times of war they would throw off their robes and take up arms to die for Silla.
The Hwarang code was established
in the 30th year of King Chin-Hung's rule. Two noted Hwarang warriors, Kwi-San
and Chu-Hang, sought out the famous warrior and Buddhist monk Wong-Gwang Pop-Sa in Kusil temple on Mount Unmun. They asked that he give them lifetime commandments that men who could not embrace the secluded life
of a Buddhist monk could follow. The commandments, based on Confucian and
Buddhist principles, were divided into five rules (loyalty to the king and country, obedience to one's parents, sincerity,
trust and brotherhood among friends, never retreat in battle, and selectivity and justice in the killing of living things),
and nine virtues (humanity, justice, courtesy, wisdom, trust, goodness, virtue, loyalty, and courage). These principles were not taken lightly, as in the case of Kwi-San and Chu-Hang, who rescued their own
commander, General Mu-Un, when he was ambushed and fell from his horse during a battle in 603 A.D. Attacking the enemy,
these two Hwarang were heard to cry out to their followers, "Now is the time to follow the commandment to not retreat in battle!" After giving one of their horses to the general, they killed a great number
of the pursuing enemy and finally, "bleeding from a thousand wounds," they both died.
|Calligraphy of Kim Pu-Sik
The code of the Hwarang is similar to the more commonly known code of the Japanese samurai, Bushido. The Bushido code was established in feudal Japan during the 12th to the 17th centuries to serve as
a social guide, rule of life, and set of ideals for the samurai or military class. The
code of the Hwarang-Do played a similar role in the Korean kingdom of Silla approximately 1,000 years earlier. Being established during the 6th to the 10th centuries, Hwarang-Do was considered more ancient and refined
than Bushido. The Silla Dynasty lasted 1,000 years, and the Code of the Hwarang,
known as Sesok Ogye, endured throughout the Silla and Goryo dynasties. Its influence
led to a unified national spirit and ultimately the unification of the three kingdoms of Korea around 668 A.D. The practice of Bushido appears to have perpetuated a feudal system in Japan for over 700 years with continual
provincial wars, whereas Silla and Goryo thrived under the influence of the Hwarang.
These Korean dynasties, based on Hwarang ethics, remained internally peaceful and prosperous for over 1,500 years while
defending themselves against a multitude of foreign invasions. This can be compared
to the Roman Empire, which thrived for only 1,000 years. Oyama Masutatsu, a well-known
authority on Karate in Japan, has even suggested that the Hwarang were the forerunners of the Japanese samurai.
Sul Won-Nang was elected as the first Kukson or head of the Hwarang order. But
the first recorded Hwarang hero was Sa Da-Ham. At the young age of 15, he raised
his own 1,000-man army in support of Silla in its war against the neighboring kingdom of Kara.
He requested and was granted the honor of leading this force in support of the Silla army attacking the main fort of
the Kara in 562 A.D. As the first to breach the walls of the enemy fort, he was
highly praised and rewarded by King Chin-Hung for his bravery. He was offered
300 slaves and a large tract of land as a reward, but released the slaves and refused the land, stating that he did not wish
to receive personal rewards for his deeds. He did agree to accept a small amount
of fertile soil as a matter of courtesy to the King. However, when his best friend
was killed in battle, Sa Da-Ham was unconsolable. As a youth, Sa Da-Ham and his
friend had made pact-of-death should either of them ever die in battle. True
to his promise, Sa Da-Ham starved himself to death demonstrating his loyalty and adherence to the code of the Hwarang.
