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Named for the Hwa-rang youth group that originated in the Silla Dynasty about 1350 years ago and became the driving force for the unification of the three kingdoms of Korea.

Pattern history

Roots of the Hwa-rang

During the 6th century, the Korean peninsula was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche. Silla, the smallest of these kingdoms, was constantly under invasion and harassment by its two more powerful neighbors.

The Hwa-rang were established by Chin Hung, the 24th King of Silla (540 CE), who was a devoted Buddhist and loved elegance and physical beauty. He believed in mythical beings and male (sin-sun) and female fairies (sun-nyo). These beliefs led him to hold beauty contests to find the prettiest maidens in the country, which he called won-Hwa (original flowers). He taught them modesty, loyalty, filial piety, and sincerity so they would become good wives. In one contest among 300-400 won-Hwa, two exceptionally beautiful young women were favored, Nam-mo and Joon-jung. Unfortunately, the two women began to struggle for power and influence between themselves. Finally, to win the contest, Joon-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 Joon-jung put to death and disbanded the order of the won-Hwa.

Formation of the Hwa-rang

Several years after this incident, the King created a new order, the Hwa-rang, "hwa" means flower or blossom and "rang" means youth or gentlemen. The word Hwa-rang soon came to stand for Flower of Knighthood. These Hwa-rang were selected from handsome, virtuous young men of good families.

Each Hwa-rang group consisted of hundreds of thousands of members chosen from the young sons of the nobility by popular election. The leaders of each group, including the most senior leader, were referred to as Kuk-son. The Kuk-son were like King Arthur's knights of the round table in England around 1200 CE.

Trainees 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). After training, candidates were presented to the king for nomination as a Hwa-rang or kuk-son.

From kuk-son ranks were chosen 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 Hwa-rang training, and many were kuk-son.

The education of a Hwa-rang 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 Hwa-rang to places of scenic beauty for physical and mental culture as true knights of the nation. For hundreds of years, the Hwa-rang were taught by kuk-son in social etiquette, music and songs, and patriotic behavior

A Hwa-rang candidate had to be a man of character, virtue, and countenance. The Hwa-rang trained to improve their moral principles and military skills. To harden their bodies, they climbed rugged mountains, swam turbulent rivers in the coldest months, and drove themselves unmercifully to achieve their goal.

About the Hwa-rang

The Hwa-rang youth were taught dance, literature, arts, sciences, and the arts of warfare, chariot, archery, and hand-to-hand combat. Their hand-to-hand combat was based upon the um-yang principles of Buddhist philosophy and included a blending of hard/soft and linear/circular techniques. The art of foot fighting was known as subak and was practiced by common people throughout the three kingdoms. However, the Hwa-rang transformed and intensified this art and added hand techniques, renaming it taekkyon. Hwa-rang punches could penetrate the wooden chest armor of an enemy and kill him. It was said that their foot techniques were executed at such speed that opponents thought of the feet of Hwa-rang warriors as swords.

In later centuries, the king of Koryo made taekkyon training mandatory for all soldiers. In Silla, annual taekkyon contests were held on May 5th of the lunar calendar.

The rank of Hwa-rang usually meant a man had achieved the position of a teacher of the martial arts and commanded 500-5,000 students called Hwa-rang-do. A Kuk-son was the master and held the rank of general in the army.

The Hwa-rang fighting spirit was ferocious and was recorded in many literary works including the Sam-guk-sagi, written by Kim Pu-sik in 1145 CE. The Hwa-rang fighting spirit was also documented in the Hwa-rang-segi, which was said to have contained the records of the lives and deeds of over 200 individual Hwa-rang. Sadly, the document was lost during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century.

The zeal of the Hwa-rang 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 Hwa-rang that a large number of monks participated in the Hwa-rang-Do. During times of war, they would take up arms to die for Silla.

Hwa-rang code

The Hwa-rang code was established in the 39th year of King Chin-hung's rule. Two noted Hwa-rang warriors, Kwi-san and Chu-hang, sought out the famous warrior and Buddhist monk, Wong-gwang Popsa, 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 instead.

The commandments, based on Confucian and Buddhist principles, were divided into five rules:
  1.  loyalty to the king and country;
  2.  obedience to one's parents;
  3.  sincerity, trust, and brotherhood among friends;
  4. never retreat in battle; and 
  5. selectivity and justice in the killing of living things.
Included were nine virtues:
  1.  humanity, 
  2. justice, 
  3. courtesy, 
  4. wisdom, 
  5.  trust, 
  6. goodness, 
  7. virtue, 
  8. loyalty, and 
  9. courage.
These principles were not taken lightly, as in the case of Kwi-san and Chu-hang, who rescued their own commander, General Muun, when he was ambushed and had fallen from his horse during a battle in 603 CE. Attacking the enemy, these two Hwa-rang warriors 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 vast number of the pursuing enemy and finally, "bleeding from a thousand wounds," they both died.

