Grandmaster Joon Pyo Choi Biography: Unversity Study, part 6

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     I entered Pusan National University in March as a freshman. I had not learned my lesson very well in high school however. As I had done in high school, I didn't study, and any chance I had, I spent my time practicing Taekwondo. If I had five or ten minute, I would step outside and practice kicking. My grandmaster was Byung Jik Ro, but he resided in Seoul, so I continued to study on my own.

     On campus was a huge amphitheater, which was used as a boat warehouse. In addition, the martial artists trained there. Half of the building was devoted to Judo, Sedem, or Korean Sumo, and Gumdo, or Korean Sword. The area was covered in mats, but the mats were covered in oil from the boats that were stored there. I started using the place to train in Taekwondo.

     This drew some attention from the students. The Judo people watched me, and the Sedem people watched me, and the Gumdo people watched me. And I watched them.

     After about a month and a half, I started to draw a crowd of Taekwondo practitioners. They had heard of me, a 3rd dan, ready to be a 4th dan. Some of them started to challenge me.

     "Can we spar?" they asked.

     "Of course," I said.

     My jumping ability was extraordinary and so was my kicking. Every time I sparred, I would win, and it would be very clear that I won. It was because of the oil on the mats. My feet were covered in oil, so when I planted a gentle kick on their chest or torso, the imprint of my foot was clear. Sometimes, they would have ten footprints on their white uniform. I would have none. It became clear that I was the superior fighter at the school.

     In one case, one of them tried to kick at my groin. I became extremely angry, so I punched him once in the face and knocked him out. People saw that and talked about it. Even the Judo people acknowledged that I was the strongest fighter. They said that I should start a Taekwondo club. So within three months of starting college, I was an instructor again!

# # #

     I made brochures for the new club. People started coming, some to challenge me, but I beat them all. When I beat them, they became my students. Because the college was a Reserved Officer Training Center, an ROTC, everyone had to take some kind of martial art. They wanted to train with the best and that was me.

     I invited all the black belts there were at the college, of all types of disciplines. They had come from all parts of Korea to the college. Some were 2nd degree, some were 3rd degree. I passed all their challenges and gained in popularity among the students.

     I didn't have much money at that time. My parents could not send me anything, because their business was struggling in the recession that was happening. I didn't charge for the Taekwondo training either. If a student wanted to learn, I would teach him. So I had to work on the weekends to make money.

     Behind the school was a mountain, and a company was breaking the mountain with dynamite. Workers would then hammer the rocks to pieces and the gravel was used in construction. I worked in that stone mine on the weekends.

     Working in the stone mine is all physical labor, physical training. The brain is not engaged; it is free to wander. That was why I liked it. It built strength, while I was busy thinking.

     I made enough money to buy food and cover part of my tuition. But one weekend, the foreman didn’t pay me, even though I had worked extra hard that weekend.

     "Why didn't you pay the money?" I asked.

     "I spent all of it," he said.

     I was extremely upset. I wanted my money. I wasn't working just to be fit and to think.

     I followed the foreman home, demanding my money. When we reached his home, I saw that he was very poor. He had four kids and they had no food, except for what he bought with my money. He was living day-to-day, like everyone else, but there were four little children there. If they had sickness or difficulty, there was no money to call a doctor or fix the problem. He needed that money more than I did.

     So I said, "Forget it. It's okay."

     The room I rented was next to a restaurant. It was a small room, so rent was cheap. The restaurant owners had children and I taught them Taekwondo. For that they gave me food.

     That is how I survived my first year away from home, far from Seoul. It was 200 miles away, or 8 hours in a train, 6 hours in a car. These days it would be much faster, but then the roads were undeveloped and rough. I was some distance from my family then, but I made my own way.

     By 9 PM, my teaching was over, and everyone was gone. The entire campus was deserted, except for me. It was quiet and very lonesome. After teaching so many students, after everything was so loud for so many hours, when they leave it was dead silent. The campus was on the sea shore, with nothing around in any direction.

     This allowed me to study my philosophy. It was there that I first learned to meditate. I was able to go deep into Zen, by reading many books and following the directions of the masters and grandmasters of that philosophy. In my spare time, I studied Zen Buddhism, then Taoism, and then Confucianism, and finally Cheondoism, which is a native Korean religion, founded by one of my ancestors. This deep silence was the start of my deep mental training and meditation.

     In early morning, I would go down to the beach and swim in the ocean. I could hear the seals in the ocean and the crash of the waves. I would swim for 30 minutes to an hour straight out, and then I would turn around and swim back.

     The university was interested in sea life and sea farming, so there were many different types of clams in the ocean there. I was able to fish and catch clams after I swam. My breakfast was often raw fish and raw clams. I lived like a monk, in silence and close to nature.

     As I taught, I developed a core group of students who trained hard with me in Taekwondo. There were a group of 10 or 20 who were always following me, learning from me. We did things together, eating and drinking. There was no regulation of liquor at that time in Korea so anybody could sell it and we could drink any place.

     Our university was famous for being a tough school. Students came from far away, like I did, so they had no nearby family or friends. We would get together and have fun. We would drink together. The university was known as a school of fighters, but also we were a school of drinkers. It was a contest between the two.

     There was some conflict between us students and the locals, as you might expect. There were local gangs and bad apples who we would fight. It was part of having fun and relaxing.

     There was a billiard place, whose owner came from the Seoul area. He used the Seoul dialect, so I knew where he was from just by his voice. We became good friends. His bar was where a lot of the local gangs hung out. Sometimes they'd ask patrons for protection money or try to take what wasn't theirs. When things went sour, they'd start fights. The owner didn't like them there, because they were bad for business.

     Because we were friends, I was there often. The owner asked me to keep him safe from the gangs. I agreed.

