Black Belt August 1997

In Reality, Taekwondo Gets No Respect!

Fighter Hopes to Restore Korean Art's Credibility in the No-Holds-Barred Arena

by Jim Coleman

For months, Philip Ameris swallowed his pride and bit his tongue as a parade of grapplers made names for themselves by beating strikers in reality combat matches all across North America. Although he was itching for an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of his teekwondo system in the noholds-barred arena, he kept mum, primarily in deference to his instructor, Hee Il Cho, who Ameris felt might frown on the idea of him competing in such events.

But after an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) official issued a written challenge to Cho, inviting the 50-something instructor to fight in the UFC, Ameris could remain silent no longer. That, he says, was the final straw.

"Master Cho just laughed [the challenge] off and said 'It's a show business thing; don't worry about it.' But that is what got me interested in competing [in a reality fighting event]," says Ameris, 35.

That, and the fact Ameris believes taekwondo and other primarily upright fighting arts have been slighted in the reality combat arena. So Ameris is out to prove that a taekwondo fighter can not only compete in such events, but can win them as well.

"Taekwondo isn't getting any respect whatsoever [from the reality fighting community]," claims Ameris, the technical director for Cho's Action International Martial Arts Association (AIMAA). "I want to get a little bit of respect for the stand-up fighters."

The Pittsburgh-based instructor believes he can do just that if somebody would give him the opportunity. So far, however, no one from the reality combat field has come knocking. And despite overtures to officials at both the Extreme Fighting and World Combat Championship reality events, Ameris - who stands 5-foot11 and weighs 195 pounds - has not been able to get a fight.

If selected to compete in a no-holds-barred event, Ameris believes he could proudly represent taekwondo stylists and strikers everywhere, and also portray the martial arts industry in a better light than it is currently depicted in reality combat shows.

"The image they're trying to create is like the World Wrestling Federation, and I think that is hurting the martial arts, says Ameris, who had a brief but successful stint in full-contact karate in the 1980s. "People see that and assume that's the way karate people act. If people think that's what martial arts is, they won't bring their children to schools to learn martial arts."

Surprisingly, the highly traditional Cho, Black Belt magazine's 1989 Instructor of the Year, not only supported his student's desire to compete in no-holds-barred events, he even suggested that Ameris learn more grappling techniques if he was truly interested in competing in reality combat events. Taekwondo is noted primarily for its kicking arsenal, and contains a very limited amount of grappling maneuvers. Cho knows that to win in the no-hold-barred arena, a taekwondo stylist needs to know how to fight on the ground as well as upright.

"He said 'Go learn how to grapple,'"Ameris recalls. "He's so open-minded, even though he's a traditionalist. I always try to hold on to my traditional roots, but if somthing works, I think you should put it in [your arsenal]. And if you're going to go into an event like that, you have to explore some different styles."

So Ameris began working on his grappling skills, training with, among others, shooffighter Bart Vale, who has competed in both the Extreme Fighting and World Combat Championship events. "He's very, very strong, and he taught me alot," Ameris says of Vale. "But he's very basic. He knows submission holds, but not positioning. Positioning is important because you have to know how to get an opponent off of you and get back up. You also need to know how to avoid going onto your belly‹which is a big mistake‹or offering your oppponent a limb to grab."

Ameris has also trained with noted vale tudo stylist Marco Ruas, winner of UFC Vll. "He's the most complete of all the no-holds-barred fighters," Ameris says of the Brazilian. "He kicks hard, he punches hard, and he's much better on the ground than most people think. He's in a class all by himself."

According to Ameris, "Most grappling in taekwondo is just wrist locks and armbars; there is no ground work whatsoever." Yet, he claims that making the transition from a taekwondo technique to grappling technique is quite natural and fluid.

"It flows beautifully. Your kicks almost set up the takedowns," he states. "The majority of kicks you use against a grappler should come from the back leg, because he'll grab your front Ieg [if you try to kick]. Instead, throw a rear-leg kick, step back and sprawl [on top of your opponent if he comes in for a takedown], if you have to."

