Challenges faced by a student
and by a martial art

By Tom Olin, Jr.

2nd Dan Black Belt
World Taekwondo Federation

2nd Dan Black Belt
Korea Tang Soo Do Association
World Moo Duk Kwan Federation


To Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung.
Your wisdom, insight, and patience changed my life.  
Thank you for being an incredible mentor and very good friend.
Moo Sool!!

What is indomitable spirit?
The dedicated pursuit of goals despite obstacles.

Bong Soo Han
Ninth Dan Hapkido Grandmaster
Black Belt Magazine Interview


This document is an account of my journey, as a middle-aged executive and father of two kids, toward earning a black belt in Taekwondo.  At forty years of age, and at my mid-life crossroads, I made the decision to pursue a goal that I had desired since childhood. This blog is a chronology of personal jottings, a journal – each entry recalling the step-by-step process I experienced along the way.  Some events were humbling.  Some were embarrassing.  Most were enlightening.  All of them have helped shape who I have become as a martial artist.  It is my hope that the older martial arts student can learn from my mistakes and tribulations.

In addition, as I continued down the martial path, I found myself reflecting upon the origins, philosophy, and future directions of Taekwondo.  This led to further research into the discipline and how it relates to other traditional martial arts.  I have observed that, while basking in the glow of tremendous growth and popularity, Taekwondo is also at a major crossroads.  It has become the most practiced martial art in the United States, in no small part due to its emergence as an Olympic sport.  At the same time, these same aspects that are making it successful as a sport are potentially endangering the heart and spirit of the discipline. 

It is my hope that the reader will gain an appreciation for both the challenges faced by the student… and by the martial art… as they continue on their journey in the future.

One final note.  The reader will observe that several terms, such as 'poomse' (poomsae) have multiple correct spellings.  This is due to phonetic translation between languages.  The spelling of the term Taekwondo has actually evolved over the years. Taekwon-Do is the oldest and most traditional spelling, followed by Tae Kwon Do, and then the most current version ... Taekwondo.

Tom Olin
Original publication. Autumn  2004
(Re-edited and updated for website 2014)

Part One:  The Journey Within
Chapter One – White Belt 

Man’s life is like making a long journey with a heavy burden. 
One must not hurry.

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

Who would have guessed that a semi-retired former executive and forty-year old father of two daughters would have taken up Taekwondo? 

A handful of years ago, I was President and CEO of a midsized national food products company.  I had spent the last twenty years of my life either behind a desk or in airport club rooms.  There was so little time for any physical conditioning or personal development.  Exercise, for me was running from one end of the O’Hare United Air Lines concourse to the other to catch the last flight of the day. 

I was fortunate to have traveled a great portion of the world as well as all fifty states in the course of running my business.  Many times, in some surprising places, I would cross paths with the martial arts.  I would often drive by small training studios located near our company distributor warehouses.  I would catch myself looking with interest through the painted windows to watch the practitioners inside.  I also met the occasional movie star martial artist at corporate trade shows in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. They looked and acted so normal, so humane, when I shook their hands.  Their eyes, however, were often steely and reflective of the warrior spirit within.

Several events took place over the course of three years, between 1996 and 1998, that eventually led to the acquisition of my company.  On one November day, after a twenty year career and at forty years of age, I was no longer a corporate executive.  I was now just a humble Dad driving his kids to school every day.  I sat for many hours at home, reflecting on what I would do with the second half of my life. I wrote down a set of priorities that included learning Spanish, reading the Bible from cover to cover,  mastering guitar,  spending more time in charitable and volunteer work, traveling to every continent, and obtaining a black belt in the martial arts.  I set about reaching those goals.  I attended Spanish classes at the local community college and I joined a local rock and roll band. 

But I was intimidated to pursue the martial arts.  I was well past my prime physically and was at least twenty pounds overweight.  I also had a well-developed sense of pride and I feared how bad I might look on the training floor. 

Interestingly, my daughter, Laura, began taking classes at Chung’s Tiger Tae Kwon Do Academy in Richland, Michigan. We had signed her up as a way to keep her physically active and mentally disciplined.  Several of our neighbor’s kids were taking classes and their parents were enthusiastic about the program.  So in March of 2000, Laura attended her first class.  She was very proud of her clean white “do bok” (uniform) and matching white belt.  Sitting silently in the back of the gym, I noticed that she was very skilled right from the start and I was amazed at how focused and disciplined she was in front of Master Choi. 

Master Moses I Choi managed the “do jang” (gym) where Laura attends classes.  He is a 5th Dan black belt in Taekwondo, Korean national champion in both Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing, and a master at Hap Ki Do.  He is a slender six-foot Korean in his late twenties.  He speaks English very well but when speaking to Grandmaster Chung or on the phone he speaks his native Korean.  Master Choi is a terrific children’s instructor.  He commands attention without seeming overbearing.  He makes the students take the martial arts seriously but the hint of a smile keeps things on the light side.

Watching Laura throw side kicks and practice her poomse (forms) immediately reminded me of the martial arts that I practiced years ... many years ... ago.  I remember the classes that my father and I attended at the YMCA in Ashland, Ohio.  I was fourteen years old at that time.  Dad felt that these classes might help me build confidence. The discipline that we studied was some form of Japanese karate - probably Okinawan.  Our instructor’s name was Bob Mazzotta.  He was a ruddy-complected brute.  He had a partner, I think his name was Dan, who specialized in a new form of martial arts that emphasized kicking. Dan’s feet were hard as rock.  He said that he had trained in the Far East during his stint in Vietnam.

Dad and I took classes for a few months and my interest in the martial arts grew rapidly.  At the close of the program I tested for and received a green belt.  I earned this by executing a handful of Katas (Japanese forms) and breaking some boards.  Our instructor told us that we could continue taking classes from him personally for twenty dollars an hour.  At that point, we could not afford to continue with the program and I no longer stayed with it officially. 

Unofficially, however, I continued to study Karate.  I bought several books on the subject and remember one good one by Bruce Tegner, which became dog-eared and wrinkled by constant use.  I kept a kicking target in the basement and worked out regularly.  I thought that I was becoming pretty proficient until I saw some pictures that Dad had taken of me doing kicks in the living room.  One photo looked like I was stamping out cockroaches.  I was shamed and humiliated and my interest faded quickly.

As a side note, I later found out that my first martial arts instructor (Bob) was arrested for hiring a person to throw battery acid in his wife’s face.  He went to prison.

That great dust heap called “history.”

Augustine Birrell

There was another moment, a real short one, when I signed up for Kenpo Karate classes in Columbus, Ohio.  This was with the famous teacher Jay T. Will (Black Belt Hall of Fame 1976 and student of Ed Parker).  I went through three classes and found I was so out of shape that I could not keep up with the instructor.  The mind was willing but the body not so! In addition, the fact that we lived twenty miles away and I was in the midst of my rigorous graduate school studies at Ohio State University snuffed that venture out very quickly.  I did get a cool uniform out of it though.

I maintained an interest in the martial arts and even as recently as 1998, my wife, Tam, and I took some Tai Chi classes at the Borgess Health Center in Kalamazoo.  I could visualize myself doing the smooth and fluid moves that we once saw hundreds of people doing in the park one crisp Sunday morning near the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on a recent vacation in China. Of course, I bought the black outfit and the flat-soled Tai Chi shoes, but when I wore it, somehow I didn’t look as cool or coordinated as the practitioners I remembered. Anyway, the instructor for the workshop was not a qualified instructor and the classes were canceled as students dropped out.

When the student is ready, the master appears.

Buddhist Proverb

So here I was, sitting in the back of Chung’s Tiger Tae Kwon Do Academy, watching Laura go at it and I began to get the itch again.  I casually grabbed one of the pamphlets in the rack on the wall and began to read about Grandmaster James Sunhwan Chung.  He was a 9th degree black belt in Korean Tae Kwon Do and an 9th degree black belt in Hap Ki Do.  There were pictures of him on the wall with Chuck Norris and Bill Wallace.  

There were still more pictures of him - with cars driving over his chest, breaking stacks of bricks, walking across broken glass with buckets of water hanging from needles that pierced his neck and arms.  Yes, this was my destiny!  I just had to meet this amazing man. 

Traditional Taekwondo Magazine Cover Story
"Incredible Sun Hwan Chung Tells His Story"

So, ready or not, I called the “World Headquarters” in Kalamazoo.  The Grandmaster answered the phone himself.  I introduced myself and asked if I could talk about family membership possibilities.  Mr. Chung suggested that I come in and talk with him.

The next morning, I drove to Chung’s Black Belt Academy on Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo on a quest to discover more.  The studio itself was a wood-sided stand-alone building, with at least five or six signs on it proclaiming this to be Chung’s Black Belt Academy. It shared a parking lot with Sweetwater’s Donut Shop.  There was a large Chung’s sign at the street.  On that sign it said “Discipline, Confidence”

As I approached the front door, I noticed a sign indicating that the parking spot directly in front of the front door belonged to the Grandmaster.  I also noted several signs that proclaimed that all shoes were to be removed and placed in a rack by the front door.  Having developed an appreciation for far eastern cultures in my travels, my interest was piqued and I obliged.  Upon entering, I noticed that the facility was actually two gyms.  There was a smaller carpeted room near the entry and a larger one, located to the side, that seemed newer with a hard tiled floor.  Every inch of the perimeter of the small room was covered with martial arts awards and trophies.  Some of them were six or seven feet high.  Mounted along the wall, near the ceiling were the certificates of at least thirty black belts.  I was pleased to see that several of them featured people in their thirties and even a couple in their forties.

Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung
I can’t remember if there was a receptionist when I arrived but I do remember that I could see Mr. Chung at his desk in an office in the back corner.  He noticed my arrival and stepped out to welcome me. He looked almost exactly like the pictures on the wall except that the mustache was gone and he appeared slightly older and gentler.  He brought me into his office, which was crowded with awards, plaques, and other honors. 

He asked if I was interested in practicing Taekwondo.  For some reason, probably because of my lack of confidence, I launched into a diatribe about my experience in the martial arts.  Of course, I literally hadn’t lifted my foot above my knee (other than to get into the hot tub) in almost twenty years.  He graciously nodded and welcomed my history as if it really meant something.  I asked if I had to do any full-contact fighting with people half my age.  I also asked if there was a special program for older students.  He sensed my apprehension and calmly stated that I could achieve a black belt.  He said that he would not measure me against other students but on my own mental discipline and what I could achieve with my own physical limitations.  The Grandmaster told me a story about a doctor my age that was similarly concerned but recently earned his black belt. 

I told him that my daughter Laura was already taking classes at the branch in Richland and inquired about family memberships.  He mentioned that indeed there were such memberships and that he would even deduct Laura’s initial payment from the tab.  He asked if I would rather take classes in Richland at the local do jang.  I told him that I wanted to take my classes in the morning, which was true.  But more than that, I also didn’t want the humiliation of standing there at the Richland do jang in my clean white uniform and snow-white belt while many of my friends picked up their kids following their after-school class.  Another consideration was that I wanted to take my classes directly from the Grandmaster and thought that attending lessons in Kalamazoo would help facilitate that.

Mr. Chung was tremendously gracious and patient as I whipped out the credit card.  April 24, 2000.

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.  

Chinese Proverb

He then asked me when I would be interested in getting started.  All of a sudden, a shiver ran down my spine.  What had I just done.  Oh my God, I’m committed now.  He suggested that he might give me my first couple of lessons to get things off to a smooth start. He took me out of his office and handed me three uniforms (do boks), one each for my wife Tam and older daughter Michelle, and one for me.  He very kindly gave me a white pullover uniform with a black collar on it.  I think that it signified that I paid a lot of money or something akin to it.  Anyway, I was glad to have a uniform with some black on it. 

Now, I had to go home and tell Tam that we were all committed – after all I had just signed up for the “family” membership.  She was very supportive, as long as we remembered that we started this whole thing for Laura. 

The next morning I arrived bright and early for my first class with the Grandmaster.  He led me to the locker room where I changed into my do bok.  I remember looking into the mirror on the way out to the gym and saying to myself “Here we go.”  I also remember how nervous and embarrassed I was to walk out in a perfectly white uniform, with the creases still in it, and looking down at that bleached white belt - which signified purity.  The road to a black belt seemed as far as the moon.

My first objective was to show Grandmaster Chung how good I was in the martial arts…like I could remember any of it after twenty-five years. I wanted to show him some of my forms or anything that might impress him.  He calmly began some loosening up exercises and quickly moved into some stretching.  I had already broken into a sweat in the locker room and by now I was starting to breathe heavy.  By the time he had me grab the horizontal bar along the wall, the sweat was rolling off me onto the floor and my lungs were screaming.  I looked at the clock.  We had been at it for five minutes.

We moved into the center of the floor where we did some vertical leg stretch-kicks.  The Grandmaster showed me how to do them by flinging his legs straight up over his head.  I started slowly, but then soon I was kicking over my head.  I noticed that with each kick I felt small rips in the backs of my leg muscles - but hey, I was showing this guy that I could do something!!  We moved over to the kicking bags.  They are like a plastic buoy filled with water as ballast and with a large padded cover. The idea is that you kick them hard enough to scoot them across the floor.  He had me practice front kicks.  My adrenaline was rushing and I wanted to show him how powerful I was so I kicked that bag across the floor at least twelve times.  The balls of my feet and my toes started to hurt.  Grandmaster Chung made a comment about how powerful I was; which made me kick the bag even harder!  Just as my feet were about to explode, the lesson was over.  The Grandmaster closed the class with meditation and an “appreciation form”.  He very kindly expressed his appreciation for my effort and welcomed me again. 

My body started to go into rigor mortis as I walked out to the car in the parking lot.  I drove home and lay on the bed for an hour.  Then I went into the hot tub and blew the jets on my hips for twenty minutes.

There is a well-known story of a Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who had come to inquire about Zen.

Shortly into the discussion, it was obvious to the master that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge.  The master listened patiently and finally suggested that they have tea.  The master poured his cup full and then kept pouring.  The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself.  “The cup is overfull, no more will go in” he said.

“Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

With an “empty cup” and a little more humility, my next class with Grandmaster Chung went well.  He started to teach me some poomse (forms) and self-defense techniques.  I think that he might have noted my soreness and spent the class on aspects not so strenuous.

The next Monday, I arrived just as Grandmaster Chung and Master Choi had opened the do jang and were still drinking coffee from Sweetwater’s Donut shop next door.  I had mistakenly thought that there was a 9:00am class.  Grandmaster Chung kindly instructed Master Choi to give me a “private” lesson.  I heard him tell Master Choi to “take it easy” because it was only my third class.  Well, I had seen Master Choi teach Laura before so I was confident that there would be no problem.  Three minutes and fifty judo pushups later, I learned another great lesson of the martial arts - never show up for a class that doesn’t exist

Soon, Master Choi had me doing leg-lift type kicks over a three-foot high kicking dummy.  One hundred repetitions with each leg.  At forty, my legs went numb.  At sixty, I couldn’t lift them.  At eighty, I had lost all sense of control and balance.  I can’t remember if I made all one hundred with each leg because I started to get light-headed.  After the hardest physical hour of my entire life, and forty more judo pushups, I crawled home. The next day, I realized that I had done something seriously wrong.  I could hardly walk and the muscles inside my legs, near my groin, were shredded.  I was physically unable to get around let alone take classes for four days.

On my first day back, Master Choi asked stiffly, “Where were you this week?”  I told him of my condition.  He responded as if he had heard that story a hundred times before and sharply told me to take it a little easier in class.  I felt like a total dweeb.  Three classes and I’m fingered as a lightweight.

Over time, I slowly established a rhythm and was going three times per week.  Some of my past martial arts experience was paying off.  I remembered how to snap into front and back stances that were similar to the ones I learned years ago. In fact, some of the poomse forms were identical.  Interestingly, the Grandmaster noticed my technique and mentioned that they were older, more formal, ones. 

My confidence began to grow but I still despised the color of my belt. As a white belt, my goal was to obtain a purple belt as quickly as possible, mostly because it was the first dark-colored belt in the system of ranking.  That was two steps away.  I hated being a white belt.  I hated having to stand in the left-hand rear of the class, especially when I looked around and saw children with brown belts running around with their Nintendos and jumping on all the equipment.  These were not the ruminations of someone with great wisdom or mental discipline.  I knew that I had a long way to go.

Chapter Two – Yellow Belt

My first belt test took place on a warm Saturday morning at the main do jang on Stadium Drive. I was unbelievably nervous and stressed.  I knew my stuff, but was I good enough? How harsh would they grade me?  Would I fail? These worries turned out to be unwarranted.  I earned my yellow belt.  But more importantly, I was able to watch the higher belts go through their tests.  Belt test day turned out to be a great learning experience in itself.  It was also wonderful to witness Laura as she passed her test for her purple belt.

In order to qualify for a black belt at Chung’s Black Belt Academy, a student must participate in at least six tournaments.  These tournaments involve practicing forms but mainly emphasize Olympic-style sparring. These are full-contact exercises where knockouts are not uncommon.  I assessed very quickly that I needed to get this experience out of the way before I became too highly ranked and got my butt kicked.

The Great Lakes Cup was held in Lansing, Michigan on June 24, 2000 at the Lansing Community College gymnasium.  I was sweating profusely as I entered the gym and saw hundreds of competitors in various uniforms and belts.  I was entered in the Senior Division, meaning combatants 35 years old and older.  I was too intimidated to sign up for sparring but thought I would try the forms competition. 

As I warmed up, I saw a guy about six foot six and at least 250 pounds practicing roundhouse kicks into a bag.  With each kick came a shout so loud that rattled the rafters. The bag keeled over with each tremendous blast.  The guy even wore a black uniform, which made him appear even more sinister.  I asked somebody about that guy.  He was 36 years old.  Oh no!!  Wait a minute ... I’m not sparring.  I took a big sigh of relief.  I pitied the poor guy that had to fight that monster.

As it turned out, I competed against eight other people in the forms competition.  Most were older than me, like maybe in their fifties.  But there was this one nerdly looking guy from Indianapolis with weird goggles and a skinner haircut.  He had a gut and appeared to be very uncoordinated.  So I figured I had a good chance to do well.  We were tested two at a time – and my form was nearly perfect.  The judges announced that I was tied for first place ... with the nerdy guy!  I was excited that I had done so well and was sure that I could beat him.  We had to repeat our forms in a runoff simultaneously for the judges.  I had performed yellow belt form number four – a Tang Soo Do poomse that featured a good mix of kicks, blocks, and punches.  I noticed that my opponent performed a very short and simple poomse that featured no kicks at all.  I thought, “This thing was in the bag!!”

We started together, everything was going great, until I turned around halfway through my form and saw that he had already finished his form. Somehow seeing this broke my concentration and I made a glitch in my form.  A small glitch, but not small enough for the judges not to see... and it happened two moves from the end.  I bowed afterward in disgust having lost my concentration so easily.  In just a few seconds it was over.  I am standing there with a second place trophy.  I had just lost to the nerd from Indianapolis.  I pounded on myself mentally the rest of the weekend.  Obviously, I was too competitive for my own good and I learned that with whatever skills I acquired in my classes, I had yet to acquire wisdom or patience.

He who only knows victory and does not know defeat will fare badly. 

Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu

I stayed at the tournament to watch the sparring contests.  They were every bit as tough as I had imagined.  One competitor from our do jang, his name was Adam, fought three bouts in row.  He injured his hip in the second fight when he fell out of the ring and into the corner of the judge's table.  In the gold medal bout, his opponent had astutely seen where Adam was hurting and promptly went about kicking Adam’s hip like a jackhammer.  Adam gamely put up a great effort but the injury and three consecutive fights in a row took their toll and he was vanquished.  I learned much from what I saw...and it told me that I’d better get my bouts in soon.

Something else I noticed too.  It seemed that most of the other do jangs had quite different ideologies than ours and it seemed like martial arts today had taken on a different dimension since I had studied it as a kid.  Most organizations today appear to be almost totally focused on competition and Olympic-style sparring. Teachers focused for hour upon hour in repetition - kicks, punches, kicks, punches – coached almost as if Taekwondo were a sport, like baseball, football, or soccer. Gone was the spirituality and depth of the art.  For them, it seemed like it was all about winning contests.  Seeing this for the first time was enlightening as well as disappointing and it made me reflect upon the past, present, and future of the martial arts.

It seems like the “westernization” of these arts has placed almost total emphasis on the physical, most specifically, the combative or “sport” phases of the discipline.  Much of the mental and spiritual aspects have been forgotten or ignored by those who presently practice martial arts in the United States.  I would develop a greater understanding of this as I progressed down the martial path.

Traditional Tang Soo Do is not a sport.
Those practicing traditional martial arts are training for a lifetime of victories.

Chun Sik Kim
Interview – Tae Kwon Do Times magazine

Fortunately, Chung’s is among the few martial arts organizations that still follows a more traditional approach.  There is a focus on developing the whole person - body, mind, and spirit.  There is physical conditioning, to be sure, but more importantly, each practitioner is urged to develop one’s inner-selves as well.  We are given assignments to read ranging from the philosophy of Taekwondo to the history of Korea.  We are tested on this subject matter during every belt test.  We touch on deeper matters as well, such as the importance of meditation and an understanding of Zen.  Grandmaster Chung believes that the physical, the mental, and the spiritual must all be in balance if the student is to be a true master of the martial arts. 

Chapter Three – Purple Belt

Power of the mind is infinite while the brawn is limited.

Koichi Tohei

I tested for my purple belt about a month after the Great Lakes Cup tournament.  I was now voraciously reading all I could on the subject of Taekwondo.  I was buying training equipment, sparring gear, and video training tapes. I acquired every issue of Tae Kwon Do Times, Black Belt Magazine, and every other martial arts magazine that I could lay my hands on. 

There is an ancient Chinese maxim, which says, “On ko chi shin.” This means, “To study the old is to understand the new.” So I studied the history of Korea and its martial arts.  According to legend, Korea suffered constant invasions from larger and more powerful kingdoms because of its strategic centralized position in eastern Asia.  Korean tribes found it necessary to develop methods of defense based on human and animal physiology. 

In 108 BC, the Korean peninsula was invaded by Chinese emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.  The Chinese were eventually driven out of Korea, replaced by three kingdoms – Silla, Baek Je, and Koguryo.  The most loyal of these kingdoms to ancient Korean traditions was Silla. Their king, Jin Heung, recruited and developed a small group of warriors known as the Hwarang.  Not only were they skillful in combat, they were also highly educated in philosophy, morality, and the arts.  Their skill and intelligence, combined with a strong code of ethics, made the Hwarang a valuable asset to Silla.  These warriors successfully protected Silla for three hundred years. 

Over time, the martial arts expanded from training of the military to become regular features of athletic competitions and festivals. 

As the Silla kingdom gave way to the Koryo dynasty, the martial arts continued to flourish with the military and its citizenry.  Now named Su Bak, these skills were taught in schools and a unified system of teaching was organized.  By the thirteenth century, Korea was under attack once again from the Mongols and then the Japanese.  Korea survived under the military leadership of Yi Song-gye, but his strong support of Confucianism and its pacifist philosophy led to the decline of Su Bak in the military and as a sport.  This mindset eventually left Koreans unable to defend themselves during continued invasions by Japan. 

In 1894 and 1904, Japan clashed with China and Russia in attempts to capture Korea.  Japan emerged victorious and annexed Korea.  They renamed it Chosun.  Japan remained in control until the end of World War II in 1945.  It was not until after Korea was liberated that its martial arts began to grow again in popularity.

Understanding the true history of martial arts in Korea is made difficult by the fact that conquering nations destroyed all things associated with the preexisting culture, often redefining the past, and influencing the art with their own martial customs and history.

Back at the do jang, I was starting to get into the groove and my body was showing marked improvement.  I could kick above my head without being sorry for it the next day.  I still had difficulty with spinning back kicks and foot speed, but my skills were coming along.  I would finish practices feeling tired but mentally fresh. I was beginning to set new goals - now that I was a purple belt, my next goal was to earn a green belt.

One of my responsibilities as an 8th gup is to memorize the Tenets Of Tae Kwon Do.  They are the five key aspects that all students of this martial art must possess:

Courtesy:                            Politeness, consideration of others, respectfulness.
Integrity:                             Personal pride, honor, morality, wholeness.
Perseverance:                    Continuing to try to achieve a goal in spite of obstacles.
Self-Control:                       Being responsible for one’s own actions and behavior.
          Indomitable Spirit:             Strength of mind and soul.

During this time, I was beginning to learn more about Grandmaster Chung.  He began training in the martial arts when he was eight years old under the guiding hands of several of the world’s earliest and greatest Tang Soo Do masters – starting with its founder Hwang Kee, Chang Young Chong (Dan #15), Jong Soo Hong (Dan #16) and Jae Joon Kim (Dan #38 - a relative of Hwang Kee and founder of the American Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do Federation).  He earned his first black belt from Hwang Kee at age eleven.  In 1965, Chung won the Korean Tae Kwon Do National Championships, defeating eleven challengers from all over the world. In addition, he won the Asian Championships in 1966.  Throughout the late 1960s, he served as an instructor for both the Korean and the U.S. military in Asia.

For three years, from 1966 to 1968, Grandmaster Chung managed Hwang Kee's central dojang at Seoul Station, located in the Jong Gu section of Dong Ja Dong.

Grandmaster Chung was sent by Hwang Kee, in the second wave of Taekwondo masters, to the United States on June 18, 1970.  

Man Seop Song, Sun Hwan Chung, and Chun Il Kim (along with Hueng Iyol Yoon and Jin Mun Hwang) 
at Gimpo International Airport prior to departure to the United States (June 1970)
(Photo courtesy

His American sponsor was Dale Drouilard, the first American to receive a black belt from Grandmaster Hwang.  Drouilard and fellow American black belts David Praim and Russell Hanke sponsored many Korean Masters such as Jae Joon Kim and Sang Kyu Shim in the United States. All of these sponsors were Michigan natives, so this might explain why so many Korean instructors began teaching in Detroit.  As a new arrival, Chung first instructed at (Jae Joon) Kim’s Karate School in Grand River.   A number of challenging and difficult months followed, as Chung was forced to earn his credentials many times over, and he did so very successfully and honorably. 


