The Battle of Preserve Cambodia's Martial Arts Heritage

Story by Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D.

Photography by Mark Bochsler

On the walls of Cambodian temples, bas-relief artwork dating back to the 13th century depicts men fighting with knee and elbow strikes. Other images show armed combat, including the use of sharpened bamboo poles that are tied to the forearms. Additionally, two large statues believed to represent ancient wrestlers have been unearthed in the country.
Given that Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia — sharing a border with Thailand, the birthplace of muay Thai, and Laos, the home of muay Lao, and not far from Myanmar, which has given the world lethwei — it seems logical that Cambodia should have spawned an ancient fighting art of its own. Sadly, however, there's no written evidence of one, just a handful of carvings and statues that don't even mention a name.
This is why there's a battle over bokator.


Descent
From 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was run by the Khmer Rouge, a repressive regime that attempted to extinguish all forms of traditional culture, including the martial arts. As a result, 20 to 25 percent of the population perished from execution or starvation. Because they were targeted, few martial arts masters escaped with their lives. One of those who did was San Kim Sean, who became a refugee and eventually relocated to the United States.
In 1979 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ruled the country more or less as a colony until the late '80s. Full independence for the beleaguered nation didn't come until 1991. During most of that time, the martial arts were suppressed. Khmer boxing, or pradal serey, which is similar to muay Thai, was the first style to make a resurgence, primarily as a spectator sport.
In 2004 San returned to Cambodia from the States. He learned that while pradal serey was thriving as a televised sport, the traditional Khmer martial arts were facing extinction. After taking his case to the government, he was tasked with gathering up the surviving masters and rebuilding Cambodia's martial heritage.

Remedy
At San's urging, nine masters assembled in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, where they formed the first traditional martial arts federation the nation had seen in decades. The name “bokator" was chosen for the comprehensive system they would promote. It would incorporate three basic forms of combat: pradal serey kickboxing, traditional wrestling and bokator, which originally focused on animal styles and forms, as well as weapons.
The hand-to-hand element of the bokator amalgam they created was similar to that of Thailand's muay boran, which incorporates all the moves of modern muay Thai, in addition to old-style kicks, elbows and knees. There was, however, a distinct difference between how bokator practitioners fought and how muay boran practitioners fought: Bokator included wrestling and submission locks, as well as basic ground fighting — thousands of techniques in all.
Most of the nine masters didn't run schools. A few had small clubs that they operated in their homes, often out in the provinces where they taught only a handful of students. Consequently, there was little hope that bokator would be passed to the next generation.
Then in late 2004, San opened the first commercial bokator school in Phnom Penh. Because of its accessibility and the fact that he could speak English, he often was covered by the foreign press. He was featured on Human Weapon and other American TV shows, as well as on European and Japanese programs. He also hosted foreign martial arts students, eventually promoting three people — two Frenchmen and me — to black krama, the equivalent of black belt. Six years later, UNESCO took steps to recognize bokator as an intangible heritage of Cambodia.

Character
Bokator was so frequently filmed because it presents a feast to the eyes. Practitioners wear traditional Cambodian garb, including a sarong and a scarf, or krama, on their head and around their waist. Encircling their upper arms are colored bands. Their hands are wrapped in ropes, which ancient fighters wore in place of gloves.
Taking a cue from modern martial arts, San Kim Sean instituted the use of colored cloth — the krama — to denote rank. Students begin at white krama and work their way up to black. During performances or fights, traditional music plays. Before every practice, students pay homage to the patron saints of bokator.
Each training session begins with a warm-up and a prayer, then moves to the repetition of fighting techniques, including knees, elbows, kicks and leaps. Next, students focus on animal forms that, like their kung fu counterparts, are physically challenging to perform. After a year of such training, they're flexible and strong in the way that only Shaolin monks are.
In addition to the animal moves, students learn self-defense, grappling and techniques that use the krama as a weapon. Not all students fight, but those who are interested in it can engage in kickboxing. In those sessions, they strive to use the techniques they've practiced in their forms.

