hee il cho

Kenneth Baillie: TKD has changed over the years. WTF changed to traditional TKD at our school because our chief instructor didn't like the Olympic status. He said the sport detracts from the tradition. We had a certain rivalry even back then with ITF. The two can merge, I believe. There are differences but anything can be achieved. Positives are easy to find here!

Boston George Legaria: I'm not a TKD practitioner but I've been in martial arts for 26 years (kyokushin, muay Thai and krav maga), and from what I can see, a solution is for those two organizations to come together and reform the art so it can stay relevant. In combat sports, a lot of people leave TKD in favor of BJJ or muay Thai, while in self-defense people leave TKD for styles like Russian sambo, krav maga or Keysi Method. As for a business model, they need to leave the black belt mill because even though that gets parents interested so they can show their little one's "progress" on FB, in the long run, TKD loses its credibility when people see a 6 year old "master."

Michael Watson: Follow grandmaster Hee Il Cho's lead — he does both styles and without the negative of the Olympic sport aspect. I studied ITF growing up, but I also researched a lot on grandmaster Cho and I love his way.

Three experts — the legendary Hee-Il Cho, the ATA's G.K. Lee and the 1992 Olympic gold medalist Herb Perez — weigh in on how taekwondo has changed since it joined the largest sporting event in the world.

Whenever art becomes sport in an artificially short amount of time, some people are pleased while others cry foul. That’s exactly what happened when some practitioners of the martial art of taekwondo embarked on a mission to gain entry into the Olympics: It left some taekwondo stylists with a new raison d’etre, while plenty would argue that the Korean system of self-defense lost much of its real-world effectiveness. In Part 2 of this series on the Olympic Games, we focus on taekwondo. Our featured experts are luminaries in the field: Hee-Il Cho, G.K. Lee and Herb Perez.

— Editors

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Taekwondo legend Hee Il Cho's kicks hearken back to an era when they were pure self-defense. They pack power, they penetrate and they punish. He shows you how to adjust yours for such results in this exclusive video!

Perhaps more than any other martial art on the planet, taekwondo is renowned for its kicks. Before I continue, let me insert this: If you think taekwondo's kicks are primarily weak techniques designed only to score points in tournaments, you haven't seen Hee Il Cho in action. Although he's practiced the art for nearly 60 years, he never jumped on the Olympic TKD bandwagon, which means his kicks hearken back to an era when they were pure self-defense. They pack power, they penetrate and they punish. Follow the advice he offers here, and yours will do the same.

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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.