This photograph (late 1970) shows the conclusion of the 46th Dan Shim Sa 
(black belt tests) that took place in the Steelworkers Union Hall in Detroit, Michigan. 
Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung is second from left, along with Grandmaster Chun Il Kim.  
Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee and Grandmaster Man Bok Song are 
awarding black belt promotions to Dale Drouillard (5th Dan), Chuck Norris (4th Dan), 
Pat Johnson (3rd Dan), and Loren Adams (3rd Dan).

(Photo courtesy

It was not long before Grandmaster Chung began to look across America for opportunities to open his own school.  He first thought about Palm Beach, Florida as a possibility, until a hurricane arrived the same day he did. Then he looked at Miami as an option, but he noted that too many areas were saturated in the drug trade. 

Chung then flew to the west coast, southern California, where he wandered up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, counting do jangs and dojos by the hundreds – “one on every block.”  He stopped by the do jang of Hee Il Cho, who had just purchased his school from Chuck Norris.  Grandmaster Chung had known Cho from his years training in Korea.  This time, however, he found Cho to be somewhat arrogant and aloof, perhaps reflecting the big city attitudes of Los Angeles.  Grandmaster Chung determined from his travels that he would be better suited if he found a medium-sized, Midwestern city to open his new school.  He eventually settled on Kalamazoo, Michigan.   

Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee visiting Grandmaster Chung's Kalamazoo dojang in 1975

During the next three decades, Grandmaster Chung taught thousands of students his Moo Sool Do (Martial Arts United) mix of Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, and Hap Ki Do. He has made many friends in the business including some of the most famous names in the martial arts.  He counts Jhoon Rhee, Bong Soo Han, and Chuck Norris among his friends.  He has rubbed shoulders with Bill Wallace, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Joe Lewis, Cynthia Rothrock, and dozens more martial arts legends.

Grandmaster Chung with martial arts superstar Chuck Norris
(Taken during Norris' 9th Dan black belt presentation)

Grandmaster Chung is a legitimate 10th Dan black belt instructor (honorary) in the art of Moo Sool Do.  He is among the elite grandmasters to have earned a 9th Dan from the Kukkiwon.  He is an 9th Dan instructor in Hapkido, certified by the Korea Hap Ki Do Association.  He is a Tang Soo Do World Master Instructor, certified by the Korea Soo Bak Do Association. He is recognized as an International Referee by the World Taekwondo Federation and United States Taekwondo Union.  He is currently a U.S.A.T. Martial Arts Commissioner.  He is past president of the Michigan Tae Kwon Do Association.

After more than sixty years in the art of Taekwondo, Grandmaster Chung is considered one of the five most senior World Taekwondo Federation Grandmasters on the planet.  I am tremendously privileged to be a student of such a respected and honored Grandmaster.

Daughter Michelle was now fully involved and moving along quickly.  She was already a yellow belt.  At first, she was intimidated by the thought of combat but her flexibility (she can do a side kick above her head) and self-discipline were truly outstanding.

By this point, I was starting to feel pretty cocky, with my dark-colored belt and all.  I can remember distinctly one Saturday morning during family class, I thought that I would show Master Choi a thing or two while he was holding the handheld kicking targets.  I thought that I would rip that target right out of his hand with a roundhouse so powerful that he would never forget.  I bounced a few times on my toes and then, bam!!  I am not sure which toe on my right foot broke first, my third or my fourth, but I do know that it took more them eight weeks for them to get back to normal.

Another rite of passage for a purple belt; I was initiated into the world of contact sparring.  I was dreading sparring for weeks, knowing that my time was coming closer and closer.  When the instructor would ask the students what they wanted to do on any given day, all but one would say “sparring” … and that one was me.  I was quietly requesting “forms?”  I guess that I was afraid of being beaten or humiliated.  Sparring emphasized all of the aspects of martial arts in which I was not skilled - speed, flexibility, reaction, and aggression.  I was fast approaching the part of the discipline that I feared the most. And I hated the notion that this fear would be exposed.

My day came early in September and my fears were unfounded. 

As with most things in life, the worry was worse than the reality.  Sparring is not so bad once you try it.  My first several spars were awkward.  I wasn’t really sure what I was doing but neither was my opponent.  As I progressed, however, I began to develop some kicking and punching combinations.  My size and power were an advantage in my first few spars.  However, one of my instructors critiqued my first efforts, stating that I was too slow and I was trying to put too much power into my kicks.  Furthermore, I was leaning into the opponent, like boxing.  This was a cardinal sin because it is easier to get your block knocked off by a spinning back kick or something worse.  “Speed was more important than strength,” he said.  

The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.

Bruce Lee

One morning, I was paired up with an opponent half my age.  He came after me with abandon and I was caught off guard.  He was scoring time after time.  As he did, my anger climbed higher and higher.  But the madder I got, the worse I did.  I was screaming with rage.  I kicked as hard as I could.  I leaned into the opponent.  I received a back kick to my chin.  In the span of about two minutes my confidence in sparring went from high to zero.  I felt embarrassed and humiliated.  Making matters worse, my right ankle had hit his elbow at one point in the match and was swelling up quickly.  I went home beaten, both mentally and physically.

The angry man will defeat himself in battle as well as in life.

Samurai maxim.

I resolved to change my methods.  My motivation was simple; change or get killed.

Two days later, I was again matched up with the same opponent.  By this time I had changed my strategy. I stayed loose on my feet and did not think about premeditated moves.  I focused on speed.  It worked.  I was laying into this guy.  I was a totally different fighter.  I don’t know who won for sure, but at least I held my own.  As quickly as I had lost my confidence, I had regained it.  And this came at a good time, because I had signed up to spar in the 2000 Michigan Cup Martial Arts Tournament the next weekend.

Chapter Four – Orange Belt

Seeing that Michigan Cup date on my calendar day after day was like taking a daily dose of stress.  The day finally came, and I was sick with a cold.  But by God, I was going to dispense with one of those sparring requirements even if I died.  I arrived at the gym at 7:00am to volunteer with set up and spent the next ten hours imagining some 250 pound guy in a black uniform kicking the crap out of my face. 

My kids, Michelle, Laura, and I had signed up for all of the events - forms, breaking, and sparring.  The kids were up first and did very well.  Laura won gold medals in both forms and breaking.  Michelle won a gold in breaking and a silver medal in forms. 

I again competed in the Senior Division.  There were eight of us in our group.  Thank goodness the nerd from Indianapolis wasn’t there.  I was, however, one of the lowest ranking belts in the division.  At 12:00 noon we took the floor.  I was next to last in forms so I was able to watch the other competitors perform theirs.  I noted that several of them slipped up in their forms so I felt that I had a chance to win.  I was called up before the three judges and performed Pyong-Ahn* Ee Hyung (an orange belt Tang Soo Do form).  I was nervous but did well.  After the final competitor, the judges stood up and called us into positions - and they presented me with the gold medal

*  Hwang Kee claimed that the five artful and sophisticated forms known as “Pyong Ahn” (peace and confidence) evolved from a single one hundred year-old karate kata originally called “Jae-Nam," named after the Hwa Nam area of China, and first developed by a Mr. Idos.  In actuality, he may have been speaking of Sensei Yasutsune Itosu.  Itosu was an Okinawan Shorin-Ryu karate master who created the forms in 1901, naming them 'Pin An'.  He influenced many of karate’s great grandmasters, including Gichin Funokoshi – the founder of modern Shotokan karate.  Hwang Kee studied these forms, modified them, and renamed them Pyong Ahn as part of his development of Moo Do Kwan Tang Soo Do.  

Each of us then continued with the breaking event.  I broke three boards - with a ridge hand, left footed ax kick, and a side-kick (which took two tries to break).  I won the bronze medal in that event.

The girls had interesting sparring experiences.  Laura pounded some poor kid around the ring for the entire ninety seconds but her mauling technique was not artful enough to win the gold.  The judges gave the match to her opponent and she won the silver medal.  Michelle was placed in an advanced group and sparred a girl three gups higher and two years older.  She held her own until her opponent punched her in the mouth illegally and (despite her mouth guard) her braces cut into her gums, causing them to bleed profusely. It was a tough match, and Michelle earned her bronze medal.  This experience was enough, however, to hurt Michelle’s desire to continue with Taekwondo.

Having done as well in my first two events, I didn’t feel as much pressure to win my sparring event.  And as it turned out, there were only two of us in our gup group to spar.  My first career sparring opponent was David (Walker).  He was also an orange belt.  He was about four inches shorter than me.  At the suggestion of the referee, we agreed that we would focus on having a good match and keep things civil.  The match began and I felt razor sharp.  I was firing off left and right-footed roundhouses.  Even occasional back kicks. I was moving him all over the ring.  Was that Bruce Lee in the ring or was it me? I could hear his instructor/coach cheering him on but that did not matter. I was in the zone. In what seemed only a matter of moments, it was over I was standing there with a gold medal around my neck.  A gold medal in sparring - can you believe it!

Our celebration was short-lived, however, when a black belt finalist was kicked in the head and knocked to the ground and then turned blue and convulsed for five minutes.  It took almost twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive.  He was released from the hospital the next day, but the effects were long lasting on many children there who had never seen anything like that before.  Standing there, I couldn’t help but think of the black belt masters from Chicago who were complaining at the beginning of the tournament that the rules weren’t relaxed enough to permit knock outs at all gup ranks.  I guess they got the violence that they wanted. I hope they enjoyed it.

We got home and reviewed the videos that Tam filmed of our events. I must admit that I was impressed with my form and breaking events. But then I watched my sparring performance.  I started getting sick.  I looked so lethargic and weak.  I looked nothing like I felt during the match.  I learned from this.  I needed speed, speed, and more speed.  I went to my next classes determined to build my speed skills.  But let me tell you, speed drills can kill, especially when you are over forty years old. 

Something interesting happened in my next class.  Master Choi was making me do that same leg-lift over the kick bag routine.  I was struggling as I got into the high eighties and then - boink - a leg couldn’t get over.  Normally at this point I would get angry and embarrassed.  But this time I laughed.  I laughed at myself.  I asked Master Choi to hang in there with me and that I would complete the exercise, which I did.  But this time I did it with a smile on my face.  I knew that something had happened here that was special. I didn’t take myself so seriously.  Somehow I grew a little bit on the inside.

Five Principles of Judo:

Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment.
Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake.
Consider fully, act decisively.
Know when to stop.
Keep to the middle.

Jigoro Kano
1860 – 1938

Chapter Five – Green Belt

Patience; the essential quality of a man.

Kwai Koo-Tsu

Now a green belt, my next focus was on attaining a brown belt.  But I knew my progress in this direction wouldn’t be so fast. 

I hate to admit it but as I was trying to open a closet door at home, I felt a sudden deep pain in my lower back.  It felt like a muscle pull, but it seemed lower than usual.  In addition, as time wore on, this pain was accompanied with jolting nerve pain that radiated around my waist and down my legs.  I immediately knew that this was symptomatic of sciatica.  Despite this, I jammed in two classes on Monday and Tuesday just before leaving for Atlanta to visit Tam’s brother Mike and his wife Joyce for a golf event at their club. 

As the pain intensified the following day, I stopped on the way to the airport to buy a back brace and I wore it on the flight.  I described to Joyce, a registered nurse, my condition and she prescribed an anti-inflammatory for me.  After a few days, the pain subsided somewhat, but I could still feel tenderness, which remained localized on my lower backbone.  Did I have a slipped disc or something more serious?  Tam and I returned home Sunday night and I hoped to resume Taekwondo classes on Tuesday.  At the time when it was necessary to step up the level of intensity and frequency of my workouts, I had lingering doubts about the stability of my back.

You’re in pretty good shape for the shape you are in.

Dr. Suess

I called the local sports medicine clinic to see if they could help.  The moment I mentioned “back the nurse said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t handle back problems here.”  Then I went to my family physician and he put me through some rudimentary stretches and motions.  He was impressed with my flexibility and gratefully he also noted that if I had a pinched nerve or disk problem that my pain would be much more intense.  But as he looked further, he noted that somehow my right hip was “catching” a little on one side.  He said that my physiology might prevent me from increasing my flexibility.  In the end, he suggested that probably I had pulled a muscle in my back and that this would resolve itself after a time.  He even gave me the green light to return to Taekwondo practices as long as I didn’t put too much stress on it. Of course, I was at class the next day.

As a green belt, I now had some rank, and was at times the highest-ranking gup in the class.  This role has greater responsibility as well as clout.  The highest-ranking student almost always opens class by calling out “Charyut” (attention), and “Kyung Yea” (salute),  “Ahn Jo” (sit down),  “Moong Yum” (meditate),  “Ba Roe” (return),  “Ehro Set” (stand up),  and then “Sa Bum Nim Gae – Kyung Yea” (a salute of respect to the master). This is followed by “Don Gyol” (meaning I trust, respect, and will help you).

Being the high-ranking belt in my class was an honor that I took seriously.  I made an extra effort to greet newcomers and helped them with questions and the techniques they were practicing.  Of course, for me (Mr. Competitive), it also meant extra pressure to be the best performer in the class.  This was not always achieved when the occasional nineteen-year-old yellow belt from Western Michigan University would show up and whip off a double flying crescent kick without breaking a sweat. 

There is a point, somewhere around green belt, where age and guile cannot keep up with youth and flexibility.  My prior martial arts knowledge had held me in good stead up to now.  However, I was beginning to learn new and more difficult techniques that often required more than I could give. 

One day, we learned a new skill called a Tornado kick whereby one starts with a roundhouse kick then spins quickly three hundred and sixty degrees into another jumping roundhouse.  Master Choi demonstrated this with speed and grace and said it was now my turn.  Right.  Everybody backed away in anticipation of something big. 

The Olin locomotive started with a powerful, but totally uninspiring right leg roundhouse (which never got more than belt high) followed by the famous cockroach stamping footswitch from days of yore.  Continuously moving, I spun around with the speed of a revolving door and began to raise my right knee to complete the maneuver.  By now, however, I had lost almost all of my turning momentum and was facing almost totally in the wrong direction.  I was in serious danger of looking really bad or getting hurt – or both.  Realizing this, and focused primarily on not being embarrassed, I launched my kick as hard as I could, hoping that it would help me finish the turn.  Dumb move.  My hip joint exploded in pain.  My kick shot out ninety degrees from its intended target.  And Master Choi stood there – dumbfounded.

The rest of the much-younger class went back to business, all performing Tornado kicks with great balance and skill.  At times like these, one begins to satisfy oneself with the notion that he is in this thing for “spiritual” reasons: to find greater wisdom and enlightenment or some such other rationale.

 In my position (age), I’m not interested in teaching too much fighting 
other than for self-discipline and developing human character through martial arts discipline.  
That is the main purpose of my martial arts business today.

Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, age 68, March 2001

Once one is a green belt, the number of classes needed for the next belt level double from sixteen to thirty-two.  I was bound and determined that I would continue on my path as aggressively as possible.  I increased my classes from three to five times per week.

At this higher level of commitment, I was indeed learning skills much faster but my body began breaking down.  I was sore all the time.  My muscles ached.  My flexibility actually became worse.  I came down with frequent colds and my concentration waned.  I was at a plateau.  Many of my fellow students had warned me that this would happen.  I think that perhaps, it was the realization of just how long and hard this road was going to be.

I tested for blue belt in December and passed, although I was not sharp and felt that I had not completely learned my skills.  The grading masters observed this and it was reflected in their critique of my performance.  This was hard to take because forms were my “specialty”.  But I knew that Kwan Chang Nim’s (Grandmaster Chung's) criticism was right. I was tentative and not on my game.  I resolved to never test unless I was fully prepared, both physically and mentally.

Chapter Six – Blue Belt

The wise man, after learning something new, is afraid to learn anything more until he has put his first lesson into practice.

Tzu Lu

In recent months, I noted that my belts were getting shorter.  The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays had taken a toll despite my training regimen.  This really came to my attention when my January 2nd class with Master Choi was the toughest ever.  I was doing the same number of sit-ups but I couldn’t reach my toes like I could a few weeks earlier.  Ten pounds makes a huge difference when it comes to Taekwondo training.  I continued a five class-a-week schedule in order to burn off some of that weight.  By the end of January, I was hammered by a major cold, which had become a serious sinus infection and viral pneumonia.  I hated missing class but my body needed rest.  I took three days off.

There were many times, while I was trying to fling my legs over my head doing crescent kicks, that I asked myself if I had chosen the appropriate martial art.  There were many other combative arts that required less agility and flexibility.  Karate, for example, focuses more on hand techniques and less demanding kicks.  Tai Chi is slower, more artful, and less rigorous for my joints and bones.  There were the grappling martial arts, such as Judo and the ultraviolent Brazilian and African Jiu Jitsus, of course.  But I never really liked putting my nose in someone else’s armpit or groin very much. 

The Korean martial art of Hapkido always interested me.  I was getting a taste of it as part of my Taekwondo self defense training. I liked the higher level of sophistication of technique and I appreciated the philosophy of redirecting the opponents’ energy.  But Hapkido training involves a great deal of throwing.  The nights that we practice Hapkido throws, I become extremely dizzy after being flipped about ten times or so.  I believe that years of scuba diving, and the residual middle ear infections that I continually suffered as a result, contributed to the vertigo I experienced from time to time in my training.

In the final analysis, if the goal of all martial arts is the same – the improvement of the student in his or her effort to achieve self-perfection – then it all boils down to the quality of instruction one receives, no matter what form of martial art that it is. 

I think that I was very wise to have chosen the school that I did because I have been privileged to learn from some of the best teachers in the area: Grandmaster Chung, Master Choi, Master Chung (Mrs. Chung), Master Kim (from Korea), Master Gonder, Master Siegel, Mr. Baas, Mr. Lipson, and Dr. Draznin.

A very subtle, but not insignificant, thing happened while I was practicing my blue belt forms.  Master Choi, who normally rode me pretty hard to execute kicking techniques correctly, was watching me struggle with side-kicks in my Pyong-Ahn Sa Hyung form.  I was having trouble maintaining balance and kicking high enough.  He gently stopped me and showed me how to smooth-over my weaknesses when performing forms in competition.  In a way, I was relieved that he seemed to understand my liabilities and accommodated me.  On the other hand, I was angry with myself that he needed to help me because I was not good enough to do it the right way.

When the New Year arrived, we were told that testing procedures were going to be much more rigorous than in the past.  Now, in addition to the forms, self-defense, sparring, and memorization, they added several physical performance tests.  If a student cannot keep up his physical conditioning between tests, he will be punished with extra workouts.  Although I appreciate the idea of raising the bar because it will ultimately make Chung’s Black Belt Academy a better organization, from my perspective, it felt like it was kicking a guy when he was down.

Indeed, I had lost much of my enthusiasm in my quest for the black belt.  I had worked so hard.  I was tired, frustrated, and disappointed with my slowing progress.  Workouts were getting harder, my body was giving out, and the goal seemed farther away than ever.  I was in a rut and was at risk of burning out.  And the number of classes required before testing had increased dramatically.  I needed to make a major change in strategy.  From this point forward, it was all about surviving.  The sprint was over - the marathon had begun.

One day, it was announced by Master Joshu that the monk Kyogen had reached an enlightened state.  
Much impressed by this news, several of his peers went to speak with him.

“We have heard that you are enlightened.  Is this true?” his fellow students inquired.
“It is,” Kyogen answered.
“Tell us,” said a friend, “how do you feel?”
“As miserable as ever,” replied the enlightened Kyogen.


While in Florida, visiting my mother in Port Charlotte, I ducked into several martial arts studios.  One of them, located in Punta Gorda, was a unique-looking Taekwondo do jang. Its name was Florida United Tae Kwon Do School.  When I walked inside the slightly run-down but dignified cinder-block structure, I noticed several old pictures of the school’s grandmaster – Sang Kyu Shim.  Talking to the lady manager, I discovered that he had passed away recently and that he taught in the Detroit area for many years. 

When I returned to Michigan, I asked Grandmaster Chung if he had known Mr. Shim.  Indeed, Grandmaster Chung told me that Shim was a fellow student when they trained together under Hwang Kee in Seoul.  Shim was Chung’s senior by a few years and was among the first handful of masters (including S. Henry Cho, Richard Chun, Duk Sung Son, D.S. Kim, and J.K. Kim) sent by Hwang Kee and the other founders in 1963 to open do jangs in the United States.  Mr. Shim, with help from his American sponsor Russell Hanke, opened his first Tang Soo Do do jang on 8 Mile Road in Detroit. 

Grandmaster Chung told me that Hwang Kee respected Sang Kyu Shim very much because of Shim’s high intelligence and personal discipline.  While in Korea, Hwang sent Shim to teach the U.S. Army because of Shim’s ability to speak fluent English.  Once in the United States, however, Shim became embittered toward Hwang, claiming that the founder was selfish with funds and was not willing to promote Shim to higher status within the Moo Duk Kwan.  Hwang asked Grandmaster Chung on many occasions to speak with Mr. Shim in an effort to maintain Shim’s loyalty, but they proved fruitless when Shim decided to change his alliance to join General Choi’s International Taekwondo Federation (when Choi offered him a very high position in the organization).  A few years later, when General Choi defected to North Korea, Shim returned to the Moo Duk Kwan.

Sang Kyu Shim attended college at Wayne State University, receiving a Masters degree in political science.  He wrote several books on Taekwondo and was Editor In Chief of Taekwondo Times magazine for ten years, until his untimely death in a traffic accident.  Grandmaster Chung attended Shim’s funeral and holds him in very high regard, especially for the fact that Shim learned to speak fluent English in Korea, before arriving in the United States.

My work is a reflection of myself.
My execution of martial arts techniques
is also a reflection of myself.
In whatever productive work I do,
I will create a masterpiece.

It will reflect my genius and virtuosity.
In all things I will work most seriously,
intelligently, whole-heartedly
To it I commit my soul, my body and spirit
and even my whole life fortune.
I am a doer, a venturer, a winner.

Grandmaster Sang Kyu Shim
Personal Creed

Chapter Seven – Brown Belt

 Brown belt symbolizes Fall and a time of maturation.
Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung – Moo Sool Do textbook

On February 15th, I tested for 4th gup, brown belt and performed better than I expected - my forms were sharp, memorization was good, and I knew my twenty-one basic motions.
Having reached the 4th gup level, I was eligible to attend Instructor Classes.  The purpose of these classes is to prepare the student to become an instructor.  I had heard that these classes were extremely rigorous, but they were mandatory to achieve a black belt.  Warming up before class was highly intimidating.  Fifteen black belts spread around the room stretching, kicking the bags, and doing advanced forms.  I was a white belt all over again.

As it turns out, the class was a great learning experience.  Kwan Chang Nim led the class personally.  We worked on forms and self- defense, stopping several times to discuss proper technique and teaching methodology.  It was enlightening to see black belts as students.

When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man.

Zen saying

Instructor class also enabled me to learn more advanced skills in Hapkido.  These methods involve more complex throwing, joint locking, and breaking techniques. The term Hapkido translates to “way of coordinating energy or power.”  It focuses on the development of internal energy, known as Ki, through mental discipline, focus, and Tan Jon breathing.  This controlled breathing helps to sharpen the mind and channel energy though the body. Meditation is an important aspect of harnessing Ki and promoting greater emotional stability and inner peace.

Continuing my mental training, I bought the book, Living The Martial Way, by Forrest Morgan.  It intrigued me because on the cover it said that it was a “manual for the way a modern warrior should think”. The author is a major in the U.S. Air Force.  He cut right to the chase.  He believes that the martial arts are not arts, or religion, or philosophy.  He says that the martial arts are about war – about being a warrior.  He makes the argument that practitioners should train incredibly hard, be focused on annihilating ones enemy, and focus on the more visceral and warrior-like aspects of the martial arts.  He was highly critical of any martial artist that was not focused on combat.  He, of course, was speaking about students like me that emphasized the “intellectual” aspects of the discipline. 

As I read his book, I began to understand and appreciate his perspective.  Perhaps, the martial arts were about warrior-ship and I had not truly come to grips with that notion.  Here I was, in a discipline entirely focused on combat, aggression, and personal survival and yet I wanted no part of that.  I thought I was looking for mental and physical discipline, deeper self-knowledge, and a sense of accomplishment.  There were many times, I must admit, when I felt out of place in the do jang, in a room full of warriors, all of whom relished and eagerly embraced the simulated battle of sparring.  I remembered when one of Chung’s master instructors stood before a black belt class and arrogantly expressed his opinion that if the student did not embrace and prioritize the violence of the discipline, he was not a serious student of it.  I found this disquieting to say the least. 

I had thought of myself as a student, not a warrior.  Maybe I made some sort of glaring mistake.  I tried to tell myself and other students that I was in it for something “deeper” than the violence, but that only seemed like paddling a canoe upstream.  Was I the only one with this philosophy?

The fighter is to be always single-minded with one object in view: 
To fight, looking neither backward or sidewise.
 To go straight forward in order to crush the enemy is all that is necessary for him.

Daisetz Suzuki

I continued to plug along, attending four classes per week. I had settled into the longer periods between tests and it enabled me to focus on learning a multitude of new skills. These skills included multiple-spinning kick combinations, speed drills, and higher-level terminology.

Slowly, I began advancing out of my plateau. Master Choi told me that my technique with my forms was excellent, better than most students at this level, and began teaching me some of the finer points of the art. For example, we worked on hand and foot timing so that each motion would finish crisply and with more power. He also noticed that sometimes, I held my breath during forms, often finishing tired and winded. I knew that this was bad technique but I was focusing on the forms themselves that I was not remembering to exhale at each impact point. I did my forms a hundred times more using correct breath control until it became second nature. It actually helped to improve my focus and timing.