Discontent
While San Kim Sean was in the limelight, trouble was brewing. Several of the masters in the federation had become annoyed at the media coverage and the money San was receiving, and they broke from the federation to form their own clubs.
One of them was Chan Buntheun, who called his art yuthakun khom. In 2007 I met him during the filming of a documentary about Cambodian martial arts. At the time, he had a team of athletes who trained at his house every day. They were all fit and muscular, skilled at jumping and kicking — similar to the bokator students of San Kim Saen. However, they were unlike San's bokator students in that several of Chan's guys were professional fighters.
When I met Chan again in 2018, he was very sick, forced to spend most of his days lying on a bamboo bed in his front yard. “In the old days, Khmer were the best fighters," he said when I spoke with him. “They used magic combined with martial arts."
I knew that all the Khmer arts shared a number of commonalities: traditional clothing, a dance component, and elbow and knee techniques. And I knew that they all talked about using combinations of physical techniques, magic and religion. When I asked Chan for more information, he said that bokator was not the real Cambodian martial art. Unfortunately, his claim had no more historical support than did bokator's. The word “bokator" first appeared in print in 2004, while “yuthakun khom" didn't appear until 2010.
To distinguish yuthakun khom from other Cambodian arts, Chan explained its philosophy: “The tiger fights with speed and cunning. The elephant fights with power and directness. In the Cambodian style, we use the elbows a lot, and they can kill people. In a fight with weapons, the Khmer have sutras, knives, sticks and magic. They can use magic to kill someone, to blind someone or to make them sick."
He wasn't alone in believing in the power of magic and religion — hence, his use of the word “sutras" to refer to the spiritual aspect of his art. He claimed to know how to use magic but didn't because it could be a sin.
“In Cambodia today, fighters just use technique," he said. “They don't use magic much because most people who knew the magic are gone now. [In the old days], Khmer fighters could do magic. They could blow on their fist and then hit someone and kill them."

Competition
Ross Serey, a member of the original nine who's based in Siem Reap, also had a falling out with San Kim Sean. Ross hails from Kampuchea Krom, the lower part of Cambodia that was ceded to Vietnam as part of the Paris Peace Accords. Kampuchea Krom is very Cambodian. The people are ethnic Khmer and still speak the Khmer language. Theravada Buddhist temples are on every corner, and monks are in every community. It's not hard to imagine a Khmer martial art being taught there, perhaps in secret.
Ross explained that pre-1980, there was a Khmer martial art in Vietnam that had been suppressed by the communist government. As a child, he trained in it secretly, mostly at night. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he moved to Cambodia and brought his traditional Khmer martial art with him.
He's the only master who has any written support of his claims regarding the legitimacy of bokator. He showed me the 1967 dictionary of the Cambodian language that's considered the standard. In it, the word “bokator" appears, but it refers only to a single weapon consisting of two short, pointed bamboo poles that are attached to the forearms and used for blocking and attacking. For this reason, Ross said he disagrees with San Kim Sean's decision to call his art “bokator." Ross insisted that bokator has never been the name of an entire system.
The art Ross practiced was different from the style taught by San, Ross said. “When I learned in the past, we call it 'eight-door ancient kun Khmer.' It's about using the hands, legs and body. [These are] called 'eight doors.' From ninth to 12th door, it's about using sword, long stick, krama scarf and the like. The 13th door is about locking the opponent."
These old-school masters typically use the Khmer word for “door" to refer to the various levels of their martial art. It was interesting that in Ross' case, the animal forms and hand and foot fighting lived at the lowest level, followed by weapons — with grappling and joint locking at the highest level.
On my request, he elaborated on the grappling: “It's called clei. It's used to train the police and soldiers to lock their opponents. The styles here are different. They have other names for it, but it's originally Khmer. The styles 'firing elbow' and 'flying knee' in Thailand were actually created by Khmer."
It seemed this was another common theme in the Cambodian martial arts: Every Khmer master believes that the Thai martial arts are copies of the Khmer martial arts. However, once again they have no proof.
“A large part of kun Khmer was lost during the Khmer Rouge regime," Ross added. “Most fighters and masters were killed."
This point I could not disagree with. We can only wonder how much knowledge was lost.