The code of the Hwa-rang 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 17th centuries to serve as a social guide rule of life and as a set of ideals for the samurai, or military class. The code of the Hwa-rang-do played a similar role in the Korean kingdom of Silla approximately 1,000 years earlier. Being established during the 6th to 10th centuries, Hwa-rang-do was considered more ancient and refined than Bushido. The Silla Dynasty lasted 1,000 years, and the code of the Hwa-rang, known as Sesok-ogye, endured throughout the Silla and Koryo dynasties. Its influence led to a unified national spirit and ultimately the unification of the three kingdoms of Korea around 668 CE.

The practice of Bushido appears to have perpetuated a feudal system in Japan for over 700 years with continual provincial wars, whereas Silla and Koryo thrived under the influence of the Hwa-rang. These Korean dynasties, that were based on Hwa-rang 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, even suggested that the Hwa-rang were the forerunners of the Japanese samurai.

Hwa-rang training

The first recorded Hwa-rang hero, Sul Won-nang, was elected as the first Kuk-son or head of a Hwa-rang order. However, the first recorded Hwa-rang hero was Sa Da-ham. At the early 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 CE. 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 he 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.

Later, when his best friend was killed in battle, Sa Da-ham was inconsolable. 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, proving his loyalty and adherence to the code of the Hwa-rang.

Haw-rang as a driving force in the unification of Korea

Another dedicated Hwa-rang, Kwan Chang, the son of Kim Yu-Sin's assistant General Kim Pumil, became a Hwa-rang commander at the age of 16. In 655 CE, he fought in the battle of Hwangsan against Paekche under General Kim Yu-sin. During this battle, he dashed headlong into the enemy camp and killed many Paekche 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 Paekche 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 Hwa-rang 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 daylong 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 Paekche 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 Packche 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 Pumil 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 Paekche forces.

Continuation of the Hwa-rang spirit

The spirit of the Hwa-rang was present in all of the kingdoms of Korea during these times but more so in Silla where it was demonstrated by such great Korean historical figures as Yon-gye, Ul-ji, Moon-duk, and Moon-moo. This spirit was kept alive throughout Korean history by many Hwa-rang warriors.

Hwa-rang and the martial arts fell out of favor during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and adherence to the Hwa-rang code declined although several Koreans did keep the code. One notable example was Admiral Yi Sun-sin who was instrumental in defeating the Japanese invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.

The spirit of the Hwa-rang and their code was present in Buddhist temples. For example, in the 16th century, two monks who followed the Hwa-rang code rallied a Buddhist army that was instrumental in driving the Japanese invasion forces from Korea.

The Hwa-rang code

The main reason Silla was able to defeat both Koguryo and Paekche and unify the three dynasties was that of the Hwa-rang spirit under which the youth had been trained. The Hwa-rang became known for their courage and skill in battle, gaining respect from even their bitterest foes. The strength they derived from their respect to their code enabled them to attain legendary feats of valor. Many of these brave young warriors died on fields of battle in the threshold of their youth, some as young as fourteen or fifteen years of age. Through their feats, they inspired the people of Silla to rise and unite. From the victories of Silla, the Korean peninsula became united for the first time in its history.

The dedication and self-sacrifice of the Hwa-rang were clearly based on principles much stronger than ego and self-interest. This basis was the Sesok-ogye, the code of the Hwa-rang, as set forth by the great Buddhist monk and scholar, Won-kang:

  • B loyal to your king.
  • Be obedient to your parents.
  • Be honorable to your friends.
  • Never retreat in battle.
  • Make a just kill.
Stories of the Hwa-rang and their individual feats illustrate the code of the Hwa-rang, 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 Hwa-rang illustrate a level of courage, honor, wisdom, culture, compassion, and impeccable conduct that few men in history have equaled. The Hwa-rang spirit has survived through the ages and today it is still used as an inspiration for Korean youth.

Pattern movements

Number of movements: 29

Diagram of movements

Pattern performance

There are numerous videos and explanations of the pattern movements available on the internet that show how to perform the pattern in the way preferred by your instructor, school, or organization. The following is an example of the ITF way to perform the pattern.

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