International Taekwon‑Do Federation
September 2020 Issue of Taekwon‑Do Times Magazine
I was born in Malaysia on 28 October 1950 in the town of Taiping. I grew up under strict parents and attended school like other kids. I was interested in sports. I represented my school in badminton and football. I was the troop leader of my school's scout movement and a member of the school cadet corps and gymnastics club. My father and forefathers were all martial arts masters. I started training kung fu under my father, Leong Choo Wah, at the age of six.
As my family members had businesses in Malaysia and Singapore, in 1964 I went to stay in Singapore and was introduced to Taekwon‑Do. There I had the honor and good fortune of training under Master Rhee Ki Ha (now Grandmaster). Later I trained under Master John Nah, Master Lee Byung Moo, Master Lee Joon Jae. Then much later under Master Han Cha Kyo and Master Lau Koon Lin (now Grandmaster). My Taekwon‑Do instructors liked me because I learned fast, perhaps due to my Kung Fu background and I had that martial art foundation. They brought me with them to perform in Taekwon‑Do demonstrations around Singapore and Malaysia.
Later, I was introduced to Gen. Choi Hong Hi and he took an interest in me. I did not know why but later I knew the reason. My rise in Taekwon‑Do was by coincidence, I was simply at the right time at the right place.
After my studies, in 1975 I was brought to Sweden to be its chief instructor. A high title for a young Taekwon‑Do instructor of twenty-five years old. However, when I arrived in Sweden, another Korean instructor had arrived too: Master Lim Won Sup, who just ran away to escape the fall of South Vietnam to North Vietnam. Although I was officially invited to Sweden by the Swedish Taekwon‑Do Federation as its chief instructor, Master Lim was of a senior rank, and so we agreed that he should be the chief instructor. We also agreed that he would be in charge of the northern half of Sweden and I the southern half. Master Lim was a wonderful man and we had a very good working relationship. That was the start of my Taekwon‑Do career under the guidance of Gen. Choi.
Within two years I was involved in the development of Taekwon‑Do within the region, spreading Taekwon‑Do to Poland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, and later to India. I followed Gen. Choi as a member of the ITF demonstration team. My life was only Taekwon‑Do. I cooked for my students daily because the top students slept at my place, we ate together, we jogged together and we trained together, day and night. We had the most wonderful relationship. At that time, I was known not only as a Taekwon‑Do instructor, I was also famous as a cook! I have learned it from my father, he said: "The highway to a man's heart is through his stomach." Very true! First, I gave them what they wanted, a satisfied stomach, so that one day they will want what I really come to give, that is Taekwon‑Do!
I was not anyone special in the Taekwon‑Do world. There were masters who were a thousand times better than me, people like GM Rhee Ki Ha, Master Lee Byung Moo, Master Han Cha Kyu, GM Low Koon Lin, to name a few, who were all my instructors and I love them all. Why Gen. Choi was paying so much attention to me, I did not know at that time and I was puzzled. He would take time to teach me whenever we met and he would ask Master Park Jung Tae to continue teaching me if he was busy. After a little while I came to realize the reason behind Gen. Choi's interest in me. Gen. Choi, in the 1970s, was focusing on spreading Taekwon‑Do to the Soviet Block countries in Eastern Europe, which were all communist countries. At that time most of his masters were South Koreans holding South Korean passports -- they were not allowed to visit communist countries. Those of his South Korean masters holding British, US or Canadian passports, were all so successful in their own areas of operation that they had no time to go to those communist Soviet Block countries to spread Taekwon‑Do. As such, I was the alternative and my Taekwon‑Do activities increased and my Taekwon‑Do career rose at a high speed. In a short while, I was traveling to the five continents with Gen. Choi! Gen. Choi was a genius, a great tactician, a great strategist. If he can't send the best he will send the second or third best, as long as he can get the job done, and I was that second or third guy he has chosen.
I believe Gen. Choi paid attention to me because I was not only hungry for his Taekwon‑Do techniques, but I was equally hungry for his philosophical and spiritual knowledge in Taekwon‑Do, and I asked a lot of questions that many masters did not ask. Most people would ask Gen. Choi questions about kicks and punches. I asked not only about kicks and punches but a lot about the “Do” as well! So, it was a very balanced approach to my learning. I think he noticed that and so he opened himself up and lectured me whenever we were together. This was the beginning of my serious search for “Taekwon” as well as for “Do”.
It is difficult and embarrassing to write about oneself and one’s achievements.
However; if I am to write something, it would be on what I understand from my years of learning and training since I was a kid until present: is the purpose and the goal of Taekwon‑Do, and not about my achievements. It is about what I have learned from General Choi Hong Hi.
Taekwon‑Do is divided into two parts. “Taekwon” refers to the discipline of the body and mind. “Do” transcends the body and mind.
“Do” is about Oneness. “Do” can never be taught or acquired from books or paper education or understood through body and mind. “Do” has to be realized only through constant and systematic practice. “Do” is self-revealing. The highest goal in Taekwon‑Do is to realize “Do”. Only by realizing “Do” would we know who we really and truly are. Knowing oneself is superior over all other knowledge. However, we are mortal and would still need the body and mind as a vehicle to cross over in order to reach the transcendental knowledge of “Do”.
To discipline the body means to understand and gain an awareness and mindfulness of the body including every function, limb, and movement, in order to create a body that is healthy, strong, flexible, nimble, and conditioned. An able body has the capacity to sit upright comfortably with head, neck, trunk straight, for a long period of time without discomfort or pain, whilst maintaining in total stillness.
