The Spiritual Dimensions of the Martial Arts BY ROBERT BURATTI

He who wishes to live in an oriental martial art, rather than to just practice it on a physical level, must so train his consciousness to attain a self-discipline that at last his conscious mind will merge into an identity with the very principle of life itself.

Maurice Zalle

Amongst the usual loud and predictable offerings at the Australian cinema box office last summer, the Hollywood movie The Last Samurai emerged as an interesting alternative for many curious movie-goers. We were presented with a unique perspective on the cultural interaction between East and West. The film deals almost exclusively with the philosophical, spiritual and martial differences between Japan and America, and presents in grand form the figure of the Samurai, and the way his martial practice has a powerful spiritual dimension to which the West cannot relate.

The traditional practice of Martial Arts is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and this is largely due to the fact many people are realising the existence of the esoteric spiritual components behind widely known styles. The Arts are no longer considered remnants of old cultures, but valid and effective methods of achieving spiritual growth. The Martial Arts were actually formulated for this purpose all along.

A Spiritual Heritage

n 475, the Indian monk Bodhidharma arrived in Southern China. On his arrival he moved to the Huan province where he spent nine years in meditation, facing the rock wall of a cave. When the monk emerged from his retreat, he stumbled across a small mountain temple approximately one mile away called Shaolin. Bodhidharma was shocked to see the terrible physical condition of the monks of the Shaolin Temple who practiced long-term meditation exercises which, while making them spiritually strong, totally destroyed their physical health.

Bodhidharma created an exercise regime for the monks involving physical techniques that were efficient in strengthening the body, and eventually, could be used to defend oneself from the inevitable travelling thieves and gangs prominent in the area at the time. The latter benefit was a simple side benefit of the practice. The former was the main objective. The primary concern was always maintaining the physical strength of the monks for the purpose of meditation. These physical exercises developed into what we now know as Martial Arts.

Amongst the myriad of contemporary options for developing the spirit, the Martial Arts remains one of the oldest and most universally effective systems for teaching internal ideas which awaken the spiritual dimension in all parts of life.

The Physical Path To Enlightenment

The true value in studying the Martial Arts lies not in the learning of the technique or system itself, but in the acquisition of particular internal qualities that are developed through the learning process. The physical exercises are the concrete examples of abstract philosophical principles. Footwork systems teach the student about the qualities of energy, ebb and flow, and both creative and destructive potential. Handwork patterns teach the student about balance, dynamics and the intuition of natural spirit.

The actions of blocking, deflecting, striking, breaking and throwing all contain concepts that can be applied to the human spirit. Then in combat, we unite these concepts and in the process discover our own nature which is forced to emerge under extreme stress and pressure.

One is never rattled as much as when under attack. In this act, one’s metal is tested and they emerge with a new view of themselves and in many cases, a view of their true self. This is a first step to self realisation.

The legendary Japanese swordsman, Myamoto Musashi, found that the more he looked for proficiency and efficiency in his training, the more he looked for proficiency and efficiency in all things. He began to look for the deeper purpose in everything that he did.

When farming, he took land made useless by yearly floods and turned it into productive land by building his dikes and fields in the shape of the natural water flow. The farmers built a shrine in his honour for his concepts and prayed at that shrine daily. He found that every part of his life effected every other part of his life and he began to look for the spirituality in every part of his life.

Combat places great demands on the capacities of the warrior. Such demands act as powerful learning situations for self-discovery and self-confrontation.

Confronting Death

To defeat a thousand enemies is good, but the Samurai who defeats himself is the greatest of warriors.

Perhaps the first and most important of these is the confrontation with death. Throughout life we are sporadically confronted with death, be it through family, television or literature. In the modern world we are very familiar with death, but rarely if ever are we confronted with the prospect of our personal demise. But when it does arrive it most likely will be a sudden, irrevocable and inconvenient event from which we learn nothing. The martial artist does not ignore or wait for death, but walks right up to it.

In the Martial Arts, death is a constant presence. The whole activity revolves around it. Attack, defense and counter-attack are all performed as if a true life-or-death situation were involved. With proficiency, the vigour of the actions increases and, if one is using weapons, one may employ, for instance, a ‘live’ (naked) sword instead of a bamboo or wooden sword – all of which make the situation genuinely dangerous. The practitioner confronts death and makes peace with it in the knowledge it is inevitable. With this understanding, there exists no more fear, and the martial artist is now truly free.

All spiritual systems set up a confrontation with death, for confronting death is perhaps the most important element of spirituality. The basic preparatory practices of Buddhism involve the recognition one’s life is short and one may die tomorrow. In the Chod rite of Tibet, practitioners visit a graveyard at night (where the corpses are left exposed to the elements and scavengers) and invite the demons to come and take them. Christians and Muslims invite the Almighty to take their souls at any time.

The fear of death is the greatest obstacle for the martial artist. This fear has a quality of rigidity, or paralysis, or of loss of control; one may freeze with terror, or one may panic and react blindly and irrationally. Such reactions, intruding at the crucial moment in combat, will spell death, even for the technically accomplished fighter.

But freedom from this incapacitating fear releases great powers. There is a story of a Master of the Japanese Tea Ceremony from the province of Tasa – a man of no martial skill yet of great meditative and spiritual accomplishment. He accidentally gave offence to a high-ranking Samurai and was challenged to a duel.

