Martial Arts - out of the past and into the present
by Master Cho
FORMERLY a Rhode Island resident, Master Cho has since moved to California. A consummate technician in his feld, Master Cho never fails to thrill audiences with his demonstrations of Taekwondo. His lightning speed kicks have rightfully earned him the reputation as the world's fastest kicker. A 7th degree master, he has competed in and won over 30 major hurnaments in the US. Master Cho's training began in Korea where he received his black belt at the age of 10 years. He continued training, competing and teaching throughout his high school years, uaduating from The International Instructors School in 1968, after which he was sent to India -to teach the Martial Arts to special military forces. He then travelled Europe finally deciding to settle permanently in the USA. He has recently published a book, Man Of Contrasts, which is considered by many to be one of the fnest Tackwondo books on the market today.
"I have reached a moment in my life when there is much that I am disturbed by within Martial Arts. A time has arrived for fresh air to sweep away often staid, insular attitudes, for renewal of ideas, rejuvenation, and a porous acceptance of change within all aspects of the various systems of Martial Arts, expecially between Martial Artists themselves.
Now, today, is the only real reality, we may be the sum total of our past and the past of millions who lived before us but life is what we are doing, thinking, feeling creating; now, this moment is reality. I cannot live captured by the ideals of the past or in fear of my future. Neither am I a man afraid to admit change into my life, especially within my teaching of Taekwondo. If there is a superior way of teaching or developing techniques I want to know about it and adapt that way into the methods I have established. The future of all systems of Martial Arts depends on continual growth. While holding on to our noble traditions we can and should explore new concepts and training methods.
My Martial Arts ancestors may curl up and cringe at my ideas, but I am interested in analysing and exploring the most effective methods scientifically, for developing a technique. The great masters of the past were indeed excellent teachers but surrounded as we are today by new technology and research into new training methods, there may just be better ways of developing certain techniques. I therefore do not feel guilty as if I am impelled to stick to one method formulated years ago as the only way.
Full contact has definitely contributed to putting a pressure on traditional Martial Arts and its effectiveness. Often, when matched with an experienced contact fighter, the traditional stylist gets slaughtered. I do not want to compare full contact to Martial Arts or say it's better. A well trained Martial Artist will have gained strong psychological benefits that someone who had not been through training within a Martial Arts system won't have attained.
Why though has the American so successfully dominated the full contact and major point system tournaments?
Because he usually has not limited himself to training solely within one system. He carefully observes many different systems and takes the best each has to offer, putting the various techniques together to suit himself. I am not by any means advocating a student jumping from one style to another however, I do not think it is important for instructors to analyse the success of these type of fighters (Raymond McCullum and Benny Urquidez are good examples) and consider approaching new training methods with an open mind. I, who have only trained in Taekwondo and believe it to be one of the finest systems of Martial Arts, will adapt a technique from any other style if I see that technique is more effective than my own method.
Recently I have incorporated into my advanced classes basic boxing techniques. I trained as a boxer in Korea and realize that my knowledge of boxing definitely helped me become a successful fighter. Boxing is scientifically designed to generate the most power possible from each motion executed, additionally it teaches good avoiding ability which is vital to any fighter. My students' fighting has vastly improved and the results from recent tournaments are excellent. It's no good hiding beneath the precarious umbrella of our so called mystical past, rather we should accept change.
I don't want to give the impression I am hoping for an amalgamation of all systems. I hope rather for an adaptation and acceptance of each other. Where as Taekwondo is a great kicking style, Japanese Martial Artists have some of the fastest hands. The Chinese systems are designed more on the aesthetic aspects of Martial Arts.
Each system has its own unique set of principles and rules which could never merge, it would not be desirable. Rather we should try to learn more from each other with open minds.
It is arrogant egotism that in the past has created much bad feeling between Martial Artists. The days when instructors strutted about puffed up with their own feeling of importance, eager to impress, I hope are long gone. All that nonsense gets obstructively in the way of presenting Martial Arts to the public for what it is, a physical and mental art form that promotes its students to have a deeper understanding of themselves and a greater capacity therefore towards achieving self-fulfilment.
During this increasingly violent age we all have to cope with and live within, Martial Arts have more than ever to offer the community and especially young people. Martial Arts provides a much needed release, helps strengthen us mentally and physically, unifying our minds and bodies, enabling us to face any challenges life presents us.
Martial Arts has taken our young, shaking their fists at the world bubbling with insecurities, away from the streets and chanelled all that anger and negative energy reforming it into positive energy. By working together we can give more and be a vital part of building a life with quality, less violence and a deeper understanding of each other.
To what extent are we all bound by self set limitations? People spend more time saying "I can't" and giving excuses than they ever do thinking "maybe I can". I hear excuses all the time, "I can't do this Master Cho because . . ." and so on. I am no superman but I always say first to myself that I can, that I will, and then work backwards from there if I have to. Preconceived, self-set limitations are prevalent in many students' attitudes towards fighting.
"Mr Cho do I have to fight? I just can't, it's not my nature, I may get hurt." "Yes, you do have to fight." "Why?"
"Because I want to know what fear you have inside yourself that makes you feel so sure you can't face an opponent here in the safety of our studio protected by equipment. When I know why you have that fear and where it came from I will talk to you again. Together we can erase that weakness, that is a part of becoming a Martial Artist."
Fighting is not about beating someone up, it's not even about winning; it is a very delicate but important part of a student's training.
Psychologically, it teaches the weak to be stronger; the over-aggressive, control. It shows the real impact of violence and where it comes from in each of us, it teaches us how to control our responses in a pressurized situation, we learn what triggers our emotions and anger. It opens up some of our most hidden and vulnerable emotions both good and bad. You cannot experience the valuable insights by just imagining what it's like to fight or merely enacting fighting motions but never applying them.
Often students question me as to why I teach forms, or what does performing a form benefit a student? On a very simple level, performing forms has been likened to learning the letters of the alphabet, put the letters together and you have a word, the words can then be made into a sentence. Another example is likening forms to the walls that support a roof, without which the roof would collapse.
It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline, well practised techniques and concentration to perform a form well. We start with the simplest forms containing only a few simple movements, gradually we build up a repertoire of more complicated forms with increasingly varied techniques. Practise of forms helps develop precision, exact controlled timing, breathing control, balance in movement, focus and much more.
From the instructor's point of view forms also provide a perfect vehicle to enable the instructor to evaluate a student's progression on many different levels at once. Forms also provide a means to illustrate physically the aesthetical aspect of a particular style and a student's personal interpretation of his style. Style's that don't have forms seem lacking in depth, missing an important part of Martial Arts.
It is my hope that the future may bring Martial Artists closer together. Let the childish egotism of the past remain a thing of the past. I eagerly await the prospect of change within the Art, exciting new training methods and the further prosperity of Martial Arts all over the world.