What is the Definition of Kouksundo (Sundo)?

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Kouksundo Introduction

What is the Definition of Kouksundo (Sundo)?

Jeonghwan Choi

Although there are huge number of definitions and explanations about Kouksundo (sundo), I want to summarize a few related articles which has reliable sources. These sources will help capturing a few core concepts of Kouksundo. 

In short, Kouksundo (Sundo, Bark-Dol-Beop, Chung-Gak-Do) is a holistic self-development practice system which aims to develop the ultimate physical-strength, the ultimate mental-power, and the ultimate spiritual-enlightenment.

The core feature of Kouksundo practice is "deep abdominal energy center breathing" known as Danjeon (Dol-dan) Breathing which enables the practitioners to breathe in the universal life energy, Ki, into the body. Through the practice, the practitioners are gradually able to accumulate the Ki in the Danjeon and learn how to circulate the Ki throughout the 365 Ki channels in the body, that was opened by Chung-San. 

This objective is achieved through Danchun-Haengong which unifies the three Danchuns of our body: Chung (lower Danchun), Ki (upper Danchun), and Shin (middle Danchun). Danchun-Haengong is abdominal breathing with special postures and meditation resulting in the simultaneous training of the body, mind, and spirit.

It is the way to become the unity of you and me, of heaven, earth and man, and of all things.

"국선도 (선도, 밝돌법, 정각도)란 극치적 체력, 극치적 정신력, 극치적 도덕력 함양을 위한 통합적 자기계발법이다. 국선도의 핵심은 고요한 몸 움직임 (단전행공)을 하면서 돌단자리 숨쉬기 (단전호흡)을 통해 밝(기, 에너지)를 얻어가져 돌단자리 (단전, 몸과 마음과 정신의 중심점)에 모은 후, 청산선사가 공개한 법도에 따라 이를 온몸에 순환하는 것이다." 

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kouk_Sun_Do

Kouk Sun Do is an ancient Korean Taoist system of hermit monks who resided in the mountains of what is now known as Korea. The lineage of the system is unknown. However, a little known reference to the system can be found on [Hwarangdo.com] under the history link there is reference to "kuksondo" (KoreanHangul characters shown on site are the same, this English spelling is different)...". Hwarangdo's lineage is also traced back to a monk.

Kouk Sun Do system contains a meditation and healing art, which may appear similar to otherChinese Taoist (see Taoism) practices, such as Qigong(which is Kigong in Korean) but it is considered to be a much deeper and more comprehensive graduated practice. Kouk Sun Do buildschi, or Ki in Korean language of Hangul, or life energy in the practitioner's body and balances theirmind, body and spirit. The Ki energy practice roots may be from Tao Yin which literally translated from Chinese means "stretching and contracting the body".

Kouk Sun Do was originally developed in the region now known as Korea over the past 9700 years or so, according to Chung San Guh Sa (Chung San) who came down from the mountains of Korea to spread Kouk Sun Do in 1967. At that time martial arts were taught along with the healing art until a decision was made to only promote only the healing art aspect of the system.

Kouk Sun Do (KSD) was practiced on the mountains secretly for hundreds of years by hermits, then in 1967, Chung San came down from the mountain to spread Kouk Sun Do, as instructed by Chung San's master. When Chung San first came down from 15 years of 10 hours a day training on the mountains of Korea, he did magnificent demonstrations that were thought to be impossible for ordinary humans. For instance, he sat on a burning fire for 15 minutes but his body was not burnt. After such demonstrations, in 1970 March 15, the first Kouk Sun Do center was established in Korea. Since then, numerous Koreans have practiced Kouk Sun Do, and there are currently over 100 Kouk Sun Do centres in Korea. Also, in a visit to the first center in Columbus, Ohio with seven other masters, he went into a lake and stayed underwater for 18 minutes.

In year 1983, Chung San went back to the mountains. Nowadays, no one knows where he is. However, since then, Kouk Sun Do has slowly become famous in Korea. In one of the Korean dramas that were broadcast in the Korean national TV, one of the protagonists practiced Kouk Sun Do, proving KSD's wide recognition in Korea.