On several occasions I was helping more advanced belts to relearn forms and terminology that they had forgotten. I felt encouraged when my instructors had the confidence in me to demonstrate the skills for the class. I must admit that I had a moment where I watched myself perform the twenty-one basic motions in front of a mirror and was impressed with the power and confidence that I projected. I was making progress again, that is until the week of May 7, 2001.

I had been doing five classes a week and was getting less winded during workouts.  My excess winter weight was coming off as well.  At the same time, however, I was experiencing chronic soreness in my ankles and feet.  My neck was always stiff.  My hamstrings were constantly tight and required long periods of stretching.  On the first Monday in May, I was practicing jumping roundhouse kicks when I landed wrong on my right leg, hyper-extending my knee.  This was not good because I had been favoring my left knee, which had filled up with fluid in the past few weeks.  Surprisingly, I was able to continue with classes and stay on track.

…On track until the next Thursday, when while sparring against a yellow belt, I launched a left-footed front kick toward his midsection.  He lifted his right leg in defense and I jammed the ball of my foot into his kneecap. Pow! He fell to the floor grabbing his knee.  I limped in circles. We continued with the match and ended class. It was not until after I had showered and walked out to the car that I realized the extent of the injury.  By the time I had arrived home, a mass of swelling was erupting from the bottom through the top of my foot.  The foot was turning purple.  I could feel intense pain in the center of my foot. I had fractured bones in the ball of my foot behind my toes.

In two days I was scheduled to compete in Chung’s Annual Forms Competition.

 I really enjoy sparring, but I realize that your body doesn’t heal the same way after you reach a certain age.  
I like to spar with the students at the seminars but the problem is that they like to go heavy and then I have to go heavy.  
I don’t feel like taking chances anymore.

Bill “Superfoot” Wallace
Professional Karate Association World Champion
On aging and sparring

Saturday morning and my foot was one third larger than normal.  My toes were swollen together.  It was discolored purple and black across my entire instep and around the side toward my heel.  It was too sore to wear a Tae Kwon Do shoe.  Warming up, I found that it hurt mostly in the jumping portions of my poomse.  With some extra focus, I could get through it. 

I was competing in the final group, against a twelve-year-old green belt and a twenty something purple belt.  Getting up after sitting cross-legged on the floor for nearly two hours, my foot had no feeling in it.  I limped up in front of the judges and pounded my way through Pyong Ahn Oh Hyung without a glitch.  It wasn’t my best effort, but it wasn’t a disaster either. 

I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.
Ernest Hemingway - The Old Man and the Sea

In the end, I finished second behind the twelve year old.  Of the five judges, I scored first or tied for first with three of them.  One judge killed me, and that was all it took.  I asked my daughter, Michelle, if she noticed a problem with my form.  She said, “No, it was good, except that when you punched, your belly-fat jiggled a little, maybe that was it.”  Yes, it was direct … but honest.  The truth hurts.

Chapter Eight – Brown and White Belt

Three days after the forms competition, I tested for 3rd Gup.  The swelling was going down on my foot and the purple color was changing to a sick-looking yellow.  I was well prepared for the test and gimped through my forms, basic motions, and sparring without incident.  I impressed the kids with a powerful speed break on a one-inch thick board. A few days later, I was presented with a brown and white striped belt.

At this level, I learned a new and difficult poomse form called Bassai, which has fifty moves.  This Tang Soo Do form was created more than 450 years ago by the monks of the So Lim Sa temple and is signified by the cobra. It begins with a unique Joon Be stance, hands clasped together and motioned in a semicircle.  I learned this new technique in the three weeks after my belt test.  Several steps were made more difficult by my still-injured left foot, which burned with pain whenever I landed on it.  I couldn’t think about that now, I was to compete in the Great Lakes Cup on June 22nd – less than two weeks away.

As I signed up for the tournament, I noticed that sparring competition was divided into age groups.  My group went from 33 years old to 43 years old.  Furthermore, at my gup level, I qualify as an “advanced” student.  Just my luck.  Forty one years old and I get to play with the youngsters!  My stomach started to turn inside out.

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Bertrand Russell

I was getting good sparring experience in the Instructor Classes that I attended every Wednesday night.  Although these classes are for students 4th gup and higher, I was often the only gup rank in the room, the others all being black belts.  What I learned mostly, however, is how much more I needed to learn!  My flexibility and sparring speed were pitiful and I looked ridiculous attempting double and triple flying spinning back kicks.  But if commitment were measured by sweat, I was tops in my class.  It shouldn’t have mattered, but I wondered many times what those black belts thought of me grinding away in the back of the room. 

The 2001 Great Lakes Cup took place at Lansing Community College, the same location where I competed the year before.  More than three hundred martial artists from all over the Midwest were there to test their mettle.  Our “seniors” flight was to compete in ring number five but there were so many competitors that half of us were sent to a makeshift ring in the far corner of the gymnasium.  Three “volunteers” were hurriedly selected to judge our forms.  One judge was no older than maybe sixteen years old.  He was from an Illinois Taekwondo organization.  The other two judges were extra scorekeepers from other tables and were given this duty at the last minute. 

I was in a group of six advanced gup students.  Every competitor did the same form, except me.  I think they were performing the ITF* Palgye form for that belt designation.  I performed the Tang Soo Do Bassai form. I thought that I had done it flawlessly: crisp, strong, no hitches or problems. 

 * International Tae Kwon Do Federation.  Our students belong to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation.  There was one Taekwondo organization until 1974 when the ITF and WTF split. ITF headquarters moved to Montreal, Canada.  WTF headquarters (Kukkiwon) remained in Seoul, Korea and is the recognized Taekwondo sanctioning body for the International Olympic Committee.

As I snapped into my joon be position, I knew that I was certain to win the gold medal.  Then I overheard one judge ask the other what my form was.  Then I heard the other say “I dunno”.  Then the first one asked, “Well, which one was harder?” and the other pointed at the competitor next to me.  That was all she wrote.  I did not win the gold. I did not win the silver. I did not win the bronze.  I was stunned.  I felt gypped and wondered if there was anything I could have done to win. I was sure that my form was excellent but because of the circumstances, I felt that I had been cheated.  I was particularly angry because forms were my “specialty” and all I had left at the tournament was my weakness – sparring.

After three hours walking around pissed off, I was paired up with another forty-plus brown belt competitor for sparring.  His name was Bob, a frail white haired guy, 43 years old, with a fit but small frame.  As we waited for our bout, I became more and more confident that I would kick his butt.  I could see him worrying and sighing as he stretched.

After what seemed an interminable wait, we lined up for our match.  I came out strong, kicking his midsection at will.  Then he changed his strategy.  He backed off and stood there - a minimum of six feet away, and waited for me to come to him.  On several occasions, I tried to step in with a kick but he could easily see me coming and countered effectively.  I decided that I would wait for him to attack.  He never came.  The referee chided us to fight but he wouldn’t move.  I started to do some feints and was able to get inside a few times.  I scored repeatedly with this technique and the match tightened up.  With only a few seconds to go, I inadvertently grabbed one of his kicks and was deducted for holding.  In a match this close, I think that it made all the difference.  Silver medal.

Bob was very gracious in winning, telling me that I was one of his toughest matches.  Then he mentioned that he thought my form was better than his, even though he won the gold medal in that competition.  I took little satisfaction in the fact that I lost to the same guy twice.

I never gave a hoot in hell for a man that lost … and laughed.

George C. Scott

In the aftermath, I was angry that I was beaten and chastised myself harshly for being outsmarted by my opponent.  I knew that I had better technique, skill, and power but I still lost because he had better presence of mind during the match.

I also noticed that in the stress of battle, when the adrenaline is rushing through my body, I could not hear anything.  I could not hear the cheering of the spectators or the shouts of my coach.  Similarly, my peripheral vision evaporated during sparring matches.  I could only see straight ahead.  Time seemed to stand still.  My body seemed disconnected from my mind, reacting as if in slow motion.  I wondered if all competitors experienced these sensations or was it just me?

One of my instructors, Mr. Baas, explained that all combatants have these same manifestations.  He said that when under stress, competitors lose control of fine motor skills, their hearing and vision are impaired, and control of balance is affected.  He advised that the best strategy for fighters is to emphasize simple kicking techniques.  He also recommended that I focus my vision on the center of my opponent’s chest.  And, if possible, relax.
You can’t just go and die because you lose.

Muhammad Ali
After losing to Leon Spinks

I had thought about not attending the instructor class the following Wednesday because Grandmaster Chung was in Korea at a seminar.  I always felt better when he was around because he could appreciate my situation and understood my limitations.  My dedication got the better of me, however, and four days later, I was standing in the class.  We went through a rigorous workout emphasizing spinning kick combinations and full contact sparring.  The next day, my left leg, below the knee, was very sore.  It hurt explosively when my heel hit the floor or when I twisted on my leg.  This sent me into bouts of frustration and anger. 

I was sick of being injured.  My foot still ached from the sparring injury six weeks earlier.  I was forced to cut back on classes to two or three times per week.  My progress had ground to a halt.

If life was fair, Elvis would be alive
and all the impersonators would be dead.

Johnny Carson

A timely family vacation to Alaska helped to heal the chronic soreness of my muscles and the bruises in my bones.  Although the trip was good for my body, my mind was anxious to learn more about the art of Taekwondo.  I brought several martial arts books along as reading material.

Beginning our trip in Seattle, Laura and I made the pilgrimage to the grave of Bruce Lee.  Laura sat quietly on the granite bench facing the modest rust-colored headstone marker and hummed Amazing Grace.  A laser-engraved photo of Bruce stares at those who come to pay respects.  Beneath his name and the dates of birth and death are the words Founder of Jeet Kune Do.  This is the philosophy of martial arts that he developed from the many styles he studied including Wing Chung Kung Fu, boxing, and fencing. Flowers, poems, and small gifts had been left by visitors like us. Both of us understood what this man did in his brief life for modern day martial arts and hold him in very high esteem and reverence. 

Bruce Lee was the most famous martial artist in history.  Much of his great popularity would be explained by the fact that he was the first “media-martial artist”, having achieved success in both television and in motion pictures.  His dazzling speed and physical brilliance were, and remain, unsurpassed.  He also had tremendous cinematic charm and incredible intensity and focus on screen.

Born in San Francisco while his Chinese parents were visiting the United States, he was named Lee Jun Fan by his mother Grace.  One of the attending nurses at the hospital called him Bruce.  He did not use that name until he attended La Salle College in Hong Kong.

Bruce Lee was a tremendous student of his art.  Fellow practitioners were awed by his deep understanding of the combative arts.  Blessed with a strong intellect, Lee studied philosophy at the University of Washington.  He collected and avidly studied thousands of books on all types of philosophy – Western, Eastern, ancient, and modern – in an attempt to glean those tenets that would contribute to his own personal growth. 

Lee believed that non-combat sparring was equivalent to “swimming on dry land”.  He was among the first to introduce full-contact competition a Long Beach, California martial arts tournament in 1966.  Contrary to existing defense-oriented methods, he introduced an attacking style of martial arts – emphasizing the interception of an attack with a faster counter-attack.  And thus was born Jeet Kune Do – Way of the Intercepting Fist. 

It was not until later that Lee determined that there isn’t a particular “way” or method that is best.  No single doctrine or truth.  In the process, he evolved a personal philosophy, the central theme of which was the liberation of the spirit through greater self-knowledge. To free one’s self from preconceived notions, prejudices, and conditioned responses is essential to understanding truth and reality.

Since he himself would not wholly accept any particular style of martial art or philosophy, Bruce encouraged his students not to accept, without question, his teachings.  His main message was to keep one’s mind, attitude, and senses pliable and receptive, and at the same time, develop the ability to think critically.  In believing such, Bruce challenged the traditional martial arts community.  He was seen both as an inspiration, and a threat, by his peers. 

Absorb what is useful
Discard what is not useful
Add what is uniquely your own

Bruce Lee’s philosophy
Of Jeet Kune Do

Bruce Lee lived only thirty-three years and died under very mysterious circumstances.  There are those who believe that he was murdered by someone in the martial arts community because he challenged so many of their traditions.  In death, the legend of Bruce Lee has grown larger than life.  His image appears almost everywhere in the martial arts world – T shirts, posters, books, and of course, on film.  He watches me, bloody scratches on his rippled chest and holding his deadly nunchakus, when I put on my uniform in the men’s locker room at Chung’s do jang. 

Sadly, Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon, is buried next to him.  Also a martial artist, Brandon was “accidentally” killed on a movie set while filming The Crow.  It does seem that the Lee family had been cursed in some way.

Bruce Lee might be the most revered martial artist of our time, but the most famous person to practice martial arts was -- Elvis Presley. Elvis was a legitimate black belt.  He began studying Chito-ryu karate while stationed in Germany in the 1950s and obtained the rank of black belt before leaving the U.S. Army.  In later years, his instructors included Ed Parker (Kenpo Karate), Kang Rhee (Taekwondo), and even world champion Bill Wallace.  At the time of his death, he had obtained the rank of seventh dan by Ed Parker.

Presley always said that karate was among his favorite interests, second only to his music.  He financed several martial arts ventures, including a martial arts documentary that was only partially completed until recently.  Elvis had two customized karate gis (uniforms) created for his use. One was plain white and the other was highly decorated and cost more than five hundred dollars.  His customized red-white-and-black belt was embroidered with “Elvis Presley” on one side and “Tiger”, his nickname, on the other.

Grandmaster Chung met both Elvis Presley and Bruce Lee in the early 1970s.  Chung had befriended well-known martial artist Mike Stone and was invited by him to attend a series of martial arts tournaments in California.  Bruce Lee made celebrity appearances at a few of the events and was personally introduced to Grandmaster Chung by Stone.  Elvis was attending an event as a spectator and Grandmaster Chung found him to be very shy and respectful. 

At a Seattle bookstore, I picked up some items to read during the cruise portion of our trip. One was a book titled The Warrior Is Silent.  The author, Scott Shaw, holds a Ph.D. in east-Asian studies and is the only non-Korean to be promoted to seventh dan in Hapkido by the Korea Hapkido Federation.  In the book, Shaw explains the spiritual foundation of martial arts practice in the East and its intimate connection with the perfection of the art itself.  The author believes that the attainment of superior fighting technique is not the sole purpose of martial arts training. 

Drawing from the historical foundations of the discipline, he points to the fifth century Hwarang warriors of the Korean peninsula kingdom of Silla as the first to add spiritual understanding to their combat ideology. 

The author notes that today’s martial arts instructors continue to teach physically aggressive training with little thought for the inner growth of the individual student.  He says that modern martial artists must step forward on their own, not only to explore the spiritual realms of the art but to become more whole as individuals.  These spiritual aspects might be as simple as developing greater mental focus and self-discipline or as difficult as achieving a higher level of personal consciousness and enlightenment.  Shaw further states that one of the primary problems with today’s commercial martial arts schools is that they will take virtually anyone into their classes and train them.  He says:

“In most schools the only criterion for joining is the individual’s desire to learn how to fight more competently.  Many emotionally unstable and insecure people have been trained in fighting competently.  Instead of focusing on the inner development the martial arts teach, such a person simply allows his insecurities to become exaggerated.  In this way, many an evil adversary has been unleashed by martial arts instructors.”

Finally, Shaw makes the astute observation that many modern martial arts systems breed competition.  He states:

“Many martial arts schools are based solely on physical competition.  Through staged altercations, the practitioners may well become more competent combatants, but they will, no doubt, develop a less-than-spiritual understanding of their art.  Competition causes the martial artist to become unnaturally stimulated for little or no reason.”

Competition is the lowest level of martial understanding.

Scott Shaw, Ph. D.
The Warrior Is Silent

This focus only on excellence in fighting ability emphasizes the “yang” energy aspects – forceful, powerful, strong, and masculine – of the art and creates an unbalanced person who grows attached to the psychological gratification he gets from winning competitions and overpowering others.  Conversely, Shaw believes that the spiritual warrior never enters a competitive battle and he defines victory or defeat according to how it deepens his understanding of human communication.  The spiritual warrior is always aware of where he gets his emotional stimulation.  If his happiness depends on defeating others, he knows he is not in accordance with the universal law of what is right.

The author believes that in addition to physical training, the spiritual warrior performs ongoing self-examination and reflection in order to develop greater emotional stability and balance in his life.  This symbolizes a balance of yin and yang, if you will.  This book is a brilliant analysis of what the current state of the martial arts community is, and offers real wisdom of what it means to be a warrior of body, mind, and spirit.

The true victory is defeat of your base nature.  That triumph is far superior to the conquering of any foe.  
The ultimate strategy is to win through virtue and perseverance, not by battle.

Gojun Miyagi (1888 – 1953)
Founder of Goju-ryu Karate

As word got out among my friends and family that I was a student of Taekwondo, I was being asked many questions about my study of the art. Many times, the questions seemed to be simply inquisitive, but sometimes there was a hint of concern, as if the activity were secretive or “cultish.”  It is apparent that much of the public is confused about the martial arts.  Many still view it in light of the Kung Fu television show and Bruce Lee movies – dark rooms with incense and mystic chanting followed by short bursts of screaming and flying nunchaku.  Or worse yet, they might think it is the Gracie brothers mauling their opponents on the pay per view Ultimate Fighting Championships on television.

I’m going to take the outside of my right foot and whomp you on the side of your face … and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me.

Billy Jack

This misunderstanding reflects the fact that the American martial arts trade is itself conflicted and often contradictory. Magazines such as Black Belt and Tae Kwon Do Times whisper about the importance of tradition but then openly question the value of traditional forms.  They talk about developing the spirit but devote the majority of editorial and advertising space to ultraviolent combat techniques and the sale of related products – preying on the malevolent instincts within us.

It is obvious that the industry is in the midst of massive change. Unfortunately, much of it is becoming influenced by western values and thus many organizations are focusing on the lowest common denominators.  The eastern values and traditions of the discipline are gradually being lost; eroded as the great grand masters from Korea, China, and Japan are superceded by American black belts with fabulous technique and a focus on cash flow.  It seems as if the art is being replaced by the business.

The essence of Hap Ki Do is not the perfection of technique as much as it is the perfection of character.

Bong Soo Han
9th Dan Hapkido Grandmaster

The morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began as many others in the past two years.  I was warming up before the morning class at the Stadium Drive do jang.  At 9:40am, Tam called me and told me to find a television ASAP.  Kwan Chang Nim turned on the set in the lobby.  We watched together in shock and horror as two jets slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City.  My heart sunk and my stomach felt sick. The Grand Master turned the set off so that we could focus on the class.  It was a very difficult task – wondering what in the world was going on while going through the exercises. My usual prayers during meditation included thoughts of those involved in this tragedy.

One real world is enough.


In preparation for the upcoming Michigan Cup, Chung’s held a series of four Referee Seminars.  These Saturday seminars were three hours in length and were offered to advanced students only.  In fact, I was the only non-black belt in the class.  The majority of the class time was spent in simulated and real sparring to give students actual refereeing experience.  It also gave me real sparring experience with several black belts.  I quickly learned that I was sorely lacking in sparring skills, particularly when it came to “head shots”.  I lost most of my matches.  Making things more difficult, while I wore full pads, many of the black belts I sparred with wore no pads, so I couldn’t really go after them. 

In one match, a 3rd Dan black belt, Mike from Walker’s Tae Kwon Do, repeatedly used his fists to assault my exposed upper arms until they were badly bruised and numb.  I did not retaliate because he wore no pads.  He knew the situation and took advantage of it. This, in my mind, was poor sportsmanship – he showed no self-control and knew that I was hesitant to attack him. I remembered the rules of the do jang – “acceptance of authority” and “obedience without objection to instructors”.  I survived the seminar but came away wondering about the honor of some black belts.

Chapter Nine – Red Belt

Late September is always an important time for Chung's Academy.  I tested for red belt with the black belts - a much more intense and exciting experience than regular tests.  Kwan Chang Nim asked me to test with them and I was a little concerned that some of them might not appreciate my presence there.  As it turned out, most of the black belts seemed to accept me.  I came home tired but knowing that I had earned my next promotion.

The following morning, Laura and I left the house at six thirty in the morning and headed to Hackett High School for the Michigan Cup Championships.  We helped set up for the tournament by taping off the rings on the floor and setting up tables.  I was also assigned the job of announcer for the event.  I was going to compete as well.  Laura earned three medals – bronze in forms, silver in sparring, and gold in breaking.  She virtually guaranteed that gold medal by implementing a spinning back kick, a flying side kick, and then breaking a board over her head!

I didn’t take the floor until almost one in the afternoon.  I did Bassai form again but glitched twice.  In the breaking competition, I attempted a triple break.  First, I performed a hand speed break – sending the board sections across the floor.  Next, I turned and executed a perfect jumping front kick, exploding the board into shards that flew twenty feet into the air. The three hundred spectators gasped as they witnessed the power of my kick.  I was really feeling strong now.  One more kick to go – a simple side kick.  But I was so full of excitement and adrenaline that I did some sort of back kick instead, completely missing the board. I stopped, composed myself, and popped it with a side kick.  Glory faded in an instant.

Once again, the vulgarities of the sport reared its ugly head at the tournament when a ten-year old boy took a kick to the head severely bruising his nose and forehead.  A few minutes later, another competitor virtually lost his nose when it was driven into his face, totally disfiguring it. He crumpled to the ground, blood gushing out of his nose and mouth. I noticed that some masters and competitors gave him cold stares and seemed disgusted by the victim’s weakness.  At times like these, I wonder if Taekwondo couldn’t use a little more humanity. 

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance, in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Jelaluddin Rumi
Islamic, 13th century

The following week, during Instructor Class, I was presented with my red belt.  I was now a 2nd gup and was recognized as an “assistant instructor”.  The word for this in Korean is Cho Kyo Nim.  Kwan Chang Nim presented me with a new do bok with special patches on it.  One patch read, “Training Instructor”.

All of the patches on my uniform each carry special meaning.  On the left front, over the heart, is the International Academy of Martial Arts patch.  This is the organization that Grandmaster Chung has founded.  On the right chest is the Pan American Moo Duk Kwan Society patch.  This signifies that I am a student of Tang Soo Do – a Korean martial art with foundations in Okinawan Karate-Do. On my left shoulder is the Moo Sool Do patch, meaning that I am a student of multiple martial arts including Taekwondo, Hapkido, Tang Soo Do, and even pieces of Kung Fu, Judo, and Karate.  On my right shoulder is the Korean flag, recognizing the country of origin of these martial arts.

Trying to sort out the various Korean martial arts is like herding a room full of cats. There are literally hundreds of “kwans” or schools of martial arts – each one a branch of a previous one.  The Korean culture is so prideful that history sometimes gets warped from time to time in order to create a stronger and more honorable origin of their given martial art.  For example, many experts believe that the earliest martial arts began in China as Chinese boxing, which evolved and migrated to Okinawa and then Japan.  It appears that martial arts evolved in Korea with influences coming from both China and Japan.  But the history preferred by most Koreans is that Taekwondo originated indigenously with the Hwa Rang warriors.  This enables a more romanticized and nationalized notion of the foundations of the art.

Even the relatively recent emergence of modern-day Taekwondo is rife with political conflict and misdirection. I have literally read more than two dozen articles regarding the origin of the art – none of which are fully consistent with each other.   Post World War II Korea provided a clean slate on which hundreds of schools competed for bragging rights to the country’s martial arts heritage. 

From what we have been able to piece together, the first school, Chung Do Kwan, was founded by Lee Won Kuk.  Originally trained in Shotokan karate in Japan by karate’s modern founder Funakoshi Sensei, Lee opened his Kong Soo Do (Korean karate-do) studio in Korea in 1944.  Among his first graduates was Rhee Jhoon Goo (better known as Jhoon Rhee, the father of American Taekwondo.)

Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee
The Moo Duk Kwan was founded by Hwang Kee on November 9, 1945.  Hwang Kee was born in 1914 in Jang Dan, Kyong Ki province.  A bright young man, he was one of the few to complete high school in 1935.  Following graduation, he went to work for the Manchurian Railroad, where claimed to have learned the martial art of Kuk Sool.  His peers doubt this assertion. When Hwang returned to Korea in 1937, he wanted to continue his martial education, but the Japanese occupation limited his options.  He began to study Okinawan Karate by reading books available at the local library.  After World War II, Hwang founded his own school - a style originally called Hwa Soo Do (flowering hand way).  The name was changed to Tang Soo Do* (empty hand or “China” hand way) in the early 1950s. 

*     The translation of Tang Soo Do – empty hand way, is a direct Korean translation of the Chinese – Way of the Flowering Hand or the Japanese name Karate – empty hand.

Grandmaster Chung studied for several years under Hwang Kee in Seoul in the early 1960s.  Chung recalls that he helped manage Hwang Kee’s main do jang for three years, from 1965 to 1968.  Chung remembers one time when he needed to talk to the master and walked across the street from the do jang to Hwang’s residence.  The master was meditating and made Chung wait an hour and a half before taking his student’s question. 

Chung also remembers one time when he sparred with the 1968 Asian champion in Hwang’s do jang.  The Asian champion attempted a flying side kick to which Grandmaster Chung countered with a knife-hand blow to the champ’s upper lip and nose, knocking him out.  He remembers Hwang Kee flying into a rage in anger at him.  Hwang had an assistant throw water on the champion’s face to wake him up – which he eventually did after forty-five minutes.

Grandmaster Chung last met with Hwang Kee in 1995, at the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Hwang’s kwan.  He said that Hwang was very old then, in his nineties, and had a fading memory.  Chung recalls seeing Hwang as a small frail man with snow-white hair the last time he saw him. Grandmaster Chung thinks that Hwang remained somewhat miffed at him for pragmatically adopting the more popular WTF Taekwondo in the U.S. and not staying dedicated to his less-popular Soo Bak Do. Hwang refused to recognize Grandmaster Chung in the greeting line at the event.

Fortunately, much of this loyalty-centered acrimony receded over the following years, and Grandmaster Chung was ultimately invited to the 2012 World Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) Championship, where he was recognized for his contributions to Tang Soo Do.

Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung, with his original American sponsor, Grandmaster Dale Drouillard (left),
Grandmaster Kang Uk Lee (center), Grandmaster Man Bok Song and Grandmaster Young Ok Kim (right)
at the 2012 Tang Soo Do (Soo Bahk Do) Championship

There were several more “kwans” that opened in the 1940s, the most important of which were Ji Do Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan, and Song Moo Kwan.  The aforementioned were the first five schools to teach martial arts in post-war Korea.  All of their founders learned their skills in Japan.

In 1946, the first Tae Kyon was held in an attempt to unify the various styles without success.  There was constant bickering between the masters of the various kwans, each demanding their share of influence and control.  It was not until 1951 that the Korea Kong Soo Do Association was founded in Pusan.  At that meeting the members were unable to elect a president and the association dissolved.  

Republic of Korea Army General Choi Hong Hi and Nam Tae Hi founded another school, named Oh Do Kwan, in 1947.  This kwan emphasized training in the Korean military.  Through political connections with Republic of Korea President Rhee Syng Man, General Choi was able to leverage support for his program to great success. 

The art of hand is like the use of sword
General Choi taught it as a military art
If one neglects on single pass of the two hands
He will be beheaded in the blink of an eye

An old Korean military song

Even though he also had been initially trained in Tang Soo Do at the University of Tokyo in 1938, General Choi was determined to develop a uniquely “Korean” martial art, without any link to Japan or Chinese systems. 

General Choi recalls a meeting of Chung Do Kwan masters on April 11, 1955, when he first suggested the name Tae Kwon Do.  He remembers that the term was adopted at the meeting.  Grandmaster Yeon Hee Park remembers it differently, stating that the term Tae Soo Do was adopted at that meeting.  In any case, Choi founded the Korea Taekwondo Association on September 14, 1961.

Meanwhile, Hwang Kee discovered a copy of the rare four hundred-page woodblock manuscript, the Muye dobo t’ongji *(c 1790), in 1957 and began to study it extensively, using it to link Tang Soo Do to the pre-occupation martial arts of Su Bak and Taekkyon.  This combination made Tang Soo Do quite successful and by 1960, the Korean government had registered Tang Soo Do and its Korea Soo Bak Do Association as the “Korean traditional Martial Art.”  

*   In 1790, Yi Dynasty King Chongjo took an active interest in the martial arts.  He ordered General Lee Duck Mu to compile an official textbook on all martial art forms then present in Korea.  Now considered a definitive early classic of Korean martial arts, it features carved woodblock illustrations of the unarmed combat techniques of Su Bak and Taekkyon.   

Undeterred, General Choi petitioned the government against the registration in June of 1960.  On May 16, 1961 a military coup de tat greatly affected all of Korea’s martial arts.  General Choi was abruptly named Ambassador to Malaysia and was sent away for four years. A government decreed commission was set up to unify the do jangs.  The result was the establishment of the Korea Tae Soo Do Association.**  This organization became an official member of the Korea Amateur Sports Association in September of 1961. 

**    The Korea Tae Soo Do Association was the result of combining the names Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. This decision took place at the Han Che Yuk Kwan on September 19, 1961 by means of a vote among the representatives of the six kwans.  The final tally was four votes for and two votes abstention.

In 1965, General Choi Hong Hi returned to Korea and spearheaded a reformation campaign to rename it the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association.  General Choi unilaterally took control of the organization, against great hostility from Hwang Kee and several others, and simply renamed it.  General Choi was eventually forced to resign and was marked as “permanent troublemaker,” but the name remained.  Tae Kwon Do became the official name for the Korean martial arts and eventually many of the other kwans, such as Chung Do Kwan and Moo Duk Kwan (Tang Soo Do), were folded into the program. 

General Choi moved to Montreal, Canada and went on to found the International Tae Kwon Do Federation in 1966.  The organization became very successful and challenged the KTA for supremacy.  The organization eventually moved to Vienna, Austria.

In the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association sent instructors to the United States and other countries in an effort to spread its influence worldwide.  Grandmaster Chung was among the first wave to bring Tae Kwon Do to this country. 

On February 6, 1973, the KTA changed its name to the World Tae Kwon Do Federation.

A fissure still remains today within the Taekwondo community, between the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) and there are differences in ideology between the two organizations.  The WTF emphasizes the development of “sport” Taekwondo while the ITF remains committed to the more traditional self-defense aspects of the art. The WTF increased its position and popularity around the world when the International Olympic Committee named it the official Taekwondo governing body for all Olympic competition.

Today, Taekwondo serves as an umbrella name for thousands of schools all claiming unique and distinctive histories.  Taekwondo magazines feature innumerable articles and advertisements for organizations with names like Kuk Soo Won, Han Mu Do, Nei Wai Chia, Sin Moo, Song Moo Kwa, Ji Do Kwan, Hoshinkido, and Kum Do. Needless to say, the current state of today’s Korean martial arts is a reflection of its colorful and confusing past. 

The origins of Taekwondo in the United States are more certain.  It was first taught in San Antonio, Texas, in 1955 by Atlee Chittum.  Chittum was only a brown belt at that time. He had learned Chung Do Kwan martial arts while serving in the military in Korea.  Now using the newly-minted name of Tae Kwon Do, he joined American karate founder Robert Trias’ United States Karate Alliance, and together they sponsored many martial arts tournament and exhibitions.

The first Taekwondo black belt to teach in America was Jhoon Rhee, whom Chittum brought to the United States from Korea in 1956.  With Chittum’s help, Rhee opened his first do jang in San Marcos, Texas at Southwest State College, where Rhee also planned to study engineering.  Rhee went on to become known as the “Father of American Taekwondo.”  He also was one of the inventors of modern-day foam-padded sparring gear, at that time known as Safe T Chops, which helped facilitate the full-contact sparring competitions of today. 

Jack Hwang, another Taekwondo pioneer, immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 and began teaching in Oklahoma City.  In 1961, Daeshik Kim, a judo and Taekwondo instructor, came to Atlanta to teach his martial arts at Georgia State College.  Soon, other Taekwondo masters arrived – S. Henry Cho, and Richard Chun settled in New York,  J. Kim and Sang Kyu Shim in Michigan,  Mahn Suh Park in Pennsylvania, and  Ki Whang Kim in Maryland.

In April 1963, Duk Sung Son, president of the World Taekwondo Association, immigrated to the United States and began teaching in New York City.  In the next two years, he would be teaching at Princeton, Brown, and Fordham Universities, and later, at West Point.

Carlos “Chuck” Norris returned from military duty in the Far East in 1963, having earned black belts in several martial arts, including Tang Soo Do.  He opened the first of his seven schools in Torrance, California.

Jhoon Rhee
By 1965, there were twenty-five Taekwondo masters teaching in the United States.  That year, Jhoon Rhee pulled off a marketing coup.  He was able to get ABC’s Wide World of Sports to televise his U.S. National Karate Championships.  However, in a heated match between Mike Stone and Walt Worthy, there was much heavy contact and blood shed.  Many Americans found this offensive and martial arts were not shown again on that program for another ten years.

In 1969, Sok Ho Kang, a Korean Taekwondo and World Champion, made his way to Huntington, West Virginia, where he opened his first studio.  Kim Jae Joon, a descendant of Hwang Kee, also arrived in Detroit, where he opened Kim’s Karate School.  The following year, Grandmaster Chung arrived in Detroit, where he instructed with Master Kim.

By the end of 1960s, the great influx of Korean immigrant masters had made Taekwondo the most popular form of martial art in the United States, overtaking karate.

A few days after receiving my red belt, during the Saturday morning family class with Laura, Master Choi asked if I would lead the class while he talked with a prospective customer.  I led the group through the remaining thirty minutes and had them ready for Master Choi to close the class. We did the required ending ritual, except that Master Choi had them bow to me as a red belt instructor.  Laura was very proud of me.  I had reached another milestone in my Taekwondo training.  I was now a teacher as well as a student.

And believe it or not … after many months of practice, I could do an almost-normal tornado kick!!

During the six weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that left three thousand people dead, the world was turned upside down with the revelations that Islamic terrorist Osama Bin Laden was behind the activities.  The U.S. began counter attacks in Afghanistan, and this was followed by an insidious Anthrax-by-mail campaign in New York, Washington D.C., and Florida.  As these perilous life-changing events evolved, I continued training four to five times per week.  Although I went through the motions, it was hard to maintain mental focus. Furthermore, I had plateaued again, was suffering with another cold, and was generally feeling down.  One Friday morning, I was in a class with younger students and found that I simply could not keep up during sparring drills.  I couldn’t kick as fast or as high or as hard as the nineteen year old orange belt that was blasting my stomach and shoulders with overpowering roundhouse kicks.  It seemed that with every kick, he drove his foot deeper into my spirit.  After class, I stood there in a rumpled mass, covered in sweat, and totally ashamed.  I was so frustrated that I questioned whether I was worthy of my red belt and wondered if I should give it all up. 

Before leaving the gym that day, I semi-jokingly asked Master Choi if there was a special class for forty-year-olds.  He knew what I was really saying and offered a few words of support.  I wish there was a class where I wasn’t always the “old guy”, but there are so few students of my age. I think I had learned the reason for that too…there were few people that had the guts to do it!

Obviously, the weakened state of my mind was challenging my spirit. True, I had experienced a number of defeats recently - but I needed to remember that each of these events served to strengthen my character.  The character-building process can be painful and revealing; but it is also necessary in developing an indomitable spirit.

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.


One night, while skimming through channels on the television, I ran across a documentary on the Korean War.  This engrossing program presented beautiful footage of current day Korea spliced with vintage black and white war newsreels.  I learned that the Russian supported North Korean army invaded South Korea with terrible brutality – ruthlessly executing thousands of innocent civilians as it swept southward toward Pusan at the outset of the war.  The capital, Seoul, exchanged hands four times during the war, and was reduced to little more than rubble.  More than two million Korean lives were lost. The conflict, which began on June 25, 1950, still continues today with a tenuous truce at the 38th parallel.  The loss of support from its communist friends (the now defunct USSR and seemingly disinterested China) has wounded North Korea.  The weakened country has been thrown into an economic crisis. 

Internally, post war South Korea continued to suffer for decades as a result of economic stagnation and corruption in government.  In 1961, a military dictatorship was established. Several attempts to democratize South Korea were made difficult by election fraud and political assassinations.  By 1988, the people mobilized by taking to the streets to demand individual rights and a responsible government. The 1988 Olympics (scheduled for Seoul) were at stake as well.  Under the scrutiny of the world’s spotlight, Koreans patched up their differences as a matter of national pride.

Modern day South Korea is evolving slowly from its painful past.  It is one of the safest countries in Asia. However, memories remain fresh and there is a constant undercurrent of unrest and hostility.  One out of every five Korean men over the age of twenty has a serious drinking problem.  Macho posturing on the part of many local young men has led to ongoing belligerence in public.  Street fighting is a common occurrence.

Korea has been the flashpoint of violence for almost two thousand years.  There is not a Korean alive today that has not been directly affected by the conflicts of the last fifty years. Perhaps being raised in this traumatized culture helps explain the desensitized and somewhat callus demeanor of so many Korean Taekwondo instructors that I have encountered.  It may also help explain why they have become such tenacious martial artists.

During the second fall of my training, I focused more heavily on improving my sparring skills.  In class, Sa Bum Nim Chung (Mrs. Chung) was invaluable in teaching me effective evasion and counter-attack techniques.  As my skills improved, I was less hesitant to spar and I was becoming an adept fighter. Several instructors noted this improvement, giving me a great boost in confidence.

There was still a nagging question that lingered in my mind.  While I had grown less intimidated by sparring exercises than back in the early days, I still wanted to find out …why is it that some students can easily turn on their violent instincts and bury their foot in someone’s stomach or pound someone’s face without giving it a second thought?  Why am I so hesitant to fight – even when I am angry?  Why do I always pull my punches and kicks when many of my opponents do not?  Was the way in which I was raised a factor in this difference?  Was it an age thing?  Did this make me weaker as a martial artist – or stronger?  Was I worthy of a black belt if I was such a “pacifist”? 

I continued my search for the answers by reading old martial arts textbooks.  I also subscribed to The Journal of Asian Martial Arts – a higher-level periodical aimed at students interested in greater intellectual understanding of the art.  I also spent much time in personal reflection.

What I discovered over and over again was that traditional martial arts were meant to be taught in a holistic way, balancing combat technique with greater self-discipline and increased human understanding.  The goal was to balance the training in violent skills with the development of a self-disciplined and peaceful mind.  Almost all traditional schools emphasize “avoidance of unnecessary violence” and “respect for life” as part of their philosophy.  The key was balance.  Yin and yang.

There is a progression from bu-jutsu (martial techniques)
to bu-do (martial way) to bu-shin (martial spirit).

Morihei Ueshiba
Founder of Aikido

The problem, as I see it, is that most (western) students are simply not interested in the esoteric or spiritual aspects of the martial arts.  I have noticed that many students enjoy the physical competition, and seek to learn devastating combat techniques and don’t want to mess with the other stuff.  Others think of their training as some variation of Powerhouse Gym and nothing more. The majority of students that I have met are looking for improved fitness and to acquire some self-defense techniques.  Very few are interested in following a martial path as a way of life.

The influence of westernized Taekwondo has warped some of the basic philosophies of the art.  For example, in traditional (eastern) Taekwondo, as well as other martial arts, the student learns to cultivate a balance between the mental/spiritual (um) and the physical (yang) aspects of training.  Through continuous education and cultural exposure, the mind is broadened.  In other words, the student becomes more whole, and achieves a greater understanding of the world around himself.  In westernized Taekwondo, it is deemed that the mental/spiritual realm is developed not in addition to … but by means of intensive physical training.  The mind and spirit are toughened or hardened by rigorous effort.  In this way, the focus has become almost existentialist – “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering and in dying.* “ By suffering through unbearable physical stress, the student emerges with a stronger spirit and greater purpose.

* Source:  Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning. Preface.

Thus, in westernized martial arts, physical training becomes the primary, and in some cases, the only focus of a martial artist’s education.  Mental and spiritual aspects are subordinated to the physical. There is a subtle shift from developing one’s mind to hardening one’s mind.  Gone is the cultivation of the “higher self” and the increased understanding of the world.  Taekwondo is among many martial arts in danger of losing much of their meaning and uniqueness with the loss of these traditional underpinnings.

Physician and respected traditional Haidong Gumdo instructor Andrew Chiu clearly described the effects of westernization upon the martial arts ...

"The penchant for self-glorification and bombast in our popular culture is antithetical to the traditional spirit of martial arts.  Unfortunately, the practice of martial arts in North America has been negatively influenced by some of these tendencies.  Accomplishment of physical feats and pursuit of victory in contests are illusionary pursuits and are of lesser value compared to the shaping of character.  How many American students know what the seven pleats on the hakama signify or can name and define the seven cardinal virtues of bushido?"  

Furthermore, researcher Michael Trulson states that there is a marked increase in aggressiveness in martial arts students not exposed to a traditional martial arts regimen that includes the practice of kata, meditative exercises, and philosophy and etiquette derived from East Asian traditions.  Trulson said that this was particularly true of non-traditional martial artists such as those who practice “No Holds Barred” fighting or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. 

Indeed, among my fellow students, I have also observed a higher degree of aggression in those students that dismiss or disregard the traditional aspects of Taekwondo.

Riot Erupts At California Martial Arts Event
Cabazon, CA – Associated Press

One person was stabbed and nine others injured when a fight broke out at an Ultimate Athlete Fighting event at Morongo Entertainment Center.  The incident occurred when Rick Slaton threw an illegal groin shot at his Russian opponent, Leo Pavlushkin.  Then the audience of 2,500 people, including several members of a motorcycle club, rushed the ring and began rioting.  Banning County Sheriff deputies were forced to call in the California State Patrol to help stop the fighting.

Doug Cook, in his book Taekwondo: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior explains that many participants underestimate the importance of the word “Do” in Tae Kwon Do.  He says, “Literally translated, “Do” means way or path.  It represents a way of living. To subtract or ignore this suffix is to remove the heart and soul of the art, transforming it instead into a mere pugilistic pursuit, a physical skill, rather than an organic philosophy with moral principles.”

With these thoughts in mind, I have searched to understand the greater purpose of Taekwondo.  I wanted to learn about the history of the art.  I wanted to know more about ki, the power of meditation, and how practitioners view health and medicine. I wanted to know how each poomse simulates battle. I wanted to know how Taekwondo is similar to, and different from, other martial arts. And I wanted to apply what I have learned from this discipline in my daily life.

In my studies, I have discovered that there is now a great deal of conflict and debate within the Taekwondo community regarding the teaching of it as a martial art or martial sport.  This conflict has been exacerbated with the ascension of Taekwondo as an international Olympic sport.  Both sides claim to have the best interests of the discipline at heart.  There is no question that the Olympic exposure has provided “sport” Taekwondo with immeasurable publicity and popularity. However, traditionalists are concerned that it may prove damaging to the martial art in the long run.

Traditionalists make the following arguments ...  

In the traditional martial art of Taekwondo, the ultimate goals are conquest of the self, perfection of character, letting go of the egocentric self, and living a life of humility and morality.  Doug Cook states:

“The teachings of the Buddhist monk Wonkwang, from which taekwondo’s code of ethical behavior is derived, clearly encourages the use of good judgment before harming any living thing.  This guideline hints at the pacifist dimension of the martial arts; a domain in which the accomplished practitioner walks life’s road armed with internal confidence, needing to prove his technical prowess to no one. The martial art of taekwondo is defensive in nature, with an emphasis on quality over quantity in action.  The true martial artist sees majesty in a well-executed high block or strike. The essence and esthetic beauty of taekwondo is often reflected in the sublime performance of a poomse – dynamically practiced to perfection.”

Indeed, in the book 365 Tao, Deng Ming-Dao asks the essential questions – Can you be both martial and spiritual?  And Can you overcome your ultimate opponent? He says:

To be martial requires discipline, courage, and perseverance.  It has nothing to do with killing.  People fail to look beyond this one narrow aspect of being a warrior and overlook all the excellent qualities that can be gained from training.  A warrior is not a cruel murderer.  A warrior is a protector of ideals, principle, and honor.  A warrior is noble and heroic.  A warrior will have many opponents in a lifetime, but the ultimate opponent is the warrior’s own self.

In the martial sport of Taekwondo, the ultimate goal is victory over your opponent.  The sport is aggressive in nature – often rewarding the one that strikes first, or the hardest.  It encourages competition between students, shifting focus from self-cultivation to one of merely winning and losing.  The victor is loudly proclaimed and rewarded with trophies, medals, and newspaper announcements.  The loser potentially loses the respect of his fellow students, as well as his own self-respect.  Taekwondo becomes ego-centered.  Cook explains:

“One does not need to look very far to observe the damaging effect contemporary martial sport has had on the traditional principles of Taekwondo.  Standing ringside at tournaments, the spectator cannot help overhear verbal threats being exchanged between opponents prior to and during a match.  These spectacles, while exciting to witness, tend to bring out a questionable character.  Furthermore, training primarily for sport competition may tend to erode the defensive and spiritual value of taekwondo in a variety of ways.  By instilling a “win-at-all-costs” psychology in a student, the instructor is sending a mixed signal – on one hand preaching restraint against the use of force during contact sparring, on the other teaching the doctrine of “first strike, swift and complete,” in a defensive situation.”

There’s no competition in our form of Hapkido because we decided to preserve the martial roots of the art.  
Unfortunately, too much sport is not positive if what you are looking for is a true martial art.

We don’t trade popularity for a watered-down combat system.  
I understand that sport competition helps a lot as far as the promotional aspects are concerned 
but our goal is self-defense and inner-energy development.

Heo In Hwan
Founder of Hankido school of Hapkido

Perhaps, Taekwondo has already lost some of those traditions.  In an article by Dr. R.E.Dohrenwend, in which he describes the state of Taekwondo today, he writes:

Between 1975 and today, there has been increased consolidation and centralization of authority.  The sport aspect has received increasing emphasis to the point where training is now generally dominated by preparation for tournament competition sparring.  Taekwondo is no longer considered a martial art in Korea but a martial sport.*  WTF black belts are no longer registered with the Ki-Do Hae but now only at the Kukkiwon.

*  The World Taekwondo Federation website ( says the following: “Taekwondo is a Korean martial art turned martial sport that has grown as a global sport since the foundation of the World Taekwondo Federation in 1973.”  A banner now hanging above the entrance of the Kukkiwon says, ”Celebration: The adoption of Taekwondo as a regular sport.” 

Taekwondo is following the same path as Judo.  Once the most popular martial art in the world, Judo has all but disappeared.  After it became an Olympic sport, and Judo training became more and more concentrated on sporting competition, it lost its effectiveness as a martial art.  When victory in a sporting contest becomes the major criterion for excellence in a martial art, then only the young, strong, and gifted will be able to excel in that art.  And they will leave that art when they pass their peak of competitive prowess.

In many do jangs today, basic training is often neglected.  The basic skills of balance, focus, stances, preparation, seriousness, and commitment are ignored.  Self-defense, knife-hand training, three step and one step sparring are being washed away in favor of competition sparring drills.

There is an increasing possibility that poomse will become more shallow, and that their development will be retarded.  This tendency will exist for many reasons (poomse are not for competition; poomse techniques are highly dangerous when correctly applied; poomse practice is more directed to the perfection of the practitioner’s character than to sporting applications).  This creates a dangerous potential for the devaluation of poomse.

It may be expected that poomse will continue to reflect the increasing emphasis on the sporting aspect of Taekwondo, and the emphasis that modern Taekwondo places on kicking.  In many do jangs we find that, unlike karate, poomse are rarely central to training in Taekwondo.  Indeed, some highly competitive black belts don’t know any poomse!

Contact is not made in the Tang Soo Do ring.  We practice control, not contact.
If you constantly practice contact during free sparring, your mind will become undisciplined and wild, 
but if you practice controlled sparring, your mind will become more controlled.

Chun Sik Kim
Founder of International Tang Soo Do Federation
Black Belt Magazine – Man of the Year 1995

Adding his thoughts, legendary martial artist Chuck Norris believes that some forms of full-contact kick-boxing and other ultimate fighting competitions are no longer martial arts at all.  He says, “For me, they are a second cousin to true martial arts.  They are professional sports and not an art or philosophy.”

Sadly, it appears that this may be the current direction of many martial arts today (including Taekwondo) ... as they evolve away from 'mind-body-spirit' and more toward ... 'Fight Club'

Taekwondo may be experiencing an identity crisis, even more profound than just the “art versus sport” issue, says Steven Capener, professor at Ehwa University in Seoul, South Korea and former U.S. National Taekwondo Champion.  He believes that Taekwondo is grappling with serious philosophic problems relating to its identity and future development.

He says that the main cause of these problems is found in the history of Taekwondo’s origins.  The fact that modern Taekwondo was first brought into Korea from Japan in the form of Japanese karate around the time of liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule, and the way this fact has been dealt with in Korea has left many serious inconsistencies.  Capener relates:

“Tae Kwon Do leaders were unable or unwilling to acknowledge the Japanese origins of their art.  At the same time these leaders could not let go of characteristic Japanese techniques and training methods, and more importantly, Japanese philosophical concepts which formed its original basis.  This was due to the fact that Tae Kwon Do leaders were still relying, to a great extent, on the foundation that these techniques and philosophies provided.  This lack of investment in a philosophical foundation for the newly emerging phenomenon of competition Tae Kwon Do in the 1960s and the dependence on Japanese concepts and philosophies (which correspond more to a zen martial art of self-defense than to a martial sport) have left Tae Kwon Do split with two identities.  One is the competition identity, the only form which realistically exists today in Korea and which is responsible for Tae Kwon Do having a structure distinguishable from that of karate.  The other is the so-called martial art identity, which is ironically referred to as “traditional” Tae Kwon Do, but which is still strongly based, both technically and philosophically, on the foundation of Japanese karate.  This problem results from efforts by Tae Kwon Do leaders to distort the real history of Tae Kwon Do’s development by not acknowledging its Japanese origins.“

It is true that most Taekwondo histories will not admit to any relation to karate whatsoever. There is an effort to portray Taekwondo as a unique product of Korean culture, developed over the course of history since the Three Kingdoms period. This is despite the fact that practically all of the martial arts schools in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s were using the name karate and Japanese terminology for the techniques, as well as the forms and training methods, with no techniques or terminology resembling those of Taekkyon.

I asked Master Choi for his opinion regarding possible Japanese origins of Taekwondo. He abruptly rebuffed me, saying that the Japanese destroyed Korea’s historical claims to Taekwondo during its colonizing of the country in the early 1900s.  To this extent, he is correct.  Much of the Korean culture, heritage, and history were lost during its occupations. Grandmaster Chung’s theory is similar to Master Choi’s.  We may never know the exact foundations of the art of Taekwondo, however, both Master Choi and Grandmaster Chung acknowledge that many of Taekwondo’s modern-day forms and techniques did evolve from the Japanese. 

The incongruity between Taekwondo’s legendary origins and “traditional” philosophies and the reality of its true developmental path has created a discipline that is rife with contradictions and inconsistencies.  For example, the competitionalization of Taekwondo, with a strong bias toward full-contact sparring, runs completely contrary to the Japanese martial arts philosophy of “ikken hissatsu” (one blow one death).  In fact, a large calligraphy sign hangs in Chung’s do jang that says exactly that – one strike, one kill.  It hangs in a room where students practice competition sparring almost every day.

Much of this dichotomy is generational as exemplified by the differing attitude and teaching methods of Grandmaster Chung and Master Choi.  Grandmaster Chung has a more highly developed spiritual philosophy, something he may have learned while studying traditional martial arts as a child under Grandmaster Hwang Kee.  Conversely, Master Choi, comes straight from the Taekwondo universities in Korea.  His training began in the 1980s, long after Taekwondo had become a sport.  His focus on full-contact sparring reflects the modern perspective of competition Taekwondo. 

