An Artifact of Tae Kwon Do History
Grandmaster Duk Sung Son’s Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do
Although the title, cover photo and forms in Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do reveal much about the early history of the Tae Kwon Do taught by Grandmaster Son, the purpose of his book is to educate curious, English-speaking Western readers about the mysterious martial art of Tae Kwon Do. For Grandmaster Son, these readers are likely to have a high school education, and perhaps some college experience. Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do uses formal language and sentence structures throughout the book, reminiscent of college textbooks from the same period. Curiously, Grandmaster Son also shuns all things Korean throughout the book, except the art itself of course. The book is written entirely in English. All techniques of the Korean art – stances, kicks, blocks, strikes, exercises & etc. – are presented wholly in English; none are identified by their Korean equivalent. This makes Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do less confusing, perhaps, for Western readers.
[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Sidebar: Duk Sung Son’s Letter, Published 16 June 1959 in the Seoul Shinmun (Translated into English)” footer=” Duk Sung Son’s Letter, Published 16 June 1959 in the Seoul Shinmun”]
With morality and humbleness, the Taekwondo Chung Do Kwan is determined to punish those traitors who threw away their trust to the other numerous Kwans. Especially after Lee Won Kuk left Korea, the traitors deceptively contacted these other Kwans, used the dojang under their own names to slanderously spread their own names. We can no longer watch these violations and wish to make clear to the nation so the Chung Do Kwan is not misunderstood. Therefore, we lay bare their criminal acts.
A Brief History of the Chung Do Kwan
Lee Won Kuk returned from Japan to open his dojang in Yong Chun, Suh Dae Moon Ku in 1944 and produced disciplines (Sado). Following the liberation of Korea, Lee moved his dojang to the Si Chun Church Hall, Kyun Ji Dong and continued to teach. When the Korean War broke out, the members were separated and became refugees, but I gathered some members and continued to teach. When the Allied Forces retreated on January 1, 1951, Lee Won Kuk said he was old and no longer able to teach, so he wanted me to be the next Kwan Jang. I became his successor.
After I returned to the capital city of Seoul, I found Hyun Jong Myun leading the school, but he insisted that I take over the school, perhaps because he thought he couldn’t handle or take the responsibility. My juniors also insisted that I take over. Finally, when Jung Yong Taek, who ran away to Japan, brought a message that nominated me to the Kwan Jang position by Lee Won Kuk, I agreed to be the next Kwan Jang. Because I did not charge the black belts and policemen the 300 hwan fee, I started to have financial problems. At the time, I could not even pay the Sabums. Despite the net loss from operating the Chung Do Kwan, I continued to organize ceremonies and tournaments, and spread the Chung Do Kwan and Taekwondo in published news articles.
After several months, I came back to Seoul and found out Lee Won Kuk and his family all ran away to Japan. I thought they were living in Pusan. Jung Yong Taek also ran away to Japan, but came back several times during the year. However he did not know what Lee Won Kuk and his family’s situation or business was. Lee Won Kuk’s sister in law, Moon Myung Ja, also frequently flew back and forth between Korean and Japan. I don’t know why she visited Korea so often. Jung Yong Taek and Moon Myung Ja were jealous of the Chung Do Kwan’s growth and devised a plan to split the Chung Do Kwan. At last, they formed an illicit connection with discontented members of the Chung Do Kwan and returned to Korea. They obtained not a nomination certificate (Im Myung Jung), but a notice statement (Ji Ryung Jung) signed by Lee Won Kuk. On June 4, 1959, the notice statement was given to Uhm Woon Kyu.
The Korean traitors who ran away to Japan were a matter of regret for me. They don’t know that they will be punished at last. Nam Tae Hi asked me to give a dan certificate to 29th Infantry Division commander Choi Hong Hi, who had some experience in martial art (Sado), so we could use his military authority to spread the Chung Do Kwan. To contribute to Taekwondo’s development, I gave an Honorary 4th Dan certificate signed by myself, Son Duk Sung, to Choi Hong Hi in front of the 3rd Army commander in 1955.
