Among the martial artists who divulge their opinions on what the Korean arts do best are Hee-Il Cho, Dr. Jerry Beasley, Dana Hee, Taejoon Lee, Jhoon Rhee, Tom Callos, Barry Harmon, Aaron Banks, Doug Cook and Alain Burrese.

While exact figures are hard to come by, most experts in the martial arts industry would agree that Korea has won the race. Taekwondo is by far the most popular style in America, and once you figure in tang soo do, hapkido, kuk sool won, hwa rang do, soo bahk do, kumdo and the like, Korea's dominance becomes even more apparent. Despite what some critics claim, Korea rules for one simple reason: Its arts teach Americans a host of skills and attitudes that, year in and year out, are improving the lives of their students. The following is a list of some of those benefits as identified by 20 movers and shakers in the martial arts.
— Editor

Hee-Il Cho photo by Robert Reiff

Hee-Il Cho
Taekwondo master, Black Belt Hall of Fame member

"Most important is taekwondo's traditional roots, which are preserved and honored as they're passed down from generation to generation through mind and body training. Nevertheless, we taekwondo instructors strive to base our technical curriculum on a scientific approach to maximize the effectiveness and explosiveness of each execution.

"Individuality is respected as a way to thrive in the art; it's not seen as an obstacle. Every student has strengths and weaknesses, and a lack of competition skills doesn't define a student as any less of a champion than one who has won several medals."

Jerry Beasley photo by Rick Hustead

Dr. Jerry Beasley
Martial arts professor at Radford University, Black Belt Hall of Fame member

"The strengths of the Korean martial arts lie in basic skills and fundamental movements (striking, kicking and mobility). In taekwondo, hapkido and moo duk kwan, we learn to be in control of each movement of the body. In so doing, we incorporate the concepts of wellness and fitness throughout life.

"Another benefit is goal setting. The concept of mastering skills or moving from one rank to another requires discipline, focused training and the formulation of a plan that may be employed outside the martial arts."

Dana Hee
1988 Olympic taekwondo gold medalist (demonstration sport), stuntwoman, Black Belt Hall of Fame member

"I learned from a Korean taekwondo instructor — Chung-Sik Choi of Binghamton, New York — a lesson that all Korean instructors try to instill: the philosophy of indomitable spirit. While training for the Olympics with master Choi back in 1987, I finally learned how to achieve that. When my endurance was failing during a kicking drill, he kept shouting at me to keep going. I snapped and yelled, 'I'm trying!'

"He stopped, lowered the kicking pad, looked me straight in the eye and said: 'Try is not good enough! Everyone tries ... not everyone is a champion! Don't try, just do!' Then he raised the pad for me to continue the drill.

"I learned how to 'just do,' and those words helped me win Olympic gold and achieve success in Hollywood, in motivational speaking and, most important, in life."

Taejoon Lee photo by Robert Reiff

Taejoon Lee
Chief master, World Hwa Rang Do Association

"To understand hwa rang do's unique qualities, you have to ask three questions: Where does it come from? What can it do? What is it for?

"First, hwa rang do has an ancient lineage, drawing upon the legendary Hwarang warriors and codified in the 1960s by Dr. Joo Bang Lee. It's not a recently baked, Internet-advertised miscellany of tricks and techniques.

"Second, from its beginnings, hwa rang do deployed the full breadth of fighting techniques — strikes, kicks, joint locks, throws, grappling moves and weapons — that have been popularized by the mixed martial arts.

"Finally, hwa rang do's purpose is to help us flower as human beings and leaders through disciplined training within an ethical tradition."

Jhoon Rhee photo from the Black Belt archives

Jhoon Rhee
Taekwondo pioneer, Black Belt Hall of Fame member

"Taekwondo isn't just fighting. To me, fighting is 10 percent of it. The other 90 percent is about developing human character. The qualities of a taekwondo champion also apply to everyday life and business.

