Hee Il Cho was 10 when he started taekwondo. That was back in the 1950s when South Korea was in chaos because the Korean War had just ended. In this story, he recalls the good and the bad from his white-belt days.

Legendary taekwondo master Hee Il Cho was about 10 years old when he started studying the martial arts. That was back in the 1950s when South Korea was in a state of chaos because the Korean War had just ended. The people were poor and undernourished. Cho and his family lived in a small, poverty-stricken city called Pohang. Until fairly recently, it used to take Pohang resident 12 or 13 hours on a train to reach Seoul, the nation’s capital. Back then, Koreans used names like subak, tang soo do, kong soo do and tae soo do to describe their fighting arts. “After the Korean War, Gen. Choi Hong-hi said people should get rid of all the names and call it taekwondo,” Cho says. In the 1950s, martial arts training wasn’t for exercise, he says. It was for survival. “Although they were not really gang members, young people used to roam from town to town and beat up kids and take away their toys,” Cho says. “One time I was beaten up by some boys around 12 or 13 years old. At the time, I thought it was pretty bad, so I wanted to protect myself.” Taekwondo turned out to be the answer. Hard Times Martial arts training facilities were very basic then, Hee Il Cho says. “The buildings had a roof, but sometimes they didn’t have walls. The floor was dirt. Many children didn’t have shoes, so we all walked around barefoot.” Instructors didn’t know the proper way to teach martial arts. Instead, they merely followed the ways they’d learned from their own instructors. “There was no master teaching philosophy or how to behave,” Cho says. “It was all physical. We would just spar or stand in line and follow the leader. No questions were asked because that was considered disrespectful. Traditionally in Korea, the father was the king of the home, and no questions were asked of him. Martial arts were taught that way, too.” Whenever Cho or his classmates got out of line, their taekwondo instructors, often just 14- or 15-year-old kids, would give them a painful reminder of their mistake. “There was a lot of physical punishment,” Cho says. “Sometimes they would just keep hitting us. We would get black and blue. Everything was very disciplined. Today, I look back on it as good training, but no kid would do that these days. They would quit right away and never go back. “But in those days, the only way to survive was to get tough,” Cho continues. “So it didn’t bother us that much. Hunger was a natural thing; we ate maybe once a day. Your character becomes stronger when you have to go through hardships like that.” Primitive Methods As far as martial arts techniques go, the basic principles of what Hee Il Cho learned then in South Korea were the same as what he teaches now in America. “But taekwondo has changed so much since I started,” he says. “The training methods were very primitive then, not based on a scientific approach as they are today. The instructor would say, ‘Block this way, kick this way, punch this way,’ and no questions would arise. “In the old days, we had only the front snap kick, roundhouse kick, side kick and jumping side kick,” Cho continues. “And the kicking method was different. It was not as technically good as it is today. Today’s method is much better. The only things better then were the discipline and respect that were taught.” Another thing that is better nowadays is the overall effectiveness of the art. “These days, many people work out and are physically strong, but in those days, people were weaker; to defend yourself, you did not have to be such a skillful fighter,” he says. “So I don’t think the art was as effective as it is now. Students used to punch hard surfaces and make their knuckles big. The training was tougher, but not as skillful.” Even the young students conditioned their hands because they followed the example set by their seniors without ever wondering if it would harm their body 20 or 30 years down the road. “Then it didn’t matter if you did it at such a young age, but now people say you will mess up your hands or develop arthritis,” Cho says. “I, too, conditioned my hands, but I haven’t had any problems so far.” Dedicated Students Hee Il Cho used to train in taekwondo six days a week for one and a half or two hours a day. Unfortunately, all his time was not spent at maximum efficiency. “Training is like driving a car — you have to put gas in your tank,” he says. “In those days, because of malnutrition, many things were not so effective. After training, we would get dizzy because we didn’t put anything into our body. That’s not the way people should work out.” Sparring used to take place daily with no protective pads. “We punched and kicked as hard as we could — not to smash someone’s face, but sometimes noses got broken,” Cho says with a smile. “In any physical confrontation where you have two people sparring, at first, they say, ‘Let’s use control.’ But as time goes by, it’s natural for them to start hitting each other harder.” All that hard sparring would seem to be ideal preparation for tournaments, but for most martial arts students in the 1950s, that was not the case. “Korea had only one or two national tournaments a year,” Cho says. “We seldom participated in them because they were held in Seoul, and travel by train was very difficult. But we did take part in local tournaments.” Today, looking back on his tough childhood in Pohang, Cho believes that perhaps he was fortunate to have experienced all those hardships. “It makes you more appreciative of the most valuable things, like the love of your parents,” he says. “These days, kids have almost too much; that can make them less disciplined,” Cho says. “A certain amount of hardship helps people know how to live life properly.” In 2012 Hee Il Cho was Black Belt's Man of theYear. For more information about the martial artist and his organization, visit the website for Action International Martial Arts Association.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

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This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

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