He went to the local Zen Master to seek advice. The Zen Master told him frankly that he had little chance of surviving the encounter, but that he could ensure an honourable death by treating the combat as he would the formal ritual of the Tea Ceremony. He should compose his mind, paying no attention to the petty chatterings of thoughts of life and death. He should grasp the sword straightforwardly, as he would the ladle in the Tea Ceremony; and with the same precision and concentration of mind with which he would pour the boiling water onto the tea, he should step forward, with no thought of the consequence, and strike his opponent down in one blow.

The Tea Master prepared himself accordingly, abandoning all fear of death. When the morning of the duel arrived, the Samurai, encountering the total poise and fearlessness of his opponent, was so shaken that he promptly begged forgiveness and called off the fight.

The recognition and mental triumph over death is the martial artist’s greatest power, in that he will focus on the fact he has little time and hence lets his acts flow accordingly. Each act is your last battle on Earth, and only with this philosophy will your acts have their rightful power. Otherwise they will be, for as long as you live, the acts of a timid man.

In the words of a Samurai legend, “being timid is fine if you are to be immortal, but if you are going to die, there is no time for timidity, simply because timidity makes you cling to something that exists only in your thoughts.” It soothes you while everything is at a lull, but then the awesome, mysterious world will open its mouth for you, as it will open for every one of us, and then you will realise your sure ways were not sure at all. Being timid prevents us from examining and exploiting our lot as men.

Mastery of Energy

To the martial artist, Energy manifests within each individual as spirit, spirit manifests in each individual as mind. This Energy or “Chi” as it is known in China, or “Ki” in Japan, permeates everything, and hence is both the martial artist’s strongest connection to his enemy as well as his strongest weapon against his enemy.

The mastery of this energy is a central element of all traditional forms of Martial Arts practice. Two widely recognised expressions of this ideal are the Chinese art of Tai Chi Chuan, and the Japanese art of Aikido.

Tai Chi Chuan integrates many elements of Chinese culture such as philosophy and religion, medicine, and military practice. It draws its inspiration for movement heavily from the philosophy of yin and yang. It incorporates the theory of the Five Elements of cosmology and the principles of the Bagua (“Eight Trigrams”) together with motion, creating a continuous flow of movement that reflect the ideas behind these ideologies.

The Yin-Yang symbol, which is often linked with Tai Chi Chuan, represents the interaction of Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are shown in equal amounts, yet the Yin portion of the Yin-Yang contains a small amount of Yang and the Yang portion an equally small amount of Yin.

The ancient Chinese saw the universe as a vast unity with every part of it being related to and dependent on every other part. Within this unity, there is continual change in an endless cycle between two partners, the Yin (feminine, dark, soft, yielding) and the Yang (masculine, hard, aggressive).

The universe is entirely made from these two forms of energy and in order for all things to progress harmoniously, the forces of Yin and yang must constantly interact with each other. While doing so, each must evolve, over a period of time, into its opposite, just as day gradually turns to night. For this reason, everything that seems to be Yin contains some Yang and all that is Yang also contains some Yin, without which change would not be possible. (Chen Lei)

From this view of existence and energy, the style of Tai Chi Chuan was constructed. It is a perfect physical expression of the Yin-Yang philosophy and operates within the same parameters and limitations.

While other martial styles are violently fast and rigid, Tai Chi is slow and controlled, with techniques that flow endlessly into one another. Just as Yin-Yang energy maintains a continual flow, so does the Tai Chi form. There is no rigid stop-start, only a controlled natural mimic of energy. This is why Tai Chi is often seen as one of the most graceful and peaceful Martial Arts. Just as energy is circular in flow, all Tai Chi footwork is circular in direction, and just as energy is a natural phenomenon, the Tai Chi defence postures are always in a natural form, not rigid, boxing-like military stances.

The effective practice of Tai Chi relies on a pure and deep understanding of the Yin-Yang/ Tai Chi view of Chi and the universe. Without this spiritual dimension to the art, the student is not practicing Tai Chi, they are simply performing empty movements of little significance to themselves or the world around them.

Another art dealing with the dynamics of energy was founded by Ueshiba Morihei in 1942. The Japanese art of Aikido was considered a continuation of the Samurai Arts, and borrows much of its spiritual dimension and expression from Bushido (The Way of the Samurai), particularly its use of traditional sword practices. It is a relatively contemporary system and much a continuation of Japanese values and culture as it is a cultivation of philosophy and spirit.

The meaning of Aikido is literally the “artful path of discovery of gathering Ki”. Ki is the Japanese translation of Chi, and shares an identical definition. It is suggested that Ki was “born” at the same instant as the rest of the universe, and that we are all born from the Ki of the universe. All living organisms have equal access to Ki, and it will course through our system if we allow it. Daily Aikido practice is primarily directed at maintaining a balanced state physically and emotionally, and practicing ways to cultivate this energy.

