AN INTERVIEW WITH WORLD MASTER CHONG CHUL RHEE, 8TH DAN “THE FATHER OF AUSTRALIAN TAE KWON DO”.
REPRINTED FROM MARCH 1985 ISSUE OF AUSTRALASIAN FIGHTING ARTS MAGAZINE
Master Rhee, can we discuss some of your military experiences - your time as instructor of the South Korean Marine Corps, for example?
"Yes, I was with the Marines for three years, teaching the art for unarmed combat purposes. During the Korean War this Marine Corps became known as the 'Demon Hunter Korean Marines'; the nick name was given by the President of the United States. They were very good fighters and they always trained very hard."
Did you modify the traditional techniques for military applications?
"Yes. Their purpose was simply to kill the enemy. So the training was slightly different from civilian training. Simple, deadly techniques. Plus some bayonet sparring and knife training."
Have you modified and updated the original art, over the years, for modern Australian conditions?
"Yes, today the art is more advanced in free-sparring, compared to the old days. Maybe slightly less power in individual techniques, but faster, more advanced combinations and free-sparring."
Do you recognize a need to constantly modify and update techniques and do you feel the art will change much in the future?
"I know many organisations hold tournaments and I can understand that as one of the ways to promote the art. But this is not the ultimate way to develop the art. Eventually, if they just keep promoting and developing championships, the real art will die. Maybe it will exist only as a sport so to prevent that eventuality; they should concentrate on developing more power, rather than just techniques for scoring under the points system. There's no power that way. As I said, some tournaments can be okay as one method of promotion but I don't see any importance in having tournaments in Rhee Tae kwon do. I want it to remain as a real Martial Art, not just sport. I notice, incidentally, that even in the United States where tournaments and sport used to be very popular, they are coming back to the traditional Martial Arts now. What is necessary is good training at the gym-good sparring with your partner, strong basics and pattern training. I believe that if you reach your personal goal in the nights training - whether it is in free sparring, patterns or whatever - then you are a champion. That way, every member can practise hard at each lesson to achieve their own personal goals."
We understand you had experience in boxing and weight training as a youth, Master Rhee?
"Yes. Boxing, weight training, plus gymnastics and basketball. But I decided to concentrate and specialize in Martial Arts."
What are your opinions of the various forms of supplementary training that martial artists can use? For example, running, bag and makiwara training, weight training etc.?
"Well it all depends what particular types of technique the martial artist wants to develop. The martial artist needs a special kind of muscle development for really powerful, fast martial arts techniques. For example, to develop more strength for, powerful punching - I don't think ordinary weight training is very helpful. We have had to study scientifically exactly which specific muscles have to be developed for greater punching power. The same need applies to kicking, jumping techniques etc. Running is certainly good, for developing stamina and leg strength for kicking power. I have some special swimming and water exercises, special techniques done in the water not only to develop certain muscles and techniques, but also for remedial purposes. For certain injuries, these exercises can help the bone structure come back to normal.
"We use the forging Post, of course, to condition the knuckles and the wrist etc. for destruction. The forging post is also very useful for developing hip power. And bag training is very useful for developing kicking power, speed and accuracy. The type of training and the desired effect is dependant upon the size of the bag being used. The larger bag is used more for power development. The smaller bag can be used for developing speed, accuracy and focus. It can be used more like a substitute partner - dodging, moving and developing actual fighting skills - rather than just power."
Do you place much emphasis on breaking and destruction techniques in your schools?
"Rhee Tae kwon do is a Martial Art; not just sport. People join for many, many reasons of course - discipline, exercise, self-defence, self-improvement, relief of stress. Each person has his or her own reason for joining Rhee Tae kwon do. But as I said, this is a true Martial Art. So each technique - whether you punch, kick, chop, elbow strike or whatever - must have real power. Therefore students should practise on the forging post and kicking bag to develop that power in each blow. Then, if they have to defend themselves, they have the power. Destruction techniques can be useful to show the power of the techniques.
"But, whatever their original reasons for joining, the art offers many other benefits. I believe good health is one of the most important things in life and we concentrate on helping our members achieve this whether they are children or adults, and whatever their occupation. Businessmen and professional people often find that their first benefits include losing weight and getting into good shape. Later, through our meditation, they are able to find a sanctuary from stress and mental tension.
"Everybody gets the self-defence benefits of course, and our members from the police and armed forces learn more for combat applications."
You don't approve of contact sparring training or protective equipment for martial artists?