To discipline the mind is to develop an inner awareness and mindfulness of breath, thought, circulation of vital energy and the life force. It seeks to build character, self-transform and achieve the correct mindset. It is about replacing bad habit patterns with good habit patterns. A combination of these factors leads to serenity, calmness, maintaining in total silence in one’s mind.
Only when the body achieves total stillness and the mind achieves total silence will “Do” reveal Itself.
All martial arts of the world have one common goal. That is to achieve “Do”.
Karate-Do. “Karate” is about the disciplining of the body and mind. “Do” is the goal.
Tang Soo Do. “Tang Soo” is about the disciplining of the body and mind. “Do” is the goal.
Wushu-Tao. “Wushu” is about the disciplining of the body and mind. “Tao” is the goal.
To me martial arts is about life itself. The training of martial arts must bring oneself from physical and mental discipline to inner discipline, from physical and mental awareness to inner awareness, from expansion of consciousness to deepening of consciousness. All these will lead one towards the center of one’s consciousness, at the cave of one’s heart, the seat of Supreme Consciousness.
This is what the Bodhidharma of Kanchipuram, India, taught when he came to China during the Liang dynasty in the 5th century, when he created the first martial art system.
Too many martial art practitioners in this modern world are only focusing in the medals, prizes, money, fame and maybe a part in a movie. These superficial goals can provide only superficial joy and happiness, it is not wrong. They should enjoy such fun for it is all part of life learning. However, they can also actually bring one further away from the true objective of martial art. Most, including instructors and organizations, forget the original purpose and goal of their learning and training of the martial arts.
Martial art helps us to defeat both external enemies as well as internal enemies. That is why in the ITF we have grading tests only up to the 6th Dan going to 7th Dan. Tuls, or forms, are taught from white belt to 6th Dan. A 7th Dan and over is called a master. Master of what? In kicking and punching?
From white belt to 6th Dan one learns techniques to defeat physical enemies, like human enemies, hunger, poverty, sickness, diseases, etc., for purpose of self-preservation.
7th Dan and over are Masters who have mastered over, or have defeated, their internal enemies. So, no kicking, punching or Tuls are needed. The internal enemies are, for example, bad living habits, hate, jealousy, anger, laziness, ignorance, racism, religious discrimination, cultural discrimination, egoism, attachment, greed, superiority and inferiority complex, fear, cowardice, etc. Mastering over our mind, winning the respect and the trust from our mind is the key to be a true Master. In the journey from “Taekwon” to “Do”, the mind is the key. Once a martial art practitioner can adjust his life to such that it gains the respect and trust of his mind then from that moment on his mind will stop playing tricks with him, will stop working against him. From that moment on, his mind will begin to cooperate with him, guide him and teach him. Thus, this person in Taekwon‑Do is called a Master, the one who has mastered over his lower mind and is now functioning with his higher mind. This Master will always be protected by the “Do”. “Do” protects the true practitioner of “Do”. The Master who has defeated his internal enemies will have no external enemies. He sees the same “Do”, which is within him, within All, in all living beings and all non-living objects on this Earth, in this Universe, in all the other Universes, and in Space Infinite, from the grossest to subtlest. That is why he is called a Master.
I hope I have properly explained why General Choi has designed our ITF system into the two parts, from white belt 10th gup to 6th Dan black belt, and from 7th Dan to 9th Dan black belt. Read his books on the philosophy of Taekwon‑Do, sit down and listen to his personal discourses and one will understand the hidden truths after some reflections.
General Choi once told me when he visited me in Greenland, because someone was talking about religion, he said, “It is unimportant to know whether there is or not a god or devil, a heaven or hell. Religions have brought so much unrest in the world through misunderstandings. They are all irrelevant in the practice of Taekwon‑Do. Loving all people and serving all people through the practice of Taekwon‑Do is more beneficial. Knowing oneself through love and service is the highest goal in life.” He then went further saying that he was not against anyone having a religion as it is a very personal matter. Through the training of Taekwon‑Do one will become an honest and useful person in the society. So, by training Taekwon‑do, a Christian will become a better Christian, a Buddhist a better Buddhist, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Hindu a better Hindu, a communist a better communist, a capitalist a better capitalist. Martial art is all about life, about basic human goodness. If properly taught, practiced, and applied, it can be a vehicle to bring nations together and it can contribute to world peace and understanding.
When we conversed with Gen. Choi Hong Hi in private, he often quoted Confucius or Lao Tzu.
“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place”, Lao Tzu.
In just this one sentence from Lao Tzu quoted to me by General Choi, I went deep down into my consciousness and found the connection to our Taekwon‑Do, given below. Therefore, every word of General Choi must be taken seriously. This is only one example. There are so many.
After training Taekwon‑Do to prepare the body and mind, sit down in total stillness, tune your mind, go inward into silence and the hidden truth of the above teaching from Lao Tzu will open up and lighten up your entire life. From past and present, you will come to understand all the whys, all the bad lucks, all the good lucks, all the rapes, murders, bankruptcies, accidents, successes, rewards, etc., in your life and come to terms with every one of them.
Material science teaches us to understand, in order for anything to happen in this world and in this universe, there must be a cause. Nothing can happen without a cause. That is as far as material science is concerned and how far it can go.
But the science of “Do” brings us one step further, and indeed many steps further. The practice of “Do” brings us to realize and fully understand, not only what is the cause for a thing or event to happen, the Do is able to bring us to realize what caused the cause, and even further causes backward. With this clear understanding by going backward, to trace the cause one after another, we will reach the ultimate and come to realize the Original Cause.