While Chung San was spreading Kouk Sun Do, he wrote two books on Kouk Sun Do, which are published in Korean and only available in Korea. The first book talks about Chung San's life in mountain as he learns Kouk Sun Do from his master; the second book talks about various aspects of Kouk Sun Do such as purpose, origin, method, etc.

Kouk Sun Do healing is similar to in effect to Chinese traditional medicine, i.e. acupressure points are used during the practice, the practitioners gradually learn to focus their Ki then circulate it through the energy meridians, they focus on energy centers and levels in the body. Acupunctureprinciples such as the five elements were founded by Taoist monks and is a part of the Kouk Sun Do system. In the USA acupressure is taught in many different massage schools as well as at seasonal retreats.

The process first works in the lower DanJeon (energy center, Dantian in Chinese) and progresses to the middle and upper DanJeon. The healing is more gradual than an acupuncture treatment which can enforce and speed up the healing process but cannot advance the practitioner to the level ofsam we il chae or balance of the three energy centers which the practitioners strive for. The resultant effect of balancing the three energy centers through continued practice is more powerful than acupuncture itself yielding a spiritual development leading to enlightenment.

A simultaneous healing of imbalances in Ki energy through building, balancing and release of energy blockages begins in what is referred to as the exterior level in acupuncture. With persistent practice and advancement to higher levels of Hang-gong (postures similar to yoga's asana), along with more advanced breathing and visualization practice healing continues deeper into the interior levels.

The aimed result of the practice is longevity or what in ancient times was referred to as Immortalitythrough the balance and conservation of bodily energies as in other non-religious Taoist practices. Of course the monks practiced the martial arts for self-preservation.

Adapted from Master Hyun-Moon Kim's Dissertation (Tao of Life, pp 45-48)

Sundo (Kouksundo), A Mountain Taoism

Sundo, a Mountain Taoism characterized by self-cultivation, has been practiced for several thousand years in Korea and China by hermits living in the mountains.  In ancient times people worshipped the Heaven and the Sun and the mountains were the logical place to go for seclusion and were also ideal for the practitioner to get physically closer to Heaven and Sun.  A practitioner of Mountain Taoism, was often referred to as an eunja (hermit).  Fung (1948) argues that Confucius defines eunja as the man who escaped the world; however, these people had not really escaped but rather they had gone into seclusion in order to work out a system of being (Fung, p. 61).  Living deep in the mountains, these hermits preserved the Sundo practice and they have orally traced Sundo’s history back for several thousand years.  According to Sundo legend, Sundo was started by Chunki-Doin, which makes it a 9,700 year-old practice (Chung-San, 1974).  It consisted of the foundational techniques that were used to transform mind and body to become unified with the Tao.  In this sense, the Sundo practice can also be called an internal alchemy, which usually means the process of the transformation of oneself.  Nae Don in Korean and Nei Tan in Chinese meant internal alchemy.  In Korea, Sundo (e.g., Internal Alchemy or Taoism yoga) is also called, Kouksundo, Bok Dole Boup, Pung Rhu Do, Danhak, or Nae-don by the general public.

There were two main forms of Taoist alchemy, external and internal.  External alchemy used minerals and herbs to make an elixir or pill that when ingested potentially transforms the body and mind, and thereby, brings immortality and unification with the Tao.  A wide variety of rocks, trees, ores, and plants were used.  Even poisonous substances such as lead, mercury, cinnabar, and sulfates were tried.  Some emperors from the Tang Dynasty in China died while using external alchemy (Wong, 1997).

