Respecting the Past and Martial Art Legacy


            I began Martial Arts training in 1963 while a college student at the University of Kansas. The art was an Okinawan Karate style and upon graduation from college in March 1967 and moving to Chicago for employment at the Field Museum of Natural History, I looked for a Karate school to continue training. Not finding one like my style, I realized I would have to begin again in a new art. This search lead me to Master Eun, Sang Ki’s Do Jang at 6443 N. Sheridan Road.

His school was on the second floor of a long building in what had once been a dance hall during the prohibition era. The school’s name, “Korean Karate Institute”, intrigued me and upon watching a class I decided I liked his techniques and dedicated teaching method better than the other schools I had visited. I also viewed his art as possibly more effective than what I had previously learned. Mr. Eun’s art was very different than what I had trained at college and included lots of high powerful kicks and what I believe to be more powerful hand techniques.  There were no women in the class at that time – just like at my college Okinawan Karate Do class. He welcomed me and I began my one month probationary training to change how I performed all of my techniques and learn all his requirements to keep my rank of 3rd class Brown Belt – 3rd Kyu in Japanese, 3rd Gup in Korean.

To say I “lived” in the Do Jang is almost a true statement. I had to learn Korean terminology, change how I executed punches and blocks, learn new stances, how I stepped into stances, many new kicks and his system of Hyungs ( Forms ). This was during the mid to late 1960’s and the Chang Han patterns and terminology was not yet on the scene; ergo, the word Hyung rather than Tul ( patterns ).

The Hyung system was called Ki Bon Il thru Oh ( Basic forms 1-5 ); Pyung Ahn Cho Dahn – Advance Form #1; Pyung Ahn E Dahn – Advance Form #2; Pyung Ahn Sahm Dahn – Advance Form #3; Pyung Ahn Sah Dahn – Advance Form #4,; Pyung Ahn Oh Dahn – Advance Form #5 and Chul Ki Cho Dahn, Chul ki E Dahn, and Bassai as a Black Belt.

I also had to learn how to kick a heavy bag, including jumping over a bamboo pole while making a flying side kick as well as how to punch a padded pole.

It was all very different and I loved every second of it. I passed the one month test and was also promoted to 2nd Gup. On 10 December 1967 I tested for and was promoted to 1st Gup Brown Belt. The Red Belt was not commonly used at that time as a grade or class rank color. On 9 October 1968 I tested for and was promoted to 1st Dan Black Belt, my certificate written in all Chinese (formal Korean ) conji and signed by Master Lee, Dong Joo and Mr. Eun.

One Saturday afternoon, after class, I asked Mr. Eun the exact name of the “Korean Karate” style we were training and how it related to the words Tae Kwon Do on my Black Belt Certificate and on our class study pamphlet.  His face brightened and he explained that he wasn’t often asked that question.

His answer was that the term “Korean Karate” was used because not many people would understand Korean words. USA people were somewhat familiar with the word ‘Karate’ and had a rough idea about it, but, that no one would know what our Art’s exact name – Kang Moo Kwan – or the general term Tae Kwon Do meant or even recognize them as a martial art.  “Everybody has heard about ‘Karate,’ but not Korean Arts, even U-Do.  They know ‘Judo’ and ‘Karate’ -Japanese words, not U-Do, Kang Moo Kwan and Tae Kwon Do – Korean words.  Maybe someday they will know.”

The term Tae Kwon Do was used then as a general term to describe Korean kicking and punching methods.  Generally, at that time, the Arts people trained had specific names, i.e., Tang Soo Do, Moo Duk Kwon, Ji Do Kwon, Chang Mu Kwan and in our case – Kang Moo Kwan, my Korean Martial Art foundation stone and legacy.

As I remember Mr. Eun’s account regarding Kang Moo Kwan, when Japans occupation of Korea began during 1905-1906, the practice of Korean Martial arts was forbidden under penalty of death. So, since Martial Arts training was not forbidden in Japan many of the Korean Masters migrated to Japan and continued training their arts. Over the decades their arts became influenced in various aspects by the different Japanese and Okinawan Arts movement systems thus affecting some technique execution methods. This can still be seen today.