In 1957, Choi insisted that I give him a 6th Dan and sent a certificate he prepared in my name for me to sign. Because Choi and I were sworn brothers, and because my younger brother had a 6th Dan, he wanted one also. I tore up the certificate he sent to me without signing it. General Choi was also sending instructors (Sabums) to Vietnam, but he did that on his own authority and chose the number of instructors to send without consulting me. He also lied and stated that he had 24 years experience in martial arts practice (Sa Do Soo Ryun) and spread propaganda about himself. Therefore, it was unavoidable that I had to cancel his Honorary 4th Dan certificate and Honorary Kwan Jang position.
The Nomination of Sabums
After I received the position of 2nd Kwan Jang of the Chung Do Kwan, I nominated Min Wook Sik, Hyun Jong Myun, and Uhm Woon Kyu as Sabums. Later, I nominated Nam Tae Hi as a Sabum and Uhm Woon Kyu as a Standing or Permanent Sabum (Sang Im Sabum). However Hyun Jong Myun, Uhm Woon Kyu and Nam Tae Hi acted as if they were at war against me and frequently contacted with people who ran away to Japan. Who can nominate a Kwan Jang in a private dojang except the legal person with the authority? I myself am willing to give up my position as the Kwan Jang, if I see a promising and capable person who can be the next successor, but I am still looking for that person. There is no excuse for the actions of Uhm Woon Kyu, when he was sent by me to teach Taekwondo at the Korea Military Academy, Sung Kyun Kwan University and Seoul National University. He should have known better as an educated person. But I feel very sorry for those who received just a notice statement (Ji Ryung Jung) and not a nomination certificate (Im Myung Jung) from him. If he thought about all the other Taekwondo schools and the Chung Do Kwan’s future, he would not do such a betrayal. I want the wise citizens of Korea to judge this matter. When I found out about these matters, I expelled them from the membership on behalf of my name. All the more, the Chung Do Kwan will unite ever more and practice rigorously for tournaments in the future, so please do not be disturbed by this whole action.
Expelled members: Hyun Jong Myun – Uhm Woon Kyu – Nam Tae Hi
Cancellation of Honorary 4th Dan certificate and Honorary Kwan Jang position: Choi Hong Hi
June 15, 1959
Kwan Jang Son Duk Sung
In 1968, Tae Kwon Do was new to the people of the United States, who generally only knew what they had seen on television and in movies. Grandmaster Son acknowledges that these mediums have emphasized only the spectacular feats of Tae Kwon Do and that people believed that it is only about breaking boards and roofing tiles, and fighting. In this book, Grandmaster Son seeks to bridge the gap between the public’s perception and the true art of Tae Kwon Do so they may more fully understand and appreciate the art being taught around the world. In Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do, Grandmaster Son skilfully both promotes his art and educates readers by presenting to readers a complete curriculum by which to train students from 10th gup to 1st gup, from white belt to brown or red belt (depending on the dojang), in Tae Kwon Do, or “Korean Karate.” In the book, Grandmaster Son defines Tae Kwon Do, shares a general history of martial arts, and discusses the many facets of the art, including its tangible and intangible benefits; warm-up and stretching exercises; basic strikes, kicks and blocks; formal patterns; three step sparring; practical applications, i.e. self-defense; free-style fighting; and breaking.
Grandmaster Son assumes that readers of Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do are not at all familiar with the Korean martial art, except for the spectacular fight scenes or breaking demonstrations they might have seen on television. In the first three chapters, while only 17 pages long, Grandmaster Son skillfully explains that Tae Kwon Do is not only a physical or fighting art but an art of the mind and spirit as well. These chapters are important chapters to understand Tae Kwon Do as taught by Grandmaster Son. Grandmaster Son traces a general history of the Asian martial arts, of which Tae Kwon Do is a part; illustrates the physical, mental and spiritual challenges of the art; and describes the art’s interrelated fundamental skills. Both beginning and advanced students are likely to find it rewarding to read and re-read these chapters, for the fundamentals that Grandmaster Son expertly defines and explains still apply to modern Tae Kwon Do of all flavors.