Exposure
In 2010, at the apex of San Kim Sean's bokator reign, a Canadian film crew led by director Mark Bochsler and producer Sandra Leuba began working on a documentary titled Surviving Bokator. The film was intended to highlight San and several of his students as they traveled to South Korea to compete in an event organized by the World Martial Arts Union — where they took second place, by the way.
The documentary also included footage of several rural bokator masters who complained that San had excluded them or failed to provide them with sufficient food and water and a proper place to sleep. Some said they lacked punching bags and gloves and were forced to practice fighting barehanded, which resulted in injuries.
Between 2007 and 2010, I interviewed a number of those masters and found that in some cases, their students did lack basic nutrition, and that made it difficult for them to train at a high level. I was told that several masters had to sell possessions to buy bus tickets to the capital so they could attend the national championship. Their students lost — how could they not lose against students who had plenty to eat? As a result of this, several of the rural masters separated from San.

Dissent
Shortly after his return from Korea, San Kim Sean lost sponsorship for his academy in Phnom Penh and was forced to move 40 minutes outside the city. Unfortunately, the distance proved too far for local students, who couldn't afford the commute. Foreign students would visit the new gym once for a lesson, then take a few photos to record the experience. Few of them, however, regarded it as a viable training option. As a result, membership dropped from more than 100 students to just a handful.
The lead instructor at the downtown academy had been Ung Darith. Even then, he complained about having to live an austere life, sleep at the facility and teach for free every day. And now that the academy had moved, he was separated from his friends in the capital. Some French students offered him a good salary if he'd teach in France for three months, but the grandmaster reportedly forbid him to go.
In the end, Ung did go to France, and this became one of the reasons for his falling out with San. Another reason surfaced when Darith and several students asked if they could open a bokator school in Phnom Penh. The grandmaster said yes, but they could teach only Khmer students. All foreigners would need to be sent to the new headquarters outside the city. Everyone knew that teaching foreign students paid well, and without them, there would be no easy way to keep the new school open.

Hope
In the summer of 2011, a professional bokator event pitting Cambodia against France was held at Angkor Wat. The French team decimated the Khmers, largely because of their better nutrition, modern training, and experience in kickboxing and MMA. One Khmer fighter named Sey Tevin, a bokator teacher under San, stood out as the hero of the day when he went the distance against his French foe. Although Sey wound up losing, the crowd cheered like he'd won.
During the bout, which was held outdoors, it began to rain, and the water slickened the fighting surface. During a break between rounds, the children from Sey's bokator club took off their krama, ran onto the mat, dropped to their knees and used their scarves to dry the floor so their teacher would have a better chance of winning.
It was one of the most touching moments I experienced while researching bokator. It reminded me how important this martial art actually is. Every one of those kids was an orphan sponsored by a foreign NGO. All they had in life was donated food and clothing — and bokator. The people in charge of the children told me the youngsters had begun to view bokator as part of their cultural heritage, something they can keep for life.
The lesson I took away was that preserving this Khmer martial art is of the utmost importance. The name that ends up being used for the system — and whether it's San Kim Sean, Chan Buntheun or Ross Serey using it — is irrelevant. What's paramount is keeping this Khmer martial art alive and teaching it to as many young people as possible so they, in turn, will be able to spread it throughout their nation and around the world.

Antonio Graceffo's book Warrior Odyssey is available at blackbeltmag.com/store.

ONE Connection Chan Buntheun's son Chan Rothana is 30 years old and a well-known fighter, both in pradal serey and in MMA. He's now under contract with ONE Championship, the largest MMA organization in Asia, and whenever he wins a high-profile fight, he's the pride of the Cambodian people.

For information about the film Surviving Bokator, click here.

To follow the filmmakers on Facebook, click here.

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To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

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"Unlike karate training outside a combat zone," Cpt. Yoon explained, "it is important here that the troops be able to turn their techniques into devastating, bone-crushing blows. There is no place for mild strikes in combat when a VC is trying to push a bayonet into your stomach."

For that reason, the compound is peppered with makiwara punching boards, and the Korean Tigers spend much time conditioning the weapons of taekwondo. Also, throughout Vietnam there are plenty of sandbags, which are used to protect all kinds of constructions. They make excellent striking bags for a karateman.