Like Tai Chi, Aikido is a physical expression of this way of seeing the world. As a result, it has no attack form, because attacking an opponent would be like attacking a family member or damaging the flow of Universal Ki energy sustaining the world. Once again, because Ki moves constantly, so does the martial artist, with all of Aikido’s footwork occurring in circular patterns. Aikido also places great attention on the balance aspect of energy, and hence has created an awareness of balance essential to its maneuvers. The main techniques of the style involve particular throwing and wrestling patterns that are precisely dependent on the perfect balance of its practitioner.

In Aikido like all Martial Arts, physical and emotional balance is codependent. Physical balance helps to engender emotional balance. An understanding of the nature of our spirit will help the practitioner create an effective alignment of thought and action. When every aspect of the individual is aligned the individual is better able to adapt and change.

Spirituality and the Samurai

The Way of Zen perpetuates the earliest Buddhist traditions. It signifies the perfect natural state of enlightenment. Zen cannot be rationalised, only experienced, lived and realised. Unattainable through concrete thought and analysis, the Way of Zen is found through meditational practice engaging both mind and body. Zen may be considered a unique expression of the Mahayana Buddhism. It originated in the northern regions of India and later moved to China and then Japan where it became a strong influence from around 1190 CE onwards. It exerted such an influence that up until a few years ago, it would have been difficult to find a person of noble Japanese origins who had not been exposed to Zen philosophy.

Zen offers an interesting perspective in the world of Martial Arts and spirituality, because it becomes hard to see where the spiritual philosophy ends and the martial practice begins. While most Martial Art philosophies are a building process supplying us with tools and understanding, the experience of Zen is a destructive process, in the strict sense that it removes things from our lives that keep us from enlightenment. Zen’s liberation comes in absolute autonomy. There are no gods, no denominations, and no higher authority. It is necessary to abandon all crutches and proceed forward with no assistance.

The role of Zen in the Samurai society is amazingly complex. It sustained the warrior spirit in two ways: Morally, because Zen is a system which teaches the individual not to look back once the course is decided; and philosophically, because Zen treats life and death indifferently.

The classic text, Hagakure or “Hidden by Leaves” attributed to the Samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo, states that, “The Way of the Samurai is found in death” and goes on to say that the Samurai is powerful because his mind is no longer attached to life and death. The Samurai will “conquer immortality by dying without hesitations.” Great deeds are accomplished when one attains the Zen state of “no-mind-ness.”

It is through this Zen state of “no-mind” that swordplay becomes not an act of killing but an instrument of spiritual self-discipline. The individual, the sword and the target become one. The blade moves by itself under the influence of the target without any individual decision, always finding a perfect blow. The acknowledgement of mastery in the sword is also the acknowledgement of a higher degree of Zen spirituality. The “no-mind” is one of the most influential Zen concepts to mix with the Samurai psyche.

A mind unconscious of itself is a mind that is not at all disturbed by affects of any kind. It is the original mind and not the delusive one that is chock-full of affects. It is always flowing; it never halts; nor does it turn solid. It fills the whole body, pervading every part of the body. It is never like a stone or a piece of wood. If it should find a resting place anywhere, it is not a mind-of-no-mind. A no-mind will keep nothing in it. It is thus called mushin. (G.R. Parulski)

This “empty-minded-ness” applies to all creative activities, such as dancing and swordplay. The mind flows freely from one object to another stopping at no single concern. In this process the mind is free and fulfills every function required of it. When the mind stops at a single thought, it loses its freedom. It cannot hear, it cannot see, even when sound enters the ears or light flashes before the eyes. Every mind has the nature of Buddha and every person is already liberated beyond birth and death. They must only realise this fact. Zen seeks to promote this realisation, the gradual process of which is referred to as Satori. The consequence of Satori is a completely new way of seeing the world and one’s place within it. According to Zen, liberation should not be looked for in the next world, for this is the next world and is already liberated. We are already at our goal, yet we cannot realise it.

Zen does not require involvement in speculation, sacred texts or writings, and every theory is valid only as an indication toward the Way. Originally a secret doctrine, passed on by the Buddha to his disciple Mahakassapa, Zen itself arose as a reaction against the fantastic and shallow rituals of traditional Hinduism, and while seeming quite loose in form, it actually operates on a base of severe self-discipline which appealed to the Samurai. Far removed from the harsh ascetic practices of its contemporary systems, the discipline of Zen involves a more subtle and inward form operating on four levels.

The first is the mastery of external objects, in particular the reactions which emanate from them. The student must understand that every time a yearning leads him toward something, he is not in control of the external object, but rather the object is in control of him. “He who loves a liquor, deceived himself in thinking that he is drinking the liquor; the truth is, the liquor is drinking him.” (Hagakure)

The second stage sees the student master the physical body. Often at this level, martial training accompanies spiritual growth as an initiatory counterpart. It is here that legends grew of superhuman Samurai and masters who could withstand the extremes of heat and cold, and break trees and stone with their bare hands. The Samurai exerts dominion over his body and mastery of his own mental functioning.

Imagine your own body as something other than yourselves. If it cries, quiet it right away, as a strict mother does with her own child. If it is capricious, control it as a rider does his own horse, through the bridle. If it is sick, administer medicines to it, just as a doctor does with a patient. If it disobeys you, punish it, as a teacher does with a pupil. (Hagakure)

The third stage involves controlling personal emotion, and establishing an inner equilibrium. Through meditational practices the student confronts every fear and excitement in an effort to “bring the heart under control.”