During the same period, a small group of Korean Masters chose to hide out in secluded areas and mountainous terrain of Korea rather than moving to Japan and continued their arts in secret. According to this account, the practioners of Kang Moo Kwan were among those that remained in Korea and existed prior to the end of Japanese occupation at the conclusion of

WW II. As such, Kang Moo Kwan was not affected by the various Japanese / Okinawan Arts body movement systems.

Learning this helped me grasp the reason the movement method I learned in college was so very different from what I was learning from Mr. Eun. The way the two arts executed all of the blocks and punches, moved their feet in stance changing and the new techniques I learned from Mr. Eun that I had never seen before were obviously from different roots. The body movement systems required to execute the techniques were extremely different. The Art of GoJu-Ryu  / Shorai Kang school I trained in college moved in small circular motions, executed blocks close in, returned the punching arm to a high position close to the arm pit, and moved in staccato, short distance application. There were no high kicks or the variety of kicks. The kicks used were short and snapped at the knee.

In contrast, Mr. Eun’s blocks were broad, large and flowing and the punching arms returned to belt level.  His favorite expression was “block in his space (referring to the opponent), fight the war in his country – not yours.”  His stances flowed naturally, not in a circular step and the action of changing from one stance to another flowed smoothly yet purposefully with the stepping motion adding power to the technique performed. The kicks used the hips, were long – fully extending the legs, not short and they were high, did not adversely affect the knees and included jumping or skipping. In summary, there was no comparison in the two Arts – only contrast. There was no trace of Japanese or Okinawan influence that I could see in any of the Art’s movements or techniques that I was learning from Mr. Eun.

He also commented that there was a related Art to Kang Moo Kwan – Chan Do Kwan – which was a group formed after a disagreement in leadership thus causing two groups – Kang Moo Kwan and Chang Do Kwan. A close Tae Kwon Do Master friend of mine learned the story from another point of view – that Kang Moo Kwan came out of Chang Do Kwan.

In any event, the small group of Kang Moo Kwan Masters, according to Mr. Eun, never went to Japan and continued training quietly during the Japanese occupation of Korea.  Mr. Eun trained that Art and was passing it along to us. My experience in the stark difference between Kang Moo Kwan and the Okinawan Art I learned in college then made sense and verified for me such a historical account.

In January 1972 I was promoted to 2nd Dan under Mr. Eun in what was then the American Tae Kwon Do Federation.

During that entire period from May 1967 through October 1972 we trained the specific Art of Kang Moo Kwan practicing the previously named forms – Hyungs.  Then, somewhere around October 1972, the Art specifically named TAEKWON-DO, practicing an entirely new set of now called “Patterns” (Tul) as opposed to “forms” (Hyung), rather suddenly appeared on the scene.  There were meetings among the various school directors and instructors in the mid-west region.  They voted to join the new organization and we (the color and lower black belts) were told every school had to change to new forms to now be called Patterns (Tul) named Chang Han style.  We were to all be tested in December 1972 for every school’s entrance into this new International System called ITF – International Taekwon-Do Federation – lead by a South Korean General named Choi, Hong Hi.

I had joined the Navy in late 1971 and in December 1972 I was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where I was conducting classes for Mr. Eun in the upstairs area of a building called Gym 500 during the evenings.  His main school was in Rockford, Illinois a couple of hours drive from the Navy Base which is situated on Lake Michigan north of Chicago.

Like all of Mr Eun’s Black Belts and all the other instructors Black Belts, I was given a very short time to learn all the “General’s patterns” required to keep my 2nd Degree Black Belt rank in this new organization – the ITF.

Mr. Eun explained that this was the wave of the future for Korean Martial Arts and that everybody was joining; he said the patterns were more vivid and more developed in technique sequencing.  No longer were we training the Art of Kang Moo Kwan:  now it was the Art of Taekwon-Do.  So, I worked day and night to learn my new requirements – Chon Ji through and including Gae Beck.  In December 1972 we all tested before General Choi and several other new Koreans to maintain our ranks.  The testing was held at Mr. Eun’s Do Jang in Rockford, Illinois and was attended by schools from all around the Chicago – Indianapolis mid-west region.

