AN INTERVIEW WITH WORLD MASTER CHONG CHUL RHEE, 8TH DAN
FATHER OF TAEKWONDO IN AUSTRALIA.
REPRODUCED 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 nickname 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 recognise 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 Taekwondo. 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 specialise 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 Taekwondo 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 Taekwondo. 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 Taekwondo 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 Taekwondo. 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 Taekwondo.”
How long has Rhee Taekwondo lnternational been established in Australia and how substantial is the organisation?
“Nearly 20 years 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 Bells.
“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 skilIs 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 Taekwondo and Martial Arts generally?
“Although we have been established here for almost 20 years and have grown very strongly, in a way we are only beginning. I’m very confident that Rhee Taekwondo 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…”