"I don't believe there is any such thing as full contact training for martial artists. We have non-contact sparring, but some people misunderstand the concept of non contact sparring, They seem to think this means the opponent is not supposed to touch your body - or that you stop your techniques five inches short of the body. That is a misunderstanding of the term non-contact. In free sparring we focus the kick or punch, or any technique, to the opponent's body. But the opponent is always moving, blocking, dodging, deflecting. He does not stay there to receive the contact - otherwise he will be knocked down. So this is our way of practical free sparring.
"We don't need protective equipment, as techniques are controlled. Full speed, good power, but focussing just slightly short of the vital points. With protective equipment you don't improve speed and power. The principle is wrong. With protective gear, they don't have to control the technique and I believe it becomes just a sport. No belt system; no instructors; no students. With Protective equipment and contact sparring everybody will be the same, just kicking and punching, kicking and punching. It would become a sport. So during training we use full speed and power, focussing on the body but focussing short of vital points. Of course we can hit the target if we want to . . ."
Should Tae kwon do be Martial Art and Sport or pure Martial Art?
"Martial Art is quite different from sport. In addition to all the benefits gained from sport, Martial Art training also offers a complete philosophy and way of life, and if the martial artist needs to defend himself, he is able to do so very effectively.
"But it is up to the individual what he makes of the training. For those who are serious about their training it will be a true Martial Art, and this is how the instructor teaches it. But maybe to some students, who are less serious, it may be just a sport or exercise. So it is up to the individual's interpretation."
Do you deal strictly with students who get involved in activities that reflect badly on the school ~ street fighting for example?
"Yes. Members are always told they must never use the art, except for personal protection and self-defence - for peace and justice. The art must not be misused, as it can be very dangerous, deadly. Anyone who misuses the art is disqualified."
What is your attitude to students who 'look around'- visiting and training with other styles and instructors?
"It is up to the individual to make his own choice of instructor or school, but the intending student should be very serious about his selection of a school and master. It requires a very serious and well-informed decision. So far, there is no Martial Arts control body in Australia and some instructors are not qualified to teach. So the intending student should look very carefully at the school's history, reputation and quality. Then, once he has made his choice, he should stick with that school. There is no way that a student can make good progress in Martial Arts training by chopping and changing from one school or instructor to another. And in traditional Martial Arts practice, it shows very incorrect attitude to do that. The student should show loyalty to their school, their style and their master instructor. So our policy is that members look around and make their choice. When they choose a school they should stay there and train hard.
"If any Black Belt joins another Martial Art school to train then I recommend that he should stay there, rather than coming back to Rhee Tae kwon do. It is only when a student reaches 1st Degree Black Belt that he is fully ready to study the real essence of the art. That is only the beginning; he has not completed the study of the art. So, if at that stage the Black Belt also joins another school or Martial Art, I recommend that he should stay with that instructor or Master, and he is automatically disqualified from the art of Rhee Tae kwon do."
How long has Rhee Tae kwon do International been established in Australia and how substantial is the organisation?
"Nearly 20 years (as at 1985) now. We are one of the largest Martial Arts organisations in the world. We are very well established throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific area with hundreds of instructors and assistant instructors, and schools in most cities and large towns, at universities, high schools, and Army and Air Force bases. Members everywhere, at all levels of society.
"We have our own publication to promote better understanding and stimulate an exchange of ideas among our members throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific area. And soon we will publish our own training manual - very thick and fully illustrated - for members and Black Belts.
"To build up a strong organisation, there are many necessary components. Of course, the school must have a strong master and strong instructors. But good, dedicated members are also very important, most important for the organisation's future. The members must behave correctly, practise hard, and the instructors must correct their technique and then the forward growth can continue. With a strong organisation behind them, instructors can expand their branches."
What qualities do you look for in potential instructors for your organisation?
"Members who wish to become future instructors can apply after they have reached 1st Degree Black Belt. Then they can receive my special training for instructors. After proper training they receive certification with the organisation and can be appointed as instructors somewhere. "But just because they get to Black Belt stage doesn't mean they can automatically become an instructor. Just because he has the physical skills and strong techniques - perhaps he can smash a dozen tiles, or jump over 10 people to kick the target - doesn't necessarily mean he can become an instructor. But at least if they reach Black Belt stage, they should be ready to accept my special training for instructors. In the instructor we have to develop more than just physical strength and good technique, He must learn how to teach, and have maturity, knowledge, loyalty, correct attitude and good character. The instructor must be able to influence the students in the right way."