Personally, I have mixed feelings about the issue.  I believe that a good understanding of both sparring competition and forms is needed if a student is to be complete.  Optimally, there must be a balancing of the “yin” or art of forms and the “yang” of sport competition.  However, I believe that an over-emphasis on sport-combat, at the expense of other aspects of the discipline, as seen in most American martial arts, is having a dilutive effect on the discipline, thus diminishing the potential for personal growth and a well-rounded understanding of this way of life.

Daughter Laura tested for her 3rd gup (brown and white belt) in early December.  She had not tested since spring and was losing interest in the program.  She passed the test without much enthusiasm.  The next class, she was mauled during sparring by several other advanced belts and her spirit broke.  She quit that day.  I was now the only Olin left to continue onward.

I am wise because I learn something new every day.
I am humanly perfect because I never make mistakes knowingly.
I like myself because I always take action to make good things happen.
I am happy because I always choose to be happy.

Jhoon Rhee
His four daily affirmations

Chapter Ten – Red and White Belt

In December I tested for 1st gup (red and white belt).  The tests were much more difficult now.  For example, I sparred with Adam Spry, a championship black belt fighter and U.S. Olympic candidate. I performed a foot “speed” break (holding the board by myself), and I memorized a paragraph on the philosophy of Taekwondo.  I successfully passed the test.

Chung’s Christmas Party was held across the street at Wayside West.  We had gone to last year’s party and did not know many people but this year, it seemed like I knew everybody.  Grandmaster Chung recognized several instructors with special awards and then called me forward to present me with a large Student of the Year plaque.  Laura ran up to me and gave me a big hug.  This was a huge surprise and it felt great to be recognized for my efforts.

The official word came down from Kukkiwon.  The World Taekwondo Federation sparring rules were being changed for the eleventh time in the past twenty-nine years.  This time, the rules were being changed in order to make sparring more aggressive and to add more excitement and intensity to the contests.  A kick to the head would now be two points, instead of one.  The target area on the body was enlarged to wrap around the back.  Penalties for kicking non-target areas were lessened from a full point deduction to a half point.  At the same time, rules for punching were made more stringent. Only a straight, middle-body punch would be permitted.  These changes favored the younger, more-flexible student and reflected the western desire for more intense combat. 

As the New Year came, my goal was coming into focus.  I was now less than ninety classes away from the test for black belt.  I felt like I had hit the wall…and overcome it.  My personal pride was growing and I was starting to view myself as “a black belt…but I’m just not quite there yet.”  Indeed there were times when I stood in front of the wall of mirrors at the do jang and saw a different person – a more confident person – than I saw in those mirrors nearly two years ago.  I also noticed that more students sought me as an authority - asking me for advice in self-defense techniques and poomse movements.

“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”
When a student gets good, his pride must be destroyed, he must be driven without mercy so that his spirit and skill will not suffer from conceit.  The Karateka must constantly stretch himself to the utmost, so that once again, and again and again, he feels the helplessness of a baby.

The Japanese philosophy of martial arts training

Poomse are either loved or hated in the martial arts community.  Often, while teaching class at Chung’s, I see most kids sneer and some adults sigh in despair at the thought of working on forms.  For them, forms practice is boring, useless, and impractical.  These students want to whack somebody, either in sparring or self-defense practice, and poomse does not give them that aggressive outlet.  These students do not understand or appreciate the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.

In a superb internet article on the importance of forms in Taekwondo, Eric Heinz says the following:

“Tae Kwon Do is a science.  It is also a sport.  But most important, Tae Kwon Do is an art - and forms are the essence of the art.  Forms practice provides the unique medium for self-expression for each student.  Within that medium, each student may mold his body and mind into an icon of beauty.  Tremendous energy is required in their performance, energy which is palpable to the observer.  Martial forms may be practiced for the remainder of one’s life, continuing to offer glimpses of the possibility of perfection to the dedicated student.

Forms practice enhances the practitioner’s sense of well-being on three levels: physical, mental and spiritual.  On the physical level, the martial artist develops stamina and strength, together with speed, grace, balance, coordination and flexibility.  On the mental level, untiring forms practice molds desirable personal characteristics, which include discipline, patience, perseverance and a strong spirit.  On a spiritual level, the martial artist learns to unify his mind and body in the present moment, concentrating all his energies in the form, living the spirit of each gesture.

Mere repetition of a form and its movements is not enough, however.  One must perform the poomse with strength and a positive attitude.  You practice because you practice.  That’s what you do with every fiber of your being at that time and nothing else.  You are not worried about the time of day, the state of your finances or your love life.  This type of practice teaches you patience much beyond our everyday definition of the word.

Each movement, amidst the spray of perspiration and accompanied by a popping do bok, creates the frame of mind and posture of body which epitomize who you are and the promise of who you are becoming.

The Western mind prizes linear thought and logical symmetry but this is not enough for true understanding of martial art.  A student may insist that he knows a particular form.  “Knowing” the series of movements - that a block precedes a punch, followed by a kick and a block, are not the same as “experiencing” the form.  Knowing is not doing, and a Tae Kwon Do student has to do it in practice everyday.  The wisdom (beyond mere knowledge) derived from mastery of a form is gained after years of intensive and endless practice.

When we study our forms, we study ourselves intimately.  With that experiential knowledge, we arm ourselves not against others but against our own egos, our most difficult enemy.  By abandoning our egos, we are able to harmonize our spirit with the cosmos.“

It is my hope, as a martial arts instructor, that I can communicate the purpose and importance of poomse to my peers and students.  I recognize that this may be no easy task.

Some things never change - I sparred with a purple belt twenty-five years younger than me during class one morning.  Although I probably won on points, he was able to avoid many of my kicks.  He also did a rope-a-dope technique and was much quicker than me.  He was able to get inside and land a few punches.  My opponent told me afterward that he had been training in kick-boxing for several years.  I noticed that (once again) the more angry and frustrated I got, the more I went on the offensive, chasing him around the ring.  Later, when I discussed it with Master Choi, he mentioned that I was playing to my opponent’s strengths by pursuing him.  Choi said that I should stand my ground and work on more effective countering techniques and not waste my energy moving around so much.

Master Choi knew how competitive I was - especially how I hated losing.  He calmly said that, as an older student, I was bound to lose a few to the young ones.  He offered a good piece of advice – instead of focusing on winning and losing, I should focus on executing good techniques.  Focus on a good block or a quick scoring kick and not worry so much about the match.  The next sparring session came during black belt instructor class.  As Master Choi suggested, I worked on a few specific skills.  For example, I spent more time counter-attacking and less time chasing my opponent, I focused on punching more, and I emphasized kicks that I had used much in previous practice (i.e. side kick, reverse roundhouse).

Although I was sluggish from aggressive dieting targeted at losing the weight I had gained during the past winter months, I noticed that my sparring skills were gradually improving.  I was able to defeat a couple of black belts in the practice matches.  Probably most important is that I noticed that I could see the openings that my opponents were leaving as they attacked.  I was still too slow to counterattack those opportunities but, needless to say, this perception ability is important in sparring.  My next goals were to improve my “closing” ability and develop faster multiple kick combinations.  Hopefully, the weight-loss will help contribute in these areas.

Often it is not how fast it travels but how soon it gets there that counts.

Bruce Lee
On Speed in Sparring

Every morning that I drove to class, I passed several other martial arts schools.  I usually gave a quick glance to see what is going on inside them.  Most of the time, they were quiet, empty, and closed.  One school is located just down the street from Chung’s do jang.  It is operated by one of Chung’s ex-students.  This person was once a fast-rising competitor and had aspirations for the United States Olympic Taekwondo Team.  Grandmaster Chung and his wife gave much of themselves to help this student become successful.  They trained him all the way from white belt to second dan black belt. They shared their home, gave him a job as a manager of the do jang, and financed many of his travels to regional and national competitions.  But this wayward student had neither the patience nor the maturity to absorb the many lessons of life that must be learned outside the do jang.  He decided to leave Chungs, taking important and proprietary information with him, and opened a competitive school, only minutes away.

This action was not only extremely disrespectful to the people who cared so much for him, but it was also very dishonorable as seen within all martial arts circles.  It was akin to “biting the hand that fed him.”  It is well understood that a student is not ready to start his own school until he becomes a “master”, fifth dan or higher.  Even then, it is appropriate to ask for, and obtain, permission to open a new school from the Grandmaster.  As a measure of further respect, the student would certainly not open his school near the master’s do jang so as to not adversely impact his master’s business.  The actions taken by this young man show very clearly that he never developed or understood the seminal concepts of “spirit, honor, respect, and loyalty.”

As I pushed closer toward my goal of becoming a 1st Dan, I felt an increasing weight settling on my shoulders.  It was a subtle, insidious little pressure gnawing at my mind.  I think that it was the incongruity between my vision of black belt perfection and the reality of my physical and mental limitations.  I was questioning my worthiness to be a black belt. I mentioned this to a couple of my instructors and their response was that I might have been taking it all too seriously.  Then, one Tuesday morning, Grandmaster Chung asked me to step into his office.  We talked for more than an hour.  In that conversation, I told him of my concerns. He quietly mentioned that confidence was an essential part of being a black belt.  He said, “If you think you are a black belt, then you are a black belt.”  Then he challenged me, saying, “What belt do you think you are?  If you think you are purple, then take off that belt, and I will give you a purple one.”  I very quickly got the point.

Chapter Eleven – Assistant Black Belt

In late Spring of 2002, I tested for assistant black belt.  The test lasted more than four hours.  A veteran black belt told me that it was the most comprehensive exam he had experienced.  We started with a round of physical tests – which included timed push ups, sit ups, step ups, speed kicking, vertical jumping, long jumping, and wind sprints.  Next, we performed all Tae Geuk and Pyong Ahn forms, basic motions, one step sparring, and grabbing self-defense.  Then we reviewed the new WTF referee guidelines. This was followed by recitation of our assigned memorization and a one-minute speech before the class.  Each of us broke three boards – a hand speed break, a foot speed break, and a spinning back kick break. Free sparring without pads was performed to evaluate form and precision, then we put on pads and did three on one sparring drills.  I felt confident and strong throughout the test.  I made no major mistakes.  I sparred well and broke all of my boards.  I spoke to the class about “Perseverance after 40.”  I indeed felt worthy of the belt I had just earned.  I was now an Assistant Black Belt!!

Returning to class after a two-week family vacation, I was rusty and had forgotten some of the forms I was working on before I left.  It is amazing how fast skills atrophy in such a short time.  Before long, I was back into a four-class-a-week regimen and moving forward again.  One of the great by-products of my journey has been the opportunity to meet and befriend so many new and different people.  Many of these people I would never have had the pleasure of meeting if not for this endeavor. I have trained with doctors, lawyers, college students, and housewives of all ages.  I have met and become friends with a short-order cook from the local Ground Round, an airline pilot, a TV sports cameraman, a former ballet dancer, a veterinarian, a truck driver, an ocean-going ship captain, a convenience store owner, a building contractor, a child endocrinologist, and a grocery store security guard.

I even trained with a blind black belt Taekwondo instructor.

In the very end, trophies are not important; it is the camaraderie that really counts 
and that shows the real attitude of the true martial arts.

Chuck Norris
World Champion Martial Artist, Actor, and Author

The camaraderie that grows from regularly training together helps me to stay committed to my goals of self-improvement, and achieving my black belt.  Perhaps as important, is learning why each of my other fellow students is pursuing the same training.  I have discovered that motivations can be tremendously varied, and as a result, I have developed a respect for every one of my fellow students in uniquely different ways. Despite our different backgrounds and goals, the open support that each of us give to each other during each class is essential to our commitment and continued growth in this martial art.  I owe great appreciation to Ted, Ben, Evan, Ed, Aaron, Brent, Gretchen, Marcia, Joe, Tom, Tim, Adam, Rashmi, Annette, Gene, Ryan, Rick, and Dave and to all the other students who have helped me along my path.

April 24, 2002 marked my second anniversary as a student of Taekwondo.  In those two years, I attended nearly five hundred classes, nine competitive tournaments, several academy competitions, at least sixty instructor classes, twenty-five belt tests (both as student and testing assistant), and eight weekend referee seminars.  In those same two years, I have broken two toes on my right foot, three on my left (including a multiple break in the ball of my foot), and endured dozens of bruises, cuts, blisters, sprains, and strains.  I am currently dealing with a chronically swollen left knee, a bruised right ankle, and a torn-off toenail.  They are simply experiences and lessons to be collected along the journey.

The date of my black belt test was fast approaching.  I spent most of my waking hours going over my poomse and memorization.  I continued working that weight off and was doing extra pushups and sit ups at home.  I studied the history of Taekwondo, rereading the books I had bought in the past two years and scanning the internet for new insight. 

The test would be held on Saturday morning, June 1, 2002.  Kwan Chang Nim gave me the written test to fill out, along with the World Taekwondo Federation application form.  He told me that I needed to provide him with several photos to attach to the forms he had to send to Seoul.

In order to attain my 1st Dan black belt, it is expected that I know four Kicho Hyung (basic forms), eight Tae Geuk forms (required for WTF certification), as well as Pyong Ahn and Bassai forms (Tang Soo Do - with origins in Shotokan karate).  I also have to learn five new poomse entitled 'Sim Sin Ki' for the test.  These five forms were developed by Grandmaster Chung when he was teaching in Korea.  In addition, I must learn “42 Do Soo Kong Bong,” otherwise known as 42 basic motions.  This form requires that I know the Korean terminology for all forty-two basic movements.  

I am required to know and perform a number of self defense techniques including several wrist grab, joint-lock Hapkido breaking, and weapons disarming maneuvers.  I must be prepared to do board breaking, including power and speed foot and hand breaks.  

I have to understand basic refereeing skills and all accompanying hand signals and terminology.   I must give a two-minute speech on the history of the “Three Kingdoms” in Korea as well as another oration on “What Taekwondo means to me.”  I also have to be ready to recite any of the memorizations that I had learned for previous belt tests.  I must turn in a written report on Taekwondo (which this effort will serve).

I will be put through a series of physical tests on the day of the test – pushups, sit ups, flexibility, jumping, running, and speed kicking.  Then I will perform one, two, and three step sparring with an opponent.  This will be followed by a round or two of free sparring without pads - to evaluate our technique.  Finally, we will put on our gear and go at it for several rounds of full contact sparring.  The sparring will include one on one and three on one scenarios.  In addition, for three days before the test, I must fast, only drinking water.  The purpose of this is to test my concentration and purify my body in anticipation of the event.

In the weeks leading up to the test, I reviewed all of my forms, practiced self-defense and studied my memorization.  I learned the five new Sim Sin Ki poomse within one week and kept hammering them into my brain every day.  My confidence soared.  Many fellow students approached me and asked if I was testing.  When I said, “yes,” they would usually be very supportive, most saying “you are ready, no problem.”   After more than four hundred classes… and nearly forty-three years …I was ready! 

The psyching-up was well underway as I blasted into the last week of training before the test.  I had attended thirty-eight classes in fifty-nine days. I was now wearing an elastic knee brace due to increasing pain inside my left knee.  But the goal was now within reach and I was not going to let that stupid knee thing get in my way.  I took four days off over Memorial Day weekend to let it heal.

On Friday, May 24th, I drove to Detroit to watch the 28th United States National Taekwondo Championships at Cobo Hall.  This event is sponsored by the United States Taekwondo Union.  Competing and winning at this tournament is essential if one has hopes of making the U.S. Olympic Team.  In order to compete at the nationals, a competitor must qualify by finishing in the top three at state, U.S.Open, or A.A.U. tournaments.

Chung’s was bringing two competitors to nationals – Jimmy Kruska and Adam Spry.  It was my hope to watch them fight, but they were only being weighed in on Friday.  I did run into them both at the arena and we sat in the bleachers and watched the “ultra” (seniors) division competition.  I was surprised to see many men of my age and girth whacking it out in the eight rings spread out in the Cobo Arena. Generally, the fighting among the seniors was sloppy.  Technique was lacking as they mostly mauled each other.  The level of competition seemed very similar to that of the Michigan and Great Lakes Cup tournaments. In fact, I saw many of the same people that had come to our tournaments in the last two years.

There were many black belts that I felt I could beat.  On the other hand, I also saw some seniors that were incredibly fast and vicious.  I saw one sixth dan black belt destroy a first dan by a score of 16 to 1.  This was the score after two rounds!  He laid back in the third round and took it easy on his opponent as to not dishonor him.  It seemed to me that matching these two up was a mistake anyway.  I also saw one competitor, for whatever reason I don’t know, back out of the ring three times on purpose in the first thirty seconds of the first round and disqualify himself.  He was not injured, so I really don’t know what was going on.  Neither did the judges nor referee, who stood in the ring and discussed the situation for at least three minutes before finally raising the hand of his opponent.

Most impressive was a fifty-year old Korean man with gray hair, cut in a flat top, who sat meditating for three hours beside the ring until it was his turn to spar.  When his turn came, he slowly and deliberately pulled on his pads over his old but clean uniform.  On his do bok were the big letters K-O-R-E-A arched across his back and shoulders.  Watching this man fight was pure art.  He gracefully evaded all efforts of his opponent.  He would wait - still - until just the right moment and deliver a perfect axe kick or a precision roundhouse.  It was mesmerizing.  He was not brutal or brash.  Even though he won 9 to 0, at the conclusion of the match, he was incredibly dignified and humble.  He expressed great respect and honor toward his opponent.  He embodied the both the art and the sport.  This man was the epitome of a mature martial artist.

So how do you define the “best” martial artist?  Is he the fastest kicker?  Is he the strongest or toughest fighter?  Is she the person with the most flexibility?  Is he the best board-breaker?  Is she the person with the most stripes on her black belt?  This is a hard question to answer.  To me, the ultimate martial artist is one who has developed a tremendous strength and depth of spirit.  This spirit is manifested in both self-assurance and humility.  Even though this person is constantly striving toward self-perfection, he is able to let go of all the encumbrances of the ego.  The ultimate martial artist develops all aspects of his mind, body, and spirit equally.  The way I see things, martial arts are about combining self-improvement and self-acceptance.  As with so much of oriental philosophy, it is about the balance of opposites.  Martial arts training, then, becomes a method of facilitating high levels of outward focus and concentration, and inward self-reflection.  It tests us on a regular basis, pushing the student to achieve higher levels of physical and mental prowess, and hopefully at the same time, helping the student to understand his own mental and physical limitations.   So the essence of martial arts for me, in one word, is “balance.”

On June 1st, 2002, after three days of fasting (a pre-test requirement), I was ready to test for my black belt.  I was fired up.  I reviewed, one last time, my forms and memorization.  I packed my duffel bag with the best of my three (carefully-folded) uniforms and headed to Chung’s Black Belt Academy.  I was not fearful or nervous, but I was anxious to experience the event.  The big moment was only minutes away!  I arrived at the do jang, put on my do bok, and began jogging and lightly stretching.  As usual, I was the first one there.  I reviewed my forms once or twice.  No problems.  So I concentrated on conserving my energy.  I did notice that the fasting had affected my ability to concentrate and I was feeling slightly weaker than normal, almost like I was in a haze, mentally.  But my adrenaline was sky-high.  So I hoped that it wouldn’t become a factor during the test.

Other students straggled in.  There would be a handful testing and another ten or so pre-testing for their next black belt level.  Everybody kept to themselves as they warmed up – focusing on the aspects of the test they were most concerned about.  Some people would just stretch.  Some would flop down on the floor and pound out dozens of pushups.  Others would work on forms in slow motion.  I wandered about trying to stay loose.  The class was called to attention and Kwan Chang Nim asked who had fasted for the test. Surprisingly, I was the only student who had fasted for the entire three days.  Two others had fasted for one day.  The rest of the class had not fasted at all.  We started with individual speeches to the class about whatever we chose to speak about. I discussed the “History of Martial Arts in the United States.” 

Next, we began physical testing.  I pumped out thirty-one pushups in thirty seconds.  Then thirty-five sit ups in thirty seconds.  Then fifty speed kicks in thirty seconds.  Then twenty-three step ups in thirty seconds.  A standing broad jump of sixty-four inches (not good).  A vertical jump of seventeen and three quarter inches.  Reach flexibility of six inches.  Then we each ran the gauntlet – a timed sprint during which the student runs several times back and forth across the gym, touching the floor and returning to the starting point. I ran it in twenty-two and a half seconds.  The sweat was pouring off my body.  My heart was pounding.  I was pushing as hard as I could on every task.  It seemed like I just couldn’t catch my breath.

Then we returned to class positions and began our forms, in unison, at a very fast pace.  My mind was beginning to float away from me.  I could sense it.  I was doing the forms almost reactively, from having practiced them so many times.  We hammered through the eight Tae Geuk forms.  Then the five Pyung Ahn forms.  Then Bassai.  I was starting to slow down for some reason, and the class would be a step or two ahead on each form.  I was really out of breath now, even when I concentrated on Tan Jon breathing.

Then came the Sim Sim Ki forms.  These were new for me and not so automatic.  I had to think my way through them.  Form number one was ok.  I made one wrong turn on number two.  I over-rotated on a turn in number three.  On form number four I got halfway through and then my brain locked up.  I couldn’t tell right from left.  I stood there frozen.  I did the only thing I could, bowed to the Grandmaster and sat down on the side of the room.  I couldn’t believe that I had totally lost it.  I knew that form.  But I lost it.  I sat there, my mind flying around in all directions, thinking about what I did and what I should have done.  Trying to save face, I got back up and slammed through Sim Sin Ki number five without a problem, just to prove that I could do it.  Then I sat back down while the rest of the black belts did more advanced forms.  Grandmaster Chung noticed me, sitting on the sidelines exhausted, and told me to get a drink of water.  I did and returned to my position.  Sitting there, my mind started playing games with me.  “Hey stupid – that was smart.  I thought you knew your stuff.  Now you’re in trouble.  Oh, God, can I make it through the rest of this thing or should I quit.”  This was not the strength of mind that I had studied so hard in class.

I was then called up to demonstrate forty-two basic motions, alone, in front of the class.  I was determined to get through this thing and steeled my mind.  I snapped into every position with as much speed and power as I could muster.  I shouted at the top of my lungs.  I concentrated on every move.  It was excellent.

Then came the self-defense tests – one and three step sparring, grabbing self-defense and breaking self-defense.  I was adequate, but not impressive.  I was losing energy fast.  Then I sparred with Dr. Draznin.  This was non-contact sparring without pads.  We continued for an eternal two minutes.  I was becoming unable to control my body movements.  I kept pushing myself, harder and harder. 

Then we were told to put on pads.  As I walked out to the lobby to retrieve my gear bag, my kids saw my condition and asked if I was all right.  I half-jokingly said, “Don’t worry, I’m just dying.”  Mrs. Chung said that my mind wasn’t tough enough ... then she smiled.  Laura helped me put on my leg and arm pads while Michelle poured Gatorade into my mouth.  I walked back into the gym in full armor and prepared to spar with three advanced black belts at one time.  I had to score clean hits on each of them within ten seconds or not pass that aspect of testing.  We bowed, stood ready, and then I charged the middle opponent, taking him out instantly.  I turned left and chased another opponent across the gym before popping him with a roundhouse.  Looking right, I saw the final opponent charging and I scored with a roundhouse push kick combination.  Grandmaster Chung looked at the time-keeper… ten seconds on the nose.  He asked that I try it again to improve my score.  This time, all of my opponents attacked at once, smothering me with kicks and punches.  I didn’t have a prayer.

Finally, I was asked to perform a speed-kick board break with a spinning back kick.  My first effort was pathetic as I spun around and missed the board by a foot.  My next effort was successful as I split the board cleanly and the broken half flew twenty feet across the room.

Next was my favorite part, the hand speed break.  I stood before the Grandmaster and all of the black belts in the room and pounded that board.  It was an excellent break, signified by my knife-hand cleanly separating the center third of the board and slamming it to the floor while the outside two-thirds fly up and away.  I was so glad to have finished strong.

This ended the black belt examination.  I stood there, drenched in sweat and totally exhausted.  I was too tired to celebrate.  Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if passed.  I expected to do better than I did. 

We all posed for pictures, got cleaned up and went to lunch at Golden Chopsticks restaurant.  I noticed that several of the advanced black belts began telling me that they didn’t have to take it easy on me any more.  I guess this means that I passed the test.

Chapter Twelve – Black Belt (In The Doorway)

First degree black belt.  Now you in doorway.
All this time, you just preparing.  Get black belt.
You stay, student become
You leave, always in doorway

9th Dan Moo Duk Kwan Grandmaster
Ki Whang Kim
To a new black belt recipient

One spring morning in 1970, Bruce Lee began his daily workout by lifting weights in his home studio.  As he pressed the barbell up, he felt a twinge in his lower back.  He ignored it and continued with his workout.  Over the course of the next several days, the pain worsened.  He went to one doctor and then another – each one telling him the same bad news.  Bruce had damaged his fourth sacral nerve, in the lumbar region of his spine, and the damage was permanent.  The prescription was indefinite bedrest.  The doctors told Bruce that he would never be able to practice martial arts again, that his condition would prevent him from kicking with either leg for the rest of his life.

Frustrated and depressed, Bruce laid flat on his back for six months.  Determined to carry on, Bruce began to work on a series of writings and reflections on his view of the martial arts.  These notes came to form the basis of his legendary book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. 

Bruce would eventually return to practice his Jeet Kune Do.  And he did so with a vengeance, creating some of the greatest combat movie sequences in cinematic history. But for me, the lesson to be learned from this story was of Bruce Lee’s commitment to developing the mental and philosophical aspects of the art, even when he was physically unable to continue.

This lesson would be very relevant to me as a black belt.