With this realization and full understanding, we are able to come to terms with our cancers, accidents, diabetes, pain, abuse, betrayals, hatred, harm, bad or good luck, all positive and negative thoughts, speech and actions, etc., in this material life. In that state of perfect mindfulness, we are able to come to terms with all the events we had previously perceived as “good” or “bad” in our lives. We are able to forgive our enemy, and ask our enemies to forgive us too. We would not be too proud and egotistic about our success and good fortunes, because we have truly realized and fully understood what caused such fortune. In this state of perfect mindfulness, we are truly able to let go of everything. Calamities as well as good tidings in our lives because we fully understand that all of them are good for us to a certain extent, after which they are unimportant and irrelevant and should be let go. In this state of perfect mindfulness we are able to truly and genuinely love our “enemies” who actually are our true teachers. Instead of being angry and hateful of them and desire for revenge, we should be grateful and thankful to our “enemies” for the hard - but necessary - lessons in our lives, for without those tough lessons we would never awaken from our stupidity, our ignorance.
Forgiving and loving our enemies, the ones who harmed or killed our loved ones, who abused us, who robbed us, who cheated us, is the highest of the high amongst all levels of love. Selfish love or exclusive love in loving spouses and children and relatives is easy, even birds and animals are doing that, it is animal instinct kind of love. But to develop one’s selfish and exclusive love to grow into selfless and Universal Love, to an All Inclusive Love, to All Embracing Love, to Unconditional Love, is divine. The “Do” of Taekwon‑do is that perfect Love, total and absolute bliss, beyond happiness and sadness, truth and falsehood, success and failures. “Do” is absolute Oneness, non-dual, beyond the Yin and Yang principles.
A true practitioner of Taekwon‑do who has realized “Do”, or is on the pathway to “Do”, is a person of true love, he has only loving thoughts, he speaks with love and every act of his is love in action.
Now we can understand the greatness of General Choi Hong Hi. He has said many many times that he regretted not teaching moral culture and the philosophy of Taekwon‑do in his seminars but focused mainly on fundamental movements, because fundamental movements are the first step in building a strong foundation in the understanding and practice of Taekwon‑do. Now that at the end of his life he hadn’t had that time to include moral and philosophical education.
Only very few of General Choi’s students have truly learned directly from him in moral culture and “Do”. Most do not practice “Do”, or go deep within to expand on it. Most are only interested in a stronger punch and a faster side kick, a big organization in their names, which is not wrong. It is good to a certain extent, as far as sensationalization in life is concern. But it must be balanced equally with moral culture education and the practice in the inward path towards “Do”, which will keep the ego in check and to put a ceiling to one’s desires, to provide that inner peace and stability. Otherwise martial arts will be moving further and further away from its original path and objective, which is to become egoless and desireless.
I did not write this and the other two articles by my own hand. All three articles are guided and written spontaneously by “Do” guiding my thought and my hand. These articles are only meant for serious practitioners. Right knowledge should only be given to the right people who will appreciate it, treasurer it and put it into practice.
General Choi Hong Hi’s first visit to Greenland
General Choi Hong Hi visited Greenland in 1979 together with Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha of UK and Grand Master Kang Soo Jung of USA on the occasion of the Greenland National Taekwon‑do Championship and the formation of the Greenland Taekwon‑do Federation in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. It was a grand affair and there was an abundance of joy and fun for all. The whole town was celebrating. All of the Greenlandic Taekwon‑do members and the citizens of Nuuk were appreciative of General Choi's generous gesture of taking the time to visit us. It is not common to have such an important sports personality to visit Greenland. In fact, the whole city was celebrating. The hall was packed. There were competitions, demonstrations, seminar, dinners and parties, fishing trip, etc.
Our guests were housed at a guest apartment supplied by the city. On a serene morning during their visit, something strange happened. At about 6 a.m., there were explosive sounds awakening everyone in that apartment's neighborhood. It went “Bang! Bang! Bang! Boom! Boom! Boom!”. I was living two blocks away and was shocked by the sounds. I got dressed quickly and rushed over to investigate and found General Choi exercising. He was landing his punches and knife hand strikes onto a pillar outside his apartment. I went over and asked if he was alright. He replied it was his daily discipline to wake early to warm up and practice in preparation for the day's activities. I was told of this habit of General Choi by many colleagues but this was the first time I had witnessed it with my own eyes. You should see the neighbors. They all came out to investigate and had the same surprise, a strange but pleasant one and many showed a thumb's up.
Then there was this fishing trip when we took General Choi and the two GMs to the open sea. We had a medium-sized family boat with cabins, a toilet and a kitchen. General Choi was like a little boy moving around with so much curiosity and joy, asking so many questions. Perhaps because the unspoiled Greenlandic nature was so stunningly beautiful and majestic that had brought him so much joy. He seemed to loved fishing and the sea. Then Gen. Choi saw, tied to the back of the family boat, a small empty open boat with no pilot or motor, and the family boat was tagging the small boat along. Gen. Choi asked the Captain, who was a Taekwon‑Do student's father, “Why bring an empty open boat along?”
The Captain replied: "It’s for you to hold your fish, Sir."
Gen. Choi asked again: "OK, can we actually get so many fish? Where are the fishing tackle rods?"
Captain: "Yes Sir, within one or two hours we should be able to get a few hundred fish or more. We don't use fishing rods in Greenland."
Gen. Choi: "Then what do you use in Greenland?"
Captain: "We use a type of line that has about fifty or more hooks with red plastic baits, Sir. Please let me show you."
The Captain took Gen. Choi to a large wheel containing the fish line with the hooks and baits and asked Gen. Choi to lower the line into the water. When all the 50 hooks were lowered into the sea, which took Gen. Choi about 3 to 4 minutes to finish, the caption asked Gen. Choi to go to the other side of the boat to lower another line, with equal amount of hooks, into the sea, which took another 3 to 4 minutes. When that was done, Gen. Choi asked: "It is all done. What should I do now?"
