American Jidokwan Tang Soo Do is a modern interpretation of traditional Korean Karate, tracing back to both the Jidokwan and Moo Duk Kwan schools, while also being a distinctly American system of martial arts. Its history is intertwined with that of Karate itself here in the United States, and has undergone numerous evolutions before becoming the system it is today.
William Sirbaugh began his martial arts journey around 1968 under Robert Moore and Curtis Herrington. Moore studied Jidokwan while stationed in Korea with the US Army directly under Jidokwan then-President Yoon Kwai Byung. When he was discharged in 1964, Moore made his home in Texas and became affiliated with the US Karate Association under Robert Trias. It was at this time we speculate that he also met Ernest Lieb, the first person to use the name “American Jidokwan” in 1965 but who would later change the name of his art to American Karate Systems.
Curtis Herrington who was one of Moore's first black belts, started the Ohio Jidokwan Association (click here for more information). It was while training with Herrington that Sirbaugh first met Ernest Al Fuzy, who would later found “American Jidokwan Karate.” The following is taken from a 2020 interview with a gentleman named Charles Brown, who first began training in 1970 under Tom Benich (another student of Robert Moore), and later earned his 7th Dan under Fuzy.
Sirbaugh, ca. 1971
Brown recalled attending a training event as a beginner (circa 1970) with Benich, who introduced him to several other Jidokwan students. One of those students was William Sirbaugh. It is unknown what rank Sirbaugh held at the time, but Brown stated “At that time I was a beginner so the respect that you have in the martial arts was different. Beginners really didn't socialize with the advanced rank. That was something that you had to earn through your training.” Therefore, it's clear Sirbaugh was his senior to Brown in Jidokwan at the time. In late 1970, Sirbaugh would enlist in the US Army and be stationed in South Korea. It was then that he studied Moo Duk Kwan. After being discharged in 1973, he would return to Ohio and resume his training.
Sirbaugh in Korea, ca. 1972
Sirbaugh, ca. 1982
In the early 1980s, Sirbaugh would re-enlist this time with the US Marine Corps. By request, he was sent back to Korea where he would take up the study of what would later be called Hankido, founded by Myung Jae Nam. Being a representative of the Aikikai, the hapkido taught by Myung resembled Aikido more than the hapkido taught by other students of Ji Han Jae. It was this influence that largely led to the formation of his own system, Hankido, which began development in 1983 and would be formally introduced in 1986.
Around 1992, Sirbaugh would relocate to the Los Angeles area of California where he would meet Ms. Hatfield. After becoming involved with Ms. Hatfield, he was introduced to her son Steven. Steven had already been studying Taekwondo with Shune Yung Davis, as well as what would become American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu with Hasaka Yutashi (click here). Sirbaugh would connect with these gentlemen, finding they were open to exchanging information and training. Sirbaugh would share with both Davis and Hasaka his experiences in Karate, Hankido and LINE (Marine Corps. combatives).
In 1995, Fuzy formally began using the name "American Jidokwan Karate" to refer to his art. Around the same time, Sirbaugh and Davis began calling their combined practice by several names. The one that stuck was "American Jidokwan Taekwondo."
In 1999, Sirbaugh relocated back to Ohio with his new family. It was then that Hatfield began training in Wae-Kune-Do Karate, a Moo Duk Kwan derived art, under James Parrish and later under the art’s founder, Clarence West, until West’s death in 2008. It was then he also began studying Jidokwan Taekwondo under Choon Mo Yang, eventually reaching 3rd Dan under him.
In addition to his training with Parrish and Yang, Hatfield continued to work with Sirbaugh as well as travel frequently to California where he would continue his studies with both Davis in American Jidokwan and Hasaka Yutashi. Eventually, Davis would retire from teaching which left Sirbaugh as the sole proponent of American Jidokwan Taekwondo. Sirbaugh passed away on April 21, 2009, naming Hatfield as the inheritor of American Jidokwan Taekwondo. As Hatfield was heavily involved in the study and teaching of several arts, he knew he would need to find another instructor to carry on the system full-time and he would oversee its instruction.
On October 3, 2017, Bret Gordon was appointed as the new head of the American Jidokwan Association. Bret began his training in Kukkiwon Taekwondo under Dong Soo Kwak and Mark Bivens, earning his black belt in 2000. After taking several years off to train in other arts, he returned to Kukkiwon and tested for 2nd Dan under Bart Pontecorvo (another student of Kwak). Shortly after, he became affiliated with the American Jidokwan Association. In recognition of his previous training, after a formal exam he was elevated to the rank of 4th Dan in American Jidokwan Taekwondo. When Hatfield and previous officers of the organization made the decision to rebrand the art as "American Jidokwan Tang Soo Do" in order to emphasize its Karate foundation, Bret was recertified. Since then, he has earned his 5th Dan in American Jidokwan Tang Soo Do (as well as his 6th Dan in Jidokwan Taekwondo from Korea) under Hatfield.
Under Gordon's leadership, the American Jidokwan Association has continued to evolve and grow. In 2018, he helped foster a relationship with the Jidokwan World Headquarters, making it possible for all AJA members to receive official certification from Korea. With this recognition, Gordon wanted to restructure the American Jidokwan Association into an official branch of the WTJF, offering members the opportunity to learn both arts. As the AJA expanded and the distinction between Jidokwan Taekwondo and American Jidokwan Tang Soo Do grew more defined, in 2021 he made the decision to formally divide the organization into two separate divisions. TheTaekwondo division would fall under the auspices of the World Taekwondo Jidokwan Federation, whereas the Tang Soo Do division would remain true to the foundation first established by Sirbaugh, and further developed by Hatfield and Gordon. Read more about Jidokwan Taekwondo here.
Following the organization of the AJA into two separate divisions, we became affiliated with the International Tang Soo Do Federation under C.S. Kim. Grandmaster Kim is one of the world's foremost authorities on traditional Tang Soo Do (Moo Duk Kwan lineage), and the ITF has member schools all over the world.
On April 23, 2022, KJN Hatfield as a representative of the American Jidokwan Association attended the official Masters Course of the ITF, completing the membership process for our organization. With this recognition, all students of American Jidokwan Tang Soo Do are eligible to register with the ITF for international rank recognition. The AJA remains the sole governing body of our independent system, but we are proud to offer this additional level of certification for our members and provide them with another avenue for advancement in Korean Karate.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained above has been compiled from years of research and training. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge and verification, however as many of the events listed above pre-date the current administration's involvement in the organization we can make no guarantees as to its completeness. As we continue our study into the history of our art, new information regularly becomes available. Whenever new information becomes available, we will make it public so as to present the most accurate and complete account of our history as possible.