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American Tang Soo Do

Is an Korean/Japanese-American hybrid martial art founded in 1966 by Chuck Norris.

American Tang Soo Do evolved from Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and it combines elements from several different fighting styles Between 1958 and 1962 Chuck Norris was stationed in Korea at the Osan Air Base, South Korea, as a member of the Air Policeman in the United States Air Force. During this time he trained in various martial arts styles under some of the most respected instructors in the world. These instructors included Tang Soo Do-Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee and his chief instructor Shin Jae Chul and Judo instructor “Mr. Ahn”.[1]

Upon his return to the United States as a Tang Soo Do black belt Norris continued his martial arts training with Shotokan Karate masters Tsutomu Ohshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama, Shitō-ryū Karate instructor Fumio Demura, American Kenpo Karate founder Ed Parker, and Judo expert Gene LeBell. While on vacation in 1988 with student and business partner Bob Wall, Norris began briefly training in Rio de Janeiro with the Gracie family in Jiu-jitsu under Helio Gracie and his sons Royce Gracie and Rickson Gracie, and he was instrumental in bringing the Gracie family to America.[2] He later trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Machado family, namely Carlos Machado who promoted Norris to black belt.[3]

After his military service ended in 1962 Norris began to open karate schools across Southern California where he taught traditional Korean Tang Soo Do to American students. During this time he was also becoming a well known World Champion karate fighter. Being proficient in Judo as well as in Boxing, Norris incorporated the techniques of these fighting arts into his Tang Soo Do instruction which became at one point known as the Chuck Norris System. In doing so he created a new American martial art of his own design, American Tang Soo Do, which helped to fuel the American Karate craze of the 1970s and 80’s.[1]


American Tang Soo Do includes the practice of forms, (Korean hyung and Japanese kata). The system’s forms are taken from the original Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan before the Moo Duk Kwan style became Soo Bahk Do and the Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee added new Korean forms he created based on the ancient Korean martial arts book Muyedobotongji. The original Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan forms now used in American Tang Soo do were actually borrowed from Japanese Karate (Shotokan and Shudokan). This was due to the fact that during the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII all Korean culture and martial arts were outlawed. Due to this reason many Koreans at that time began to study martial arts in either Japan or China, and on a rare occasion would find an old Korean master who would teach them Taekkyeon which is the traditional Korean kicking martial art which has a dance-like appearance, and where Tang Soo Do gets its acrobatic kicking techniques from; or Subak an ancient Korean form of Jujutsu.

Basic Forms

Rudimentary modified forms based on the Taikyoku forms found in many Japanese karate systems and known as Giecho Hyung in Tang Soo Do.

  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu | Basic Form #1
  • Giecho Hyung Il Bu Sang Gup | Basic Form #1 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu | Basic Form #2
  • Giecho Hyung Yi Bu Sang Gup | Basic Form #2 Advanced
  • Giecho Hyung Sahm Bu | Basic Form #3

Intermediate Forms

Forms originating on Okinawa created by Anko Itosu form older forms Kūsankū and Channan.

  • Pyong-An Cho Dan | “Peaceful and Calm First Level”
  • Pyong-An Yi Dan | “Peaceful and Calm Second Level”
  • Pyong-An Sahm Dan | “Peaceful and Calm Third Level”
  • Pyong-An Sa Dan | “Peaceful and Calm Fourth Level”
  • Pyong-An Oh Dan | “Peaceful and Calm Fifth Level”

Advanced Forms

These are forms required for first degree black belt and above. It should be noted that many individual schools have made minor changes to these forms resulting in slight variations from the original forms taught by Norris. While most of the advanced forms do resemble their Japanese/Korean counterparts, others are unique due to Ki Whang Kim’s Shudokan Karate influence on Norris, most notably Chin Te and Jion.

  • Bassai| “Form of the Rock”
  • Nianchi Cho Dan| “Internal Divided Conflict First Level”
  • Nianchi Yi Dan | “Internal Divided Conflict Second Level”
  • Nianchi Sahm Dan | “Internal Divided Conflict Third Level”
  • Chipsu| “10 Hands”
  • Yun Bior Wang Shu | “Excellent Wrist”
  • Chin Te| “Unusual Hand”
  • Jion| “Temple of Mercy”
  • Kong Sang Koon| “Viewing the Sky”
  • Tae Gi Hyul | “Warrior’s Form”
  • Rho Hai| “Vision of a Crane” or “Vision of a Heron”

Miscelaneous Advanced Forms

Advanced forms added by individual associations or schools, not part of the original Norris curriculum.