Ameris claims some upright fighters get themselves into trouble by hesitating and not delivering techniques wih full power against a grappler because they fear being taken down or having a limb trapped. "A lot of people are intimidated against grapplers and are too worried about going to the ground," he notes. "But i think you have to go after them and hit them. You have to throw techniques with commitment. You've got to make them respect your punching and your power."

The no-holds-barred graveyard is filled with strikers who thought they could knock out a grappler as he charged in on them, only to discover too late how difficult it is to land a strong, clean blow -much less multiple blows- under such circumstances. Ameris, however, simply believes that he is a better striker than most who have gone before him, and he feeis he feels he could succeed where other upright fighters have failed.

"I have confidence in my ability," he says. I think I could kick them in the face before they could get me on the ground."

Even against someone like jujitsu styist Royce Gracie, who won the first three UFC tournaments ?

"Royce is just like a snake; his technique is superb. I definitely wouldn't want to go to the ground with him," Ameris says. "I would try to hit him hard and rough him up. If we went to the ground, I would head butt him and continue to rough him up. But the idea is to stay on your feet and try to knock him out."

And how would Ameris fight wrestler and two-time UFC champion Mark Coleman?

"He's super strong. I'd have to try and box him and not let him take me to the ground," Ameris says. "I'd work my kicks and try to tire him out. If he gets you on the ground, he's going to hurt you."

Not only has Ameris embraced grappling techniques, but surprisingly, so too has his taekwondo instructor, Cho.

"He is very receptive to grappling," notes Ameris who operates a taekwondo school in Pittsburgh. "He'll get right down there [on the ground] with you. He's very receptive to |earning anything new, and he's very analytical. He's got a fighter's mind."

Cho, in fact, briefly competed at martial arts tournaments after arriving in the United States from South Korea in 1969. But he had a problem with rules: He didn't like them, or follow them. Consequently, he was disqualified from many tournaments for hitting his opponents too hard. "I knocked a lot of people out," he recalls. "I never really cared about scoring points."

Sounds like a perfect candidate for no-holds-barred competition. But Cho prefers to send Ameris, his highest-ranking black belt at sixth-degree, in his stead.

"If I was young, maybe I would do it," Cho says. "But as a master, I am much more peaceful than in my younger days."

Although Cho says he was not insulted by the UFC's invitation to fight, he understands why Ameris took the challengetoheart.

"Philip is very, very loyal to me, and he takes things much more seriously," Cho explains. "He would put his life on the line if necessary. He's a true warrior."

And what does Cho think of his prize pupil's chances in a no-holds-barred event?

"He grew up in a tough neighborhood and has had 1,000 streetfights, and he never lost one of them," Cho remarks. "That type of fighting, he cannot lose. He's got that kind of spirit and he's not afraid of anybody. I have never met any person with that much talent."

Although he admits to being "very traditional in my behavior and philosophy," Cho does not have a problem with Ameris other students adding grappling to their taekwondo training.

"I'm not against using new techniques," Cho states. "If grappling works for them, they should use it."

Apparently, many of Cho's students will soon be using grappling techniques because, according to Ameris, AlMAA students will eventually be required to know grappling maneuvers to pass their black belt tests. Grappling techniques have also been included on a series of instructional videotapes which Cho and Ameris recently collaborated. So it appears the synthesis of grappling and taekwondo is here to stay -at least in Cho's organization.

Ameris first learned of Cho from reading the latter's book on taekwondo. He later attended one of Cho's taekwondo seminars, and has been training under him ever since - a total of 19 years.

"He had everything I was looking for; he's a complete martial artist," Ameris says. "He always has something new to teach me about martial arts and about life. I can never repay him for all he's done for me."

A no-holds-barred fighting championship would be a nice start.

© copyright Black Belt August 1997