My first year as a black belt was every bit as eventful as the years leading up to it.  I participated in several tournaments – taking first place in the Chung’s 2002 Breaking Competition and second place in the Chung’s 2002 Forms Competition.  I began teaching Monday night classes at Chung’s Tiger Taekwondo in Richland, my hometown.  Teaching enabled me to share what I have learned about this complex and important martial art.  As an instructor, I emphasized a more traditional approach, focusing equally on the mind, the body and the spirit.

In January of 2003, I underwent lasik eye surgery on both eyes.  The procedure was very successful but due to the fragile corneal healing process, I was instructed not to practice martial arts for thirty days. As quickly as I could, I returned to train three times per week. 

For a few months before the eye surgery, I had noticed a stiffness developing in my left knee.  I had hoped that it might go away during my break in February but, unfortunately, the sensation immediately returned. There wasn’t much pain associated with it, but the knee felt weak, especially when turning or sliding onto it. I reduced my training schedule to twice a week, trying to give my knee more rest.  It would feel better for a few days and then it would act up again the day after each session.  During instructor class, while practicing Nihanchi forms, I stepped laterally to the left and almost fell flat on my face.  My knee was giving out.  I visited Dr. Daniel Garcia at the Great Lakes Sports Medicine Clinic where I was x-rayed and examined manually.  He said that I had sustained meniscus damage and I would require arthroscopic knee surgery.  On May 5, I underwent the procedure on my left knee.  I had sustained three cartilage tears, all of which were cut away during the surgery.  It was six weeks before I could, very gingerly, begin to train again.

Still another surgery, in June on an anal fistula, kept me from returning for another six weeks.  It was a very painful recovery, needless to say.  During this period, I worked hard preparing materials for the 2003 Michigan Cup tournament, I assembled and printed the tournament program, worked as volunteer, and served as master of ceremonies.  It was good to be back with the team again. 

Predictably, I prematurely returned to class and was very frustrated that I could not perform at my best.  Still, I was warmly received by my students, fellow instructors, and Grandmaster Chung.  They were very patient and helped me relearn my techniques and forms.

Soon after returning, however, my knee began to act up – with swelling and weakness.  Dr. Garcia reexamined my leg and determined that I should undergo physical therapy on my knee.  He referred me to Julie at Physiotherapy Associates.  Julie manipulated my knee and hip joints to assess the situation.  She found swelling in the knee joint.  She also took measurements and found that I had lost approximately fifteen percent of the strength in my left leg. She asked what kind of sport I participated in.  When I said, martial arts, she visibly gasped.  Then she said that she never would have guessed it, based on the fact that my hips “were so rigid – as if they were set in concrete.”  I had a form of hip dysplasia, probably since birth, that I was never aware of until that moment.  Her assessment was that this lack of flexibility in my hips was the root of the problem and that my knee was taking excess torque-stress as a result.  Although Julie said that my ultimate flexibility would always be limited, she also said that I could continue training and recommended that I begin a regimen consisting of hip stretches and knee strengthening exercises.  For two months, three times a week, I went to the therapy center.  I was also given a prescription for 500mg of Naprosin, twice daily.  I also was given regular “iso-feresis” treatments – electrically-charged medicine patches placed on my knee and “shocked” into my leg with a battery-powered applicator.

By late November, I was making progress.  The pain and associated weakness was going away.  My knee felt stronger.  My hips were still set in concrete – but they were improving. I returned to classes at Chung’s.  Now my only concern was to lose the extra twenty pounds that I had packed on while laid up all summer.

The fall of 2003 was a difficult time for Taekwondo as well.  The United States Olympic Committee decertified the USTU as the acting body for sport Taekwondo in the U.S. due to high level corruption.  The World Taekwondo Federation moved out of the Kukkiwon as a result of disagreements between the two organizations.  The President of the WTF was accused of manipulating Olympic voting results in other sports so as to assure that Korea won gold medals in Taekwondo competition.  Many in the martial arts community increased their criticism of Taekwondo as a martial “art”, challenging much of Korea’s manufactured historical origins and referring to it strictly as martial “sport.”  The insinuation being that Taekwondo lacks much of the essential philosophical and spiritual foundation to consider itself a true martial art.

These comments really hit home, as far as I was concerned.  I had known that Taekwondo was essentially an evolved Korean version of Japanese karate for a long time.  I had hoped that Taekwondo would retain, or even build upon, the deep spiritual aspects of Japanese martial arts philosophy.  Unfortunately, what I was seeing was a departure away from those roots.  Taekwondo was indeed becoming something less than a traditional martial art.  The focus on competition, the political morass, and the high-level corruption all have tarnished it.  As a black belt, having spent so much effort to achieve that status, I am greatly disappointed by the recent turn of events.

I discussed these issues with Grandmaster Chung.  Although he was hesitant to be too critical, he did acknowledge things were changing regarding Taekwondo.  I asked him about his affiliation with the Moo Duk Kwan.  I knew that, for decades, he awarded black belts in both Taekwondo and with the Moo Duk Kwan in the past.  He told me that he suspended that practice several years ago when everyone seemed more interested only WTF certification.

In our discussion, it was very clear to both of us that I was better-suited for a black belt certification from the Moo Duk Kwan, since my background and training were more rooted in traditional martial arts values. Furthermore, I had sufficiently mastered every required Tang Soo Do (Moo Duk Kwan) technique, poomse, and had the proper martial arts “spirit” to earn that certification.  In fact, Grandmaster Chung specifically noted that he admired my commitment to the art, and that I was among his most traditionally-focused and most dedicated students in his near-forty years of teaching.  He awarded me with 1st Dan black belts with the Pan American Moo Duk Kwan and the Korea Tang Soo Do Association.  As I reflect on it, I cherish those Moo Duk Kwan certifications more than the one from the Kukkiwon because they carry deeper meaning, and from my perspective, earns more respect.

Looking forward, I am eager to have the opportunity for continued self-improvement and greater self-understanding through continued practice of this martial art.  I am grateful that Taekwondo has given me so much.  I have developed greater self-confidence and improved fitness.  I have a stronger, more disciplined mind.  I have established many friendships with students and instructors alike.  I have grown spiritually and have a greater understanding of myself.  I have grudgingly learned to accept my limitations.  I have delightfully learned that the spirit is limitless.

Most importantly, what I have learned from this experience transcends the techniques of combat and self-defense.  I have learned much about the human condition. I have gained a greater insight, appreciation and respect for human beings and what motivates them.  My life is better and more in balance today as a result of Taekwondo.  My journey continues, however, as I continue studying the discipline.  I am motivated not as much of gaining and practicing new techniques as I am of the potential for greater self-discovery. 

Upon completion comes fulfillment
With fulfillment comes liberation
Liberation allows you to go on
Even death is not a true ending
Life is infinite continuation

I Ching
The Book of Change

I am also grateful to have met so many people that have been helpful to me on this journey.  What can I say to my fellow students – except thanks for making classes challenging and fun.  My instructors have been very patient, pushing me to achieve my best – often beyond my own expectations.  These people are: Master Michael Gonder, Master Todd Siegel, Master Kim (from Korea), Ann Videtich, Mark Lipson, Chadd Gromaski, Glen Sironen, Paul Walraven, Jimmy Kruska, Mike Vandeveer, Randall Baas, Dan Hubbell, Jennifer Christiansen, Chris Martin, Paul Hernandez, Charles Lee, Aaron Allen and Adam Spry.  Special thanks go to Dr. Martin Draznin for always supporting me and guiding me through the hard times.  I also owe so much to Master I.J. Choi and Master Teresa Chung for their knowledge, support and understanding.  

Most of all, I appreciate the guidance, skill, and leadership of Sun Hwan Chung.  To have learned from one of the highest-ranking and most respected grandmasters in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and tremendous honor.

To my wife and family: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Moo Sool!  Pil Sung!  Chun Sung!
Martial arts spirit!  Certain victory!  Loyalty!

Everything that has been achieved is merely a preliminary exercise for the achievements to come, 
and no one – not even one who has reached perfection – can say he has reached the end.

Eugen Herrigel



There were a near-infinite number of lessons that I learned while on the martial path. However, there were some that were more important than others.  

First, I learned that it is possible to be a student, a scholar, of the martial arts, without the need to become a super-aggressive belligerent.  In fact, I learned that it was not enough to simply master a skill or technique.  It was essential for me to intellectually study every aspect of the art ... its philosophy and its foundations in order to develop a true appreciation and understanding of the experience.    

Second, I learned that there are many people who are following a martial path very different than mine.  It is sufficient for them to concentrate solely on combat skills and techniques.  These people tend to be critical of 'students' like me, asserting that our training is not 'reality-based' or geared toward application on the streets.  They may be somewhat accurate, but that was never my primary intention.  I was not attempting to become a civilian version of a Navy Seal. These critics simply do not understand why I study traditional martial arts.

Alternatively, I see their training as one-dimensional and lacking balance, with a great deal of superficiality and coarseness to their approach.  They often lack poise, humility, and respect for others.  It is easy for me to detect a disproportionate level of aggression in most people who thrive solely on combat skills.  Sure, I grant that these people could probably kill me quicker than I could kill them.  That is not why I studied a traditional martial art.    

I do believe that as practitioners of most martial arts reach the pinnacle of their art (with the possible exception of the most hard-core MMA/BJJ devotees), they begin to develop a mutual appreciation and admiration for each others' personal achievement and commitment.  It is perhaps a shared sense of wisdom that is revealed in this bit of enlightenment from an old master, "martial arts is like climbing a mountain, the closer you get to the top, the closer the sides become".  

Third, Taekwondo (particularly WTF Taekwondo) has completely made the shift from martial art to martial sport.  I believe that it's sportification will make it popular with the very young and those interested in collecting trophies and badges.  The downside will be that careers in Taekwondo will be very short.  You will see fewer and fewer people making a lifetime commitment to it.  

If you are looking for a strengthened mind, traditional history and approach, and opportunity to understand another culture ... as well as the acquisition of martial skills ... (unless you are studying under a grandmaster who appreciates these values, like Grandmaster Chung) then I would recommend trying a different martial art.  Perhaps Shito-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, or Shotokan karate.  Some Korean arts, such as Tang Soo Do (Moo Duk Kwan) and Soo Bahk Do are also staying on the traditional path.    



I continued practicing martial arts for three more years after earning my black belt.  I eventually earned a 2nd Dan certification from the World Taekwondo Federation and a 2nd Dan certification from the Korea and Pan American Tang Soo Do Associations.

By the time of my 2nd Dan test, I had logged more than eleven hundred classes (average attendance of almost four days a week for five years).  I had participated in more than fifteen martial arts competitions.  I had read more than one hundred and twenty martial arts books of various types (ranging from combat technique to poomse to ancient martial history).  I had assembled and published several training manuals (for use in class) in self-defense drills and on the physics of the martial arts.  I also served as referee and master of ceremonies for several Michigan Cup tournaments.  I had made a total commitment to the art.

I became a full-time instructor for Chung's Black Belt Academy, teaching two classes per week at the Richland do jang.  I enjoyed having the liberty to teach martial arts as I believed it should be taught ... focusing on the concepts of self-perfection and respect for others.  When I started teaching, average class size was four or five people.  Eventually, my classes swelled to more than twenty-five students per session.  I was proud of my accomplishments, both as student and teacher.  I particularly enjoyed teaching adult classes, where I could share much of the knowledge and philosophy of the martial arts that I had learned.   

Reluctantly, I retired from martial arts due to recurring knee problems which eventually required more arthroscopic surgery.  In the years since, I forgot many of the forms and techniques that I worked so hard to memorize.  However, I maintained many friendships with my former instructors and I still visit Grandmaster Chung at the Kalamazoo do jang when I can.  I am very honored that my picture hangs there on the wall, along with the twenty other black belts that I saw during my first class.  

Did I achieve my initial goal of 'self-perfection'?  Of course not.  But I learned an incredible amount about myself.  I overcame self-doubt and became more patient.  I learned to accept personal physical limitations and liabilities and yet maintained the fortitude to continue on a path that demanded more each day. The most important lessons were never about mastering the techniques or proving that I was tougher than someone else.  They were far deeper than that.  

It has been said that, for a serious martial artist, what one learns becomes a way of life.  In my experience, I can say that it is a very true sentiment, indeed.

With many thanks and much gratefulness, 


Part Two: Journey to Korea
June 19 – June 29, 2002

I will go to Korea.

Opening quote from the movie M*A*S*H
Attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Kukkiwon
World Taekwondo Federation Headquarters, Seoul, Korea

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

An absolutely gorgeous, cloudless day!  The sun came up early through the bedroom blinds and was already at full volume by 5:40am.  Of course, I was up before then, packing a few last-minute items.  Today I leave for Korea, my Tae Kwon Do graduation trip to the birthplace of the martial art.

I picked up Kwan Chang Nim (founder) Sun Hwan Chung at his house in Kalamazoo at 9:30 and we were soon heading down I-94 toward Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

On the drive to the airport, the grandmaster shared many personal stories among which was his tale of how he survived his first six months in the United States.  As a new arrival to Detroit, Chung was told by his master Jae Joon Kim that his job was to take on and defeat all challengers in full contact sparring – thus giving Kim’s dojang greater credibility and earning it more respect.  As an incentive, Chung was told that any loss would result in his immediately being sent back to Korea.

Over the next six months, Chung fought hundreds of matches – not losing a single one of them.  His reputation spread as far as the West Coast and Hawaii, enticing a well-known sparring champion from the islands, Master Mariano Estioko (the second American to receive a black belt from Grandmaster Hwang Kee) to challenge Chung to a non-contact fight in September of 1970.  Chung accepted.  The fight began and ended quickly when Estioko began hitting Chung several times in the chest and face.  Surprised, Grandmaster Chung responded with an axe-kick to the combatant’s throat, instantly knocking him out and sending him into a frightening fit of choking and gagging which brought out large amounts of sputum and blood.

By the time Chung left for Kalamazoo, December of 1970, he remained undefeated and had earned a tremendous reputation worldwide for being a ruthless fighter.  It was hard to envision such brutality as I looked at the diminutive gentle man sitting beside me in the car.

We arrived at the new Detroit Metro Airport and checked-in without incident.  Security was only slightly more noticeable since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  As we waited at the Northwest World Club room, the Grandmaster told me of his difficulties obtaining U.S. citizenship, which he finally and successfully acquired in 1978.  Our flight, Northwest 11, was delayed an hour, which would make our leisurely stop-over at Narita a perilously tight forty minutes.  Although we still thought that we could make the connection, we worried about the possibility of losing our luggage.  We were finally wheels up at 5:10pm.

The minute the flight attendant began pouring drinks, somewhere near Winnipeg, we encountered massive clear-air turbulence.  The drinks cart turned over onto it’s side, smashing glasses and spilling gallons of water, coffee, pop, and wine all over the floor.  We all belted in – including the attendants- leaving the mess to jitter during the remaining bumps and heaving.

We hit another bad patch of air near Uranium City, then things smoothed out as we approached Alaska.

At 34,000 feet, we passed near Sitka and Juneau and almost directly over Kenai and Anchorage.  Exactly one year ago, our family was bouncing around Alaska by cruise boat and train.  Today I was blasting over it at 579 miles an hour.  For the record, a thin layer of clouds obscured the mountains of Denali National Park – denying me, once more, the opportunity to spot Mount McKinley.

I kept my eyes peeled while looking around the first class passenger cabin, just in case some celebrity was traveling to Korea to watch the World Cup Soccer Championships.  No such luck.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Well, just like that it was June 20th.  We crossed the International Date Line at 2:00am EST.  It was already June 20th back home.  We chased June 19th halfway around the world before crossing the line mid-afternoon on the 20th.  After driving through heavy, overcast clouds.  We finally landed at Narita, Japan at 6:25pm in a torrential downpour.  It would be my third trip to (or through) this airport in eight years!

Taxiing down the tarmac, all I could see were Boeing 747s in various configurations and with varying airline insignias.  There were JAL, ANA, China Airlines, Quantas, Thai, Singapore, and Northwest Airlines all wandering around in the dark and wet.

After disembarking, we passed through security (again) and endured a complete frisking by young female security agents.  Luckily, with only a ten-minute layover, we walked to the gate next to the one we arrived at and got on another 747 scheduled for Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Another two hour flight and we were arching into Inchon Airport along Korea’s northwest coast.  Inchon Airport is stunningly beautiful at night with radically curved architecture of formed concrete and glass.  More than thirty of the familiar powder-blue Korean Airlines 747s were neatly lined up at the Korean Air Cargo hangar.

We disembarked quickly and passed through immigration on the way to baggage claim.  My bag came off the plane first, and then we waited ninety minutes for Grandmaster Chung’s bag.  He was eventually told that a container of luggage was never put on the plane in Detroit.  The Northwest representative told us to come back for this same flight tomorrow and maybe it would be there.

With all of the delays and hubbub, our shuttle left without us.  So I suggested that I pay for one of the “deluxe” taxis parked outside to take us to Seoul, about 36 kilometers away. Chung gasped and exclaimed that these cabs are three to four times the price of “regular” taxis.  He said that a deluxe taxi might cost me thirty or forty dollars.  It was after midnight and I had not slept in over thirty hours.  I decided “the hell with it” and threw our stuff into the deluxe taxi. 

Along the way, huge World Cup signs were ever-present.  Every bridge crossing the river we paralleled was lit with spectacular colored lights. The city at night looked clean, modern, and beautiful – until we pulled into an alley and walked into the Kaya Hotel.  Perhaps it was the jet-lag or maybe the fact that it was after one in the morning but the hotel looked more run-down than I expected – and I wasn’t expecting much.

All of us on this Taekwondo tour had been informed prior to coming to Korea that because of the continuing World Cup soccer matches taking place throughout the country that the first-class hotel accommodations we had paid for had now become third-class accommodations.  The sponsor of the tour, Master K.H.Kim of Chicago, did not make reservations until two weeks before the trip.  Although first-class hotel rooms were available, their prices had skyrocketed and Master Kim, determined not to lose money on this tour, booked us in the cheapest places he could find.  Several highlights of the tour were being cancelled and the whole thing was shaping up as a potential disaster.  Not surprisingly, the sponsor suddenly had last-minute commitments that precluded his ability to travel with us.  I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.  Recognizing the developing situation, I had contacted my own travel agent before leaving home and set up some contingency plans, in case of emergency.  These precautions proved to be invaluable as the tour evolved.

The Kaya Hotel looked much better when seen on my computer back home.  The room was small and hot, without ventilation or potable water.  The bed was neatly made, complete with the two hairballs I found in it.  The bathtub had a shower (waist high) and was without a shower curtain, just a drain in the center of the bathroom floor.  It had western-style toilets, however.  A small window opened out into the alley, which collected the random sounds of every guest – who all seemed to be awake at 1:30 am.

Not able to sleep, I had a choice of two channels on the twenty-year-old color TV – a program for Koreans on the intricacies of the English language, and movie Top Gun, dubbed in Korean.

Friday, June 21, 2002

After four hours of sleep, I was up bright and early for breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  Here, I met the other members of our tour group – five people from an Orlando dojang under Master Richard Hoehn, one guy was from K.H. Kim’s Oriental Arts Training Center in Chicago, and Chung students Daniel Wood (blue belt) and Michael Pier Luissi (green belt), sixteen and eight years old respectively.  Traveling with Michael was his father, Joe.

We boarded our tour bus and began our five-hour cross-country trip to Gyeongju.  Leaving Seoul, we passed by the U.S. Army Main Post located downtown.  High security was evident – massive concrete dividers and dozens of armed guards at every gate.  U.S. forces were joined by Korean police, who carried huge swords with curved scabbards.

As the tour bus entered the freeway, we were passed by the South Korean Presidential motorcade, which included six marked police cars, six more black cars, four black Suburbans, three black limousines, two black vans, and even a special black ambulance in tow.

Urban Seoul features rows of massive high-rise concrete apartment complexes.  Shades of Beijing – but much better built and colorfully painted.  The streets are very well maintained and kept clean.

Eventually, concrete gave way to an emerging mountainscape with every flat section of ground being planted with small tracts of vegetables of all types.  As we drove further into the country, this evolved into large-scale rice patties covering thousands of acres and marching up the mountainsides in tiers.

We stopped at a rest area about ninety minutes out of Seoul.  Set up like a truck stop, there were dozens of vendors lined up selling pork on a stick, donuts, ice creams, and waffles.  The most interesting item was a contraption that made “walnut cakes”.  It is a conveyor belt with rows of molds that rotate under nozzles that pour pancake-like batter into them.  The molds would move to the right where another set of nozzles would squirt a sweet bean curd paste into the center of the batter.  Then the lids would snap closed and heat up to 400 degrees.  Within one minute, a hot, golf-ball size pastry would pop out.  I tried one.  It tasted like an Archway Date Filled Oatmeal cookie.

At this stop, I bought two bottles of water, a bag of M&Ms, and a bag of popcorn.

Grandmaster Chung also helped me to call Tam from the public telephone booth using a prepaid calling card that I bought for 5,000 won (about $4.20 U.S.)

We continued down Highway 1 to Gyeongju, where we ate lunch at a local restaurant.  We were served bulgogi – a type of sautéed or simmered beef.  Side dishes included smoked yellowfish, pickled cucumber, and of course…kimchee!!

Once back on the bus, our tour guide (Ms. Chung) began to brief us on our next adventure – the Golgusa Temple.  This temple is located twenty kilometers east of Gyeongju.  It contains the oldest historical Buddhist ruins in Mt. Hamwol and the only cave temple in Korea.  The temple was carved out of solid rock during the 6th century by Saint Kwang Yoo and his fellow monks from India.  The temple contains a sculptured Maya Tathagata and twelve rock caves. 

The Golgusa Temple is where we will study a zen form of martial arts known as Sunmudo.  It is a training system with roots based in esoteric Buddhism that has been secretly handed down for centuries.  The training materializes an eight-fold path developed within four noble truths that translate into a series of body movements.  Sunmudo is a way to attain enlightenment through harmonizing the body, mind, and breath.  Ultimately, the practice of this martial art enables one to accomplish Samadhi and finally nirvana.  The training methods include yoga, charka breathing, health exercise, and weapons techniques.

We will spend the night here in a monastery building on the temple grounds.  The building has four walls and a concrete floor.  There is no furniture or potable water.  There was a gift shop, however, but it was closed.

Being a Buddhist monastery, the temple has strict rules that we must follow as guests.  For example:  no smoking, no drinking, no eating except during meals.  The food is the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – rice, kimchee, and a warm curry stew that can be eaten alone or put on the rice.  We must eat everything that we take and clean our plates ourselves.  We must never show our teeth or tongue while eating out of respect for our fellow Buddhists.  Water is sipped from a community bowl and is acquired from local springs, which are suspect hygienically.

We listened for forty minutes about these rules and more as the bus climbed into the mountains.  Finally, we turned up a narrow dirt road and followed it through a gate and up to a dirt lot where the bus parked.

We were then told that it would be impossible for our suitcases to be carried up the rocky footpath to the temple grounds high above the parking lot.  I emptied my camera bag and packed the most clothes I could into it – which wasn’t much.

I checked in to the temple and was handed my towel – about the size of a dishcloth.  I was shown my quarters, a plain building with paper ramna screen doors divided into four rooms.  The room itself had nothing in it – just four walls and a floor.  I would share this room with three other people.

The latrines were located behind and up the hill from the sleeping quarters.  They were eastern-style toilets – essentially holes in the ground.  There were two showers, both visibly open to all guests with the exception of a narrow divider wall.  Hot water was provided by a hose that split off from the thirty-year-old washing machine.

Within minutes, we had changed into our doboks and were walking the half-mile trek down to the training center.  The newly-constructed center is both modern and traditional. It is a poured concrete structure, adorned with granite stairs and lots of plate-glass windows, which allow much natural light into the gymnasium.  We removed our shoes and went inside.  The floor is made from gorgeous mahogany strips.  It is devoid of any furnishings except for an altar at one end with candles and water pots and a large colorful tapestry featuring Buddha and hanging on the wall behind it.

Suddenly, out of a door in the rear of the room stepped a tall, stern-looking young man who spoke to us in his curt Korean language.  By his pointing hands, we knew to get into class positions.  He told us to sit – which we did immediately.  Then he explained to us more rules that we had to follow as guests of the monastery.  We must bow and pray upon entering and leaving the dojang or prayer temples.  This is a complex ritual of bowing, kneeling, chanting, and putting our foreheads on the floor.  This routine is repeated three times before it is completed.

The man then told us that were expected to participate in every activity in the schedule – including the 4:00 am chants with the monks and the 6:00 am hour-long jog along the rice patties.  Finally, he told us that we would clean the dojang after our last class.

And then the class began in earnest.  The first hour was a series of yoga / tai chi stretches.  Periodically, the master would look at me and yell something in Korean.  I would guess that it was something about not being flexible.  Next came a number of leg stretch kick drills that had us marching back and forth across the room.  After ninety minutes, we finished class with a prayer and returned (up the mountain) to our rooms to prepare for dinner.  Preparing for dinner consisted of sitting on the concrete floor of my room trying to catch my breath.  I was terribly jet-lagged, having only slept four hours in two and a half days.

Suddenly, I could hear something outside – the sound of a tapping stick on a hollow coconut or piece of wood.  It was a young monk alerting us to come to the dining hall.  Like all of the other buildings, the dining hall was sparse.  Two long tables, about knee-high, were lined-up end to end in the middle of the room.  A small cafeteria counter was along the back wall.  Removing my shoes at the door, I walked in and got into a self-serve line with the monks and took rice, kimchee, and the curry stew.  One nice lady in the kitchen showed me how to mix the stew and rice together.  The curry stew was tasteful and the kimchee spicy.

Less than one hour later, we were back in the dojang with a new instructor who began a brutal two-hour workout.  First, after a few minutes of stretching, he initiated a full hour of tumbling drills – requiring us to roll up one side of the gym and then back down the other side.  Forward rolls, backward rolls, left shoulder rolls, right shoulder rolls, then front flips, then back flips, handstands, cartwheels, and every conceivable type of body roll thinkable. We did literally hundreds of them.  All of this on the beautiful – but rock hard – mahogany floor.  I was tasting kimchee all over again.