Sparring & Fighting

One-Step & Three-Step Sparring

One-step sparring & three-step sparring techniques are choreographed patterns of self-defense moves against the single strike or triple strike of an attack. Practiced in pairs; one partner attacks, often with a single punch or kick, and the other person will perform a series of prearranged techniques, often in a block-strike-sweep sequence. One-Step sparring teaches beginning and intermediate students how to flow from defense to offense in a safe and controlled training environment, while it allows advanced students to train techniques too deadly to use in live sparring such as strikes to the eyes, throat, and groin. Many ATSD schools have added MMA and grappling techniques to this type of training.


American Tang Soo Do free-sparring consists of point matches that are based on the three-point rule (the first contestant to score three points wins) or a two-minute rule (a tally of points over one two-minute round, with lead and rear-leg kicks and lead and rear-arm hand techniques all score equally, one point per technique). Tang Soo Do sparring is a contact event. Though often billed as “light” or “no-contact,” the typical level of contact is moderate, being controlled to both the body and head (in dan divisions). Most Tang Soo Do practitioners feel that contact in sparring is essential to understanding proper technique and necessary for developing mental preparedness and a level of relaxation critical to focus performance in stressful situations. Unnecessarily or disrespectfully harming an opponent in Tang Soo Do sparring is not tolerated. Health and longevity of practitioners are major goals of Tang Soo Do practice. Serious injuries are counterproductive because they inhibit a level of physical training that is needed to foster emotional and intellectual growth. However, minor injuries, such as bumps, bruises and the occasional loss of wind may be invaluable experiences. Each match should begin and end with respect, compassion and a deep appreciation for the opponent. Though Tang Soo Do sparring is competitive, traditional matches are more of an exercise, or a way of developing oneself not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

Hard Sparring

While free-sparring is the main fight training for most American Tang Soo Do practitioners, there are certain schools (or certain advanced groups within those schools) that train with a more hard-sparring approach. In these training session heavy-duty head gear, shin pads, and Boxing gloves are all utilized; and the sparring sessions more closely resemble kickboxing or full-contact karate training. Training is usually at a 50–60% power output rather than the 25% of free-sparring or the %100 of certain Muay Thai programs. This creates an in between balance that allows a more “hard-core” sparring session while still being safe from the most serious training injuries and knockouts associated with 100% sparring.

MMA & Grappling

Many American Tang Soo Do schools have added both MMA training and grappling (BJJ, NOGI, wrestling) to their training programs. This includes everything from live sparring with MMA gloves, and live rolling with submissions; to adding specific self-defense focused techniques to the One-Step Sparring. Some schools have even brought in outside coaches or created affiliations with MMA/Grappling schools such as Grandmaster Joey Escobar in Malibu, CA whose ATSD school in now an official Hayastan MMA (Gokar & Gene Lebell) affiliate.


Strikes and blocks

ATSD is a hard style of martial arts consisting of hard blocking techniques and hard striking techniques with the hands. These hand strikes can be employed traditional style with the open hand, or American style with the closed fist as in boxing. The goal of ATSD strike training is to be able to incapacitate an attacker with one blow. This is a lifelong practice that most never achieve, but as far as physical ability this is the ultimate goal.

Basic Strikes

  • Center Punch
  • Reverse Punch
  • Side Punch
  • Ridge Hand
  • Chop
  • Back Fist
  • Bottom Fist
  • Hammer Fist

Basic Blocks

  • Low Block
  • High Block
  • Knife-Hand Block
  • Inside Block
  • Outside Block
  • Parry Blocks
  • Cross Blocks
  • Reinforced Blocks
  • General Defense (Inside Parry/Low Block)

Kicks & Jump Kicks

ATSD is based on 50% punching and 50% kicking techniques, but is most known for its kicking. There are dozens of kicks that can be employed by all angles of attacks, which include hundreds of variations. The jump kicks in this art are based on traditional Korean kicking arts, and are very acrobatic in nature. The flying side-kick is the signature kick of American Tang Soo Do.

