Grandmaster Joon Pyo Choi Biography: Visitor, part 9

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     In my eagerness to study martial arts, I often visited other schools to learn from the masters and students there. On one occasion, I visited a school down by the harbor. Pusan is a harbor city, famous at the time for its smugglers and gangs. This school was on the second floor of a building down by the ocean and was affiliated with a gang of smugglers. I did not know this at the time.

     I went there and introduced myself.

     "I am Joon Pyo Choi. I am a fourth dan of Taekwondo of the Song Moo system. I am studying at the University. I also teach Taekwondo there. I wish to extend my knowledge of Taekwondo by studying with you today."

     At that time, I did not realize I was challenging others. I thought I was going there to learn and to study. But their perception was that I was challenging them in their schools. The nature of martial arts was at that time to fight, not to learn. It was to perform, yes, but only in the context of finding out whom was best.

     I didn't occur to me that I was a challenger. In my mind, I was seeking to study. I was only 19 or 20 at the time. I didn't know I was young. I was just a college kid, I thought, but I was not a kid any more. In the mind of the youngster, he thinks he knows everything.

     I visited the school and they allowed me to practice with them. First we practiced kicks and punches. Then we practiced forms. Finally we practiced self-defense and sparring for about 20 or 30 minutes.

     The method for sparring was to form two lines with rotation, one line senior and one line junior. The lines would rotate until everyone had fought everyone else. Sometimes the head instructor would join the line, sometimes not.

     In this case, the head instructor did not join. I was in the junior line, facing about 10 black belts. I was at the end, so I faced the junior-most senior belt first, then the next senior and so forth. Each match was 3 or 5 rounds. We used no hogu at that time, nor a groin protector. It was expected that we had a good sense of control, however, so that we did not hurt each other. There were no fixed rules as there are now. It wasn't a sports competition; it was fighting. You would adapt your style to who you were fighting. Whatever style came at you, you had to match that. If the opponent struck at your face, then you had to match that. If they attempted a low blow, then you had to match that. Those were the rules at that time in Taekwondo.

     The fights were very courteous. Because they saw my being there as challenge to their school, even though I was only there to learn, they wanted to show me up. The junior black belts were not a match for me however. We were all very controlled and polite. I stopped their kicks and punches easily, gently pushing them away.

     Going up the line, the energy rose. They were becoming embarrassed and frustrated by not being able to end the fight against me. Then the head instructor signaled to his students, "End this now. Stop this guy!"

     Even so I was able to handle all of them easily, until the final guy. He was the biggest and the highest ranking student. He was very powerful and tried to end it with a groin kick.

     It was extremely painful, and as I recovered slowly, I decided that I would end it with this guy quickly. I threw a side kick, followed by a round house kick, and then a skip sidekick. It landed right under his armpit, lifting him and throwing him to the wall. His head and body hit with a thud and he lay there.

     That was the last fight and I won them all.

     The head instructor came over and shook my hand. He said he appreciated my technique and then invited me to dinner. I went with him and a few other instructors. We drank and had dinner, during which he approached me to be a member of his school.

     I told him I would think about it, since my schedule was very busy. He continued, saying it wasn't just being a student at the school, but it was a business proposal. I was interested in that, until he explained that he was head of a smuggling gang.

     At that time, gangs didn’t use gun and knives. They used their fists and feet, and if they did use a weapon, it was a stick, a chain, or a belt. These were all styles I had experienced in my travels around the county.

     I considered his proposal, but I left Seoul to come to Pusan so I could get away from the gangs. I declined, because I wanted to continue my monk-like lifestyle. The life of a gang member was not one I wanted to live.

     I learned also that one must always understand and respect the motivations of others. My simple desire to learn was opposed to the gang's desire to maintain honor. In my quest for knowledge, I caused conflict that could have led me to grave trouble. Luckily it did not, but rather reinforced my desire to live as a monk on campus.

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