My testing was successful; my ITF 2nd Dan Black Belt dated 16 December 1972 was approved, the ITF was firmly planted in our area of the mid-west and Kang Moo Kwan (one of the smallest Kwans) as an identifiably named Korean Martial Art became a part of history, but not a legacy to be forgotten.

Its movement dynamics – or way the body performs hand and feet techniques – can still be recognized and identified by some students of technique movement mechanics history.

Persons trained in the Kang Moo Kwan linage now practice the Chang Han Tul system yet their movement methods – large, broad blocking techniques, full body hand attacking motions, extensive high kicking technique preparation training and approach to entire body conditioning for powerful hand and feet techniques, body flexibility and over all technique fluidity – are observably Kang Moo Kwan in nature and application.

Mr. Eun used to say “Kang Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do makes a small person big and big person fast.”

My close Master Martial Artist friend has referred to me as a “time capsule” and through my graded and black belt students,  Kang Moo Kwan, as a technique execution method and training approach regime, still lives and as such includes a few techniques not seen nor performed in the Chang Han Patterns.

My training and instruction approach is modeled after my student experiences under Master Eun, Sang Ki and Master Lee, Jong Moon, a fellow and later the instructor at Mr. Eun’s Do Jang in Rockford, Illinois.  I use Mr. Eun’s stories, told us as training inspiration aids, and follow his approach to instruction.  I meld these with his technique execution and Mr. Lee’s methods of body conditioning and technique development to the Pil Sung philosophy taught by Mr. Eun to inspire and sustain my own training and that which I give to my Hoc Sang (students).  Though the Art I now practice and teach is Chang Han style pattern Taekwon-Do, Kang Moo Kwan roots are very apparent in my pedagogy.  It has always been my goal to pass along the dedication to the Kang Moo Kwan Martial Art method and instruction approach that I learned from Mr. Eun back in the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s.  I pursue daily the dedication to Martial Art training and growth he passed to me over 46 years ago.

To my knowledge, those who remember or even know of Kang Moo Kwan are few and far between.  When Mr. Eun was telling me about our Art, he penciled the Korean Conji for Kang Moo Kwan on the back of one of his business cards and wrote the translation – Kang = Teaching, Moo = Martial Art, Kwan = Institute.  I still have that card.  At the time (1968) this amount of information was sufficient.  Today, I wish I had asked him more, asked him about his instructor’s instructor, and a little about them.

That was then:  now that knowledge may forever be lost, unless by chance, there is another descendant of Kang Moo Kwan out there who perhaps trained under one of Mr. Eun’s fellow classmates when they were both students and who also became an instructor leaving the Kang Moo Kwan legacy in another ‘time capsule’ like myself.  If so, I would like to meet them and compare notes about the history of our Kang Moo Kwan roots.

All of Martial Art style history is interesting, unique and needs to be protected from being forgotten. Mr. Eun once said “A tiger leaves his skin, a man leaves his name, one either of Honor or Dishonor”. A Martial Artists name is inevitably entwined in what and how he trains and teaches, either in honor or dishonor. Martial Art honor involves respecting the past; ie, learning and sharing an arts knowledge, skills and history. Practioners need to know from where their particular Martial Art method came and preserve the knowledge of those roots for strength, depth and endurance.  To that end is the purpose of this article.  Much of Martial Art history, in general, is not being passed down.  I encourage any fellow Martial Art practioners from 10th Gup to 9th Dan to dig into your past and learn the history of your Martial Art foundation stones. Keep that knowledge alive. Respect it by being sure of passing that legacy to your Martial Art progeny.

Pil Sung

Senior Master, Gwen F. Hall (Sah Hyung)

One Response to Respecting the Past and Martial Art Legacy

  1. Michael Zdeb says:

    I trained in Rockford in the mid 1960s and tested in a ‘long room’ on the second floor of a building next to the El and Loyola on Sheridan Rd. I have been trying to recall the names of the teachers and the tradition. It was called Korean Karate and my friends with whom I train say they never heard of that phrase. (I am a Black Sash in Shaolin Chuan fa-Northern long fist, having decided at age 62 to start over after a 50 year gap). From your passage, I think I trained with the same people as you. Do you recall the teacher in Rockford ( I seem to recall it being Master Lee)?

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