How do you see the future of Rhee Tae kwon do and Martial Arts generally?
"Although we have been established here for almost 20 years (as at 1985) and have grown very strongly, in a way we are only beginning. I'm very confident that Rhee Tae kwon do will grow very strongly everywhere, especially in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. All our instructors are specially selected, highly qualified and officially appointed by our organisation. I am very confident that we can continue to grow strongly and, in the future, have millions of members..."
Master Rhee, why is it that Rhee Taekwondo is so widely recommended and recognised among professional and business people?
"Firstly, it is easy to learn, as long as the Art is taught by properly trained and fully authorised RTKD Instructors. Rhee Taekwondo is regarded as a powerful Martial Art, achieving total fitness and effective self-defence, but without the risks of injury that can be caused by making contact. Also, our professional and business executive students have found the Art is an excellent way of relaxing mentally and relieving stress and tension after a long day of the pressures and stresses of business and professional life in the 1990s. Rhee Taekwondo training is an effective method of converting that negative and potentially health damaging energy into positive and constructive energy."
And why is it that Rhee Taekwondo is so beneficial for young people (from five years and over) and ladies in keeping fit, and in improving other aspects, of their lives?
"Through the experience of learning Rhee TaeKwondo children benefit greatly from the inherent traditional values of learning discipline, greater powers of concentration, respect for themselves and others, self-confidence and patience, self-discipline and self-control. The positive, stabilising and healthy effect of regular training can be most helpful in overcoming many common childhood problems. Children gradually learn how to apply their Martial Art training to their total life experience. In other words, Rhee Taekwondo teaches them how to more successfully meet all of life's challenges, now and in their future years, mental, physical, moral and spiritual. For ladies, the Art is not only very beneficial in terms of improving health and fitness, but also because they learn how to defend themselves effectively. This leads to greater self-confidence and enhanced peace of mind, which can contribute to great improvements in the overall quality of life."
What do you perceive as the advantages and disadvantages of wearing protective equipment, such as shin-guards and arm protectors etc, during Rhee Taekwondo training?
"During training, all Rhee Taekwondo techniques are performed properly with speed and power, but all techniques are also well controlled, to prevent accidental injuries. Therefore, it is not necessary to wear such protective equipment when attacking and defending during Rhee Taekwondo free-fighting practice. By using protective gear, your combination techniques will become less accurate and slow your progress in the Art. In the case of someone who really needs to protect their arms and legs against bumps and bruises, it would be permissible for them to wear protective equipment after getting their instructor's permission, but the equipment does not help in the student's overall improvement and development."
At what level of rank do you advise that students should perform breaking techniques, Master Rhee?
"There is no specific time set to begin training for the dynamic breaking techniques of Rhee Taekwondo. But to improve power and enhance technique for breaking, every practitioner should condition the knuckles, hands and feet in preparation for safe and effective performance of breaking techniques. Of course, the forging post should be used to condition the knuckles, wrists and supporting muscles and tendons etc for destruction techniques. The forging post is also very useful for developing hip power.Rhee Taekwondo is a true Martial Art, so each technique - whether you deliver a punch, kick, knifehand, elbow strike or whatever - must have real and devastating power. Therefore, students should practise on the forging post and kicking bag to develop that power in each blow. Then, if they have to defend themselves, they have the power. Destruction techniques can be useful to show the power of the techniques."
How important do you believe it is to choose carefully when looking for a dojang and instructor to learn a Martial Art?
"This depends on whether you want to learn it as a mere sport, or as self-defence, art and complete way of life. You could join a training centre anywhere, and maybe change over to many different places, but if you want to learn Rhee Taekwondo as a Martial Art, it is very important to choose a properly qualified and fully authorised instructor who can influence the student physically and mentally through true spirit of art and technique. The foremost master of the art will create a great Martial Art organisation that can produce the top quality of Martial Art exponents. At a later stage in training, all aspects of the student's Martial Arts skills and overall physical and mental development will be judged and recognised by the Master instructor."
Master Rhee, could you give readers and students some advice about the use of meditation in our Rhee Taekwondo training. How should we go about it and will it be helpful to our overall standard and ability?
"Generally speaking, there two ways you can meditate. (a) In the sitting or kneeling position, with your eyes closed, while visualising (practising in your mind) the techniques. And (b) you can practise any techniques in slow motion, shifting your mind and mental application to each technique."
If I wish to become an instructor of RTKD, what qualifications do I need?