To help define Tae Kwon Do for the layman, Grandmaster Son briefly groups it with similar arts in China, Okinawa, Japan, Burma and Thailand, then insightfully postulates that the similar arts in these countries may have evolved from a single unknown martial art or evolved through normal cultural exchanges during peace and war. Grandmaster Son explains that the martial arts in Southeast Asia may have originated with Indian Buddhist monks who traveled to China and taught Ch’uan-fa, or Kempo, to Chinese kings and monks as they went. China, notes Grandmaster Son, held temporal power over most of Asia at one time or another, including Okinawa, Japan and Korea, and it is probable that Kempo found its way to Korea, influencing the ancient Korean knights, nobles and soldiers known as Hwa Rang Do, a group frequently noted in the history of ancient Korean martial arts; to Okinawa where it was called Okinawa-te or To-de; and later to Japan, where it was called Karate. Aside from acknowledging a likely influence from China on the ancient Korean martial arts, Grandmaster Son broadly defines Tae Kwon Do as a generic study of kicks and punches that from ancient Korean times passed from generation to generation, until Grandmaster Duk Sung Son himself single-handedly formalized it in 1950 and began teaching it to branches of the Korean Army and to cadets at the Korean military academy, the equivalent of West Point Military Academy in the United States. Grandmaster Son also notes that his advanced students taught the art of Tae Kwon Do at Korean colleges and universities.
UNFORTUNATELY, AT NO TIME IN GRANDMASTER SON’S RETELLING OF THE HISTORY OF TAE KWON DO ITSELF IS ANY OTHER PERSON CREDITED.
Unfortunately, at no time in Grandmaster Son’s retelling of the history of Tae Kwon Do itself is any other person credited. It is surprising that Grandmaster Son takes sole credit for the formalization of Tae Kwon Do, completely ignoring his Master instructor, Won Kuk Lee; or Won Kuk Lee’s Shotokan instructor, Gichin Funakoshi, whom Won Kuk Lee likely mentioned during the six years Grandmaster Son studied with him; or any leader from any of the other founding kwans. (Readers will remember, however, that Grandmaster Son names Gichin Funakoshi in the history of karate.) One would expect Grandmaster Son to respect and remain loyal to Won Kuk Lee, his Master instructor, by giving him credit where credit is due. On the other hand, it is no surprise that Grandmaster Son never mentions General Choi in Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do, excluding him just as Grandmaster Son himself had been excluded 13 years before.
Although most readers may have seen martial arts on television or in movies, “there is more to Tae Kwon Do than simple violence,” writes Grandmaster Son. It is a subject to be studied seriously, but it is also an “interesting and stimulating form of exercise…or diversion,” suitable not only for men but for women and children too, teaching self-protection and self-control, and offering physical exercise and improved health. Students, Grandmaster Son wisely notes, take from Tae Kwon Do what they put into it, in direct proportion to their efforts. To learn Tae Kwon Do for a slight advantage in an attack, six months of fairly intensive study is needed, according to Grandmaster Son. “To be able to meet any assailant under any conditions and be confident, however…an absolute minimum of two years would be required for exceptional students and three for most,” asserts Grandmaster Son. The sensational breaking and fighting that readers have seen on TV and in movies are “much like the visible part of an iceberg,” Grandmaster Son writes, accomplished through arduous study and practice. At several points, Grandmaster Son, a well-known champion of traditional Tae Kwon Do, not the modern sport variety, compares proficient students with dedicated and disciplined athletes in [other] sports, specifically pole vaulting, boxing and swimming (sports which are, ironically, Olympic sporting events, the ranks of which WTF/Kukki Tae Kwon Do will join 30 years hence). Heightened physical conditioning, a core attribute of well-trained athletes, is a natural result of learning and practicing Tae Kwon Do.
Grandmaster Son concisely and adeptly defines and explains the fundamentals of Tae Kwon Do in the early chapters of Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do. These fundamentals – focus, strength, speed, relaxation, ventilation, balance, accuracy, self-control, and hard work – are so intertwined as to be inseparable, all working together in harmony. However, Grandmaster Son tells readers and beginning students, the fundamentals of Tae Kwon Do, as with other similarly artistic enterprises, “are not milestones which one approaches, passes and leaves behind…As the student moves…through various stages of achievement, the obvious growing control of the body, mind and even the spirit is…evident.” To understand these fundamentals is to understand Grandmaster Son’s Tae Kwon Do as he taught it soon after arriving in New York City, but also as he taught it at the Chung Do Kwan in Korea a decade before. Modern students of Tae Kwon Do are likely to recognize these fundamentals, which lay at the heart of the many branches of Tae Kwon Do yet today.