The fourth stage is the rejection of the Ego, and the most difficult. The heart of the philosophy promotes a higher form of spontaneity, freedom and calmness in action. Traditional arts have originated in the East as a response and execution of this mental state. Many of these arts were developed as a means of achieving Zen awareness. While the majority are martial in nature, the Zen element extends to the art of drama, the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and painting. Mastery in any of these arts cannot be achieved without the inner enlightenment and transformative power of Zen.

Generally Zen does not promote the hermit like existence found in legend, but rather asks that the practitioner lives in the world with a Zen state of consciousness which should be permanent and permeate every experience and activity. The student will labour with his mind and body until they have reached the extreme limit of all natural faculties, and eventually achieve Satori. The student is only supposed to spend the training period in Zen monasteries, and once they have achieved Satori, the student returns to the world, choosing a way of life that fits their needs.

Martial Arts systems are all united in the fact they demand the practitioner to readjust their lifestyle. Aside from being an intellectual and physical pursuit, true practice arises in the expression of the Art throughout one’s daily life and thought. Attending a Martial Arts class once a week will not release the enormous transformative potential of this avenue, but it will start you on an ancient path that has affected lives for centuries. Like all spiritual endeavours it requires commitment and patience.

Source: New Dawn Magazine

Woo-Nam Hyung (U-Nam) Tul – 雲南型- 失傳的跆拳道黑帶二段拳法 (The Lost Pattern) [updated Jan 06, 2018]

Woo Nam Hyung {U-NAM} (the lost pattern) was created prior to 1959 apparently to honor and gain favor with the former President Syngman Rhee (whose pen name was U-Nam), who was the first President of Korea until he was forced to resign due to nationwide massive student protests in 1960. Dr. Rhee fled and lived out the rest of his life in Hawaii in exile.

(Woo -Nam)U-Nam was a “lost” or “forgotten” Pattern created by General Choi Hong Hi, the Principle Founder of the Original or Military Self Defense Taekwon-Do. The form or hyung, as they called them in those days, was finalized by 1959. Pattern U-Nam was researched by Dr. George Vitale, VIII Degree from NYC, USA. During his many years of extensive research he was advised of its creation by Grandmaster “CK” Choi (Chang Keun), a Founding Member of the ITF.

An Interview with Grandmaster C.K. Choi ~ Philip Hawkins [updated Jan 06, 2018]

Grand Master Choi Chang Keun

This interview with GM C.K. Choi, one of the pioneers in Taekwon-Do,was conducted some years back and this website is re-publishing it for several reasons as listed below:

  • He was one of the TKD pioneers who first taught in Penang, Malaysia in the early 1960s;
  • Some of the current TKD Exponents practicing in Malaysia were not even born yet when he was teaching in Penang;
  • General Choi was the then Korean Ambassador to Malaysia;
  • As the following interview has mentioned, Gen. Choi had good relations with the Malaysian Government under the premiership of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman. There was one Minister,the late Encik Khir Johari who was conferred the Hon. 3rd Degree(?) Black Belt by Gen Choi.
  • Some of us the Malaysia National Team ( under MTF at that time ) renewed our friendship when we met up with him at the 2nd ITF World Championship in Oklahoma City, USA in Sept 1978.

For many the name Grand Master Choi Chang Keun is unfamiliar to them, but in its abbreviated form of ‘Grand Master C.K.Choi’ it brings instant recognition to anyone who has truly studied TaeKwon-Do.

For those who either trained under him, or have witnessed any of his performances as part of the ITF Demonstration teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s, they describe him as a man of awesome ability. He is renowned for his array of powerful kicking and jumping techniques and has attained a fearsome reputation when sparring.

Grand Master Choi is open and approachable, he has an actively astute mind, is an articulate, genuinely friendly man, who talk’s openly with a wealth of knowledge on both the techniques and history of TaeKwon-Do. You are also aware whilst in conversation with him that he also has both an inner strength, and a steely self confidence.

Q: Can I start by asking when you first became interested in the martial arts?

A: I began to study TaeKwon-Do in 1956 whilst I was still in middle school in the city of Won-Ju, South Korea. The Dojang I originally trained at was affiliated with the Chung Do Kwan. However in 1958 I started to train under Master (Major) Woo Jong Lim (Director of Tae Kwon Do for the Korean 1st Army) who although serving in the R.O.K. Army was also teaching at the only civilian Oh Do Kwan gym in Korea at that time. All the other Oh Do Kwan gyms taught only military personnel. As you know General Choi Hong Hi had founded the Tae Kwon Do (Oh Do Kwan) in 1954 with the assistance of Master (Captain) Nam Tae Hi.

Q: Which patterns were you practicing at this time?

A: I practiced Tae Kwon-Do patterns created by General Choi Hon Hi along with Karate patterns (Katas) and sparring patterns designed by my Instructor; Master Woo Jong Lim, in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.

Q: I believe you became a TaeKwon-Do Instructor in the R.O.K. Army how did this come about?