"Taekwondo teaches you how to be fast. That can be transformed into the human quality of a person who thinks fast. When you think fast, you read a lot of books to know about life. So your knowledge transforms into wisdom. It teaches you how to be patient and how to develop perseverance. It teaches good timing, which translates to being punctual and, in business, to delivering on time.

"Another lesson is how to develop devastating power for punching and kicking. The parallel outside the dojang is developing knowledge. That's why we try to help children apply themselves and reach academic excellence.

"The next taekwondo lesson is balance. When you kick high, you have only one leg to stand on. In life, you need balance, and you must strengthen your body, be honest in your heart and cultivate knowledge in your mind.

"These three work together. If you have power and knowledge but no heart, that makes you dangerous. If you have strength and a good heart but no knowledge, you're useless. If you have a heart and brain but no strength, you can't function. If you have all three basic human qualities — strength, character and knowledge — you're perfect."

Tom Callos photo courtesy of Tom Callos

Tom Callos
Sixth-degree black belt in taekwondo under Ernie Reyes Sr.

"The Korean people are the most important part of the Korean arts. I don't think the core of the Korean arts is a lot different from the core of many other martial arts, although others might disagree. Regardless, the Korean people, their culture, their history, their eccentricities and their familial simplicity are what I find most interesting and beneficial.

"The Korean work ethic permeates the way the Korean arts have blossomed and are taught in America and abroad. Much of the popularity of the Korean arts comes from the fact that these men and women worked very hard for a long time, and that work ethic is often passed down to non-Korean teachers.

"Jhoon Rhee and He Young Kimm are two of many national treasures of the Korean arts. Rhee especially stands out as an iconic figure, a Johnny Appleseed for the Korean arts, the Korean people and the millions of people he's inspired through his work."

Barry Harmon photo by Peter Lueders

Barry Harmon
Eighth-degree black belt in kuk sool won

"On the technique side of things, I find that the comprehensiveness of kuk sool won is one of its most important aspects. On the philosophical side, kuk sool won gives us a direct, unbroken connection to thousands of years of Korean martial arts techniques and philosophy. Nevertheless, it remains very adaptable to the needs of today's students."

Aaron Banks
Taekwondo black belt, martial arts promoter

"I took up the moo duk kwan system of taekwondo a long time ago under Richard Chun. The kicks — front, side, roundhouse and back — were excellent, as were all the techniques that incorporate them. Taekwondo deals specifically with taking somebody out; it was created for that, not for fancy movements or a ballet type of expression. The versatility of the art's kicking is exceptional.

"The precision of taekwondo is a big factor in its popularity. When Tiger Kim was involved in my shows, he'd knock an apple off somebody's head William Tell-style using a flying side kick. He showed that the art teaches not only the application of power but also precision."

Doug Cook photo courtesy of Doug Cook

Doug Cook
Seventh-degree black belt in taekwondo, author

"Traditional taekwondo was created in the 1940s and 1950s, a particularly tumultuous period in Korea's history. Subsequently, it retains much of the vibrancy and defensive value required by those times. Moreover, because the national Korean martial art contains more than 3,200 combat-proven techniques, it's a true system of self-defense and not merely a sport as many practitioners view it today.

"Coupled with meditation and ki-development exercises, the forms, breaking skills and self-defense drills offer a comprehensive program of study."

Alain Burrese
Hapkido teacher, author

"One of the most significant facets of training in the Korean arts is the relationships you form with your instructors and fellow practitioners. When I returned to Korea to train in 1997, one of my teachers, Lee Jun-kyu, provided me with a place to stay. I lived with him and his family and trained in every class he taught. When we were not in the dojang, I did many other things with them. These memories are extremely important to me."

(To be continued.)

Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

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

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.


FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

"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.

Kelly McCann's best-selling Combatives for Street Survival is available here!

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.


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."

Click here to check out Combat Hapkido, a book by John Pellegrini and Black Belt mag!

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.

Get the scoop on military martial arts with The Complete Michael D. Echanis Collection!

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.)

Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter