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Over the last few years we have seen several of our long-standing students promote to the distinguished level of ‘Master,’ but what does reaching this level actually mean?

Becoming a ‘Master’ in the martial arts does mean many different things to many different people. In Kuk Sool Won it signifies the graduation into martial art adulthood, a level of achievement that has often been compared to a PhD (Doctorate Degree).In order to reach these higher stages of Kuk Sool, a dedicated practitioner has to follow a specialised lesson plan spanning at least two decades or more.
The Kuk Sool curriculum is structured similar to that of the school educational system, adopting, primary, intermediate, high and advanced stages of learning.

To my understanding, a Kuk Sool Won 1st Degree black belt is the equivalent of a B.A. (Bachelors Degree). The 3rd degree is comparable to that of the M.A. (Masters Degree) hence, one reason we get a wider black belt at this stage, and as mentioned, the 5th Degree is the PhD Degree. As we all know the PhD degree is a level that a person never stops studying and training in ones chosen subject.

The under-black belt syllabus offers a complete system of martial art training, for mind, body and spirit and includes such aspects as, kicking, punching, falling, forms (hyungs), breaking, sparring, basic staff and sword, as well as a vast collection of self-defence techniques and an introduction to meditation. During this period, students have to prove themselves regularly in order to progress up the Kuk Sool (belt) ladder.
Beyond black belt there’s much more to learn. As well as continuing with the regular material, further study into ki or internal training can be discovered, alongside advance instruction in traditional sword cutting, Korean archery, knife throwing and spear throwing. All this goes toward making Kuk Sool one of the most comprehensive martial arts in the world today.

Anyone wanting to progress further along the road toward Master level must continue to test and perform under the watchful eye of Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh / Kuk Sa Nim. This strict quality control ensures that all the material performed remains in its purist form and not subject to any change or misinterpretation.

Along with studying the regular curriculum, a basic understanding of the Korean language and culture is also a necessity. There is always much debate about why a martial artist should need to learn the language. My personal interpretation on this issue is that having at least a brief insight of the Korean language gives the dedicated practitioner the key to unlock deeper levels of understanding, which may otherwise not be available.

To put this in perspective, lets say that if a Korean person wanted to study engineering in the United Kingdom or in the United States they would be required to study the English language first, helping to increase there overall comprehension of the subject. Likewise, if a Western person therefore wants to gain a greater understanding of traditional Korean Martial Arts he or she should familiarize himself or herself with at least the basic terminology.
So what does it mean to be a martial art Master in today’s modern society? I recently looked up the word ‘Master’ in the Collins English dictionary. Here are a few of the definitions.


  1. To become thoroughly proficient in a certain subject.
  2. A person with an exceptional skill level at a certain thing.
  3. A person who has complete control over a specific situation.
  4. A craftsperson fully qualified to practise his trade and train others in it.
  5. A highly regarded teacher or leader whose philosophy is accepted by others.
  6. A person of authority, the ‘head of the house’
  7. A respectful term of address.

It was interesting to discover when looking up the meaning there were so many close associations within the framework of the martial arts. In Kuk Sool we prefer the title of Kwahn Jahng Nim, which loosely translated means ‘Head of School’ or ‘Dojang’.
With the continuous development of Kuk Sool Won there is now the recognised higher-ranking levels of “Master.”

5th Degree – Pyong Kwahng Jahng Nim, (Master)

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