Master Hee Il Cho: Martial Arts Training - Fact or Fiction
by Hee Il Cho
Today's Martial Artist has many books and magazines which provide information to improve his knowledge, as well as perfect his training. In addition, many of the magazines carry articles which range from accurate historical accounts to folk lore, and in some instances myth. Because of the origins of the martial arts, many individuals have difficulty separating truth from fiction and therefore this article asks the question; what benefits should the martial art's student expect to gain from his training?
In answer of that question, we interviewed the World renown Master of Tae Kwon Do, Hee Il Cho, of
Los Angeles, California. Master Cho is an 8th degree black belt who was born in his native Korea, and approximately 18 years ago came to the United States to compete with and train other martial art students.
MAI: Master Cho, can you tell us what you believe are the major benfits that the students can expect when they start martial arts training?
Master Cho: I believe the major benefits a student can gain by his training is to develop themselves physically as well as developing personal self-confidence. When you train, you develop yourself physically as well as mentally. What the student wants to achieve depends upon how much they're willing to put into their training. If a student trains 3, 4 or 5 times a week then he will become proficient more quickly. What you must understand is, that when you train in the martial arts it is a long process of developing your abilities. It can not be done in a short amount of time. You are constant!y developing yourself physically as well as mentally, developing your internal as well as your external muscle, as well as your personal self control and self image. With continuous training you improve in each of these areas.
MAI: How much of the benefits that the students receive depend upon the students themselves?
Master Cho: Each student has different physical as well as mental ability. Certain individuals easily adapt to martial arts training because they are flexible and may have some natural abilities. Others may not be as gifted and therefore, would take longer to develop the necessary skills. Also, you have to take into consideration the persons level of selfconfidence and their willingness to adjust to the difficulties of martial arts training.
MAI: How long is it before students really become proficient?
Master Cho: As I said before, I think it depends upon how often they train. But I would estimate that the average student would become proficient after training 3 to 4 years.
MAI: How important is their mental attitude?
Master Cho: I think that's the most important part of their training. When you don't have self-confidence you are unable to deal with the stresses that arise in your daily life. If you are unable to handle stress you can panic easily and when you panic your body will not function properly.
It is most important that a student of the martial arts develop a levei of self-confidence, so that he is able to control his emotions and therefore better control the circumstances or situation he is involved in. When you are involved in a real street fight or physical conformation it is most important that you are able to think about what you are doing and react instinctively, so that you can control yourself as well as the individual you are fighting with. Without selfconfidence and a good mental attitude you are unable to do this.
MAI: What you are saying is that it takes time to develop yourself mentally, physically?
Master Cho: That is correct.
MAI: When the students start training how difficult is it for them?
Master Cho: First of all, most martial arts schools have different ways of teaching. I have taught the martial arts all over this country for more than 18 years and find many problems with martial arts instructors and schools. As we all know, the martial arts originated in the Orient and therefore much of what is taught is based upon training methods and traditions that were developed in the Orient. Many of these methods and traditions have been modified over the years, but the basic foundations have remained intact. The problem many of the schools have is they only stress the fighting and physical aspects of martial arts training, rather than those areas that help develop each martial artist as a total human being. Martial arts training should develop each of it's practitioners as a total person, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Part of this training deals with respect for one's self as well as others. This is where I find a major problem in many of the schools today. It appears to be a lack of respect between student and instructor and the values that are being taught. And many instructors do not emphasize the values of developing respect among their students. When I was a youth, in Korea, I was brought up to respect my elders. Some students believe they can walk into a class at anytime and start training, rather than ask permission. Others find difficulty in recognising the need to bow to the national flag. All of this is part of the training process which develops discipline.
MAI: Why is that discipline so important in training?
Master Cho: When I was a young boy in Korea and was training, I did everything I was supposed to do, because that was what was required of me. If I did not discipline myself and follow the rules and the customs then I would not be able to train. That is the way I was trained, not because of some purpose. As time went by they never explained why I had to bow or say 'yes, sir'. When I went to America some students asked me why they had to bow or say 'yes, sir'. In Korea, I could not ask my instructor why because that was the custom, that's the way it was. When they asked me the first time it was kind of difficult to answer the reason, 'why?'Then I realised that without respect and discipline how are you going to learn from someone? We can see today in our schools how students abuse their teachers. How can these students learn from a person who they don't respect. That's why discipline is so important.
As an instructor and a student we must realise that the training that takes place gives the student the ability to do bodily harm to others and therefore, he or she can become dangerous to themselves and society. It is obvious that properly trained martial arts students do have the ability to hurt other individuals and therefore, without proper training and discipline an individual can become dangerous to others, almost as if you had given him a gun.
