In celebration of the growing popularity of martial arts cinema, Black Belt asked me to devise a list of the top 20 martial arts film stars. In reality, this list could have been different for each decade since the 1970s because in years past, one could reflect only on names with which the audience might be familiar. But today’s kung fu film fans are more sophisticated and aware of not only who the biggest martial arts stars of today are but also who the legends of yesteryear were. So this ranking promises to stand the test of time. The actors were chosen based not on their martial arts abilities but on their impact on the history and development of the genre.

Martial Arts Film Star #20: David Carradine

Only two Americans have influenced the essence of the martial arts in the West. Bruce Lee is one—we’ll deal with him later—and David Carradine is the other. Carradine’s original Kung Fu TV pilot and series, which ran on ABC from 1972 to 1975, is the only show that truly tried to reflect the soul and spirit of Shaolin Temple. It focused on living in peace, healing and learning the martial arts so one doesn’t have to fight—all of which are lessons modern students would do well to concentrate on.

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Martial Arts Film Star #19: Lo Lieh

Born as Wang Li-da in Indonesia, Lo Lieh moved to Hong Kong at age 10. After he signed with Shaw Brothers Studios, his rugged looks made him one of kung fu film’s earliest perennial villains. Ironically, the movie that brought him fame was King Boxer (1972), the first Chinese kung fu film released in America (as Five Fingers of Death). Starring in more than 180 movies—sometimes shooting 10 at the same time—Lo was originally targeted to play monk Bai Mei in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but he passed away before it began.

Martial Arts Film Star #18: Alexander Fu Sheng

Born in 1954 as Zhang Fu-Sheng, Alexander Fu Sheng owed his start to director Chang Cheh when he was cast in Police Force (1973). Starring in 39 kung fu films, he later took on roles with more comic appeal and was supposed to be Shaw Brothers’ answer to Golden Harvest’s Jackie Chan. But on July 7, 1983, while shooting 8-Diagram Pole Fighter, Fu Sheng died in a car crash. In an ironic twist, he lived in Bruce Lee’s house in Kowloon, Hong Kong, and died almost 10 years after Lee did.

Martial Arts Film Star #17: Ti Lung

Born as Tan Fu-rong and trained in wing chun, Ti Lung was a competent tailor before being cast with longtime cohort David Chiang in Dead End (1969). He attained superstar status with Blood Brothers (1972), which was co-directed by John Woo. After the trio broke up, Ti’s status was cemented with The Sentimental Swordsman (1977) and The Deadly Breaking Sword (1979), making him one of Shaw Brothers’ perennial heroes. Although replaced by Jet Li for Once Upon a Time in China (1991), Ti co-starred in Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II.

Martial Arts Film Star #16: Wang Lung-Wei

A veteran of more than 85 films, Wang Lung-Wei is one of the few actors who have no martial arts background but can look like a real master. His history in boxing helped him quickly pick up martial arts movements while rehearsing. A master of portraying cold-faced, ruthless characters, Wang exhibited superb screen-fighting abilities that made him a powerhouse villain and a favorite heavy. Three Evil Masters (1980), My Young Auntie (1981) and Martial Club (1981) are his must-see films.

Martial Arts Film Star #15: David Chiang

David Chiang (born as Jiang Wei-nian) was a child actor before hooking up with Shaw Brothers in 1966. After he appeared in Dead End and The Wandering Swordsman (1969), director Chang Cheh introduced him to his friend Ti Lung, and they made a string of blockbusters that included Vengeance (1970), Duel of Fists (1971) and The Water Margin (1974). The three became known as the Iron Triangle. Although Chiang starred in more than 80 kung fu films, fans of the genre recognize him best as the Chinese hero who appeared alongside Peter Cushing in the Hammer/Shaw Brothers co-production of Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974).

Martial Arts Film Star #14: Shintaro Katsu

Born as Toshio Okamura, Shintaro Katsu is best-known for playing a blind nomadic gambler and masseur named Zatoichi, whose humble facade hid a swordsman with a breathtaking quick-draw. From 1962 to 1989, Katsu made 26 Zatoichi feature films, with new installments coming out bimonthly in 1964. Katsu also produced the manga-based Lone Wolf and Cub film series (aka Shogun Assassin), which starred his brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama. A remake of Zatoichi starring Takeshi Katano was made in 2003.