Caption: "Please go over to the other side and wind up the first fish line, Sir"
Gen. Choi did that and lo and behold, 40 to 50 large and medium size Greenlandic cods came up. You should see the delight in Gen. Choi eyes. He was dancing like a kid full of joy and amazement, pulling one fish after another out of the water and passing them to GM Rhee and GM Kang. He quickly went over to the other side to pull the second line up and got the same number of cod fish. Then he went into the kitchen to boil a big cooking pot of water, added in some Korean spices, salt, soya sauce, chili, a lot of garlic, Korean gochujang, etc. By then GM Rhee and GM Kang were now doing the fishing, Gen. Choi rushed up to the one line, pulled up one freshly caught cod, immediately scaled it and took away the unwanted parts, chop it into pieces and put them into the boiling water, all in less than 10 minutes! Then he looked at us and said: "Well, this is the freshest way to cook a fish. Nothing can be fresher than this." Well, it was delicious! Now we know, Gen. Choi was a great cook! At the dining table he cut up another cod fish, slice by slice, to be eaten raw with soya sauce and wasabi which was also wonderful. The seas around the island of Greenland have the cleanest waters in the world because besides the fishing industry there is no other industries in Greenland and almost everything is natural.
We went back to shore with a boat filled to the brim with cod fish.
A lesson I learned from Gen. Choi in Greenland
During Gen. Choi's stay to Greenland in 1979, I had spent a lot of time with him hoping to learn something from him and to understand him better. Once during question time someone asked about religion. Gen. Choi answered: "It is unimportant to know whether there is or not a god or devil, a heaven or hell. Religions have brought so much unrest in the world through misunderstandings. They are irrelevant in the practice of Taekwon‑Do. Loving all people and serving all people through the practice of Taekwon‑Do is more beneficial. Knowing oneself through love and service is the highest goal in life." He then went further to saying that he was not against anyone having a religion as it was a very personal matter. It was a very surprising answer for me and I was thinking over and over what was inner significance of that statement of Gen. Choi. How to interpret it. How to explain it to my students after Gen. Choi has left Greenland because they bound to ask.
That night, when I went back to my apartment, I went straight to my meditation room to meditate over what Gen. Choi has said about religion. After some preparations I induced my individualized life force and awareness to move into the Universal Life Force at the Heart Center, merging the individualized life force with the Universal Life Force in peace, love and bliss. I asked Father Do, please speak to me, show me the inner significance of what Gen. Choi has said about religion as being unimportant. As my state of consciousness went deeper and deeper, with my eyes closed, I witnessed a beautiful story unfolding, it was so clear like I was watching a movie in a cinema. Except that this was played out within me and all around me, and I lost my identity. I was just witnessing the drama been played before me and within me.
The story begins. Once long time ago, thousands of years ago, there was a professor of mathematics. He was the Original One, without a second. He was the originator of all mathematical formulas and he had many disciples.
One day the professor sent a disciple by the name of David to Africa to teach the Africans the truth about mathematics. David went to Africa and had many students. In class David taught, "Dear students, I am sent by the professor, the originator of all mathematical formulas. Now I am going to teach you the truth about mathematics. You see, to understand mathematics, you must start with one. Then you add one more. So, one plus one equals to two. This is the starting point, the foundation to all mathematical formulas. Then one African man stood up and said, "Why must one plus one be two? Why can't it be five or ten or three? Why must it be two?" Then David knew he must use a parable, in simple short story form, to explain the difficult truths of mathematics. So, he said, "Let me tell a simple story and through this story you will understand difficult truths of mathematics. OK, there was a coconut tree with many coconuts on the tree. One day there was a storm and the wind were strong, it blew one coconut down. Then the next day a monkey climbed up the tree and took another coconut down. Now students please tell me how many coconuts were taken from the tree?" All the students answered, "Two." Then David enlightened them, "See, students, what I said was correct, one plus one must be two. It cannot be any other number." He further elaborated, "Yes, my way is the right way. My way is the only way. There is no other way." Then the students spoke among themselves, "Yes, David's way is the right way, David's is the only. There is no other way."
The professor sent another disciple, John, to Japan to teach the Japanese the truth about mathematics. John went to Japan and had many students. In class John taught, "Dear Students, I am sent by the professor, the originator of all mathematical formulas. Now I am going to teach you the truth about mathematics. You see, to understand mathematics, you must start with one. Then add another one. One plus one equals to two. This is the starting point, the foundation of all mathematical formulas. Then one Japanese man stood up and said, "Why can't it be four or ten or twenty? Why must it be two? I don't understand it." Then like David, John used a parable to explain the difficult truths of mathematics. He used the story of chicken as there was no coconut trees in Japan. So, John said, "Once upon a time there was a farmer with many chickens. One day a samurai warrior on a horse back ran over the chickens and killed one chicken. Then in the night a fox came and killed another. Now students, how many chickens were killed altogether?" All the Japanese students replied, "Two." Then John said, "See, students, one plus one must be two. it cannot be another number." All the Japanese student now exclaimed, "Yes, John is right." John replied, "Yes, my way is the right way. My way is the only way. There can be no other ways. This is the truth about mathematics." Then all the Japanese students spoke among themselves, "John's way is the right way. John's way is the only way. There is no other way."
The professor sent many more disciples to many other countries and they used different parables to explain the difficult truths of mathematics. He sent Mathew to England, Thomas to Thailand, Stephen to France, etc. In the end, in each country, the students of those disciples understood the truth of mathematics in the same way as those in Africa and Japan.
As time goes, the disciples of the professor have all passed away. But their students and later generations of students continued to spread the truths of mathematics.