Finally, the master did a handstand on his fists and then proceeded to walk across the floor on his fists.  Then he turned and did it back across the room again.  Only one guy in our group could even get up onto his fists, but he couldn’t move.  The rest of us just staggered behind him.

Next came dozens of kick drills.  Front kicks, back kicks, side kicks, jumping kicks, and spinning kicks.  Probably close to a thousand kicks in an hour.

Every student, all eight of us, were soaking in sweat and exhausted.  We finished class with meditation and prayer before trudging back up the mountain in the dark to go to bed. By this point, I had consumed my only bottle of water and was getting dehydrated.  I had also taken two Motrin before the second class to help with stiffness from the first class.  My back and kidneys were extremely sore from tumbling on the hard floor.  I went to the bathroom before going to bed.  My urine was full of blood.

Manditory lights out at 9:00 pm.

All night I could hear the clanging of the temple bells swaying outside our paper walls in the warm night breeze.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

I was already awake when I heard the now-familiar wooden “clock-clock-clock” in the dark at four in the morning.  I put on yesterday’s dobok pants again – slightly odiferous.

We wandered up the path to the formal prayer temple near the top of the mountain.  Inside the modest building were a dozen monks on their knees praying to a large golden Buddha.  We slipped in behind them and practiced the prayer ritual that we had learned the day before.

At 4:30 am, everyone began singing their chants as a monk drummed out a metronome beat.  This chanting was very repetitious and was becoming somewhat monotonous when they finished forty minutes later.  The service was brought to a close with a few more prayers and everyone filed out except for us students and two senior monks.  We were told to face outward toward an outside wall, sit in the lotus position, and begin meditating. The lights in the temple were turned out and we all focused on breathing and clearing our minds. 

My legs ached from yesterday’s classes and after about thirty minutes so did my back.  I attempted to slump forward slightly to relieve the pain and pressure.  A few moments later, I unexpectantly felt gentle hands on my back, straightening my posture once again.

After an hour of solitude, we gathered outside and began a three and a half mile run.  Our course took us down the mountain past tall bamboo forests and onto the flat rice patties where we ran along the narrow gravel roads. 

This run would be merely a warm-up for another grueling Sunmudo martial arts class.

Breakfast was the same as dinner – exactly.  Soaking wet and beginning to stink, nobody wanted to sit next to me. 

In serious need of water, my thirst overcame my fear of bacteria and I caved in and got in line for the community bowl, but by the time I got to it, it was nearly empty.  A young lady in front of me very kindly gave me the bowl and gestured for me to drink the rest of it, without taking any for herself.

After a brief hour rest, we headed back down the mountain for one final workout.  This class focused on slow-moving stretching and yoga-like postures, which disappointed the students from Orlando, who wanted to spar.  On occasion, between movements, these students would jump around and fight with each other.  I thought that this was very inappropriate and showed lack of discipline.  I don’t think it was appreciated by the instructors either.

The masters focused on two major stretching positions called the Tiger and the Dragon.  Both positions are similar and start with feet spread to the side about two shoulder-widths apart.  The practitioner would bend down, keeping their legs straight, and put their thumbs and index fingers just in front of their big toes.  From here, the student would tighten his buttocks, slightly pulling his heels inward and lifting up onto the tips of their big toes.  Finally, the practitioner would arch his neck upward and look forward.  The final position simulates a tiger in a crouching stance, ready to attack.

Each one of these forms require extreme body control, balance, and concentration.  I could manage the basic position, but my legs were awkward and bent.  The instructor approached me and tried to straighten my legs – which were like the concrete I had slept on.  He gave up and moved on to another student.  Although the form emphasized very small and subtle movements, the enlarging pool of sweat on the floor beneath me was a sign of its difficulty.

To finish class, the instructor took questions from the students.  Eventually, he was asked by the students from Orlando why they did not practice sparring.  The master explained the concepts of esoteric Buddhist martial arts and its pacifist philosophy.  Then another student from Orlando asked if the master would spar with somebody.  I could not believe the audacity of the request – especially after the master so eloquently answered the previous question.

The master did demonstrate an unbelievably difficult poomse that combined fighting and spiritual movements.  The most difficult move of the form was from the lotus sitting position into a spread-eagle jump, followed by a back flip into a fighting joon be position.

Because our class was running late, we were not required to clean the gym or bow to Buddha one hundred and eight times as was required for most groups that train here.

We stomped back up the mountain one more time, where I finally showered and dried-off with the dishcloth and then packed to leave.  Blood continued to show up in my evacuations.  In fact, it seemed to worsen.  But I was happy to be boarding the bus and headed for civilization.

We ate lunch at a place called “Korea’s First Underwater Restaurant” in the village of Kampo.  Indeed this was a truthful boast, as it is located along the shore of the Sea of Japan and its lower level raw seafood bar was actually beneath sea level and had huge glass walls looking out into the great blue beyond.

From Kampo, we drove along the southeastern Korean coast to Taebon to view the Underwater Tomb of King Mummu, the powerful emperor of Silla between 661 and 681 A.D.  His dying wish was that he be cremated and interred among the rocks two hundred meters off Silla’s coast, nearby the Kamunsa Temple.  These rites were to be followed because he believed that he would be reincarnated as a dragon and would be able to continually protect the shores of the kingdom from Japanese pirates.  The tomb was not discovered until 1967 and there is still speculation as to how he was buried in the rocky islet.

Gyenogju is the epicenter of the Silla kingdom and its massive burial mounds, tombs, and grottos all are continuing reminders of the thousand-year “Three Kingdoms” dynasty.  Known then as Kumsong, Gyeongju is today one of the top three visitor destinations in Korea.  For the martial artist, the Sokkuram is the most significant historic landmark in the country.  It is important because it features a series of temple carvings of Hwarang Warriors in fighting stances on its walls.  They are the oldest remnants of martial history in all of Korea and have become “ground zero” for Taekwondo tourists from all over the world.

The ruins that are Gyeongju reflect the epitome of Korean art and culture.  Pottery, metalwork, jewelry, woodwork, and ceramics are on display at the Gyeongju Folk Craft Village.  Unfortunately, all of the nearby gift shops were closed because the entire country was glued to their TV sets, watching host Korea play Spain in the World Cup Soccer semifinals.

We checked into the Kolon Hotel, a major step up from our spartan monastic experience. The lobby of the hotel was packed with hundreds of guests wearing red shirts that said “Be A Reds” and screaming at a big screen TV as Korea upset Spain on penalty kicks.  We then watched in amazement as millions of fans gathered in Seoul to celebrate the feat in a giant sea of red.

Our tour group enjoyed a dinner of Ginseng Chicken Soup – which is chicken soup consisting of broth, a full Cornish game hen stuffed with rice and a chunk of ginseng root. This soup is said to have special qualities – particularly relating to sexual performance.  I dunno about that, I just went back to the hotel and went to bed.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

Up early again – 4:30 am.   A quick breakfast at the hotel we were on our way to Gyeongju Train Station to catch the 8:30 am train to Seoul.  At this point, Grandmaster Chung, the Pier Luissis, and I were splitting off from the tour group.  The Pier Luissis were heading back home early due to prior commitments.  The Grandmaster and I were heading to Seoul to meet up with his family.

Gyeongju Station with Pier Luissis
We arrived at the train station twenty minutes early and sat in the lobby – watching video clips of the Korean soccer victory over and over and over and over.  Half of the people in the station were wearing “Be A Reds” team supporter T-shirts.

We left on time and cranked our way through rice patties and small villages.  Even the smallest and most remote of villages were neat and clean.  Many of these homes had new bright blue-colored metal roofs.  I later learned that the government helps subsidize the replacement of old tile and thatched roofs with these new designs.

Sitting in the train car, we were treated to free satellite TV on an LCD screen at the front of the car.  For the next five hours we watched highlights of the Korean soccer victory over and over and over and…

Grandmaster Chung told me during the trip that for six months, he worked as an undercover security policeman on the trains throughout Korea.  He mentioned that once just north of Gyeongju, he got into a tussle that ended when he and his suspect both jumped off a train when it was moving at high speed.  He remembers rolling and rolling and then standing up to arrest the bad guy.  Later at Cheongson Station, he pointed at the spot where thirty gangsters ambushed him and two other security policemen.  Chung was able to subdue about half of the attackers and only suffered cuts on the back of his head from knives that were thrown during the scuffle.  His partners were not so lucky, one officer took a pipe to the head, damaging his skull.  The other guy lost an eye.

We pulled into Seoul Station at 1:30 pm, about half an hour late and were surprised by Master Jae Min Kim who came all the way out to the rail siding to greet us.  I remembered Master Kim fondly from his six month stint at Chung’s dojang in Kalamazoo the previous year.

As we walked out of the station, Grandmaster Chung pointed out the exact spot where he managed Moo Duk Kwan founder Hwang Kee’s Tang Soo Do dojang between 1965 and 1968.  They were now building a new multi-story parking structure on that site.

Meeting Master Kim at the Seoul Train Station

Because we were running late, Master Kim took us directly to the Park (Mrs. Chung’s) family condominium where I met Grandmaster Chung’s parents and Master Choi’s father. Everyone was very gracious and friendly.  They were very impressed with my six-word command of the Korean language.

We proceeded to a traditional Korean restaurant where we all sat on the floor and waiters brought long tables, already laden with food from the kitchen, and sat them down in front of us. 

As with most meals, it was like being presented with a private buffet – dozens of dishes with various meats, fish, vegetables, and sauces.  All of this picked-from with chopsticks and eaten directly without using plates.  It was a very communal experience.  Everyone seemed very happy that I was digging in without being self-conscious.  Near the end of the meal, Chung’s sisters would keep looking at me and talking.  Grandmaster told me that they thought I was very handsome – and maybe a movie star.  Yeah, right.

Afterward, we returned to the family condo where Grandmaster Chung presented everyone with a few gifts.  All was right with the world.  Chung was particularly happy when he was reunited with his luggage – finally.

Sun Hwan Chung and his extended family
We checked into the Seoul J W Marriott hotel.  It was a brand-new five-star masterpiece overlooking the Hangang River that runs through the center of Seoul.  From my room I could see most of the twenty-eight bridges that cross the river at various points around the capital.  On the horizon, I had a magnificent view of the Seoul skyline, including Samchong Park and the Seoul Tower on Namsan Mountain.  No time to enjoy these accommodations yet, because we had to go to Master Kim’s apartment for dinner.  He picked us up and began an hour-long odyssey through the winding urban streets of Seoul.

I swear that on almost every street corner there are a thousand signs of all types beconing the potential customer.  Signs are painted on windows.  Signs are hung from buildings.  Signs are attached to light posts.  Signs are put out onto the sidewalks.

Seoul Korea skyline
The Seoul economy is vibrant and healthy.  The people of Seoul are amazingly cosmopolitan and shamelessly capitalistic.  And man, are they tight with a buck!!  Every transaction is questioned and bickered-over.  I literally saw arguments over amounts as small as a dime!  I had a tour guide tell me that I could save three cents on a Diet Coke if I walked two blocks to a cheaper store!!  And she was shocked when I bought the more-expensive soda anyway.

But once one is welcomed into a family, like I was with the Parks and Kims, the hosts are openly giving and will go to extremes to meet my needs and desires. 

Master Kim continued to drive up the hills behind the Seoul Tower and worked his way onto very narrow streets and then up the even narrower alleys of Jung-Gu.  We pulled into his security-gated parking lot and proceeded up to the ninth floor of an apartment building.

Both Park’s condo and Kim’s apartment are similar in that they featured entry vestibules for shoes, they had light-colored hardwood floors, and they were both neat as a pin.  They both were spare in furnishings – only one or two chairs and no coffee tables.  Each home had one big elaborate ebony-colored chest with intricate pearl inlay of trees and birds.  Walls are painted white and without decoration with the exception of catholic crucifixes and one or two big pictures of Jesus Christ.

Both families shared these residences with three generations – grandparents, parents, and children.  Six or seven people sharing one thousand square feet of living space, at most.

Once again, we were presented with a massive dinner – carried out from the kitchen on a large rectangular table.  Fifteen or twenty different items were set out on the table in individual serving bowls.  And again, no plates.

Mrs. Kim remained in the kitchen the entire duration of our stay.  Either she was preparing dinner or cleaning it up.  She never joined us to eat.

We all shared a couple of bottles of sweet rice wine, served in sake style porcelain cups.  I was encouraged to drink as much as I desired.

Before long, we were heading back to the hotel, but not before stopping to look for discount-priced luggage in the Dongdaenam Wholesale Market.  At 10:00 pm on a Sunday night, this district was hopping like Times Square on New Years Eve.  Loud music blasted out of competing karaoke nightclubs onto the streets.  Hundreds of vendors were set up, side by side along the curb as far as I could see.  They sold shirts, pants, shoes, hats, fabrics, furniture, stereos, homemade food – everything!! 

We parked and walked down crowded alleys and into a dimly lit warehouse building jammed with people, then down some greasy concrete stairs and to the back corner of the basement.  We had found the luggage sales guy!  He had stacks of all kinds of knock-off merchandise.  Grandmaster Chung found a bag and haggled over the price for another five minutes.  In the end, he had bought a pretty nice suitcase for about forty bucks.

We didn’t get back to the hotel until near midnight and it felt soooooo good to be sleeping in a Marriott.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Fifty-two years ago on this day, more than a quarter million Soviet-supported troops from northern Korea were massing along the South Korean border in preparation for the invasion that would begin the Korean War.

Within four days, Seoul would be captured and three-fourths of South Korea would be lost. General Douglas MacArthur, still considered a hero here, launched a counter-attack at Inchon the following September, reclaiming Seoul.  It would be lost again in January of 1951 and regained again in March.

For four years, the fighting continued, and millions of Koreans lost their lives.  On November 17, 1954, a bilateral peace treaty was negotiated ceasing the killing, but not ending the war.

Today, North Korea and South Korea remain at war and only an agreement, establishing a Demilitarized Zone, keeps the two nations from continuing bloodshed.  This DMZ at the 38th Parallel creates a scenario where combatants stand on either side of a line and stare at each other in a tenuous, scary, and at the same time, almost comic game of military chess.  This place is called Panmunjom, named after the village that was destroyed at that location during the war.

This morning, after breakfast at the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, Chung and I boarded a tour bus and were transferred up the Freedom Highway north and west along the Hangang River toward the border.  The further north we went, the more signs there were that we were entering hostile territory.  A tall fence wrapped in razorwire paralleled our highway for miles.  Then there were two fences, and then three.  Soon, there were military observation platforms every half mile. 

Suddenly, our bus passed under a massive bridge-like structure called a “blast bridge”.  It is a massive twenty-foot thick concrete block that sits above the highway on bridge supports.  It is filled with explosives and can be detonated remotely – blocking the highway from potential enemy troop or vehicular traffic.

Next, were a series of blockade tripods that required our bus to slow down and serpentine around while under heavy camera observation.

Looking left and across the river were the rolling hills of North Korea.  To our right, on top of a hill, was a massive scoreboard-like light system that South Korea uses to send propaganda to the other side.  In the distance, on the left was a North Korean “fake village” – an entirely pretend village of beautiful homes and high-rises.  Its purpose: to lure Koreans north of the border – to nirvana.  Unfortunately, we could also see the blacked-out windows and total lack of people, which gave the whole thing away.

Our bus slowly approached Camp Bonifas at the “Alpha” checkpoint where an army sergeant came aboard and checked all of our passports.  We were then waved across a bridge laden with explosives and manned by troops carrying automatic weapons to “Bravo” checkpoint.

At Bravo checkpoint, we were given a Hummer escort to a holding lot where we disembarked and boarded a JSA (United Nations Joint Security Area) shuttle bus.  It was here that a U.N. tour guide pointed out my Territory Ahead twill pants, suggesting that they were denim and not permitted in the JSA (as explicitly designated by United Nations edict). I was permitted through by the skin of my teeth.

As the JSA bus pulled out, I noticed the cammo-colored water tower above us.  It said, “Camp Bonifas – In Front Of Them All”.  The base serves as primary residence of the United Nations Command Security Force – Joint Security Area and is only four hundred meters from the southern boundary of the DMZ.  Fifteen hundred of the biggest and toughest soldiers in the world are assigned here, including a rapid assault force that can respond to a hot border situation in thirty-eight seconds.

Our JSA bus, with two armed guards on board, quickly arrived at Ballinger Hall where we were all briefed on the events leading up to the establishment of the DMZ at Panmunjom. Also, before we were permitted to continue, we were required to sign a Visitor’s Declaration document stating that we would not communicate with North Koreans in any way – pointing, waving, talking, or any other gestures which could be used as propaganda material against the United Nations Command.  Finally, we were told that while we could take pictures at the JSA border, we were not permitted to take them while on the shuttle buses for fear of compromising bunker positions along the road leading up to the site.

We reboarded the bus as the rain began to pour.  Staff Sergeant Smith joined us as our tour guide in the JSA.  Initially intimidating, he loosened us up when he instructed us to pull out the Kevlar flack jackets from under our seats.  Ha ha, real funny.

The bus slowly passed by a number of bunkers and razorwire fences.  SSgt. Smith stopped the bus to show us where two ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers were ambushed and killed by KPA (Korean People’s Army) commandos who had breached our border on one dark night in 1996.

This was not the first incident at the JSA.

In 1967, several KPA guards snuck into Camp Bonifas killing three United Nations soldiers and wounding twenty-four. 

On August 18, 1976, a United Nations workforce began a routine tree-trimming on a poplar tree in South Korean territory near the "Bridge of No Return" at the border.  A North Korean KPA lieutenant, with thirty troops in tow, demanded that they stop the trimming.  Captain Arthur Bonifas, in charge of the workforce, ignored the order.  Then the KPA lieutenant removed his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket and yelled, “Kill the Americans!!”  The thirty North Korean troops gained control of the tree axes and killed Captain Bonifas and Lt. Barrett, hacking them beyond recognition. 

Three days later came the implementation of “Operation Paul Bunyan”.  With the support of two army divisions, twenty-eight attack helicopters, an entire navy fleet, and an F-4 phantom fighter group, a tree-cutting crew of sixty-four men returned to the tree to finish the job. Fifty of these men were the Republic of Korea’s finest martial artists – experts in hand to hand combat and personally selected by the South Korean President.  In forty-five minutes, the tree was cut down – leaving a nine-foot high stump as a reminder of the incident.

Another incident occurred in 1984, when a Russian embassy translator defected by running across the border to asylum in a hail of gunfire.  Seventeen KPA troops crossed the border in an attempt to kill the man.  Three of them were killed.  One United Nations soldier was killed.  The defector survived.

Our bus passed beneath the blue UN DMZ border sign and we were soon at ground zero. We proceeded to Freedom House, a big granite welcome center building constructed only feet from the border.  We were led to a two-story observation pagoda from which to view the tense situation.

The Observation Pagoda at the DMZ

From this point, maybe thirty feet from the border, we could see rows of powder blue metal buildings lined up side by side, each with one end in North Korea and one in South Korea.  A foot-wide and one inch high strip of concrete demarcates the border, running like a ribbon between the buildings.  On either side of the row of buildings are competing showplace welcome centers, both built of granite and concrete.

Each year, the UN sponsors approximately 75,000 visitors per year and North Korea only 9,000.  A little known fact is that none of the North Korean side visitors are North Korean. They are all Chinese nationals here on vacation, rewarded for loyalty to the Communist regime.  It would be too risky to allow North Koreans this close to the border.

Today we were lucky.  A large group of Chinese tourists were viewing us from the other side of the border.  They were all smiling and waving at us.  We all stood there with our hands in our pockets.

North Korean soldiers smile for the camera

From the pagoda, we walked back into the Freedom House, where we waited to enter the blue conference room buildings.  For obvious reasons, neither side allows tour groups from both sides inside the conference buildings at the same time.  Once given clearance, we hustled in the rain into one of the buildings, which was empty with the exception of one table straddling the boundary.  We crowded around the table.  SSgt. Smith wryly told half of our tour group standing on one side that they were in North Korea and the rest of us only had a “slight” chance of being killed.

He also pointed out the two ROK guards who were standing in their “rock ready” position watching us.  These guards are selected based on size – indeed these two Koreans were at least six foot six inches tall.  They stood in a very aggressive modified martial arts position and never moved an inch.  They were made even more intimidating by the dark glasses they wore as a psychological weapon.

After twenty photos or so, I was ready to return to South Korea.  We marched back to Freedom House, two by two.

Looking beyond the conference buildings into North Korea

Inside a conference building - Standing in North Korea

Two Republic of Korea soldiers stand guard in front of the North Korean door

Observation Point #5 and Bonifas Monument
Our next stop was Observation Post #5.  It is surrounded by North Korea on all sides, making it the most exposed and dangerous location along the DMZ.  From here we could hear propaganda blasting toward us from North Korean speakers hidden in the bushes.  There were also billboard signs that said, “Our general is better than yours!” and “Kim Jong Il: Rising Sun of the 21st Century.” 

In the distance is Propaganda Village, a complete city built to advertise the greatness of North Korea.  Unfortunately, it also has blacked-out windows and no residents.  The village does boast a seven hundred foot tall flagpole on which a massive North Korean flag flies.  The flag weighs six hundred pounds and must be taken down in heavy rain because the flag would come apart under its own weight when soaked.

From here, we can also see the location where the 1976 axe murder incident occurred, in front of the bridge of no return.  We drove down to the bridge to get a closer look at the bridge before heading out of the JSA.  It is here at this bridge that many exchanges of captured spies has taken place over the years.

The Bridge of No Return ... where Captain Arthur Bonifas and his work detail attempted to trim a tree on August 18, 1976.  They were attacked by thirty North Koreans and were hacked to death with their own hatchets

Our bus trudged away from the border, past rice patties, scattered brush, mounded bunkers, and more razorwire.  We returned to the commissary at Camp Bonifas, where we ate a delicious American-style lunch of spaghetti and fried chicken.  Then I went to the gift shop / local bar where everyone was glued to the TV set watching Brazil win its semifinal World Cup match.

As our bus pulled out of Camp Bonifas, we passed by what Sports Illustrated calls  “The Most Dangerous Golf Hole In The World.”  It is a 127 yard par 3 that officers can play in their free time.  It is located only meters away from the DMZ.  There are large signs warning players not to retrieve their balls from the rough.  Mine fields surround the hole on three sides!

We returned to Seoul back through the same gauntlet of security and splashed past the World Cup Stadium on the north side of the capital.

After a brief stop at the Marriott, Grandmaster Chung and I proceeded to the Kukkiwon – World Taekwondo Federation Headquarters.  Not far from the Marriott, in Kangnam-Gu, the Kukkiwon is a modern building, constructed in 1972.  For being only thirty years old, it is quite worn, run-down, and mostly vacant.  Maybe this reflected the state of affairs with the World Taekwondo Federation, which was experiencing organizational problems at the time.

We also stopped at Master Kim's do jang to meet with his students.

Grandmaster Chung walked right in and proceeded directly to the Deputy Secretary General’s office.  The official stepped out and greeted Chung warmly and personally.  The Grandmaster sat down with me and processed my paperwork for WTF black belt certification.

In celebration of this accomplishment, we went out for dinner at a restaurant that specializes in “poshin-tang”.  This is a Korean delicacy that we know as dog meat.  It was served to us in a simmering hot wok on a bed of steaming lettuce.  The boiled meat is dipped in various chilies, spices, and mustards and eaten with the steamed lettuce.  I found it to be tender but with heavy gristle and garlic.

On the wall next to our dining table was a large poster explaining that dog meat makes a person strong and sexually virile.  It featured a picture of a boy with his arm around his pet dog.

I really wasn’t bothered by the notion of eating dog meat – until the next morning, after I had thought about it for a while.

"I'll have the Beagle special ..."

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

This morning we met with a friend of Grandmaster Chung’s, named K.W. Choung.  He was a fellow Tang Soo Do student in Hwang Kee’s old gym in downtown Seoul.  I asked him what level dan he was and he proudly showed me the now-familiar scarred knuckles of a grandmaster.  These were callused knuckles from doing thousands of pushups and breaking hundreds of boards and bricks.

Today, Mr. Choung is in the import / export business selling Malaysian palm oil to food producers throughout Asia. 

The two old friends talked of the good old days.  In the course of the conversation, Mr. Choung told us that General Choi Hong Hi, the controversial founder of Tae Kwon Do, had died of lung cancer on June 15th in North Korea.  There were rumors that efforts were being made to return his body to South Korea.

After breakfast, we went back to the Park family condo to pick up some paperwork from Mrs. Chung.  Grandmaster Chung decided to get a haircut, so we walked up the alley to a neighbor lady who cuts hair out of her house.  I sat behind and watched her television, which showed more World Cup soccer highlights over and over and over.

Master Kim picked us up in his Taekwondo company van and we drove thirty miles south of Seoul to the Korean Folk Village in Suwon.  Here, there are over 240 historic homes, shops, and other attractions authentically reproduced in Chosun-dynasty villages.  In fact, some of the buildings are authentic – having been moved here from other places in Korea.  Usually packed with tourists on a gorgeous day like this, the place was desolate as most Koreans were making the trek to Seoul for the World Cup quarter-final game with Germany.  Indeed, the red shirts were descending on Seoul in record numbers.  Some estimated that four million fans will come to the city to take part in the festivities.

This afternoon, I spent tying up loose ends.  A took a “deluxe” taxi to the Seoul Hard Rock Café to pick up hats and pins.  The restaurant itself was too crowded with red-shirted fanatics to enter.  I only saw the gift shop.

I made a mercy visit to the nearby McDonalds to wash down the flavor of dog meat – which never seemed to leave my mouth. 

I returned to the Marriott and enjoyed a spartan room service dinner from Mikado Japanese Restaurant.  Four pieces of sushi for sixty bucks!

