Subak, Soobak or Soo Bak-Gi is an ancient Korean martial art. Historically this term may be an older name for the Korean martial art of taekkyeon. Originally, Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla in the southeastern part of the country, Goguryeo(Koguryo) in the northern part, nearest to China, and Baekje located west of Silla. The Subak style was created in the Korean peninsula kingdom of Goguryeo.

Due to Goguryeo being in constant conflict with China, the military of Goguryeo developed a martial art that was a mix of Chinese arts adapted for their own purposes.

It was a style heavy in the use of kicking as opposed to punching, and relied more on upright fighting styles as opposed to grappling and wrestling.

There is supposition that a possible reason for this is that the kingdom’s mountain terrain had greatly strengthened the legs of the people, turning those into their strongest bodily weapons.

The warriors who practiced this Subak were called Sonbae. The word Sonbae is translated to mean “a man of virtue who never retreats from a fight”, and is a member of the warrior corps.

Those who were members of the Sonbae lived in groups and learned Subak as well as history, literature, and other liberal arts. Although they were constantly training in combat, during peace time they helped construct roads and fortresses, assisted after natural disasters and so on.

In the year 400 BC, in an attempt to dominate the entire southern portion of the country, Baekje invaded Silla. King Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo is said by some accounts to have sent 50,000 Sonbae troops to Silla’s aid. Later he would attempt to dictate Silla’s internal affairs because of this assistance.

It was around this time that the people of Silla formed an elite officers corps called Hwarang (Sometimes referenced as “Hwa Rangdo” meaning “the way of the flower of manhood”). The Hwarang may have utilized techniques from Subak in addition to training in spear, bow, sword, hook and various forms of hand and foot fighting. Subak in combination with Taek Kyon and Karate form the foundation of the Chang Hun style of Taekwondo. Choi, Hong Hi (1983), The Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, vol. 1

Split: Subak took a heavy blow during the Joseon period, which was founded on the ideology of Confucianism, stressing literary art instead of martial art. Subak was only allowed to be practiced in competitions called subakhui. After three subakhui bouts, the winner could become employed as a soldier.

It was also during the beginning of the Joseon dynasty that Subak became increasingly divided into two separate styles, Taekgyeon and Yusul. Where Taekgyeon techniques consisted mainly of kicks and strikes, Yusul techniques were of the locking and grappling kind.

Revival: After the Korean war Soo Bahk, as a name for modern martial arts, reappeared mainly as a name for Koreanized karate with techniques added after study of the Muyedobotongji (무예도보통진). The Muyedobotongji however does not contain any ancient Sook Bahk techniques. The empty-handed fighting material found in the Muyedobotongji is called gwonbeop (권법) and is of Chinese origin.