One day, after some thousand years went by, there was an international mathematics conference and all the great mathematics experts from each country attended. At the conference, a man from England went on the podium and spoke, "Dear brothers and sisters of mathematics, I am so happy in my heart today that I know the truths of mathematics and I am to share with you about the truths of mathematics. You see, to understand the truths of mathematics you must understanding the basics, the foundation of all mathematical formulas. That is, we must always start with the number, one. Then add one. One plus one equals two. This is the starting point, the truth."
The expert from Africa stood up and asked, "We too know one plus one equals two. But under whose have you learnt this truth?"
The Englishman answered, "We learnt it in the name of Mathew, our founder."
Then the African expert shouted, "Then your learning is from a false teacher, yours is a false system. One plus one is two in the name of David is right, in the name of Mathew is wrong. This is because our founder David told us that his way is the right way, his way is the only way, there is no other ways. One plus one equals two in the name of David is right, in the name of Mathew is wrong."
The Japanese expert stood up and shouted, "You are both wrong. Your teachers are all false teachers. One plus one equals two under the name of John is right. John told us his way, one plus one equals two, is the right way, is the only way, there is no other ways. Therefore, one plus one equals two in the name of John is right. Under all other names are from false teachers, false systems."
Other experts from other countries stood up and shouted in the same manner, all claiming one plus one equals two in the name of their founders were right and all others were wrong, from false teachers and false systems. The conference's atmosphere became chaotic, toxic and explosive and mathematics wars followed and destruction everywhere.
The professor sent his different disciples to different regions of the world at different periods of history to teach the same truth. But his disciples' students were so attached to their teachers' names and forms, that they distorted the truth and claimed a monopoly or exclusive right over truth. They could not see that all the disciples were sent by the same professor and taught the same truth, except that each disciple used a different parable or different method to the teach the same truth, in accordance to the language, culture, mentality, intellectual level, environment, of those people at those times.
From the above story as projected by “Do” properly illustrated clearly what Gen. Choi said about religions. The story above about mathematics itself is nonsense, it's stupid! This we know perfectly well. But think carefully, don't you think it fits very well into what Gen. Choi has said about religions in our world today? The religious egoism, the politicization of religion, the monopolization of truth and god in religion, the money in religion, the discrimination in religions, the control that religions have on politicians, business, politics, for their own benefits, etc., is the root cause of so many problems in the world and the cause of so many wars and destruction.
Dear Taekwon‑Do brothers and sisters, don't you think that the religions of this world today is like the mathematics story given above? Truth, only in the name of their divine teacher is right. The same truth as taught by another divine teacher is false. Will the same mango tastes differently if you call it by another name? Therefore, in Taekwon‑Do we do not involve religion, but we respect the religions of others and encourage them to be good in their religions. Gen. Choi taught us about basic human goodness, that is, self-transformation through moral culture education and put them into practice by serving all living beings and loving them as we would love ourselves, for we are One. Do not discriminate. This was what I have learnt from Gen. Choi that time when he visited Greenland in 1979. Gen. Choi only needed to mention a sentence and the Do expended and revealed the rest through heart to heart dialog. Brothers and sisters in Taekwon‑Do, Taekwon‑Do is so wonderful if it is practiced correctly.
In the path of “Do”, having the right student is necessary. Then the student needs the right knowledge to progress smoothly and correctly. Right knowledge must come from the right Teacher. With right effort surely the practitioner will achieve the right result. First seek the right Teacher who can provide the right knowledge. We have such a Teacher in Gen. Choi Hong Hi.
When I moved to Europe in 1975 as a full-time Taekwon‑do instructor, I had continued my travels, following Gen. Choi Hong Hi to many countries across the 5 continents for training, meetings, demonstrations, tournaments and just spending time with him. I believe that he liked my company and I enjoyed every moment with him. Those were learning moments for me and I treasured every minute of it. I learnt from him a lot in fundamental movements and other basics in our art. It was his teachings on “Do” that I sought after the most, gradually realising the truth from him, bit by bit.
Gen. Choi did not speak openly to everyone about such matters unless he felt that the student was ripe and ready for the subject. It has helped me tremendously in my understanding of “Do” and how I should conduct myself in society. It gave me the knowledge, confidence and courage head towards my goals in my life's journey. Learning from Gen. Choi brought success in my work with my students. My network grew substantially, including contacts in Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and India -- countries that I would visit each country three to four times each year, for over twenty years, until 1992 when Gen. Choi appointed me as Chairman of the ITF Umpire Committee.
From 1992, I ran all ITF international championships, including the ITF World Championships, with the Chairman of the ITF Tournament Committee till today. I would travel to different countries across the five continents conducting ITF umpire courses and seminars. Upon my appointment as chairman of the ITF umpire Committee I had released all my classes to my students, many were already proficient masters or senior instructors by that time. There were many students and I did not have to try hard to amass students. When one has a good product one does not have to hunt for buyers or success, they will find you.
As I travelled more and more with Gen. Choi and continued to learn from him through our conversations and my observing him, I come to know more about him. I learned and came to respect the depth of his knowledge in the physical, philosophical, mental, psychological and spiritual aspects of the martial arts and of life itself. He could be as strict as a general, as caring and loving as a father, an easy-going and fun person as a friend, an ever-forgiving person to his "enemies" and the most patient and most understanding instructor. He may seem a stern, angry and uncompromising person, but I came to know that they were all just an act to put across a message and to teach a student a lesson. But once that person is seen to have learnt his lesson, suddenly the same Gen. Choi would become the most loving father, embrace the student and continue to guide him.
During my travels with Gen. Choi, there were memorable moments that I would like to share with you, especially the lighter moments, that were never shown or mentioned in the hundreds of videos or books about him.
