An artistic representation of the philosophy of Yu Won Hwa using Asian water and tree images combined with a circle motif.


The philosophy at the heart of Kuk Sool is a three-layered concept simple enough for children to grasp and sophisticated enough that I am still coming to understand it after decades of practice.


Yu is a concept that describes the movement of water as it flows downhill. It can be by turns either powerful or gentle, frightening or peaceful, terrible or beautiful, patient or insistent. Yu gives us a paradigm, not only for martial art strategy, but for life.

Yu means we use the level of strength required for the job at hand. A pebble in the stream doesn’t generate the same resistance as a boulder. A boulder doesn’t need to be moved if there is a way around, and so on. Yu is beauty in efficiency and practicality.


Won is the concept of circles. As the basic shape of movement in the human body, circles (or parts of circles called arcs) define how we move. If we take advantage of the circular patterns of movement, we can magnify the intensity of our techniques. For instance, a twisting punch (screw punch) has more power and causes more damage than a straight punch. A sweeping takedown is more effective (and painful) than a straight one. 

Applied to martial art training, won gives us a key to becoming more powerful. In our personal lives, won gives us a clue to personal power. Won hints at the cyclical nature of life. What goes around, comes around. Things come full circle. From clocks and calendars to stellar systems and DNA, the cyclical nature of the universe is plain to see. Do we use this common knowledge to magnify our personal power, or does it take us by surprise?


Hwa is the most mysterious concept of the three. It means “harmony.” It is the philosophy of acceptance, receiving what comes without complaint. Indeed, hwa suggests embracing opportunities regardless of appearances. Hwa means working together rather than fighting, adding forces rather than subtracting.

The martial application of hwa means that we respond by adding our strength to that of an attacker. We push when we are pulled, pull when we are pushed. Logically, this makes sense, but practically it’s counter-intuitive. Our first instinct if someone grabs our arm and pulls is to pull in the opposite direction – disharmony rather than harmony. Hwa says if someone grabs and pulls, we move toward them and add our strength to theirs.

What’s the takeaway?

Whether or not you are a martial artist, this trinity of concepts can help you approach the challenges in life more productively. Problems become puzzles and enemies become opportunities. Each day is practice for the next.

According to the WKSA founder, Kuk Sa Nim, Yu-Won-Hwa could be restated as “Soft-Circle-Together”. In other words, the “secret” of martial art is connection






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