The purpose in founding Ren Yi Wu Kwan Tang Sou Dao is to take the development of martial art forward into the twenty-first century. It cannot and must not become an end in itself of course, and I look forward keenly to the further progress and growth of our family tradition in the years which lie ahead. In this way, we can justly claim to be worthy practitioners of a living tradition.- Founder Grandmaster Meng Kwong Loke
Tang Sou Dao (as it is usually called) officially launched in Britain in 1998, as an evolution of Tang Soo Do (in which Grandmaster Loke was a 7th Dan) that sought to enhance that derivative of japanese karate through introducing traditional chinese elements "whilst retaining the modern teaching methods which have been responsible for attracting large number of students". Classes can be found predominantly in the South of England (with headquarters in Grays, Essex) although groups also exist in Northern Ireland and New Zealand.
Name of School- Ren Yi Wu Kwan
Name of Art- Tang Sou Dao
- refers to Chinese Tang Dynasty
Why study Tang Sou Dao?
Tang Sou Dao is not "just" a martial art in the sense of learning to fight. In fact, learning and refining technique alone is not the goal- the purpose is to enhance your development as an individual. Simple techniques fuse into a sophisticated and elegant whole in which mindless aggression
is of little use; it offers the opportunity to develop mental discipline
in parallel with athletic prowess
and to promote good health
. The competitive aspect is less pronounced than some martial arts, with many learning for self defense
purposes or simply as a more engaging form of exercise.
The Seven Principles of Tang Sou Dao
The members of our academy are also members of society and even as they behave themselves as befits martial artists within the training hall, so they are expected to conduct themselves with honour and dignity in general society. These principles are chosen to reflect the philosophy of our academy's name- the Ren Yi Wu Kwan.
- Grandmaster Loke.
A typical lesson
Before leaving for university, I was fortunate enough to spend 9 months at Tang Sou Dao classes led directly by Grandmaster Loke himself. In that time I also attended two gradings and the national championships. Whilst still very much a novice, I hope to give some personal insight into the art.
A lesson starts with the warm-up: but if you've never tried a martial art before you may be in for a shock, as this can take up to 25 minutes of an hour long session and could quite easily be marketed as a fitness program in its own right! Of course such thoroughness of preparation is required to prevent injury during the demanding techniques that follow. All students are arranged in order of skill, but broadly follow the same routine and indeed lesson, although minor changes in the requirements may be implemented (eg all those below orange belt performing a simpler version of a stretch or all black(1) belts being required to carry out a more complex sequence of moves).
Following the warm-up, individual techniques are practiced, either static or with a forward step in which case the group moves as one (occasionally each student performs the move in turn for the instructor to check individual performance). This section covers all the punches, kicks, blocks and the 3 types of stance used with them, as well as covering reverse versions, retreats (in Hou Ma Bu, back stance) and turns. Slow kicking or holding the kick at full extension often features. Instructions may be in english or chinese- knowledge of chinese naming is required for gradings.
Having completed these exercises, a number of different activities can be carried out depending on instructor preference. Almost always Thau (forms- see below) and free-sparring feature, but additionally 3-step (or, for duan grades, 1-step) sparring, practice of kicks on pads and wall stretches may feature.
A key element of Tang Sou Dao are the forms, as they combine a range of techniques and also require mental focus to perfect the sequence. They comprise of four basic form
s, five Ping An form
s, and at the highest level five Luo Han Form
s. The whole class will practice forms at the same time to the instructors count, but each student carries out a sequence appropriate to their level. The forms are an integral part of the grading process.
Free sparring is the last part of any class (with the exception of stretches and a moment's quiet meditation
to ready the student for a return to the outside world from the training hall) and emphasises practice in realistic situations rather than outright competition- attacks are pulled
, and usually lower grades are matched with considerably more senior ones to ensure safety and that attacks are properly executed. In 3-step sparring an attacker and mode of attack is designated, allowing for more complex counters to be attempted safe in the knowledge of what fist is coming towards you! Such practice also ensures that students practice retreat and defense rather than exclusively attacking.
One element Tang Sou Dao inherits from Korean
arts is that of breaking techniques. From your second grading onwards, a kick through a board is required. Two separate pieces slot together, and the material and extent of attachment can be varied to make the move more difficult- typically children work on a wooden
board and adults plastic
, although there is a black board (the composition of which I don't know) for duan grades. Whilst the boards are designed to break, doing so requires a very precise kick compared to a slate roof tile
(the usual demonstration piece) which could break anywhere if enough force is supplied. At higher levels (duan gradings, public demonstrations, nationals) breaking techniques are demonstrated on stacks of roof tiles or breeze block
s. On a personal note, pulling off a breaking technique is incredibly rewarding and requires a lot of focus- plus a loud shout really does make a difference
grade syllabus allows for fairly rapid progression through the belt
s, giving students short-term goals to focus on such as the perfection of the required form or breaking technique. Beyond that, the Duan grading scheme is available to the most dedicated with progress occuring at a rate of years rather than months. Every year there is a national competition which features both free sparring and forms.
(1) It should be noted that Tang Sou Dao black belts do not in fact wear black, as this colour signifies perfection
of understanding and performance, a state which is not attainable within a lifetime
. Instead, they wear navy blue.
My comments in this writeup are based in large part upon my own experiences of training under the guidance of Grandmaster Loke himself and the information contained in the membership booklet. However, quotes in emphasised
text are drawn from the excellent website www.tangsoudao.com which in particular features an in-depth history of the martial arts and principles from which Tang Sou Dao has evolved.