Seminar in Malaysia
In the 1980s, I was with Gen. Choi in Malaysia where he was conducting a seminar for a few hundred black belt instructors and masters. In the middle of the training, Gen. Choi asked everyone to sit down and he asked a few students to come forward to demonstrate some techniques on what was taught and to explain the application and purpose of each technique demonstrated.
He asked one black belt to perform the Walking Stance Upset Fingertip Low Thrust, "Gunnun So Dwijibun Sonkut Najunde Tulgi". Somehow the performer executed an extremely low strike, which was incorrect. Gen. Choi asked him what was the purpose of that technique.
Gen. Choi, "What is the purpose of this technique? Why is it so low?"
The performer, whilst avoiding the mention an embarrassing name of a male organ due to his cultural upbringing, replied "To strike and then grab the fruits, Sir." There was big laughter all around as a result.
Gen. Choi, "Oh the fruits, and why do you have to pull your fist back to the side of your body?"
The performer responded, "To pull out the fruits and then throw them away to the sides, Sir". This time the laughter was getting out of control. Gen. Choi and the performer joined in the laughter as they could not control themselves as well. This time it took many minutes for the laughter to stop.
Gen. Choi, this time moved closer to the performer, "OK, now show me how you are going to strike, grab and pull out the fruits as I am wearing my pants. If you are to pull out the fruits then my pants will also be ripped off!" The performer could not answer. Great laughter continued in the hall.
Gen. Choi, "Now another question. If I am a girl, there will be no fruits there. The fruits will be somewhere else." The performer blushed and did not know how to response. Another round of laughter ensued.
Then Gen. Choi lovingly explained the correct application and purpose to the performer and the performer returned to his place beaming with satisfaction.
This episode shows Gen. Choi as an expert teacher who is not always a strict master but also one who could see the lighter side of things and use them to lighten up the atmosphere in his class. His classes were always interesting and full of fun. At the same time it had always concentrated on the crucial points. His jokes and teasing were always done as part of driving home a point without shaming or embarrassing a student. His focus was always on the fundamental movements and its application. He had never focused on power and endurance. It was always about foundation, foundation, foundation and not about the fancy stuff. He always said, "For power and endurance, you don't need Gen. Choi to teach. Thousands of trainers can teach them very well. It is the fundamental movement that is the most important for it is the foundation and structure to your technical development. However, the soul of our art is the “Do”."
Seminars in Sri Lanka and India
I was with Gen. Choi in Sri Lank Lanka and India in mid 1990s. We spent a few days in Sri Lanka where Gen. Choi was giving some seminars in the capital, Colombo. Most Sri Lankan students at the seminars had seen Gen. Choi for the first time and everyone was very excited about it. Parents, community leaders, government officials were there to greet Gen. Choi and meetings with officials were arranged. Sri Lanka was beautiful and its people were hospitable, kind and generous. The Sri Lankan dinners were sumptuous. We had a wonderful time there.
Then we flew to Delhi, the capital of India, for another round of seminars. There were a few hundred participants. I would like to share the experience of one of the sessions which is memorable to me till this day.
During class, Gen. Choi was going around asking questions and correcting the movements of the students. In the middle of the class Gen. Choi suddenly told the class, "Excuse me students, I need to go out for a minute. Please forgive me if I laugh too loudly." So the class leader gave the command to everyone to bow to Gen. Choi allowing Gen. Choi to exit the training hall, and then asked everyone to sit on the floor. Once outside we could hear the thunderous laughter of Gen. Choi and everyone was perplexed as to what was going on. Many seemed confused.
I went out to Gen. Choi, he was sitting like a little boy on the steps of the hall laughing. I inquired, "Sir, are you alright? What is so funny?"
Gen. Choi, "I am fine Meng. It took so many days for me to understand, and just now I realized it! I was wondering about it first when we were in Sri Lanka and now in India. And only now I understand it very clearly."
Me, "What is that that you have realized, Sir?"
Gen. Choi, "I was teaching for a few days in Sri Lanka it happened and I was confused. Then yesterday in Delhi the same thing happened I was confused again. I have been trying to understand this special movement of the head whenever I was asking a student a question in Sri Lanka or India during class. After explaining and correct a mistake a student has made in his movement, I would ask him "Do you understand now, or is it clear now?" and the student, without a word, would always answer by shaking his head, with a smile on his face. It gave me the impression that the answer was "no", he did not understand, and his smiling indicated he was embarrassed, and so I would explain and adjust his movement again. Very often I would have to correct the same student on the same technique for at least four or five times because he shooked his head every time I asked him if he had understood the whole thing. After a whole week I suddenly realised, just now, I realize that there are two different ways of Indian head shaking, which made perfect sense to me!"
Me, "How, Sir?"
Gen. Choi, "Through observation I realize that there are two different ways a Sri Lankan or an Indian person shakes his head. If he shakes his head with face and nose turning toward left shoulder and toward right shoulder two to three to times, it means "No". If he shakes his head with ears going straight down, sideways, to the left and right shoulders (without turning the face) it means "Yes". It is so funny because for so many days I took yes for no and I continued to correct their "mistakes" over and over not knowing that they understood the whole thing pretty well!" "Please give me a few more minutes and I should be alright."
I went into the training hall again and told the students what had transpired and there was a laughter in the whole hall from all the students.
Gen. Choi came into the training again and continued with the lesson. This time whenever he asked a question, the students would reply loudly "Yes Sir!", no more head shakes.
Put that silly book away!
Once Gen. Choi was conducting a seminar in Europe. During class there was this instructor, a smart alec, who was holding a copy of Gen. Choi's encyclopedia to follow the lessons. As Gen. Choi was explaining a certain technique, this instructor would interrupt and there would be an exchange between them.