The next unit in the schedule is to display free fighting. The commander again explains that this form of fighting is used to test the Tigers' skills against one another rather than to demonstrate the actual methods of close-quarters combat, as a fight on the battlefield is nearly always over in an instant.

The sparring matches are exhibitions of technique and control. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between these and matches held in tournaments is the consistent power the soldiers put behind their blows and their concentration on hard taekwondo techniques rather than elusive ones.

Against Weapons

At last, a final group prepares to show what happens when an unarmed Tiger meets a VC with a knife or a bayonet fixed to his AK-47 rifle. Two pairs of soldiers stride to the center of the hard-dirt arena, face the commander and render a snappy salute. Then they fall into a four-man square and await orders.

Sgt. Lee barks a command, and the best of the best explode into action. One gladiator leaps for a knife that has been thrown into the arena. He jams it, hard, at another, who violently kicks the striking hand and jumps shoulder height, scissoring the attacker's neck and tumbling him forward onto the unyielding ground with a crash. The knife spins away.

Meanwhile, another black belt catches a rifle with a fixed bayonet that is thrown to him from the sidelines. With a guttural shout, he lunges for his opponent. The defender spins to the left, brings his knee sharply inward against the weapon and rolls the attacker onto his own shoulder while tearing at his windpipe. It's over in seconds.

The couples repeat the performance again and again, smashing full tilt against each other. Every time, the attacker thrusts hard with his weapon. It's just less than miraculous that the practice doesn't turn into a blood bath.

Korean Budomen

Initiated as the Capital Infantry Division, the Tiger Division was activated on June 20, 1949, in Seoul with the mission of providing security for the capital. It was charged with additional security of the 38th parallel in Ongjin in September of the same year. When the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, the division began to prove itself in heavy fighting during battles at Ahn-kang and Kyung-joo along the defense line of the Nakdong River in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the successful Inchon landing by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces, the division penetrated deep into the North across the 38th parallel, overrunning enemy strongholds and advancing close to the Korea-Manchuria border. As their ability became recognized, the division was committed repeatedly and saw the armistice signed while fighting at the front in the spring of 1952. They captured more than 9,920 enemy, killed more than 91,000 and seized more than 31,000 weapons. As a result of their valor, the division was awarded five ROK Presidential Citations and a U.S. Presidential Citation, an ROK National Assembly award and 42 other plaudits.

After the armistice, the division had already been dubbed with the Tiger laurel and was deployed along the front line of the central part of the Korea DMZ. They remained under continued training and constant combat readiness.

Upon approval of the National Assembly, the division was directed to combat in the Republic of Vietnam on August 20, 1965. Three separate elements arrived at Qui Nhon on November 1 after four weeks of preliminary training. That month, it received its tactical area of responsibility, which consisted of 1,400 square kilometers in Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam. The division's general mission objectives are to protect travel routes, military installations and facilities within its TAOR and to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its pacification plan by eliminating Viet Cong in the area and helping the people rebuild their destroyed homes.

Since 1965, the Tiger Division has stabilized security within their area to an impressive degree. The TAOR itself has expanded from 1,400 to 3,800 square kilometers. As of mid-June, the Tigers had killed more than 9,000 enemy, captured nearly 3,000 and counted 4,500 defectors, as well as seizing nearly 4,000 weapons.

All this leaves little room for doubt about whom historians will count as the true elite of Vietnam combat. In the ranks of the VC and the NVA, mention of these ferocious Koreans brings shudders to the comrades. Even as he fights those from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Tigerman knows that he has full command of his body and his mind. When he's faced with hand-to-hand combat, he need not rely only on the ferocity of his rifle to equalize the score. He can hammer out punches with machine-gun rapidity or swing a full-flogging kick with sufficient force to gain the advantage. When a man is trained in karate, or to be more specific, taekwondo, he's ahead of the game and the Viet Cong, that crap-shooting armada of insurgent forces, and the crack North Vietnamese troops who come to do battle. They know full well that the Tigers with their taekwondo as well as armaments are tough to beat.

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The roots of taekwondo are in Korea, and for the ROK GIs who enter the Tiger ranks, the intensive routine of training in the martial art is strictly par for the course. No doubt every Tigerman hopes to use his martial arts training sometime in a tournament as well as he does in combat. That's the dream of every GI in the ROK division.