     The next time the gangs came, I told them to quit extorting customers and stop fighting. Of course that just started a fight right then and there.

     Fights in billiards places can be dangerous. Not from the sticks – those are easy to defend against. The billiard balls are the dangerous things. If someone throws one at you, you could die. The stick you can block; you can see it coming. I myself was using a short stick with a string on the end, a tahn bong. The string was for your thumb and the wood was about two and a half feet long. I would have one in each hand, so my range was great. I could strike many people from that distance, and I could defense easily against a pool stick or a knife. But billiard balls were too fast to block and could come from any direction and any range.

     There were five gangsters against me and one or two of my guys. It took us only five minutes to disarm them all and knock them down. That was all it took. I had shown them my power, so they became my friends. Since I wasn't local, since I was from the outside, they knew I had no intention to take over the local gangs, so they were willing to accept my friendship. They were willing to feed me and always treated me nicely after that. And there was no more fighting at the billiards club after that.

# # #

     Though I was a student at the college, I was also an instructor for the entire school. At first, I taught those who came to me, but then it became part of the curriculum. Because the college was a Navy ROTC school, the graduates were all automatically a reserve officer in the navy or marine. Learning martial arts was a fundamental skill that all the students needed.

     Taekwondo became a requirement. There were 600 students, and one way or another, they all had to take a Taekwondo lesson from me. In that way, I had a large following at the time. I was respected for my skills as a martial artist, and it was known that I was the best fighter at the college. But I was also known as a philosopher, a spiritual leader, an acupuncturist, and a hypnotist.

# # #

     In 1965 I was in college. I had started my Taekwondo school and the students had all joined it. I planned to study business administration. At least, that was my intent. I had little interest in school studies. Instead I was reading books on Eastern philosophy, especially those on Confucianism, Zen Buddhism, and Dao.

     Those subjects were what I was truly interested in. I was reading all the time, following the instructions and trying to understand. In addition I studied Yoga. I found this equally intriguing, since the physical movement enhanced my Taekwondo.

     Healing and acupuncture were also topics that I studied. Ever since the fight where I had put the boy into a coma, I was concerned with the human body and how I could heal any injury I might cause.

     Those were all the things on my mind, instead of college. School work was remote.

     I was taking classes during the day and teaching Taekwondo after classes. Afterwards I was in a big building by myself next to the ocean. It was lonely, as I was the only one in the building that the school had provided me on campus. But it was my place. It was like a monastery.

     Because I was alone, it was an easy environment for me to train, study, read, and meditate. My study of acupuncture, Yoga, hypnotism, and finally Eastern philosophies was molding me into the person I am now.

     I was quite busy at the time. I studied for school, I taught Taekwondo, I pursued my research into philosophy, and I became licensed in acupuncture. All these things that I did, they were a personal projection of energy around me. All of these things that I did were things I was becoming, and it rose out of me like an aura. Occupied as I was as a monk and a martial artist, I was very different from other people.

     Most of my friends from college – the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors that I learned with and taught – had an ordinary college life. They went out on dates. They had fun. They went to dances and parties. All of that was very hard for me. It was missing for me. I was suppressing that natural desire because it would interfere with my monastic life, with my martial arts, and my existence as a Taoist.

     When the desire to partake in these things came, when I found them interfering with my meditation, thought patterns, and studying, I decided to take more extreme measures to counteract that form of distraction. I shaved my head, making me appear unattractive and strange-looking. I also wore very baggy clothing. Whenever I needed to go somewhere, I would beg for transportation from one place to another. I acted as a beggar. These things were a form of humiliation that focused me on my studies.

     During this time, I would meditate for as long as twenty-four hours, as well as fast for three, four, or five days. It cleared my mind, focused my energy, and allowed me to continue in my devoted studies.

     Even though I appeared sickened and weak, it helped me be strong at the time.

     But of course I still wanted to be interesting to other people and attractive to women. It was very conflicting for me. I wanted to be a monk, I wanted to be a powerful Taekwondo practitioner and a great fighter. This made my personality too strong, too dominant. I realized that I needed some balance to who I was.

     One of my student's fathers was a Korean folk music instrument musician. He played the bamboo flute, called the daegeum, and the bamboo stringed instrument, called the gayageum. In exchange for teaching his son, he taught me to play those two instruments.

     I have always loved music immensely. I was in the choir in middle school. My student's father taught me in private lessons. My character is such that when I take on something new, I keep practicing until I make things happen, sometimes without eating, sleeping, for days straight. That was how intensely I studied these instruments.

     Another student of mine played the musical sword, like a violin. It was quite striking, so I learned that instrument too. These things toned down the high energy of my image.

     All of these instruments were very intriguing to me, and I spent time playing and studying them. Within six months, I had mastered them. I believe this enhanced me and my abilities in other areas.

     I would play the instruments at school functions, which allowed me to get in touch with many people besides martial artists. Girls especially enjoyed the music, since they wanted to listen and learn the music.

     After a year, I was so good that my teacher asked me to enter a contest. It was a collegiate folk music contest, which I entered in 1966. I won second place in the nation.

     The other sport I competed in was ping pong. My reflexes and skills at Taekwondo allowed me to excel at ping pong as well. I was ranked very highly at college and I competed nationally.

     College was a time for me to try many other pursuits besides Taekwondo, many of which I did well at. I was first and foremost a martial artist, but I knew that that alone was not enough to be a well-rounded person.

     Taekwondo allowed me to win in a physical fight against anyone. Acupuncture allowed me to heal those that were hurt. Meditation allowed me to be calm with inner peace. Eastern philosophy taught me spiritual understanding of the world. Music expanded my social skills. And ping pong increased my reflexes and physical stamina. Through my first years of college, I grew as a Taekwondo practitioner, but also as a human being.

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