Focus is the concentration of the entire physical force of the body, mind and spirit at the point of contact with the selected part of the body. Tae Kwon Do students train to increase the power of their punches by training all the parts of the body to work together, writes Grandmaster Son, to concentrate all of the physical force at the precise point and moment of impact. Focus, however, is also concentration of the mind, so that the mind is free of extraneous thoughts which restrict the cooperation between the mind and the body, the student seeing and reacting swiftly to an attack. “The thought process must be bypassed,” Grandmaster Son writes, “There is not time to think.”
Strength, speed and, ironically, relaxation, are other physical fundamentals of Tae Kwon Do. Without them, focus is next to meaningless. Strength can be improved by exercise. However, Grandmaster Son notes, the muscles used in Tae Kwon Do are used in such unique ways that they do not provide much benefit for other athletic endeavors as described above, and vice versa. “Raw physical strength,” writes Grandmaster Son, “is in itself of little use in Tae Kwon Do even if it is the right kind of strength. It must be harnessed and concentrated in the right place at the right time.” To properly apply strength, students of Tae Kwon Do must also develop speed, “the handmaiden of strength.” It is “basic and fundamental to successful development in Tae Kwon Do.” Grandmaster Son cites a basic principle of physics, also known as Newton’s second law of motion, that force is proportionate to mass and its acceleration, or F=MA, which means that the greater the speed of an attack, the more force or power that is generated by the attack. Of course, Grandmaster Son writes, speed plays another important role in Tae Kwon Do. The speedy attack arrives at its target before it can be countered, thereby making the attack effective. Physical speed, in harmony with a focused mind, makes it possible for the body to respond before the mind registers an attack or opening.
Relaxation, on the other hand, affects both speed and power. To layman or beginning students, relaxation may appear to be the antithesis of speed and power. However, “relaxation is vital,” Grandmaster Son writes. “Neither speed nor strength will be capable of achievement unless [the student]has learned to relax.” Readers will remember that focus involves both the mind and body. “If the body is fully relaxed during focus,” Grandmaster Son notes, “the mind will also be relaxed, so that it is ready to receive impressions and to react.” Focus, as defined by Grandmaster Son, occurs simultaneously in the mind and the body, and is manifested within the last eight to twelve inches of technique, the moment that everything inside pulls together and delivers force at the point of impact. Grandmaster Son also recognizes that an anxious and unrelaxed mind is reflected in the body. Failure to be relaxed in mind or body except during this period of focus affect the ability of students to attack and defend in two ways. First, failure to be physically relaxed causes premature fatigue because the body is tense and tight at all times, not just within the period of physical focus. Second, failure to be relaxed in mind or body also slows attack and defense. Mentally, extraneous thoughts interfere with the ability to deliver a well-timed attack or defense. Physically, the student’s muscles work against one another, counteracting each other, further slowing attack and defense. “Relaxation is not an easy discipline to develop,” acknowledges Grandmaster Son. Beginners fear being embarrassed or hit when they first begin to face opponents for free-style fighting, a state of mind which causes their bodies to likewise be tense. This is natural, Grandmaster Son assures students, “Courage gives one the ability to fight in spite of fear. To relax at the same time takes a large measure of self-control which comes as one progresses in the study of Tae Kwon Do.”