The Tigers, under Maj. Gen. Lew Pyong Hyon and with taekwondo's Capt. Yoon, have been making headlines throughout the world. They are the only troops, it's been said, who fight fire with fire, who use guerrilla techniques and ambush techniques in much the same manner as the Viet Cong. In a war such as this — where the boundary lines are questionable, where there is no front line and where your neighbor can turn into your enemy — such techniques are indispensable. Thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques and the combat-karate emphasis of this militia, the odds are clearly shaping up in the Tiger Division's ledger. Thanks to taekwondo, the Tigers are smashing the enemy with no holds barred and, if anyone doubts it, plenty of contact!

Read Part 1 of this article here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Scene: A group of soldiers is gathered for a bull session. The subject under discussion is the Tiger Division of the Korean army. The soldiers are engrossed. One, a lean, tanned GI, pushes back his beret, squints into the darkness and looks out to see a mountain of burning embers.

"We were on recon operations in southern Binh Dinh Province," he explains. "One night, we caught the sounds of a skirmish. My squad leader held up his hand and when he smiled, we knew we were in for some action. As we approached the area, we were a little surprised that there was no small-arms fire, but we could hear a lot of guys yelling.

"When we got there, it was an unbelievable sight. Here were those Korean troops in close-quarters combat with what must have been superior forces, as there were [Viet Cong soldiers] all over the place. I've never seen so many broken necks and caved-in ribs in my life. We helped clean up what was left."

So goes the legend, and just in case you're casting a cynical eye as to the Tiger Division's aptitude in the use of martial arts, the record speaks for itself. If there was ever a primer on combat karate, these troops would write it. In two grueling periods daily, every troop in the Tiger Division trains in the taekwondo method, the official karate of Korea.

At one time, there were many factions, but in the past year or so, they've all been absorbed by the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with its headquarters in Seoul. In fact, with the Koreans, and even in many areas in Vietnam, taekwondo is synonymous with karate. Numerous Vietnamese do not even understand the word "karate" — but mention taekwondo and their faces light up with recognition.

Way of Life

At Qui Nhon, division headquarters, visitors are surprised to see sparkling white uniforms — and a sea of black belts — virtually in the middle of a combat zone. While on actual operations away from their base, the Tigers work out in field gear, but at the training center, everyone wears a gi and keeps it as immaculate as any other military uniform.

On the left side of the gi, each person wears the proud division emblem of a roaring tiger. On the other side, if he's an instructor, the soldier wears a black insignia of a fist with white dots above indicating how many degrees of black-belt rank he holds.

Commander of the massive taekwondo corps of the Tiger Division is Capt. Yoon Dong Ho, himself a third dan. But the rugged, intelligent captain is no armchair commander. He's on hand daily at the dirt arena, watching the troops go through their paces and often teaching a special class of officers.

Capt. Yoon is responsible for the official taekwondo training of more than 15,000 Tiger troops in Vietnam. Although popular belief holds otherwise, there are actually more than 200 black-belt holders in the Tiger ranks. Of them, three are fourth dan, 29 are third dan, 57 are second dan and 115 are first dan. There are roughly 600 red belts and 2,300 blue belts, as well as 9,000 troops holding degrees of white belt. Approximately 2,900 men recently began their training in Vietnam. Many of these, of course, already hold rank they won in Korea.

Deployment

Each element of the Tiger infantry arriving in Vietnam goes through intensive schooling at Qui Nhon. The 26th of these classes began in July, to run just over a month. The sessions lead off with classical techniques under the direct supervision of Sgt. Jun Jae Gun, head taekwondo instructor for the Meng Ho in Vietnam. Sgt. Jun, one of the division's tough trio of fourth degrees, displays a certificate signed by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, International Taekwon-Do Federation president.

When a trooper is promoted in Vietnam, however, he's awarded a military certificate of training by his supplement company commander, who acts as a representative of Lt. Col. Jai Chun Ko, division field commander. All promotions are recognized by the federation. In cases of promotion to the higher grades, however, special recognition is often meted out. For example, Sgt. Kim Duk Ki was recently awarded his third dan by Lt. Gen. Chae Myung Shin, field headquarters commander for all ROK Forces in Vietnam.