There were many laboratory efforts and long periods of experimentation to find the right combination of minerals and herbs in the effort to make the perfect formula.  Ko Hung, a famous alchemist who lived at the end of the 4th century A.D. in China, wrote a book entitled, P'ao-p'u-tzu, in which he gave formulas, lists of ingredients, procedures, and advice on how to make a pill that would bring longevity and enlightenment.  The book was so detailed that ingredients could only be collected on certain days and only in specific places in the mountains.  The process of actually producing a pill had to follow the patterns of the sun, moon, and stars (Wong, 1997).  Anyone could ingest the pill and potentially become immortal.  However, there were many instances when the alchemist ingested a pill, but death followed.  This happened because lead, mercury, and cinnabar were often used in the formulas.  As the number of deaths rose, these pills were given to prisoners on death row to test their potency and in order to spare the life of the alchemist.  For a while external alchemy was very popular and kings and high government officials had their own personal alchemists.  Many of these high-ranking people desperately sought a pill that would instantly transform them into immortals; however, around the year 900 A.D., after more than three hundred years of experimentation and uncounted poisonings, external alchemy began to lose its popularity (Wong, 1997).

Traditionally, people in China and Korea viewed Sundo as the way to immortality.  Immortality meant cultivating energy so that the physical body can eternally exist; however, Chung-San argued that the original practice of Sundo was not necessarily a practice to become immortal but it was the way to return to nature (Chung-San, 1974).  The original Sun in the Chinese characters was human plus mountain, which literally meant one who practices for unity with heaven and earth in the mountain.  Sundo was called by the indigenous Korean San Sa Ram, which also meant the human in the mountain.  Later, when the Korean and Chinese cultures intermingled, the same meaning of  Sun was adapted by both countries (Chung-San, 1974).  This misconception of distorting the meaning of the characters probably arose among the people who had not experienced the practice beyond the physical realm.  When these people witnessed or heard through legends and folktales about individuals who had achieved longevity and immortality, they only saw the physical form and not the spiritual essence of the mountain Taoism as captured metaphorically by a common saying in Taoism, look at the moon, not the finger.  The public perceived the physical immortality of the mountain Taoists as the ultimate interest as well as wealth.  The public did not perceive preserving the body as the spiritual process of unification with heaven and earth within the being.  Maspero (1981) indicated that immortality was only a by-product of mystical union and that “material practices are useful and good; the great immortals use them: abstain from cereals and do respiratory exercises.  But the essential thing is spiritual practice.  The Tao being eternal, he who is in union with it is by that very fact eternal” (p. 421).

One of Chung-San’s attempts was to educate the people regarding the ultimate goal of Sundo, which was to be a form of spiritual development and not a form of physical immortality.  Thus, he created a character that would manifest the human being’s goal of uniting with heaven.  He changed the meaning of the sun ( ) in Chinese from human ( ) plus mountain () to human ( ) plus heaven () to a new meaning for the character Sun (イ天      ), human ( ) plus heaven (), to be enlightenment  (Chung-San, 1974).  From the message of changing the characters, Chung-San hoped that the practitioners would be able to see beyond the physical and mechanical practice of Sundo and into its spiritual aspect.  In this regard, the practice of Sundo involved certain key features that were primary principles of worshipping the sun and heaven and that were ideologically derived from ancient Taoist thought already discussed.

Sundo USA: http://www.sundousa.org/

1. The Philosophy of Sundao

Sundao(Kooksundo, Sundo, Sundao Kouk Sun-Do) is the integrated way of cultivating the body, breathing, and the mind. If only body movement is emphasized, then it is nothing but sports or gymnastics. If only breathing is stressed, then it is merely a deep breathing exercise. If only the mind is regarded as of great importance, then it is just meditation or Zen. However, Kouk Sun-Do incorporates all of these things, and, as such, is in accord with the law of the universe. Therefore, Kouk Sun-Do is the general, whole Do (Tao) and the Do (Tao) of life which harmonize the mind and body.  
The practice of
Kouk Sun-Do is based on Danbup (Danree, Danhak). "Danbup" rests on the principles of yin-yang, five elements, and oriental medical philosophies. But to comprehend and apply them is not the prime objective. The prime objective is to put them together so that they can work naturally and directly within the body.