"Firstly, you need to be a 1st Degree Black Belt. Of course, you need to be of excellent character, dedicated to the Art, and prepared to uphold the high standards and ethical values of the Art. Then the next step is to apply initially to your resident instructor and, if he recommends you, then I can appoint you as an assistant instructor. You will, of course receive instructions on how to conduct classes and successfully manage the training centre you are appointed to. So those are the first steps along the way to becoming an officially appointed Rhee Taekwondo Instructor, and towards a long-term, career in contributing to the mental and physical welfare of the Australasian community."
What advice do you have for lady students on the subject of pushups and hand conditioning, Master Rhee?
"It is not necessary for lady students to practise contact against any hard objects. Just make sure to form and clench the fist correctly, and practise your hand techniques against soft surfaces, a light bag, or focus pads. Another option is to use gloves when punching or knifehand striking such objects."
How can we improve our concentration during training?
"This is a key point in making progress in the development of your techniques. How to learn quickly and to acquire correct technique… Firstly, concentrate on each individual technique. Tense (focus) at the instant of completion of each technique, and then relax the muscles in preparation for the next movement. Perform each technique with full speed and power. Observe the direction in which you are going and do not take your eye from the target."
Will the development of fake techniques improve my free-sparring ability?
"Yes, definitely. This is a necessity for the overall improvement of your total standard. For example, pretend to attack the high section, mid section, or low section when your real intention is actually to attack a quite different point on your opponent's body. Or, another example, pretend to attack with, say, front kick, side kick, turning kick, back kick, spinning heel kick (reverse turning kick). Once your opponent believes you are committed to such a technique, then you will actually execute a different technique to the one your opponent thinks you have in mind."
Should I have a meal before or after training, and what should I eat?
"After you start training in Rhee Taekwondo, and as you gradually progress from white belt to Black Belt and through to the higher ranks, you will progressively begin to understand the workings of your own body. Not only the muscular and external bodily systems, but you will also begin to understand much more about the internal body processes - the digestive and respiratory systems, for example as your experience and knowledge increases. In most cases, students seem to prefer to eat after training - maybe half an hour or so after the physical action. But your own body will eventually tell you what is best for you - when and how much to eat; how long you need to sleep each night; how much time you need to warm up and the best moment for explosive action"
From a parent's point of view, Master Rhee, can you explain why RTKD training is such a good investment for their children's future?
"Children derive many valuable benefits and attributes from their training in the Art. For example, good discipline and concentration, greatly improved powers of self-control, and the building of excellent character. One of the tenets of the art is: 'Sound body, sound mind'. This means that the overall physical training develops the young student's body to optimum levels of fitness, health and strength that, in turn, develops a high degree of mental health and mental strength. With a strong mind and good health, children can apply themselves more effectively to their studies and all round social development, thus becoming leaders of the community and the nation."
So Rhee Taekwondo really can be a family art, which can be enjoyed by the whole family without the risk of injuries?
"Certainly. Firstly, you do not need strength or a high level of fitness to begin training in the Art. Secondly, every movement - stances, punching, kicking and striking techniques - can be performed either individually, or with a partner, in the family context. And finally, Rhee Taekwondo does not involve dangerous contact training, or potentially dangerous throwing, therefore you could say this is a relatively gentle form of Martial Art training which is also easy for the entire family to learn and enjoy together."
And is it quite possible for a person, either man or woman, to begin training in the Art once they have reached their 50s, 60s, or even their 70s?
"Absolutely. Generally speaking, when a person ages their flexibility, strength and stamina all begin to wane. But it is still quite possible to learn Rhee Taekwondo, regardless of the lessening of those physical assets with the passage of time. People in their more advanced years often have more patience, higher motivation and steady application, and they can definitely make very good progress in the Art. Sure, they might be a bit slower than younger students, but they can achieve their own optimum level of fitness and gain very useful self-defence skills."
What about people who have had previous back injuries? Can they still learn RTKD?
"This should not present a serious obstacle, because all the movements of the Art utilise co-ordinated hip and waist movements to drive the hand and foot actions. But, of course, anyone who has suffered a prior back injury needs to use common sense and exercise gently to begin with. They should use a lighter, progressive, non-strenuous warm-up. If stretching exercises from the sitting position aggravate or cause discomfort to the back, they should avoid those. And, if necessary, they should avoid jumping and flying kicks and concentrate more on stationary techniques. Some mid to older-aged people believe they cannot learn a Martial Art because of back troubles, but this should present no problem for the aspiring student of Rhee Taekwondo, just using common sense and following the advice of an authorised RTKD instructor."