"The major objective of our formal taekwondo classes," asserted Cpt. Yoon, "is to take the minds of our troops and replace civilian thinking with military spirit and fierceness. 'Tiger' is the nickname the division has been tagged with because of the fierce nature we have demonstrated in combat. We intend to live up to it."

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Cpt. Yoon reinforced that statement with an impromptu demonstration of his own favorite techniques. Choosing a brawny trooper with a bayonet, the captain rushed him, parrying the weapon with an onslaught of power strikes with the elbow, palm, heel and fist. He ended with a forearm strike to the windpipe, which he explained is effective when one wants to silence the enemy quickly.

Key elements in hand-to-hand combat, the commander explained, are attacking the weapon directly or the hand that holds it while simultaneously attacking the most vulnerable spot within reach, then pressing the assault to keep the enemy off-balance while finishing him.

Field Testing

Stressing physical fitness in preparation for the application of these techniques, Cpt. Yoon said his troops rely heavily on powerful, smashing blows against the smaller Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists. He explained that the enemies are often undernourished because of their long treks from the North and therefore may fall easily under a strong attack.

"One particular situation where we encounter hand-to-hand fighting," Cpt. Yoon said, "is when the VC hide in bunkers and Tiger patrols do not have heavy weapons available to blow [the bunkers] apart. In such a case, the troops simply go in after them. The VC stand little chance against my men in close-quarters fighting."

In addition to the training of their own infantry, Tiger taekwondo instructors teach U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers, as well as other Allied Forces infantry soldiers. Presently, some 1,250 Vietnamese and 150 U.S. soldiers are being taught by the Tigers at Qui Nhon alone. At other installations throughout South Vietnam, the Koreans teach their art to Allied Forces and Vietnamese civilians of both sexes and all ages.

There are scores of Korean black belts who are not members of the Tiger Division but who teach taekwondo to the local troopers and civilians. Many of these men belong to the larger White Horse Division. Especially in populated places such as the Tan Son Nhut Air Base–Saigon area, taekwondo has become as popular as baseball is to Americans. Today, self-defense is serious business to the Vietnamese, as no one knows when a VC terrorist squad will break into his home.

The Tiger Lair

Several miles away from the main training area on the Qui Nhon Air Base where the new arrivals hold classes, the Tiger instructors have their own compound, carved out of the verdant Vietnam countryside. Bordered on two sides by mountains and banked by the South China Sea, the encampment nestles into a serene and clean-smelling natural cradle, somehow out of place amidst the turmoil of war. The site has never been successfully attacked, and no one remembers the last time even a single mortar landed within the perimeter.

The perimeter itself is defined by roll upon roll of barbed wire, machine-gun posts and sandbag-reinforced bunkers. When not actually leading class, the instructors perform most of their military duties wearing their gi, often barebacked in the all-pervading heat. Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to see a fierce fighting man carting pails of water for the makeshift shower or spreading rolls of concertina wire — until you recall how budo masters of ancient times made their charges perform menial tasks before they would be accepted. Perhaps this accounts in part for their dedication and the respectful attitude the troops invariably display.

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Cpt. Yoon decides to review the instructors' training methods, so he has the select corps organize into a squadron to demonstrate their prowess. Sgt. Lee Jin Ho, whose official title is post instructor, leads the formation. They fall swiftly into ranks. The commander steps forward and receives the squadron's salute, then turns the command over to Sgt. Ho.

At a signal, the Tigers break ranks and rush into new formations with precision reminiscent of the Roman legions. The first squad is directed to show taekwondo forms. They snap through the kata in coordinated pairs, demonstrating the adroitness that can only come from military discipline. The forms are technically the same as classical Korean karate but are executed with the confident power of soldiers who have seen what their stuff can do to a man.

The next group forms behind a line of boards, bricks and tiles. Stacks of four and five bricks, up to 15 tiles and four 1-inch boards lie before them. The unit is called to attention, salutes again and assumes a ready posture. Sgt. Lee barks a command, and a dozen heads, hands and fists smash into the solid objects. Not a single one remains unbroken.

Read Part 2 here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

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