The martial arts probably demands more discipline and respect than any other sport. This has been handed down from master to master. You can see in the martial arts the historical background that demonstrates the respect people had for their country, family, and their masters. Discipline, honour and respect were considered so important that many individuals were willing to give their lives for it.
MAI: Master Cho, I notice in classes you have very young children, high school students, adults and then, in some instances, older people in their 40's and some in their 50's, how does the training effect each different group?
Master Cho: First let me say, that the public has a misunderstanding about martial arts training. The public believes that when a individual receives a black belt it is a measure of his physical abilities and fighting skills. This is not necessarily the case, as the black belt is a measure of the individual's personal achievement. When an individual receives the rank of black belt it signifies that he has developed and demonstrated his physical and mental abilities and has earned that rank. It does not necessarily mean that he is a better fighter than all students below his rank. There are many things that must be taken into consideration in judging a student's abilities, such as age and the individual's natural talents. Obviously, as an individual gets older he is physically unable to execute many of the techniques he was able to execute when he was younger. There are times when I see students who are white belts who have natural abilities and who have never studied the martial arts or selfdefence and are able to fight better than many of the advance students. The important thing to keep in mind is that martial art training develops you in many ways, primarily, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Each of us develop these skills to a level based upon our own unique abilities. If we continue to compare ourselves to others we will lose the value upon which martial arts training has become such a unique method of developing oneself. Obviously, if we continue to compare ourselves to others the best we will ever be able to achieve is to rise to that person's level. That is not the way of martial arts, for it teaches us to try and rise to our own highest level of ability.
MAI: If I understand you correctly, what you are saying id that with martial arts training you have to consider your personal improvement rather than comparing yourself to others. And that you always look at what you are doing today and are doing better than what you are doing in the past?
Master Cho: That's right.
MAI: And this is involved in the physical, mental, and spiritual training that you go through?
Master Cho: Yes, that is why I want not only the martial arts community but also, the general public to understand that because a person has a black belt does not mean that he can kill someone because of his training. As I mentioned previously, a person who receives a black belt has reached a certain level of achievement and it does not necessarily mean that he is a good fighter. Those individuals who demonstrated unique fighting abilities have combined their physical abilities with selfconfidence and many years of hard training. It is difficult to find all of those qualities in most martial arts students irrespective of their rank.
Even with all of these abilities it is difficult to say what a trained martial artist would do in a life threatening situation. The important thing to keep in mind is that with proper training if an occasion should arise the individual should be able to defend himself. To reach this level of ability it takes approximately 4 to 5 years or maybe longer to achieve the mental, physical, and spiritual level required.
MAI: Master Cho, of those individuals who start the martial arts, what percentage quit training and in your opinion what is the reason for this?
Master Cho:Based upon my experiences and in conversation with other martial art instructors, if you are really to teach the martial arts, as it was taught to me, you would actually be teaching full contact fighting. You have to keep in mind that martial arts training today is partially a business and partially an art form and, therefore, you must tone down the level of training so that individuals will want to stay with their training. Most individuals join my school because they want to learn selfdefence, or they're out of shape and want to work out. Whenever the students are fighting in class, if there is any hard contact fighting most of the students can not handle the pressure. This is the main reason why most students drop out of schools within the first six months. When I first started, I used to teach that way and would have a very high percentage of dropouts. After years of teaching I realised that I had to gear the training to the individuals and what they would be able to adjust to. In the special cases where superior students wanted to fight hard, I arrange for specific training to accommodate those individual students. Over the years, I have developed a method whereby I provide the students with all of the training necessary to develop their skills to the highest possible level. I use a process whereby I am abie to develop in the students a feeling of personal self-confidence and slowly develop the student's physical abilities, so that he becomes a total martial artist. In general, if the student remains with me for 8 months, then he will generally stay for years and rise to the rank of black belt. The public should understand that martial arts students are not really training to become fighters, what they are doing is learning the fundementals of fighting, but, primarily training for personal
health and fitness. To really develop your fighting abilities, it would be necessary to train as if you were a fighter and therefore be able to absorb punishment. If this was not the case, then boxers would be able to train without hitting anybody or anything and could simply shadow box to train. To prepare yourself realistically to become a martial arts fighter, you have to learn and have an attitude that is realistic. Over the years, I would have to say that the number of students that stay with me for 5 years or longer, is probably 2 percent or less. If you were to consider the number of individuals who stay with aerobic's or health spa's you would probably find that the percentage there is not that much greater than what I stated above.
MAI: Do these individuals quit because it is physically difficult or mentally difficult, or both?