A: I had attained a 2nd degree in TaeKwon-Do whilst training under Major Woo Jong Lim. At this time in 1960 Master Woo was appointed to the R.O.K .Army training center in Non San from Won-Ju and became Chief of Staff to General Choi. It was here that he asked me to give a TaeKwon-Do demonstration along with Master Han Cha Kyo for a TaeKwon-Do educational film. General Choi; who at this time was commander of the R.O.K. Army recruiting center, was watching.

He wanted a Tae Kwon Do educational film made and sent to the United States so that Tae Kwon Do could be introduced to there. After the demo had finished he asked if I would be interested in joining the Army to teach Tae Kwon Do. After discussing this proposal with my parents I accepted and joined the R.O.K. Army in 1960, after which I taught Tae Kwon Do at the R.O.K. Army’s largest recruiting center in Non-San.

Q: You were young to be teaching in the R.O.K. Army. Did this cause you any problems?

A: I had gained experience teaching as an assistant whilst training under Major Woo Jong Lim. I was the first Korean Tae Kwon Do (Oh Do Kwan) Champion in Tae Kwon Do in 1962, in sparring and patterns. I also taught under General Choi’s order. Therefore this helped me gain respect from those I trained. I had to train very hard not to disappoint Master Woo and General Choi and I was promoted to 3rd Degree Black Belt in 1962 by Master Woo Jong Lim.

Q: You are renowned for your flexibility and kicking abilities. How hard did you have to work on this or did it come naturally to you?

A: Although I have always trained hard I did have a degree of natural flexibility, which in truth I was not aware of until I started to teach TaeKwon-Do. (Grandmaster C.K. Choi then, without any warm up, dropped straight into both front and side splits with ease. He is 64 years old!) As regards my kicking, Major Woo Jong Lim emphasized to me to practice both left and right equally. I also practiced extensively with a bag to improve both my power and technique. I also practiced my punching and striking techniques endlessly, as well as my standing and jumping kicks.

Q: How many hours daily did you teach in the R.O.K. Army?

A: I would teach for two and a half-hours in the morning and evening respectively -5 days a week – and for two and a half-hours on a Saturday morning. I must emphasis that the training in the military was extremely hard, as it should be. We would practice patterns, breaking and sparring. We also spent time on physical conditioning that included lots of running which helped create more power and improve our stamina. In addition we spent time conditioning our hands and feet. You can have beautiful techniques, but without the power it does not work for self-defense. This is what military TaeKwon-Do was all about. We would also practice defenses against bayonet and rifle attacks.

Q: I’ve heard it said that upon first meeting General Choi and joining the R.O.K. Army that he told you to go into a room and just practice TaeKwon-Do on your own. Is this correct?

A: Yes. He told me to go to the gym and practice Tae Kwon Do.

Q: Did you also train under Grandmaster Kim Bok Man at this time?

A: No, I did not. When I was teaching in the Korean Army Training Centre under General Choi and Master Woo Jong Lim, Master Kim Bok Man came to see me in 1961. I spoke with him for about 5 minutes. That was the first and last meeting with him in Korea. When I went to Singapore I met him and stayed with him for about a week before going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However my masters were General Choi and Master Woo Jong Lim (Master Lim became a Major General in the 1980’s)

Q: Could you tell us about your competition career in the early 1960’s?

A: In 1962 Master Woo Jong Lim created the Tae Kwon Do Championship in sparing, patterns, breaking and special breaking. Master Woo held the 1st championship in Won-Ju Korea with the assistance of Kim Jong Chan and others in February 1963. I won the first Tae Kwon Do (Oh Do Kwan) Championship in both the sparring and patterns.

This was the first Tae Kwon Do Championships ever held in Tae Kwon Do history. I won the second championship in June of 1963. I also won the first Korean Tae Soo Do (Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, and Kong Soo Do) heavyweight championship in the 3rd, 4th and 5th degree division in 1963. I was the smallest in the division, but quite fast so the bigger opponents found it hard to hit me. The rules used were similar to those used by the WTF today but we used more hand techniques. In that tournament 1st and 2nd degree were divided into light, middle and heavy, as were the 3rd 4th & 5th degrees. This was the first combined Martial Arts tournament in history.

Q: Why was it called Tae Soo Do?

A: There were Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do styles that wanted to affiliate with the Korean National Athletic Association under their respective names. Therefore the Korean National Athletic Association told them to come up with a unified name.

The two Tae Kwon Do representatives wanted to use the Tae Kwon Do name but the seven Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do representatives did not. The only name that could be agreed upon was Tae Soo Do. Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do Masters wanted to use the word Soo as it means hand. As a result the Korean Tae Soo Do Association was formed and affiliated with the Korean National Athletic Association.

Q: I think many readers will be surprised by the name Tae Soo Do.

A: The Tae Soo Do name was suggested by Tang Soo Do Master, Lee Jong Woo who became the Vice President of KTA, Kuk Ki Won and WTF. Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do Masters would eventually control the Korean Tae Soo Do Association which became the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association in 1965.

I should also make it clear that I have a problem with those who have helped to cause confusion in Tae Kwon Do. I had a personal experience with them after becoming the first Korean Tae Soo Do heavyweight champion. There were 6 champions and 6 runner-ups set to go to Japan to represent Korea, for the goodwill tournament in 1963. 11 were from Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do and only one was from Tae Kwon Do. I was supposed to go to Japan as part of this, but I was excluded from the team solely because I was the only Tae Kwon Do man

Now however they claim to represent and practice TaeKwon-Do. I would just like to know when they started to learn Tae Kwon Do. When I was practicing Tae Kwon Do in the late 1950’s early 60’s they certainly were not practicing Tae Kwon Do.