|Kim Yu-Sin training as a Hwarang at Mount Dansuk
Another legendary Korean was
General Kim Yu-Sin who became a Hwarang at the age of 15 and was an accomplished swordsman and a Kukson by the time he was
18 years old. By the age of 34, he had been given the command of the Silla armed
forces. He is regarded as the driving force in the unification of the Korean
peninsula and the most famous of all the generals in the unification wars. Kim
Yu-Sin was active on all fronts in the wars, and at several times simultaneously conducted battles against both Baekje and
Goguryo. He defeated the great Baekje general, Gae-Baek in the battle in which
Gae-Baek was killed. Once, while Silla was allied with China against Baekje,
a heated argument began between Kim Yu-Sin's commander and a Chinese general. As
the argument escalated into a potentially bloody confrontation, the sword of Kim Yu-Sin 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 apologized to the Silla officers. Incidences such as this kept the Chinese in awe of the Hwarang. In
later years when asked by the Chinese emperor to attack Silla, the Chinese generals claimed that although Silla was small,
it could not be defeated. Kim Yu-Sin lived to the age of 79 and is considered
one of Korea's most famous generals. He had five sons, who along with his wife,
contributed great deeds to the historical records of the Hwarang.
|Tomb of General Kim Yu-Sin
|Kwan-Chang at the battle in 660 A.D.
Another dedicated Hwarang, Kwan-Chang, became a Hwa-Rang commander at the age of 16 and was the son of Kim Yu-Sin's
Assistant General Kim Pu-Mil. In 655 A.D., he fought in the battle of Hwangsan
against Baekje under General Kim Yu-Sin. During this battle, he dashed headlong
into the enemy camp and killed many Baekje soldiers, but was finally captured. His
high ranking battle crest indicated that he was the son of a general so he was taken before the Baekje general, Gae-Baek. Surprised by Kwan-Chang's youthfulness when his helmet was removed, and thinking of
his own young son, Gae-Baek decided that instead of executing him, as was the custom with captured officers, he would return
the young Hwarang to the Silla lines. Gae-Baek remarked, "Alas, how can we match
the army of Silla! Even a young boy like this has such courage, not to speak
of Silla's men." Kwan-Chang went before his father and asked permission to be
sent back into battle at the head of his men. After a day-long battle Kwan-Chang
was again captured. After he had been disarmed, he broke free of his two guards,
killing them with his hands and feet, and then attacked the Baekje general's second in command. With a flying reverse turning kick to the head of the commander, who sat eight feet high atop his horse,
Kwan-Chang killed him. After finally being subdued once more, he was again taken
before the Baekje general. This time Gae-Baek said, "I gave you your life once
because of your youth, but now you return to take the life of my best field commander."
He then had Kwan-Chang executed and his body returned to the Silla lines. General
Kim Pu-Mil was proud that his son had died so bravely in the service of his king. He
said to his men, "It seems as if my son's honor is alive. I am fortunate
that he died for the King." He then rallied his army and went on to defeat the
The spirit of the Hwarang
was present in all of the kingdoms of Korea during this time, and although not as evident as in Silla, it was demonstrated
by such great Korean historical figures as Yeon-Gye, Ul-Ji Mun-Duk, and Mun-Mu. This spirit was kept alive throughout
history by many individuals.
|Painting of a battle in 662 A.D.
|Admiral Yi Sun-Sin
Hwarang and the martial arts fell out of favor during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) and adherence to the Hwarang code
declined. Several Koreans did keep the code, however, notably Admiral Yi
Sun-Sin who was instrumental in defeating the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597 (more information on
Yi Sun-Sin is in the section on Chung-Mu). The spirit of the Hwarang and their
code was present in Buddhist temples by monks. For example, in the 16th century two monks, Su San-Daesa and Sa Myung-Dang,
who followed the Hwarang code, rallied a Buddhist army that was instrumental in driving the Japanese invasion forces from
|House of Hwarang in Kyongju where Korean youth are still trained in the Hwarang Way
Stories of the Hwarang and their individual feats
illustrate the code of the Hwarang, the type of ethics and morality essential to the evolution of the martial arts and the
success Silla as a nation. This code has profoundly affected the Korean people and their culture throughout
history. The lives and deeds of the Hwarang illustrate a level of courage, honor, wisdom, culture,
compassion, and impeccable conduct that few men in history have demonstrated. The dedication
and self-sacrifice of the Hwarang was clearly based on principles much stronger than ego and self-interest.
This basis was the Sesok Ogye, the code of the Hwarang.