Master Cho: To answer that question, you must consider the long term and the short term reasons. short term, most individuals have difficulty with the mental requirements of their training. Most people who start the martial arts generally do not have any knowledge of what is required of them, and therefore believe that they can learn all that is necessary in a very short period of time. After they start training they quickly realise that martial arts training is not measured in weeks, months, or years, but should be thought of as a life long experience. For many individuals once they realise this they are unwilling to commit the discipline themselves to the long term goals required.
In the long term, many students who continue with the martial arts generally develop all of the qualities for which the martial arts is most noted; this being the development of mind, body, and spirit. But as in many physical activities, as time wears on, the individuals get burned out and slowly lose the discipline which they had early in their training, and then quit altogether. On the other hand, there are many individuals who on a long term basis find that their martial arts training has become such an active part of their life that it is almost like eating, and therefore it becomes necessary on a regular basis, otherwise they begin to fall apart mentally and physically.
There are also other reasons which cause students to dropout of the school. In my school the training is quite hard and for many of the students they are unable to handle the pressure on a long term basis, or, during sparring they may receive accidental injuries and therefore feel that they're unwilling to commit to the training. Under the circumstances, I cannot blame them. Many of my students are family members, and when they get injured it can affect their family life as well as their jobs. In my schools I am very careful in making sure that those students who train with me avoid any injuries and I therefore gear all of the training, so that all sparring is controlled and contact is minimised. As I said earlier, I do have a number of students who are exceptional fighters and in those instances I am able to train them on an individual basis, so that they can reach their full potential.
MAI: Master Cho, what kind of students do you have in your school?
Master Cho: In my school, in the adult class, I have students ranging in age from 20 years to 50 years old. Because of the area in which my school is located, I have many professional people, doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and many people in the movie industry. Therefore, many of the students that train with me are not really training as fighters, but train primarily for basic selfdefence, as well as physical conditioning. I have a number of very talented fighters at my school, but as I said above, most of these individuals are professional people and are not interested in becoming full contact fighters. I have often thought if my school was in another area I might have the opportunity of developing a fighter into a full contact champion. But those individuals are very rare and it takes a very dedicated person to become a full contact fighter.
MAI: Master Cho, we understand that you are involved with the Tae Kwon Do organisationm in Ireland and England. How did you get involved with them and what are your responsibilities there?
Master Cho: For about six years now, I have been chief instructor to the Tae Kwon Do Associations, in England and Ireland. These two organisations comprise of approximately 6,000 active members. As chief instructor, I travel to those countries approximately every six months and grade all black belt students for advancement and rank. My relationship started in 1974, at the World Championships being held in Oklahoma City. In those days, there were individuals who were in control of the Tae Kwon Do Association in England and Ireland. But, due to internal struggles within the organisations, these two associations broke away and requested that I become the chief instructor.
MAI: Master Cho in every martial arts magazine you pick up today, there are numerous articles which deal with secret traiing methods, chi power, and recently the ninja craze, leading people to believe that for centuries the ninjas were the masters of the innovation and new techniques. Could you comment on this?
Master Cho: In the martial arts, you cannot believe everything you read or see. There are many individuals who wish to capitalise on the oriental mysticism that surrounds the martial arts. Without criticising any particular martial arts style, you have to understand that to perfect your particular art form there is only one way that it can be done - through hard work, constant training and developing yourself to the highest possible level. Training as a martial artist is no different from training as a boxer. There is no comparison to the modern training methods today, with those that were taught to the early martial artists of 20 or 30 years ago. With today's modern training methods and equipment, and with proper training and guidance, today's martial artist can develop himself to his maximum potential. Today's martial artist must study not only the execution of blocks, kicks, and punches, but also must know how to develop certain muscle groups in pursuit of continued perfection. This whole concept of proper training, which includes dieting, can be seen with our modern boxers. Their level of training and conditioning is one of the highest calibre and this training process has now moved into the martial arts. When I am teaching a class and instructing my students on techniques, not only do they understand how to execute that technique physically, but they also have a working knowledge of the muscle groups used in those techniques and how, through proper weight training, these muscle groups can be improved upon, so that those techniques can be perfected. There are no special powers that martial artists have it is not chi power or any other supernatural power. If you want a simple explanation as to the origins of martial arts, it is simply speed plus weight equals power. To become the martial artist you would like to be, follow the lead of many modern martial artists today and train scientifically. Develop a weight training programme, under the guidance of a knowledgeable trainer, learn about those muscle groups which can help you in your martial arts training, and also the proper foods and diet to supplement the needs of your new training. There is a place in the martial arts for its history as well as it's legend, but we should not let the facts be confused with the fiction. Today, more than at any other time in the history of the martial arts, has so much information been available so that proper training and conditioning can be easily obtained.
Master Cho, Martial Arts Illustrated would like to thank you on behalf of the thousands of martial arts students and instructors, whom we are sure this interview has helped to enlighten.