Q: Did you have any input into any of the patterns?

A: I was with General Choi from 1962 until 1981. At this time he was still creating the Tae Kwon Do patterns and I assisted him on the creation of the pattern Gae-Baek. When General Choi was appointed the Commander of the 6th Army Corps in 1961 I was invited many times to perform some new patterns that he created. After performing the patterns for him he would ask me “What do you think?” I then told him my opinions.

Q: How did the opportunity arise for you to go abroad to teach?

A: In 1962 General Choi asked me to go to Malaysia to teach (He was the Korean Ambassador to Malaysia) but at this time I was still in the R.O.K Army. After being discharged from the Army in 1963 General Choi invited me to come to Malaysia. I first met Master Rhee Ki Ha in Seoul. Korea in 1964 when we were both applying for our passports.

When we went to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get passports our passports the clerk at the counter told us that there was no such occupation as “Tae Kwon Do Instructor” listed. I asked what we should put down as our occupation on our passports. The clerk went away to consult with his superior. He eventually returned to us and said that we had been approved to have “Tae Kwon Do Instructor” on our passports. He told us we were the first Tae Kwon Do instructors recognized by the Korean government.

Q: In which country did you first teach?

A: I went to Malaysia in 1964 to teach Tae Kwon Do in Penang.

Q: How popular was TaeKwon-Do prior to your arrival?

A: Tae Kwon Do was already popular, as General Choi had started to teach there whilst he was the Korean Ambassador to Malaysia. However many referred to him as the Tae Kwon Do Ambassador as his goal was to teach everyone. General Choi was very friendly with the Prime Minister, Tunku Rahman, as well as many other Government officials.

We were asked to perform many demos like the one on Malaysian Independence Day when both the King and Prime Minister were in attendance. Tunku Rahman helped General Choi immensely.

Q: Were you now teaching the Ch’ang-Hon patterns?

A: I was teaching Tae Kwon Do patterns from Chon Ji upward. We did not use the term Ch’ang-Hon Patterns because there is only one Tae Kwon Do system; that which was founded by General Choi with the assistance of many Masters.

Q: You had quite a reputation at this time and yet many have said that both your appearance and demeanour were quite deceptive.

A: Yes this is true. My friends used to call me schoolmaster, as they said I had the appearance of one. But I have always had total confidence in my Tae Kwon Do ability. Once they saw my training they knew I was a good Tae Kwon Do Master.

Q: Did your students compete whilst you were in Malaysia?

A: Yes, many of my students were successful at the 1st Asian Championships held in Hong Kong in 1969. However, my teaching’s were not tournament based, but for self-defense. I used to tell my students that winning tournaments was fine, but if they were ever in danger they should also be able to save their own lives with the powerful techniques that they possess.

Q: Did you grade under General Choi at this time?

A: Yes. I did and I received 8th Degree Black Belt in 1981.

Q: How was your own training developing at this time?

A: I was always looking for better ways to train, especially with regards to power, speed, strength, stamina, flexibility and the application of techniques in sparring. If your body is flexible it is much easier to perform. This benefited my students greatly. Our objectives are to train our mind and body to achieve the highest level of physical fitness and mental discipline so that we can uncover the supreme person within each one of us. It is also important to practice the original Tae Kwon Do patterns to maintain the traditional Tae Kwon DO training system.

Q: Did you believe back in 1966 that TaeKwon-Do would achieve the global recognition that it has today?

A: Its beyond my belief that TaeKwon-Do has become as big as it has. Under the leadership of General Choi, many Pioneering Masters, instructors and supporters worked hard to teach and spread Tae Kwon Do all over the world. believe we all did our best to promote Tae Kwon Do and Korea.

Q: Were your current grades accepted by the ITF?

A: Yes. I think so. In 1981 I received 8th Degree Black Belt from the founder of Tae Kwon Do, General Choi. Who is not going to recognize that? Unless they are not a Tae Kwon Do organization. I was also one of the founding members of the ITF and received the No. 5 Recognition Plaque from the ITF.

Q: Do you think that the original pioneers of TaeKwon-Do receive the recognition that they deserve?

A: No. I don’t think so because the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association, Kuk KI Won and WTF, with the support of the Korean Government did not allow the teaching of the original Tae Kwon Do (ITF style) in Korea since 1973. The Korean government dissolved the ITF in Korea with the support of KTA and WTF because of General Choi’s opposition to President Park Jung Hee and his dictatorial regime. This is one of the reasons the original Tae Kwon Do Pioneers’ devotion and hard work has not been recognized by the Korean government.

It was wrong to ban and dissolve the original Tae Kwon Do in Korea because of General Choi’s personal political views. The Korean government officially approved Tae Kwon Do as Korea’s National Martial Art in 1965.

Since 1973 there has been no original Tae Kwon Do in Korea. Many people outside of Korea have more awareness of Tae Kwon Do’s history than the Korean people themselves. Unfortunately, there are people in Korea who tried to eliminate the truth for their own benefit and protection.