The next two fundamentals, exhalation and ventilation, involve the process of breathing. Exhalation, the easiest fundamental to learn, manifests itself in loud verbalizations at the moment of focus. Most readers who have seen Tae Kwon Do, or any martial art, on television or in movies, will be familiar with these loud verbalizations, but not with their purpose. Grandmaster Son calls this loud verbalization a “bark.” This bark is better known to students of Tae Kwon Do as a kihap, the Korean word meaning “to yell,” although Grandmaster Son does not use any Korean in his book. “Bark” is an unexpected term which also dates Grandmaster Son’s Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do to the 1960s. The term, although antiquated, is correct. English dictionaries define a bark as a sharp, explosive, aggressive cry. This “bark” ensures that the student exhales, writes Grandmaster Son. “Nature says the maximum concentration of physical output is achieved on the exhale,” he argues. “Tigers roar when they charge…Battle cries are common to human combat as well.” Barks at the moment of striking also serve a secondary function, Grandmaster Son believes. Such barks, if loud and explosive enough, paralyze an opponent for a fraction of a second and provide the student of Tae Kwon Do an advantage over his opponent. Grandmaster Son is quick to note, however, that when students of Tae Kwon Do spar in the dojang, “the paralyzing effect ceases to exist because the opponent has heard the sudden noise many times before.”
Ventilation, the fundamental related to exhalation, is something people in general never think about. It is an automatic reflex, but because we do not think about it, we do not fully exercise it. “Consequently,” writes Grandmaster Son, “as studies have shown, we use [only] a sixth of our lung capacity in normal breathing.” Students of Tae Kwon Do learn to ventilate their lungs properly and increase their lung capacity through deep breathing exercises, which Grandmaster Son explains later in the book. Deep breathing exercises also strengthen the lower abdomen, the source of Tae Kwon Do power, according to Grandmaster Son. “The logic of proper breathing is based on the physiological function of breathing,” Grandmaster Son writes. Increased lung capacity and adequate ventilation make both greater physical output and sustained physical output possible. Proper breathing, Grandmaster Son notes, is “important to the Tae Kwon Doist as it is to any athlete.”
As students of Tae Kwon Do practice the basic exercises and forms, they develop balance and accuracy, the next two fundamental skills of Tae Kwon Do. They learn to initiate all their techniques from a position of balance and to return to a position of balance. “Balance is, of course, a requisite of any athletic effort,” notes Grandmaster Son. If students are not well balanced, especially in free-style sparring, they will not be able to adequately attack and defend, and their opponents will take advantage of the imbalance to win. In a real fight, however, an imbalanced student may be seriously injured by his opponent. Students of Tae Kwon Do likewise develop accuracy, another basic requirement, as they practice the forms and basic exercises. “In order for an attack to be effective,” Grandmaster Son writes, “it must be directed to a specific part of the opponent, and it must in fact go where it is directed.” Readers will understand that, since the fundamentals all work together, a powerful, fast, balanced attack will be meaningless if it cannot strike its intended target because the student has not learned accuracy. However, “The element of accuracy,” Grandmaster Son reflects, “is refined in Tae Kwon Do more than in other sports. A blow or a kick is not just thrown at the opponent: it is directed to the eyes, the bridge of the nose, the temple, or [other target].” Grandmaster Son teaches students to strike specific targets the size of a small U.S. coin, specifically a dime.
Earlier in Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do, Grandmaster Son defines Tae Kwon Do as an art of self-control. Good sportsmanship, another fundamental of Tae Kwon Do, is a function of self-control. Students of Tae Kwon Do are expected to adhere to a code of ethics “based upon good sportsmanship and just plain good manners,” writes Grandmaster Son. “When one is dealing with lethal weapons, it is particularly necessary that the rules of good sportsmanship be observed.” Although “violence…is a part of Tae Kwon Do,” Grandmaster Son notes, “it is only a part. Moreover, it is controlled violence.” Good sportsmanship demands good losing and graceful winning, but it is not confined to the dojang. “[Good sportsmanship] must become an essential part of the [student’s] way of living and way of conducting his day-to-day affairs.” As the student of Tae Kwon Do observes its code of ethics and practices good sportsmanship, the student learns good manners. “Good manners are a natural adjunct to good sportsmanship,” Grandmaster Son contends. Good manners, for Grandmaster Son, include not talking to excess or bragging; wearing a clean, well kept uniform to class; paying attention in class; and leaving class early only with prior permission from the instructor.