Instructor, "Sir, I would like to bring to your attention that just now you explained this technique that way, but your book explains it this way, which is quite different."
Gen. Choi, "Oh I see." Then he would change his explanation to in accordance to what his book says.
When it came to another technique and after Gen. Choi has explained, that same instructor would interrupt again, "Sir, you have explained it differently again. Your book explains it this way." Gen. Choi would go over again, looked into his book and returns to his class and changed his explanation to in accordance to his book's way of explaining. This happened a few times.
Then once the instructor interrupted the class yet again and called out to Gen, Choi, "Sir, again you have explained that technique differently, your book says this way."
Gen. Choi came over to this instructor and said, "Oh yes, do you know that this technique has been changed."
Instructor, "Who changed it Sir?"
Gen. Choi, "Me, I changed it!"
Instructor, "When was it changed Sir? It was not announced Sir?"
Gen. Choi, "Just now! I am the founder of Taekwon‑do and I have the power to change any of my owner techniques that I have invented. Right now, I have changed that version of the technique!"
Gen. Choi, "Now you can put that silly book away and start training!" There was laughter all around.
I had accompanied Gen. Choi during one of his visits to a South Asian country in the 1990s. We had a meeting with a high official of the national sports association in that official's office at association's HQ. This official knew very well of the situation between WTF and ITF at that time. He told Gen. Choi that he was in the position to help ITF Taekwon‑do get into his association and that he could place ITF in an advantaged position over WTF. The official then mentioned that in order for him to do that he needs ITF to buy him a new car. He mentioned the brand and model of the car. Gen. Choi replied that he would think over it and would provide him a reply later.
When we went back to our hotel immediately Gen. Choi called for a meeting and he gave us all a lecture. He said that we could easily buy that official a car but we will not do it because it was morally wrong. Then Gen. Choi said how can we as instructors and masters teach our students about morality and then accept to bribe this official? It is against our conscience! Taekwon‑Do is about fairness and honesty so how can anyone stoop so low, especially in Taekwon‑Do, to bribe a government servant for a favour? If we do that then how can we face our students and ourselves? He told us all to avoid this kind of immoral activity in our lives. With that lecture we never contacted that official again.
With this life lesson, Gen. Choi has demonstrated his true character as an upright person. He refused to win through bribery and other crooked means. Gen. Choi has always advocated fair play and honest effort to achieve things.
“Do”, the Principle of Oneness
In my travels with Gen. Choi, whenever I asked him questions about “Do”. He would explain it in many different ways, but they will always lead back to the ultimate philosophy of Oneness. In my younger days, due to inexperience, I could not relate fully the principle of Oneness. Also, Gen. Choi, in his Korean English could not fully explain the subtlest of subtle truths. As such, he would explain with stories and other ways.
One day, determined to know the true significance of Oneness and Do, I decided to search for the truth within myself. After the set-up and preparation to meditate, I went into meditation. I lovingly cried out to the Supreme Consciousness within me to kindly enlighten me on the principle of Oneness and the “Do”. As my individual “Do” merged into the Infinite “Do”, a beautiful light emerged, a story unfolded within and around me, like a multi-dimensional tv screen.
I witnessed and became aware that I was at the bottom of the ocean. There laid many empty vessels, bowls, bottles, cups, glasses, kettles, pots, sunken boats, cars, etc., and all of them were filled with sea water. There was a debate amongst them as to whether they were all from the same family, as they were all at home in the ocean.
The sea water in the cup, which was entrapped and imprisoned in the cup, identified itself with its prison, as a cup, and not recognizing itself as sea water, told the other vessels, "Look, I am a cup. I have a body of a cup, I have a name, cup. I am not you, a bottle, or you, a kettle, or you, a pot. I look different from all of you. Therefore, I am not you and you and you! We are not one family at all! I have my individual rights! I have my cup rights! My constitutional rights!"
The sea water in the bottle, "Yes, that's right! I am not you, a cup, or you, a car, or you, a boat! I am a bottle. See I have a body of a bottle. My name is bottle. We are all different. I have also my individual rights! My bottle rights! My constitutional rights!" and nobody can take this right away from me!" The bottle then pointed to the other vessels, "I don't care about your rights, or your rights, or your rights. The most important thing is my individual rights and nobody can take it away from me!" "My rights are the most important!"
All the other vessels argued in the same manner, one after another. Each one developed individualism, the I, I, I, and mine, mine, mine. Never us nor we. Only, this is mine, that is yours. Selfishness, egoism, desires, possessiveness grow. Togetherness, community mindedness, compassion, love, service mindedness, on the decline.
A sweet voice came within me from the “Do”, the Supreme Consciousness, speaking, "Meng, don't you think this is pure ignorance and silliness? Is the sea water inside the cup, or the bottle, or the pot, and the sea water outside them in the ocean different sea water? They, the sea waters inside those vessels, are ignorant because they identify themselves with their prison, their bodies." "Do will release you from this ignorance!"
Next scene, a boat sails past and the sea current moves a stone and it hits the cup. The cup breaks, releasing the sea water which was earlier trapped within. The cup breaks to pieces and “died”. But the sea water remains unaffected. It says, "My body is gone and my name is gone. But how come I am still alive as I am still thinking? So, I cannot be the cup and my name cannot be cup. Then who am I?" At that very moment the released sea water from the cup merges with the ocean and becomes One with the ocean, and it exclaims, "Oh, what is this experience? Ahhh, now I realize it. I am not a cup and my name is not cup. I and the ocean are One. No, I am indeed the ocean!"