The Korean government is now in a position to recognize the original Tae Kwon Do, correct its history, and support its teaching in Korea again. This is the only way to honor all the Pioneering Masters and Instructors who have traveled the world to teach and spread Tae Kwon Do under the Korean name. They have been the real Korean patriots.

Q: How long was your stay in Malaysia?

A: I lived in Penang from 1964 to 1969 teaching Tae Kwon Do in Penang, Ipoh and Aloh Star. I had to teach in almost half of the country from time to time. I miss my old students very much. I hope to see them in the near future.

Q: Did you modify your teaching in any way from the way you taught in Korea?

A: The training method was the same whether you were in Korea, Singapore, Maylasia or Canada but I continued to develop modern training methods all the time. In my experience; when teaching, it is important to understand a beginner’s point of view. You do not want to train them too hard in the beginning. You do not train them as you would a champion.

Q: In 1973 you were chosen to be part of the ITF Demonstration Team that travelled the World. Could you please share with us any memories you have from this tour.

A: General Choi selected Masters Kong Young Ill, Rhee Ki Ha, Park Jong Soo and myself we were chosen to travel the world demonstrating, promoting and giving TaeKwon-Do seminars. We traveled for a total of 43 days. I have many happy memories of this tour. We performed in front of huge crowds in some wonderful stadiums. When we were giving a demonstration in Cairo, Egypt the stadium was full of people but they could not see from one end to another. We had to give four demonstrations, one on each side. They were impressed by our demonstrations and it seemed like we were treated like rock and roll stars. Our demonstrations were very popular everywhere we went.

Each host country provided our breaking materials. I recall on one occasion our boards had been soaked in water by a karate group to make the boards tougher, but we still broke them. On another occasion we (and our hosts) were embarrassed by a group of martial artists who gave a demonstration using, what I perceived to be tricks. I asked the MC to make a public announcement that I wanted to challenge anyone of the martial artists. It was out of character for me but I wanted to show them Tae Kwon Do’s power and skill. They quickly disappeared.

I also traveled frequently with General Choi in the late 1970’s. On one particular tour we traveled to Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. This was the first Tae Kwon Do demonstration Team that ever visited communist countries. Some Korean Martial Art practitioners said that we were communist. However, the WTF invited these same countries to the 1977 WTF World Championships in Chicago and I was told they even paid for their expenses. So I was somewhat confused as to who was a communist and who was not. In 1979 I traveled throughout South America giving demonstrations and seminars, accompanying General Choi and Master J.C.Kim, and others.

Q: Who has impressed you most throughout your TaeKwon-Do career?

A: General Choi Hong Hi and General Woo Jong Lim. General Choi is the founder of Tae Kwon-Do. There was no Tae Kwon-Do prior to the 11th April 1955. I respected him immensely as he was both intelligent and creative. He devoted his life to create and develop Tae Kwon-Do with the assistance of Grand Master Nam Tae Hi and other Masters.

I would also like to mention General Woo. He had all the good qualities of a human being that any man would want to have. He taught me not only the best Tae Kwon Do techniques which allowed me to become the first Tae Kwon Do and Tae Soo Do champion but he also taught me values for life. I received Tae Kwon Do lessons and life lessons at the same time. Unfortunately General Choi and General Woo are not here with us now but I sincerely thank them for what they have done to make me who I am today. I would also like to thank all my Tae Kwon Do Pioneering friends who devoted their life to teach and spread Tae Kwon Do worldwide. You have been my good friends and my strength.

Q: I believe you were instrumental in the creation of the ITF emblem on the back of the Doboks. Can you tell us more about this?

A: General Choi asked me to develop a new Dobok for the ITF that was different from the karate style uniforms we were wearing. The emblem on the back of the ITF Dobok symbolizes a tree, which has continual growth. I designed this for everyone who practices Tae Kwon Do. It was not designed for profit. However, recently I have heard that people have tried to patent the design. I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

Q: When did you leave the ITF?

A: I had been with General Choi since 1960. He came to Vancouver in 1979 and General Choi and Grand Master J C Kim and I had discussions to go to South and North Korea to give tae Kwon Do demonstrations. We all agreed to do so but General Choi decided to go to North Korean only. I disagreed with General Choi’s decision to go to North Korea. I felt it was wrong at that time, as there was no dialogue or communication between the two Korea’s in the late 70’s early 80’s.

I parted from General Choi in 1981. Today however the climate is different and the two Governments are talking. Many of my fellow pioneering Masters felt the same as myself at that time and also left General Choi. General Choi lost most of his Senior Grand masters and Masters and was forced to re-organize with Junior Black Belt Instructors while saying that all Korean Instructors betrayed him, which was not true. In 1982/83 General Choi tried to contact me, but I was not ready to talk unless he could change his politics. Obviously, he did not. Prior to leaving General Choi, Master J.C. Kim and I were selected as ITF representatives to merge with the WTF. Both ITF and WTF representatives had three separate meetings in Vancouver, Canada and Seoul, Korea but we could not reach any agreement.

Q: How are you involved in TaeKwon-Do today?