Basic Kicks

  • Front Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Stepping)
  • Round Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Spinning)
  • Side Kick (Standing/Slide-up/Spinning)
  • Back Kick (Standing/Stepping/Spinning)

Basic Jump Kicks

  • Jump Front Kick
  • Jump Spinning Round Kick
  • Jump Spinning Side Kick
  • Flying Side Kick
  • Jump Spinning Back Kick


Self-Defense; along with self-control, self-respect, and self-confidence; is one of the main objectives of ATSD. This not only includes a myriad of life-saving techniques based on Karate, Judo, Boxing, and Kickboxing, but training to have a self-defense and self-preservation mindset.


Breaking wooden boards with punches and kicks is part of the ATSD training as well as mandatory for Intermediate and Advanced belt testing. Some higher level black belts will also break concrete cinder-blocks, bricks, and blocks of ice, as part of their training regimen. To perform this level of breaking takes many years of dedicated training to achieve, and many years of toughening to the skin and bones of the body in order for the skin and bones of the practitioner not to break. This hardening regimen in known as Makiwara training and it can take decades to achieve.

Belts Ranks

American Tang Soo Do belt ranking consists of 10 “gup” or “grade” levels for students and 10 “Dan” or “degrees” for black belt. As with other systems the 10 student grades are represented by various colored belts. Traditionally in ATSD no stripes are worn on black belts to signify rank. First degree black belts wear all white uniforms with black trim similar to those worn in traditional Korean Tang Soo Do. At second degree black belt, practitioners may wear black pants. It should be noted that several ATSD organizations and schools have begun adding stripes to black belts and even awarding “master” and “grandmaster” belts similar to those used in traditional Tang Soo Do.

It takes on average 5 years (3 years minimum) of dedicated training to achieve the rank of 1st degree black belt. Each degree varies depending on organization and school. Some follow the time and grade system commonly used by Japanese/Okinawan systems. For example, to move from 1st degree black belt to 2nd degree black belt takes an additional 2 years of training/teaching minimum, from 2nd degree black belt to 3rd degree black belt it takes an additional 3 years of training minimum, and so on. Under the NTC the minimum amount of time to go from 1st degree black belt to 2nd degree black belt is 2 years. All ranks 3rd degree black belt and above are 3 years minimum per degree.

No gup White Belt – Beginner
11th gup Yellow Belt – Beginner
10th gup Orange Belt – Beginner
9th gup Purple Belt– Beginner
8th gup Bue Belt One stripe – Adv. Beginner
6th gup Green Belt One stripe – Intermediate
5th gup Green Belt two stripes – Intermediate
4th gup Green Belt three stripes – Intermediate
3rd gup Red Belt one stripe – Advanced
2nd gup Red Belt two stripes – Advanced
1st gup Red Belt three stripes – Advanced
1st degree Black Belt – Assistant Instructor
2nd degree Black Belt – Instructor
3rd degree Black Belt – Instructor
4th degree Black Belt – Master
5th degree Black Belt – Master
6th degree Black Belt – Master
7th degree Black Belt – Grandmaster
8th degree Black Belt – Grandmaster
9th degree Black Belt – Grandmaster
10th degree Black Belt – Grandmaster

Special Notes

  • In many schools Yellow Beltoften reserved as a youth grade inserted between white belt and purple belt.
  • Depending on the school, the order of Orange Beltand Purple Belt can vary.
  • 10th degree Black Belt is reserved for Grandmasters who have founded their own martial arts training system, style, or martial arts association.

Old Style Korean Adult Belt Grades

No grade White Belt– no stripes
10th grade White Belt– one stripe
9th grade White Belt– two stripes
8th grade Blue Belt– one stripe
7th grade Blue Belt two stripes
6th grade Green Belt one stripe
5th grade Green Belt two stripes
4th grade Green Belt three stripes
3rd grade Red Belt one stripe
2nd grade Red Belt two stripe
1st grade Red Belt three stripes
Black Belt (1st – 10th Degree)

Source: Wikipedia.


  1. “Chuck Norris profile”. tangsoodoworld.com.
  2. “Chuck Norris Tells His Jiu-Jitsu Story – Gracie News”. gracieacademy.com. December 10, 2012. Archived from the original on August 10, 2018.
  3. “Carlos Machado”. bjjheroes.com.
  4. “The Forms of Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do)”. nbbkaf.org.
  5. Norris, Chuck; Tirschel, Dick (1973). The Chuck Norris Karate System. Fitness Media. p. 191.
  6. “About the Chuck Norris System”. ufaf.org.
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