Finally, a guiet evening watching the big match between Korea and Germany.  Germany won the game 1 to 0.  Korea can still be proud.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

This morning, I laid in bed for a while and watched Tiger Woods play in the 2002 Deutsche Bank Open in Germany, with play by play by Korean television analysts.  After two rounds, Tiger was three strokes back.  It was the only down time I’ve had on the trip so far.  It was great!!

I eventually got up to pull the drapes open and was met with another perfect day in Seoul.

Seoul, Republic of Korea, is the heart of the country.  It is a mixture of chic shopping districts, traditional markets, historic palaces, towering office buildings, crowded streets, and pulsating nightlife.

Historically, Seoul has been the capital for six hundred years.  Its population is eleven million and climbing rapidly.  It is amazing that this bustling modern city was in ashes less than fifty years ago after being invaded more than four times during the Korean War.  But these memories seem forgotten when one walks down the wide avenues of the very busy commerce districts. 

Seoul’s city center was built when the walled city that includes Gyeongbok Palace was placed beneath Nam-san mountain (900 feet).  Several of the original gates to the city such as Namdae-mum (Great South Gate) and Tongdae-mum (Great East Gate) are still standing among the skyscrapers and streetside markets. 

The President of the Republic of Korea lives in a high security residence behind Gyeongbok Palace called the Blue House.  Security has been tight since January 21, 1968, when thirty-one North Korean commandos were caught just five hundred meters away from the residence.  Their mission was to assassinate President Park Chung-hee.  For obvious reasons, the Blue House is not open for tours.

Some consider the center of Seoul to be City Hall Plaza, the fountain square bounded by City Hall, the Plaza Hotel, and Toksu Palace.  Today, in the center of the square is a giant rotating soccer ball more than fifty feet wide.  This is where more than a million Korean soccer fans gathered to celebrate their country’s recent World Cup victories.

Other people believe that the center of Seoul is Myong-dong.  An area of narrow alleys located a short walk from City Hall Plaza.  Here is the largest Catholic Cathedral of the most Christianized Asian country in the world.  On the other hand, directly across the street from the Cathedral is Midopa Department Store, the largest retail store in Korea.

Just south of this area by a mile or so is It’aewon, the center of Korean nightlife.  This area has been given special tourist status – permitting the service of alcohol twenty-four hours a day.  Koreans love the nightlife and enjoy discos and karaoke bars.  I was warned that I might see a great deal of open drunkenness and rowdy behavior in Seoul, but I must say that I have seen very little evidence of it so far.

Several miles east of Seoul center, and south of the Hangang River in Seongnam City, is the Seoul Olympic Village.  Seoul was host to the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.  This morning, we rejoined our original tour group and proceeded to the Korea National University of Physical Education.  The university is located adjacent to the Olympic Village.

The atmosphere surrounding our tour group was dour.  To save money, the tour company had the group staying at temples and monasteries all over southern Korea.  Their new accommodations at the Rainbow Hotel in Seoul were worse than the Kaya.  Everyone was bitter about the entire experience – and the students from Orlando hadn’t even sparred with anyone yet.  Today was the final full day of their tour and maybe, they might just get their wish.  We have come to train with Kook Hyun Jeong, five time Taekwondo World Champion and 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist in sparring.  He is the only fighter to hold the title of world champion in four different weight divisions.

Five-time World Taekwondo Champion and 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist Kook Hyun Jeong

I came along as an observer today and would not work out because I was still bleeding slightly from what I think was a bruised kidney, obtained during the tumbling drills at the temple.  We walked up five flights of stairs in a modern but terribly maintained university building.  After taking off shoes, we stepped into a large open room with mirrors on two walls and windows along the others.  The floor was a well worn dark wood surface.  Around the perimeter were stretching bars – revealing that this room is used for dance as well as martial arts.

Students began stretching slowly and conversations evaporated as they began contemplating what was about to occur.  Fifteen minutes late, in stepped Professor Kook Hyun Jeong in a simple white Adidas dobok and unadorned black belt that had turned gray and had started to fray from constant use.

Professor Jeong recognized Grandmaster Chung immediately and asked Chung to make a few comments to start class as a measure of honor and respect.  Then Jeong made a few points, in excellent English, before handing the class over to a junior instructor for warm-ups.

After a half-hour of progressively more difficult stretching, students went into a series of kicking drills.  Professor Jeong finally got up after a long and seemingly pleasant conversation with Grandmaster Chung and began stretching in the corner.  He looked lean and graceful – like a champion racehorse.  His moves were loose and easy, reflecting the amazing level of fitness for a guy approaching forty-five years old.

The professor stepped in and the class began in earnest.  He began with basic sparring kicking techniques, followed by an introduction of the five basic blocking and evasion techniques.  Then he worked on evasion / blocking and counterattack combinations.  He would explain the movements first and then demonstrate them – step by step.  Finally, he would repeat the technique at full speed with mindblowing precision and quickness.  Nobody in the room, even the most accomplished master black belts, could replicate his movements.

At the same time, Professor Jeong was very patient with his students, helping them improve their technique without being insulting or overbearing.

The class ran thirty minutes late and the students were grateful that the professor was giving them so much of his attention.  When the class finished, Professor Jeong gladly stood for dozens of photos with every student.

We walked across campus and ate lunch at the student cafeteria.  The food was very western – chicken fried steak with gravy.  Knives and forks were used by everyone also.  The student convenience store carried Mountain Dew, but it had a different name – “High Mountain”.

After lunch, two students from the Orlando dojang began their physical testing for black belt on the running track outside the student union.  The rest of us all went along to watch. Master Hoene had them do one hundred pushups and sit ups and then run five miles.  During this run, the testing students were randomly attacked by the master and his black belt wife.  This aspect of the testing seemed trite and meaningless.  Everybody watching laughed.

Suddenly, a man walked up behind us.  It was Master Moon – the legendary Master Moon who had taught at Chungs dojang the summer before I began studying there.  He is vividly remembered by those who saw him.  He is big – at least six foot three inches tall.  More important, he is incredibly fast.  It is said that Master Moon is the only person to defeat Master Choi in full contact sparring.  His youthful looks and easy-going manner belie the warrior within.  Only a barely-noticeable one-inch scar beneath his left eye hinted that he was a fighter.

Master Moon came to pick us up and deliver us to the Park family condo.  During the ride, he happily signed a copy of his college thesis on high school Taekwondo injuries for me.  After a short ride and a quick handshake, he is gone.

The afternoon was spent doing a few return errands to the Kukkiwon and Sang Moo Sa store.  We used the Seoul subway to get around.  I found it to be neat, clean, and fast – a great way to go!

For dinner, we joined Mrs. Chung, her sister-in-law, the local acupuncturist, and a friend of Chung’s – Professor Nam.  He was also a Taekwondo master and an Executive Director for the Kukkiwon, who traveled the globe demonstrating his martial skills for audiences worldwide and has performed for dignitaries such as Prince Rainier of Monaco, the King of Morocco, and President Putin of Russia.  He has also performed at previous Michigan Cup tournaments for Grandmaster Chung.  He attended Yonghi University and is Master Kim’s senior.

We all jumped into the acupuncture van and drove south and west through Suwon to Inchon.  It was a beautiful drive through the mountains as they stood as silhouettes in an orange dusk sky.

It was dark when we pulled into the Oido Fishmarket.  We entered the “Sesame Surprise” sashimi restaurant.  First, we walked into a big warehouse space, very well lit, with hundreds of fish tanks filling the room.  We pointed at a selection of live fish and then went upstairs to a private dining room with long low tables.  We sat on the floor and within minutes, huge plates of very, very fresh sashimi arrived.  Then there were more plates of steamed and boiled fish – including squid.  Then huge pots of fish soup, the broth tasting like lobster, were served.   We all drank rice wine and ate until we were rolling around in agony.  It was a fabulous meal!!

On the way home, we stopped at the neighborhood amusement park and watched people enjoying themselves along the boardwalk to the Eastern Sea.

Not far away, we stopped at a park on the top of a hill surrounding Inchon.  Here, there is a monument to General Douglas MacArthur.  It was at Inchon on September 28, 1950, that MacArthur launched a major surprise attack on invading North Korean troops, outflanking them, saving Seoul, and turning the tide in the Korean War.  A huge MacArthur statue stands tall on the mountain overlooking the busy commerce that goes on today in Inchon Harbor.

We finally cruised into the hotel at midnight.  I was tired, sleepy and absolutely stuffed. 

The renowned Master Nam with Teresa and Sun Hwan Chung

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Korea is an intriguing clash of cultures and ideologies.  Koreans try to hold onto many ancient traditions while adopting many western values.  Those living in the urban economic centers enjoy and cling to the principles of capitalism while those in the countryside decry the need for unification with North Korea (at any cost) and demand the creation of a single Korean nation.  These people appeared in force today on the streets of Seoul.  Spontaneous demonstrations popped up throughout the city.  The AFN (Armed Forces Television Network) alerted all Americans to be vigilant of activities and not to go outside in public unless necessary.

I immediately headed for downtown Seoul.

Master Kim picked us up bright and early with the bright yellow company van and we crossed the Hangang River (again) on the way to the Gyeongbok Palace.  Near the Dongdaenum Market we passed by the Tongdae-mum Gate to the ancient walled city that existed on this site.

Gyeongbok Palace was the governmental heart of the old walled city and was the residence of Emperor T’aejo and his successors until 1592 when it burned down during a war with Japan.  It was rebuilt in 1867.

The palace and its surrounding walled city looks amazingly similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.  It is a maze of walls and of gates that connect several large structures – each with a particular purpose or function.  The most beautiful and elaborate of these structures is the Gyeongheru (Hall of Happy Meetings).  It is a two-story banquet hall that extends over one end of a spacious square pond.  The hall was built according to Confucian design with three overlapping rectangular rooms.  It also features both round and square pillars representing heaven and earth respectively.  

The building and setting are so beautiful that they are engraved on the back of the 10,000 won currency note.

Here, we met with an English-speaking tour guide named Young-Joo Jung, who escorted us through the grounds and into the National Folklore Museum of Korea.  We were treated to excellent informational displays of ancient Korean artifacts and dioramas of the country’s way of life centuries ago.

During a break, Grandmaster Chung discovered that he and the tour guide are distantly related.  He noted that the family name can vary in English from Chung to Jung to Cheong to Jeung.

The geographical center of the old city is located southeast of the palace at Insa Dong.  It is a neighborhood that is now filled with fashionable antiques and art galleries.  We ate lunch there at a very nice open-air restaurant.  I had “bi-bim-pap” a gulash of rice, raw egg, meat and vegetables served in a searing hot metal bowl.  When I mixed the egg into the rice, the bowl itself cooked the egg.  It was delicious, like Mongolian barbeque.  Probably the best meal of the trip.

After lunch, Grandmaster Chung and I split up and shopped on our own.  As I walked through Insa Dong, many people would approach and talk to me to practice their English. One young lady asked to take a survey for the Seoul Department of Tourism.

I continued looking for antiques and artwork to send home.  There were many great stores to choose from.  I purchased a limited-edition bronze sculpture from the Gana Art Shop.  It weighed forty pounds and would cost a fortune to ship home.  In addition, I bought a three-hundred year old Yi Dynasty saddle from the Jang Saeng Ho Antiques Shop.  The saddle, complete with reigns and stirrups, belonged to a nobleman and is outfitted with sterling silver trim.  It sat front and center in his antiques shop window.  I asked the elderly husband and wife owners if they could ship to the U.S. and they nodded and mumbled “yes, yes” then they threw the saddle into a box and handed it to me.  Then I told them that I would like it shipped and very embarrassed, they hurriedly wrapped it in paper and tied rope around it…and then handed it to me.  I decided to take it to the hotel and ship it. 

Gyeongbok Palace
I stepped outside the antiques shop with heavy package in tow and grabbed the nearest cab.  The ride back to the hotel took more than an hour in gridlock conditions, but the cab fare was a cheap eight bucks.

The folks at the Marriott Business Center were great and got the saddle on its way home via DHL Express.

Attached to and behind the hotel is a designer shopping mall.  I looked for items for the kids but could not find anything I liked except for Kentucky Fried Chicken – where I ordered a sandwich and Diet Coke.

I returned to the room and repacked the laundry that had arrived from the cleaners and got dressed for dinner.  Full business attire. 

Mr. K.W. Choung picked us up at the hotel and took us to Chungdam Yongsusan (a traditional Korean restaurant). The place was obviously a top-shelf restaurant – a place for important business meetings.  Nearly everyone was dressed in business suits.  Valet parking out front.  Even the chopsticks were heavy sterling silver.  We were served a fourteen course meal.  It was almost like tapas or dim sum.  Small portions of wonderfully prepared items such as sautéed mushrooms in ginger sauce, jelly fish with pears, brochette of raw squid with gingko, marinated beef with dipping mustard, and fish eye soup.  It was topped off with a wonderful rice wine. The three of us enjoyed a superb meal and great conversation. 

Returning to the hotel, we found Professor Nam waiting for us in the lobby.  He came to pay respects one more time to Grandmaster Chung and give us his best wishes.  He also brought me a copy of his latest book and signed it for me.  Grandmaster Chung garners a tremendous amount of respect among those who know Taekwondo in Korea.  Throughout our entire trip, he has been shown a great deal of attention and courtesy.

Friday, June 28, 2002

Another fabulous blue-sky morning in Seoul at 4:30 am.  A perfect day for golf.

Tiger Woods put away Colin Montgomerie after two holes of sudden death at the 2002 Deutsche Bank Open.

I pulled my golf shoes out of the bottom of my luggage, along with two golf gloves I had stuffed in a side pocket.  I headed out to meet Grandmaster Chung in the lobby but he met me in the elevator in full suit and tie and carrying a gym bag.  I asked if I needed to change clothes but he said no.  Then he said, “I bring change of clothes because will feel so good after our public bath”.  Excuse me.  Did he say “public bath”?

A taxi brought us to the Park family condo once more where Mr. Park would drive us about ninety minutes south toward Asan City to a private golf club.  There, we would meet a family relative and member of the club who hosted us as guests.

Before leaving, I had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Park.  She asked me for my birth date, time of birth, and year of birth.  With this information, using numerology, she then told me my fortune.  She said that between the ages of 47 and 56, I will become very rich and make “mountains” of money.  Then she said that after the age of 56, I would need to be careful and guard my money.  With that, she smiled and waved goodbye.

We drove in the acupuncture van again this morning.  I hadn’t noticed it before, but there were six acupuncture needles of various shapes and sizes stuck into the passenger visor. I carefully scanned the back seat and floor – just in case.

We were running early so Mr. Park drove us over the Asan Bay Bridge.  It is almost exactly the same length as the Mackinaw Bridge, but it is newer and built mostly of concrete.  It is certainly more beautiful than most of our bridges.

We continued heading south on narrow roads, winding through the rice patties.  Like so many patties in Korea, old ladies on their hands and knees were using hand implements to work the crops.

Suddenly, we pulled over a hill and came upon the Hyundai Assembly Plant at Asan City.  A huge facility, Hyundai builds millions of cars here and ships them all over the world.  The usually full finished car lot was only half-full.  The anemic worldwide economy having an effect here.

About five miles away, we pull under the portico of the Dogo Country Club.  It is a nice facility – not as nice as most private clubs in the USA - but certainly a step above the majority of public courses.

Without warm-ups, we proceeded to the first tee.  There are many things different about this course than those at home, for example: female caddies are dressed in fancy pant suits with matching hats.  Rubber mats (just like at a driving range) are embedded into the grass tees.  There are no golf carts, all members walk.  The ranger rides around the course on a motorcycle and stops to direct traffic periodically.  There are no areas of rough but every hole is lined with out-of-bounds stakes on both sides.  Since the course is built on the side of a mountain, long drives tend to feed from side to side, and many times, right off the sloped fairways and over the cliffs.

A unique rule of golf at this club is the use of “OB Tee”.  When a drive goes out of bounds, the player goes to a special tee located halfway up the fairway and hits from there, rather than from the original tee.  This generous rule helps unfortunate players and speeds the pace of play. 

On the first tee there is a little bucket with four sticks inside.  Players draw to determine the tee-off order.  I chose number one and hit first.  Using an old set of Lynx clubs with regular shafts, I tried to swing slowly.  My feet slipped on the rubber mat, almost causing me to fall on my butt.  Still, I hammered a drive almost three hundred yards down the hard, bent-grass fairway, almost driving the green.

Then I learned another golf custom here.  After every shot, no matter how good or bad, everyone says “ny-eese shut” immediately after contact.  At first I thought is was strange, then I started enjoying saying it too.

I parred that first hole and then bogeyed the next.  I got to use “OB Tees” on the fourth and fifth holes.  The conditions were so dry and I was hitting it so long that my drives were often outrunning the fairways.

One of the lady caddies told Grandmaster Chung that she really liked me and wanted me to be her boyfriend.  Later, I posed for pictures with the caddies and she ran her hand up and down the back of my leg.  You can actually see it in one of the photos.

I birdied two holes scoring an 85 but in the end, it wasn’t enough to beat one of the other golfers who carded an 84.

As I was standing behind the eighteenth green, totaling the scorecard, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, my golf partners practically running toward the locker room.  They got undressed and sprinted for the public bath.  I was more hesitant.  When I finally walked into the room, thirty pairs of eyes were looking at my hairy chest and other selected parts. Without my glasses, all I could see were a bunch of dark heads in the giant 105 degree hot tub.  I almost stepped right in until I noticed the showers around the perimeter of the room.  I barely avoided a huge breach of etiquette.

I tried to maintain my composure and dignity while I showered in preparation for the bath. To preserve some shred of privacy, I washed while facing the wall.  I eventually walked over and plopped into the pool.  Five guys immediately got out.  In only moments, the spa had emptied except for our foursome.  Was it something I said?

After about ten minutes, Grandmaster Chung challenged me to jump into the adjacent pool.  This pool was the same size as the one I was in and looked to be the same.  Little did I know that the temperature in that pool was 37 degrees.  I unwittingly jumped in.  Every body part immediately shrunk to half-size.  I curled up into a ball, hoping not to die of shock.  After a few moments, however, it started to feel pretty good.

I showered again, got dressed, and we headed back toward Seoul.  Sitting in the back seat of the car, my muscles really felt good after that cold dip.

The three of us stopped for dinner at a roadside greasy spoon (or should I say chopstick?)  in the shadow of the Asan Bay Bridge.  We shared a giant bowl of seafood noodle soup.  Man, it was good.

We crawled back into Seoul in the midst of rush hour traffic.  Mr. Park dropped us off at the hotel where we exchanged pleasantries, thanks, and goodbyes.

A few minutes later, Grandmaster Chung and I caught a taxi and headed to the I’taewon Shopping District to pick up some last minute gifts for family and friends.  The main street of I’taewon is about a half-mile long and lined with every imaginable high-end store you could think of.  Making it more fun, the sidewalks are covered with street vendors selling all kinds of knick-knacks at dirt-cheap prices.

There is squid being grilled at the curb and Versace being sold in a store only feet apart.

I noticed a greater presence of Americans here than any other place on my trip.  They appeared to be primarily military personnel on their day off.

I was solicited to be fitted for a suit by at least four different tailors and I was solicited for sex by a Korean woman in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I took none of their offers.

I picked up a kimono for Laura at a custom dress shop and two bootleg Playstation 2 games from a street vendor for five bucks each.

We returned to the hotel to find Master Kim waiting for us with gifts of appreciation.  We sat with him for a half-hour at the cocktail lounge and reflected on this fabulous trip. He gave me a dobok from his school and a custom-embroidered black belt with my name on it – in Korean.  We promised to stay in touch over the internet.

It was midnight when I got to bed.  I left the curtains open so I could see the lovely skyline of Seoul all night.

Saturday, June 29, 2002

I was in the lobby of the Marriott with my bags, having checked out before 6:45 am. A 24-hour mini-mart next door to the hotel provided me with dried squid jerky to take home to the kids.

Suddenly, Grandmaster Chung came downstairs and said that his passport was missing. After fifteen harrowing minutes, he found it under the bed in his room.  Crisis averted.

An assistant of Master Kim kindly shuttled us to the Inchon Airport. There, we ran into Master Kim once again.  He was at the airport to meet a friend arriving from Malaysia for the Gyeongju Taekwondo Championships.

So many people have gone out of their way to take care of us on this adventure.  The recognition of Grandmaster Chung’s 9th Dan status is palpable with every master who greets us.  I have benefited greatly from this hospitality.

At the airport, there was extremely high security.  We passed through no less than four screenings and had to take our shoes off twice by the time we boarded.

Northwest flight 008 was wheels up at 11:25.  One more meal of bulgogi on the flight to Japan.

We waited at the flight club above the gate at Narita Airport.  The first thing that I noticed was the presence of fat Americans.  Thinking back, I saw almost no overweight people in Korea.

Our next leg, Northwest flight 86 was delayed an hour with computer problems.  So once the problem was fixed, they added more fuel so we could fly faster and make up some time.  We flew further south than the way we took to Korea.  We made landfall near Seattle and came into Detroit over Minneapolis and Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Wheels hit the runway at 3:19 pm after fifteen hours of flying.

On the drive home from Detroit, Tam called me in the car to inform us that the North Koreans had attacked a South Korean navy vessel only one hundred miles off shore from the Inchon Airport at the exact moment we were taking off from there.  Grandmaster Chung told me that it must have been the “northwind” again.  He reminded me that South Korean elections were in one week and incidents like this have a funny way of happening just before election time to scare voters into hanging onto incumbents.  The current ROK President is a friend of North Korea and perhaps this event was timed to give him more credibility and take the attention away from his two sons who had been involved in bribery and other corrupt activities lately.

I pulled into the driveway at 6:30 pm.  The kids came out and gave me big hugs and kisses.

It was great to be home.

A statue of a 6th century Hwarang Warrior from the kingdom of Silla.  Scholars believe that these warriors established the foundations for modern martial arts in Korea today.

(Note:  As I typed this journal, I was informed of the passing of Grandmaster Hwang Kee on Sunday, July 14th 2002, at 7:05 pm.  The passing of two legendary kwan founders - General Choi Hong Hi and Hwang Kee in the past month bring to a close an important chapter in the history of Tae Kwon Do. Only Won Kook Yi, 102 year-old founder of the Chung Do Kwan, survives.)


10th Degree Grand Master - Special Honor (Moo Sool Do) 

Lifetime Achievement Award (Hall of Fame, U.S. Taekwondo Grandmasters Society)
Outstanding Educational Leadership Award (Hall of Fame, Martial Arts World Magazine)
U.S.A.T. Martial Art Commissioner
Kukkiwon Advisory Council
World Taekwondo Federation / Kukkiwon 9th Degree Grand Master (Dan # 0500031)
Tang Soo Do - Moo Duk Kwan World Grand Master (Dan # 2231)
Korean HapKiDo 9th Degree Grand Master
WTF Certified International Referee
Featured in Official Karate Magazine – June 1976
Cover Story and Feature Article – Traditional Taekwon-Do Magazine – Spring 1983

Work History/Experience
1963-66 Korean Military Tae Kwon Do Instructor
1963-65 Korean National Champion
1966-Asian Champion
1970 Immigrated to the United States of America (June 18)
1970 to Present — International Academy of the Martial Arts Association, President
1978 USTU Dojang Development Subcommittee Chairman
1979 Oriental Martial Arts I; authored and published
1982 to 1997 USTU Michigan TaeKwonDo Association President
1984 Pan American Moo Doo Kwan Society Secretary General
1985 Oriental Martial Arts II; authored and published
1986 USTU Scholastic Subcommittee Chairman
1986 World TaeKwonDo President Dr. Un Yong Kin Bodyguard
1987 Finland World Championship TaeKwonDo International Referee
1990 to 1992 Pan American Moo Doo Kwan Society Vice President
1992-94 Pan American Moo Doo Kwan Federation President
1996 Pan American TaeKwonDo Championship (Havana, Cuba) Referee
1997 Pan American Open Championship (Chicago, IL) International Referee
1998 Universal Educational Martial Arts United Federation , President
1998 Moo Sool Do United Textbook
1998 WTF Referee Refresher Course; U.S. Open International Referee
1998 Moo Sool Do United Textbook
1998 Universal Educational Martial Arts United Federation , President

1961-63 Seoul Moonlhee Education College. Seoul, Korea
1991 Bachelors of Science. P. Western University - LA California

Grandmaster Sun Hwan Chung - Wikipedia Listing


2nd Dan Black Belt - World Taekwondo Federation

2nd Dan Black Belt - Korea Tang Soo Do Association / World Moo Duk Kwan Federation

Member – United States Tae Kwon Do Union – 2000 - 2005

Third place (10th gup) – Chung’s Breaking Competition – April 2000
Second place (8th gup) – Great Lakes Cup – Forms Competition – June 2000
First place (7th gup) – Michigan Cup – Forms Competition – September 2000
First place (7th gup) – Michigan Cup – Sparring Competition – September 2000
Second place (7th gup) – Michigan Cup – Breaking Competition – September 2000
Second place (4th gup) – Chung’s Forms Competition – May 2001
Second place (3rd gup) – Great Lakes Cup – Sparring Competition – June 2001
Second place (2nd gup) – Michigan Cup – Sparring Competition – September 2001
Third place (2nd gup) – Michigan Cup – Forms Competition – September 2001
Third place (2nd gup) – Michigan Cup – Breaking Competition – September 2001
Referee Seminar – Chung’s Black Belt Academy - 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Student of the Year – Chung’s Black Belt Academy - 2001
Volunteer – Chung’s Black Belt Academy Korea Trip - 2002
Best Attendance Award – Chung’s Black Belt Academy – February 2002
Honor Award – Deputy Black Belt Test – March 2002
Deputy Black Belt – Chung’s Black Belt Academy – March 2002
Volunteer – Michigan Cup Committee – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Best Attendance Award – Chung’s Black Belt Academy – April 2002
First Place (1st Dan Black Belt)– Chung’s Breaking Competition – July 2002
Second Place (1st Dan Black Belt) – Chung’s Forms Competition – November 2002



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