A: I still train every day. I also regularly conduct seminars and promotional tests together with advice on how to run a successful Do Jang (school). Since General Choi’s death in 2002 I have been meeting with ITF’s Pioneering Grand Masters to find a way to unite the original Tae Kwon Do family under the leadership of the most senior Grand Master, Nam Tae Hi.

On August 16th 2005 in Vancouver, Canada we set up a committee to begin the formation of The Tae Kwon Do Pioneers Council with Grand Master J.C. Kim, Grand Master Cho Sang Min, Grand Master Lee Yoo Sun and myself Grand Master C.K. Choi. The objective of the Council is to help and support all Tae Kwon Do groups worldwide whenever they need assistance. The Council would like all the Grand Masters, Masters and Instructors to work together to support and unify the Tae Kwon Do family.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to the various ITF groups what would it be?

A: I would like to see all ITF groups unite and put all of their differences to one side and work together to make the ITF stronger for the benefit of everyone concerned. I am willing to help any true Tae Kwon Do practitioners in the world. I am also currently writing the true history of Tae Kwon Do. If you have any historical information please feel free to contact me. e-mail address:

Thank you for giving such an interesting and informative interview Grandmaster Choi.


At the beginning of the interview General Woo Jong Lim is referred to as a Major. This was his military title at that time.

Philip Hawkins can be contact at

Grand Master C.K. Choi

Began training in Tae Kwon Do and Karate under Instructor [Army Captain] Hong Sung In and Instructor Kim.
Trained under Master [Major] Woo Jong Lim, Director of Tae Kwon Do for the Korean 1st Army.
Taught Tae Kwon Do at the largest Korean Army Training Center under Master [Lt. Colonel] Woo Jong Lim and General Choi Hong Hi and assisted Gen. Choi to create Gae-Baek Pattern.
Won the First Korean Tae Kwon Do Championships in Sparring and Pattern in Won Ju City, Korea. This was the world’s first championship.
Selected Member of First Korean Army Representative Team.
Won the First Korean Tae Soo Do [Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do] Full Contact Heavyweight Championship in 3rd, 4th,5th Degree Black Belt Division.
Won the Korean Tae Soo Do Representative Full Contact Heavyweight Championship.
Was invited by Malaysia Tae Kwon Do Association to teach Tae Kwon Do and became the First Professional Tae Kwon Do Instructor recognized by Korean Government.
International Tae Kwon Do Federation [I.T.F.] was formed and received # 5 Recognition Plaque.
Opened First Tae Kwon Do School in Vancouver, Canada.
Was member of I.T.F. Demonstration Team to tour the world In 1973, 1978, 1979, 1981.
Was Chairman of I.T.F. Umpire Committee.
Designed the I.T.F. Uniform Tree Logo.

Promoted to 8th Degree Black Belt by I.T.F.
Was one of two I.T.F. Representatives attempting to merge I.T.F. with W.T.F.
With deep regret, Master Choi dropped support for Gen. Choi because of his ties with North Korea. At this junction, South Korea was technically at war and had no diplomatic relations with North Korea.

Created Sparring Patterns.
Became 9th Degree Black Belt.
Published his book The Korean Martial Art of Tae Kwon Do and Early History. Was inducted into the Tae Kwon Do Hall Of Fame in New York City.
2010 Revised the above noted book to include training guidelines, sparring patterns and a testing schedule.

A letter from General Choi dated 36 years ago. [updated Jan 6, 2018]

On March 31, 2014, Dr. George Vitale Vlll, the ITF Spokesman, flew into Kuala Lumpur from Phuket Island, Thailand where he attended the ITF EDB meeting chaired by the ITF President, Dr. Chang Ung. His purpose of the visit was to interview the first disciple of Gen Choi GM Low Koon Lin.

642 view here Photo taken at Grand Master Low Koon Lin’s residence in Petaling Jaya together with Dr. George Vitale and Mr. Chong Soon Kean, a former 3 times ITF World Champion ( Pattern promoted Sr.Master 8th Degree by GM Phap Lu (CHITF)

Gen Choi's letter View here A letter by Gen Choi 36 years ago when he visited my State hometown in Kuantan,in 1978 just months before we participated in the 2nd World ITF Championships in Oklahoma city in the USA.

snapshot with Masters George and Monir View Here

Snapshots with Dr. George Vitale and Grandmaster Mounir Ghrawi. Photo taken in Toronto during the GTF Park Jung Tae International Challenge Cup Championships.

GM Kim Group Photo View Here Photos taken in GM Kim Bok Man’s gymn in New Jersey together with Dr. George Vitale, Master Chris Gantner, Sec-Gen of GTF, and Master Delcid.

United States Taekwondo Grandmasters Society – Peace Award 2013

Published on May 20, 2013

Dr George Vitale receiving his Award in NJ April 2013 US Taekwondo Grandmasters Society, Dr He Young Kimm, Grandmaster Mounir Ghrawi, Grandmaster Richard Chun, Grandmaster Woo Jung Jin, Taekwondo ITF WTF


Master George Vitale, retired US police officer, is everywhere — Ireland one month and North Korea the next. He studies martial arts as a hobby, and advises many instructors about Tae Kwon Do’s history. I met him in Brighton, England, where he told me a bit about himself.