Martial Arts Film Star #13: Chen Kuan-Tai

Prior to pursuing a career in film, Chen Kuan-Tai was a Hong Kong fireman and the 1969 light-heavyweight champion of the Southeast Asian Chinese Martial Arts Tournament. A kung fu practitioner since the age of 8, he was the first martial arts champ to enter moviemaking. He began as a stuntman in Kuan Tak-hing’s Huang Fei-hung movies, then made his mark in Boxer From Shantung (1972), which was co-directed by John Woo. Chen starred in more than 80 films, struck gold directing Iron Monkey (1977) and won critical acclaim for his role in Killer Constable (1980).

Martial Arts Film Star #12: The “Five Venoms”

Although based on five actors (really six) from the Shaw Brothers classic The Five Venoms (1978), the “Five Venoms” is a group of actors who worked together to make 20 of the most intricately choreographed weapons films ever. The actors were Philip Kwok, the leader, usually playing a good guy; Chiang Sheng, noted for humor and using double weapons; Lo Meng, the muscle-and-fists fighter; Sun Chien, the kicker; Lu Feng, usually a villain; and Wei Bai, who worked mostly behind the camera because of Tourette’s syndrome.

Martial Arts Film Star #11: Michelle Yeoh

Born in Malaysia with the name Yang Zi-chong, Michelle Yeoh trained in ballet at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her physical prowess brought her opportunities to star in The Heroic Trio (1992), Wing Chun (1994) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The Hong Kong stunt biz is a male-dominated industry, so when action-directors Ching Siu Tung, Stanley Tong, Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo-ping and Jackie Chan say Yeoh is the best stuntwoman-fighter in the film industry, that about says it all. Ironically, she doesn’t practice the martial arts.

Martial Arts Film Star #10: Sonny Chiba

Born in 1939 as Sadao Maeda, Sonny Chiba studied Noh (classical Japanese drama) and was a contender for Japan’s Olympic gymnastics team until he injured his back and began practicing karate under Mas Oyama. Joining Toei Studios in 1961, he used his muscle-bound body to become its answer to Bruce Lee. Chiba’s ultrabrutal The Streetfighter (1974) was the first movie released in America with an X-rating for violence. Its success spawned three sequels. Capping a career that spans 40 years and 140 films, Chiba co-starred in Kill Bill as Hattori Hanzo, a character he once played on Japanese television.

Martial Arts Film Star #9: Jimmy Wong Yu

Born in 1942, Jimmy Wong Yu was originally named Wong Zheng-quan. After making plans to further his civil-engineering and business background while studying abroad, on a lark he auditioned at Shaw Brothers Studios. Out of 5,000 hopefuls, he was one of three who made the grade. At a time when romances and musicals overshadowed action films, director Chang Cheh cast Wong Yu in a macho, heroic bloodshed film titled One-Armed Swordsman (1967), and it shot him to stardom. In The Chinese Boxer (1969), he launched a new type of movie that blended the “rival school” and “crippled hero” motifs. He’s renowned as the first star to do all his own fights and stunts.

Martial Arts Film Star #8: Cheng Pei Pei

Born in Shanghai, Cheng Pei Pei trained as a ballet dancer. She was abandoned at age 15 and forced to fend for herself and her younger sister. Shaw Brothers discovered her in 1963. Cheng was groomed to play male characters in opera films until a young director named King Hu chose her to star in a new-wave swordswoman film titled Come Drink With Me (1965). It set new standards for all wu xia movies to come. (Director Ang Lee admitted that it was the inspiration behind Crouching Tiger and the reason he cast Cheng in it.) With Cheng’s subsequent success, she was dubbed the first “Queen of Kung Fu Films.”