Hard work is the last fundamental described in Korean Karate: The Art of Tae Kwon Do. Grandmaser Son refers to it periodically throughout these early chapters. “Hard physical work is necessary in order to acquire the requisite potential of these [fundamentals] of Tae Kwon Do,” Grandmaster Son writes. Readers will recall that Grandmaster Son believes that a minimum of six months of fairly intensive study and practice is required for students to gain a small competitive edge in an attack. More specifically, Grandmaster Son believes that,
“IN THE EARLY STAGES THERE SHOULD BE A WORKOUT OF ONE AND A HALF HOURS, THREE OR FOUR TIMES A WEEK. THIS WILL GIVE [STUDENTS] A KNOWLEDGE OF TAE KWON DO BUT NOT A PROFICIENCY IN IT. TO ACHIEVE TRUE PROFICIENCY AT THE BLACK BELT LEVEL, [STUDENTS] MUST PUT IN APPROXIMATELY AN HOUR AND A HALF A DAY SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. WE HAVE FOUND IT IMPOSSIBLE TO GET ‘OVER THE HUMP’ AND ACHIEVE THE CONTROL OF THE BODY TO THE EXTENT NECESSARY FOR BLACK BELT PROFICIENCY WITHOUT TOTAL APPLICATION SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.”
For Grandmaster Son and his students, “There is no shortcut…There is no substitute for [hard work] and no good Taekwondoist has achieved his skill without it.” In fact, Grandmaster Son clearly scolds students who do not expect to work hard and schools which do not require hard work. “Students who think they can avoid hard work and schools which devotedly teach only graceful movements are simply wasting their time,” Grandmaster Son admonishes. This attitude reflects a similar attitude expressed by the old Okinawan saying presented earlier in this review: “A dojo without a makiwara is nothing more than a dance school.”
The less tangible aspect of Tae Kwon Do, the spiritual aspect, however, is more important than the physical aspects, according to Grandmaster Son. “Without it, the student cannot tap the inner resources inside himself to become really proficient,” he writes. Along with the ability to harm, students of Tae Kwon Do also learn the responsibility to control their ability to harm. As physical skill develops, an inner sense of responsibility develops along with it. The spiritual weakness that encourages a man to bully others, Grandmaster Son believes, also makes it impossible for the bully to be proficient in Tae Kwon Do. Instead the bully, who does not have the inner reserves to continue with the arduous task of learning Tae Kwon Do, simply quits. Bullies who discover within themselves the fortitude and spirit to continue, however, find their weakness strengthened in proportion to their training and study. They find measures of self-control.
As we have seen, Grandmaster Son compares students of Tae Kwon Do with disciplined athletes. Grandmaster Son also makes a similar comparison between the practice of Tae Kwon Do and other artistic endeavors in these early chapters. Like other artists, serious students of Tae Kwon Do strive to improve with every performance, but according to Grandmaster Son, perfection will always remain out of reach. Serious students of Tae Kwon Do also discover that, although they learn the fundamentals and techniques, they apply and combine them in unique ways. So adept is Grandmaster Son’s comparison, it is best summarized in his own words:
“AS IN THE CASE OF PAINTING, SINGING OR ANY OTHER HUMAN ACTIVITY GENERALLY CLASSIFIED AS AN ART, THE ART IS IN THE STRIVING AND THE GOAL IS NEVER REACHED…THE GOALS ALWAYS REMAIN AHEAD BECAUSE, NO MATTER HOW FAST OR STRONG OR COORDINATED A MOVEMENT IS, IT CAN ALWAYS BE DONE FASTER OR MORE STRONGLY OR WITH BETTER COORDINATION…PERFECTION IS NEVER ACHIEVED…IT IS WELL KNOWN THAT GREAT ARTISTS IN MUSIC, PAINTING, WRITING AND SO ON NEVER FEEL THEY HAVE CREATED THE PERFECT WORK…IN THE CASE OF PLAYING THE VIOLIN, AN INDIVIDUAL CAN BE TAUGHT THE MECHANICS OF THE ART, BUT THE FINAL EXPRESSION HAS TO COME FROM THE TOTAL OF HIS OWN PERSONALITY. SIMILARLY, FREE-STYLE FIGHTING TECHNIQUES MUST HAVE CERTAIN BASIC PATTERNS AND LIMITATIONS, BUT THE STYLE OF THE FINAL PRODUCT IS ENTIRELY UP TO THE INDIVIDUAL.”