This objective is achieved through Danchun-Haengong which unifies the three Danchuns of our body: Chung (lower Danchun), Ki (upper Danchun), and Shin (middle Danchun). Danchun-Haengong is abdominal breathing with special postures and meditation resulting in the simultaneous training of the body and mind. Through Danchun-Haengong we can purify the mind and body to the condition to be harmonized with the energy of heaven. In technical terms, Danchun-Haegong is called the Chung-Ki-Shin Three-Danchuns-Two-Phases Breathing method. It is found only in the Korean method, having been handed down over time, and is the orthodox and authentic method of breathing. 

The Chung-Ki-Shin principle of Danhak (theory) is found only in Kouk Sun-Do. It is not found in Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, or Christianity. Confucianism teaches the principle of good faith and perfect virtue. Buddhism instructs one to practice the way of the Eight Paths, to abandon grasping, and to overcome the sufferings of human life. Christianity preaches respect for heaven and love for our fellow man. Taoism teaches the principle that man should follow the natural order. All these principles are included in Kouk Sun-Do's Chung-Ki-Shin principle.

In sum,
Kouk Sun-Do is the way to become the whole man with the absolute physical-strength, the ultimate mental-power, and the supreme noble-mind. It is the way to become the unity of you and me, of heaven, earth and man, and of all things. 

Photo: Chung-San's Bowing. (at a Lecture, 1979) 

Sun Do is a body and mind practice system known to people only by legend for thousands of years until the Grand Master Chung San came down from the mountains in 1967 after his 20 years of practice. The entire practice system is now fully open to the public and available to the modern world.


Sun Do had been developed by the ancient Korean people. Its practice had been passed on from a few teachers to a handful of disciples for thousands of years in the secluded mountains of Northeast Asia which the ancient Chinese called “the Land of Immortals”. It has been practiced virtually unchanged since of its inception.


Sun Do (Kouk Sun Do) has also been called “The Way”, “The Way of Life“, “The Way of Receiving Bar’k (Sun Energy)”, “The Immortal Way” or practically called “Danjeon Breathing.” From a modern perspective, Sun Do practice may be considered as another type of Yoga, Taichi, meditation, Zen or even martial arts, but Sun Do includes most of the elements of these body and mind practices.


The purpose of the practice is to develop the human body and mind to the ultimate potential. Through the life-long practice, the Sun Do practitioners would be able to achieve a healthy and strong body and mind, noble virtue of human nature and spiritual enlightenment which are solidified in body and mind.


It has no religious aspects whatsoever. It has no religious rituals or any object of worship. It doesn’t advocate any belief or dogma. It is not a philosophy or belief system. Sun Do is an experiential and scientific system, and is independent of all notions and beliefs.


Sun Do practice system is composed of nine (9) levels of practice:


The first 3 levels practices are: two sets of 25 sequential postures at Beginning Level Practice, 23 Postures at Intermediate Level Practice, and 360 Postures for Advanced Level Practice. These 3 levels are for the training of body and mind to restore its natural health. Beyond this levels are six (6) more levels for the most advanced practitioners who are physically prepared and mentally and spiritually advanced.


The first 3 levels are the practices that practitioners are usually able to observe in the average Sun Do practice studio. Practitioners beyond these 3 levels are very rare and it takes devoted life-long practice to achieve these levels.


Sun Do features deep abdominal energy center breathing known as Danjeon Breathing which enables the practitioners to breathe in the universal life energy, Ki, into the body. Through the practice, the practitioners are gradually able to accumulate the Ki in the Danjeon and learn how to circulate the Ki throughout the 365 Ki channels in the body.


This Ki breathing practice improves and revitalizes the autonomic nervous system and enhances the body’s self-healing ability significantly. With this enhanced life force, Ki, attained through life-long practice, the practitioners develop a stronger immune system better able to prevent disease. This result is called “Healing by Do (Tao).”


As the Ki is accumulated and circulated, the Sun Do practitioners experience various radical and fundamental transformations in the body and mind. Thus, it is strongly recommended to practice under the careful guidance of qualified Sun Do instructors.