Martial Arts Film Star #7: Gordon Liu Chia-Hui

Born with the Chinese name of Xian Qi-xi and the English name of Louis Sin, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui skipped school to practice the martial arts under the renowned Liu Zhan. Later, in honor of Liu Zhan’s skills, Gordon changed his name to Liu and was adopted into the family. He initially planned to become a policeman, but at the bequest of his kung fu brother, noted director Liu Chia-liang, Gordon Liu became an actor for Shaw Brothers in 1974. With his landmark role in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) playing real-life monk San Te, he quickly built a name that symbolized the Shaolin priesthood. The West knows him best for his roles as head of the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Bai Mei in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Martial Arts Film Star #6: Toshiro Mifune

Born and raised in China, Toshiro Mifune was a Japanese recon pilot during World War II. Then in 1946 he applied for the job of camera assistant at Toho Studios. During the interview, he was asked to laugh and act drunk. One of the interviewers was Akira Kurosawa, who upon witnessing the performance, hired Mifune. He ended up using him in 16 samurai masterpieces, including Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962). His poker-faced stare, which gave audiences the impression that he was constantly on the brink of rage, made him the most recognized face in samurai filmdom. That reputation was cemented early on with his portrayal of Miyamoto Musashi in Samurai (1954).

Martial Arts Film Star #5: Kwan Tak-Hing

In 1949 filmmaker Wu Peng revived the dying Cantonese cinema of Hong Kong by casting Cantonese opera star Kwan Tak-Hing to play legendary folk hero Huang Fei-hung. Born in 1906, Kwan was dubbed the “Patriotic Entertainer” for raising funds in the United States for the Chinese war effort against Japan. A master of the white crane and hong styles of kung fu, he was also an expert lion dancer and calligrapher. Over the course of 85 films, his name became synonymous with Huang Fei-hung, and his movies were seen as the official start of the gung fu pian (kung fu film genre).

Martial Arts Film Star #4: Sammo Hung

At age 10, Sammo Hung enrolled in a Beijing opera school, where he learned the skills that would eventually see him through more than 140 movies. He’s the man Jackie Chan calls “big brother” and regularly seeks council from. Many believe Hung’s films (Magnificent Butcher in 1980, Prodigal Son in 1981) feature better choreography than Chan’s. Hung later branched into muo shan shu (Chinese voodoo) moviemaking, where productions such as Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1981) and Dead and the Deadly (1982) mixed slapstick comedy with startling brutality. Although many Western fans know Hung as the portly monk who battled Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, his CBS series Martial Law was rated No. 1 in its time slot for two seasons.

Martial Arts Film Star #3: Jet Li

Born in 1963 and raised during the Cultural Revolution, Jet Li is the first Communist Chinese film star to make it in Hollywood. His first effort, The Shaolin Temple (1979), was the first kung fu movie made in China since Mao Zedong outlawed the traditional martial arts in 1949 and ordered the destruction of the real Shaolin Temple. Although Li’s a public figure in China, his belief in Tibetan Buddhism and a way of life frowned upon by his government has led him beyond the political quagmire and put him on a more philosophical path.

Martial Arts Film Star #2: Jackie Chan

With his mind-numbing stunts performed with little regard for personal safety, Jackie Chan is one of the few martial arts actors who have literally sacrificed their bodies for film—all in the name of creating martial arts set pieces that no one else dared attempt. Others now emulate Chan, but he did it without the forethought of consequence, and he wasn’t copying anyone. Twice when the Hong Kong film industry was dying from its own copycat mentality, Chan rose above the standard fare and created new directions in choreography. He wound up establishing a new genre: wu da pian, or movies that combine gymnastics, martial arts and death-defying stunts.

Martial Arts Film Star #1: Bruce Lee

The No. 1 spot on this top 20 list is occupied by Bruce Lee because he accomplished the impossible: He not only gave the Chinese people and nation an identity, but he also made Asian-American kids proud to be Asian. In the end, he inspired more people to practice the martial arts than anyone else in history. He also broke down racial barriers under the banner of using the martial arts as a path to brotherhood and self-expression. If it wasn’t for Lee giving Hong Kong movies and martial arts cinema legitimacy around the world, the martial arts film industry would not have the impact—or the box-office dollars—it has today. (Dr. Craig D. Reid is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and fight choreographer with more than 20 years in the business. For more martial arts movie wisdom, check out his book, The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors).
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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.


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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