When the individualized sea water merges and becomes One with the ocean, it becomes the ocean. Individualism, selfishness, possessiveness, ego, and all negativities suddenly become unknown. Only Truth exists. Only Do exists.
Then “Do”, the Supreme Consciousness, brought in part two of story in the form of a divine voice within me.
It says, "Meng, after witnessing the story of the sea water, apply the story to all living beings and non-living objects and space. Meng, is the life force, like the sea water, within you, different from the life force outside you? Is the life force within you different from the life force inside and outside of John, Julia, Ali, Ahmat, Rohan, Ramasamy, Lim, Chong, the dog, the tiger, the bird, etc? Is it different from the life force within and outside the tree, wood, sand, iron, etc? It is different from the life force within and outside all living beings and all non-living objects in this world, in this universe, in all the other universes, and in infinite space? All are One. Be alike to everyone. Love all as you would love yourself and serve all as you would serve yourself."
The Do went further, "Meng, your eyes are just instruments, consisting of fluid, lenses, cells, retina, etc. By themselves they can't see. They need someone to operate them then only they are useful. So, you are looking at the stories now. Think about it, who is that entity inside you using your eyes to see?"
"You are listening to the conversation in the story. Your ears by themselves cannot hear because they are only instruments. They need someone to operate them in order to be able to hear. So, who is that inside you using your ears to listen to me now?"
"Your brain is now analyzing what I say. Your brain is only an instrument consisting of only material. By itself it cannot think. It needs someone to operate it in order to able to think. You are thinking now, so who is that inside you who is using your brain to think?"
"Meng that Entity using your body is the individualized “Do”. Entrapped in a prison called the body. Is the individualized “Do” within you and the Universal “Do” all around you different?" "In fact, your name is not even Meng. You were not born with it. Meng was given you by your parents." "So, you are not the body. If you are not the body then who are you really?" "That is man's eternal quest, and “Do” leads you to that realization."
"Have faith and courage and practice, practice, practice, with one pointed concentration and you will surely reach your goal."
The Eternal Master
Towards the last years of his life, Gen. Choi Hong Hi discovered he had stomach cancer. His cancer had spread very quickly. He was 83. He has been healthy all his life until those last few years. He knew his time was near and he quickly and carefully made preparations for the International Taekwon‑Do Federation and his family, especially his beloved wife, Mrs. Han Chun Hi.
Gen. Choi suffered quietly and with dignity and never showed his pain. He continued to travel and instruct, disregarding his illness, until the final moments of his life when he went back to the country of his birth, DPR Korea.
In Pyongyang, President Kim Jong Il of DPR Korea and his government took excellent care of him. The Koreans loved him for he had made all Koreans, North Koreans as well as South Koreans, proud, by introducing Taekwon‑Do, a Korean martial art, to the world. His actions had touched the lives of millions, giving mankind hope and a new meaningful direction and purpose to their lives through Taekwon‑Do.
Gen. Choi was hospitalized in Pyongyang. However, he continued to instruct from his hospital bed. Daily, the Korean masters, one by one, entered his hospital room and performed Taekwon‑Do movements in front of him, whilst he corrected and explained the movements lying down or sitting up in his hospital bed. He continued teaching in this manner until his last breath.
Gen. Choi had never, at any moment, displayed any pain nor did he ever ask for pity from anyone. In fact, he disregarded his illness as though he was not affected by it at all and continued with his life as if everything was normal. He would make everyone around him feel comfortable and never spoke about his illness. To him, it was business as usual and he would teach and teach and teach -- never at any moment did he allow the illness to bother him and his work. He was truly a great master who has mastered his mind, and was able to maintain inner peace and tranquility throughout his illness.
He invited a few of his most beloved students to be by his side in Pyongyang, DPR Korea, during his final few days, and I was one of the lucky ones. Those invited were Grand Masters Rhee Ki Ha, Hwang Kwang Sung, Park Jong Soo, Tom MacCallum and Leong Wai Meng. We were by his bedside and he gave his last advice and instruction to every one of us, and right after that, he made his last will, which was recorded by a team of legal experts provided by the government of DPR Korea. Gen. Choi’s mind was sound, his speech spoken clearly and with authority as usual, his eyes ever attentive and full of light and energy. We feel the love and positive energy vibrating from him to us. The atmosphere was surcharged with emotion from every one of us, but Gen. Choi remained calm and composed, like his usual self, a general and a grand master. Those last moments were educational moments. We were still learning from him through observing how he was conducting himself even in his last moment with the painful cancer. There he was, still teaching us through his personal conduct, teaching us how to die with dignity and fearlessness. He cared more for others than he would care for himself even in the last few days of his life!
We were in Pyongyang for a week. It was a week of self-reflection, introspection and internal dialogue with one’s conscience. Have we learned honestly and diligently from Gen. Choi when we had so much opportunity in our younger days? Have we wasted his time and our time? Are we worthy of so much of his love and attention? How are we to continue to spread his teachings after him? How do we uphold his legacy? How should we behave if we will one day catch cancer also? Are we going to cry and ask for pity and make everyone around sad, or would we conduct ourselves like Gen. Choi, disregarding the illness and continue to serve society till our last breath with a positive attitude?
We left Pyongyang on 15 June 2002 by the Korean national airline, Air Koryo. As we were half way up in the air, a messenger came to inform us that Gen. Choi has just left his body. There was silence. Everyone was feeling Gen. Choi’s presence, for he may have left his body, but he did not leave our heart.
Our most beloved Teacher, Gen. Choi Hong Hi, you are the our Taekwon‑Do Mother, you are our Taekwon‑Do Father, you are indeed our Eternal Master!
Yours in Taekwon‑do,