International Taekwon‑Do Federation
60th Birthday Interview (2016)
Taekwon‑Do ITF Grandmaster and Professor Hwang Ho Yong has been among the most important personalities of Czech martial arts for decades. Ever since his arrival in Prague in 1987, students, not only Czech, have had the opportunity to learn the Korean martial art directly from the source and to be students of the world’s leading Taekwon‑Do instructor. Grandmaster, could you tell us how you started practicing Taekwon‑Do?
Since childhood, I have been interested in martial arts as well as sports in general. In the army, I practised gyuk sool, which is a Korean martial art developed for soldiers, and I also did gymnastics. Thanks to that good motoric groundwork I was recommended for a second intensive instructor course, which began in January 1982 and lasted more than six months.
There are unbelievable legends about these two courses still being passed among Taekwon‑Do practitioners. Could you recount how the course was conducted?
We trained very intensively six days a week, several practices a day for more than six months. Of course not everybody lasted. We had to train a lot, both easy and complex basic techniques, do a lot of kicks and last but not least, there was a lot of jumping practice. I remember that from the begining, our master Lim Won Sup would explain everything to us, so that everything clearly and precisely fit into the unique system of Taekwon‑Do. Despite the very intensive training, most of us passed the 4th degree examination as early as that summer.
What was your part in Taekwon‑Do after you completed the course?
Apart from the fact that I started teaching Taekwon‑Do in Korea and kept improving myself, I was selected for the demonstration team. I had the honor to travel through Korea, China, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Italy and Greece together with other unforgettable personalities of Taekwon‑Do and often with the founder of Taekwon‑Do, general Choi Hong Hi. My task was above all to demonstrate flying kicks and defense against more (up to 7) opponents. Often that meant entire tours of demonstrations, therefore, due to frequent injuries, we often had to take someone else’s part of the programme. At some of those demonstrations I was also the team captain.
Not only in your generation of Taekwon‑Do practitioners, you were an unmatched jumper. You came to be known worldwide because of your flying kicks that are eternalized in the Encyclopedia of Taekwon‑Do. Can you tell us something more about that honor?
General Choi himself invited me to the photoshooting for the Encyclopedia. He asked for me personally because of my flying kicks and because of the photo where I jump over his car. At the first big demonstration in Korea in 1982, one of my tasks was to jump over that car. Unfortunately, we could not get the car inside, thus my master Lim wanted me to jump across some boxes that were supposed to resemble the car. I suggested jumping across a pyramid of nine people. That number was a huge success and it has been a part of perhaps all big Taekwon‑Do demonstrations ever since. A similar photograph is in the Encyclopedia. I will tell you a secret. There are kneeling people unconventionally facing away from the camera in that picture. Only few other people were invited to the photoshooting so we were unable to build a pyramid of nine people. Nevertheless, we went to the judo gymnasium next door and asked the judokas (judo practitioners) whether they could pose as an obstacle for the jump. Thus a very inconspicuous group of judokas found their way to the Encyclopedia.
Could you explain to us how you got to what was then still Czechoslovakia?
After the Fifth World Taekwon‑Do Championships in Athens, we returned home to Korea. A demonstration team for Czechoslovakia started to be assembled in the summer of 1987. I was not part of that team, but when they returned, I was selected by the captain to be the instructor for then socialist Czechoslovakia. The captain of the demonstration team considered Czechoslovakia an important country and that’s why I was chosen. All that happened thanks to the invitation by Mr. Klukáček, the then president of SU Karate Prague.
What were your first impressions of the first practices in Czechoslovakia?
I have already had the opportunity to visit several European countries thanks to the demonstration team so I knew a little bit about the European standards of living, food etc. My biggest problem was, however, the language. We can say that I spoke Korean and my students spoke Czech. Fortunately, the Korean university students, who studied in Czechoslovakia, helped me a lot. An important factor was that my invitation was prolonged first to a year, then to three years and eventually I stayed in Prague for five years. Thanks to that, my wife, who has provided me with a great deal of support, was able to come here. I landed in Prague in September 1987, then a 5th degree. On October 3, I already taught my first class in Prague. In the group were Jiří Gazda, brothers Josef and Jaroslav Vomáčka, Martin Břeň, Vladimír Zámečník, Miloš Veselý, Petr Hulínský, Jan Malchárek, Pavlína Pakašová, Jan Růžička and a few others.
What would you say were your most important achievements in those first five years?
Of course mainly the fact that Taekwon‑Do became popular in this country and entered the scene of martial arts as a Korean martial art. I also managed to raise first few black belts that went on to become instructors. This first generation of students was characterised above all by the great enthusiasm and affection for Taekwon‑Do. Furthermore, in that period, general Choi accepted our invitation to Prague to hold an instructor seminar. It was there where I received my 6th degree.
In 1992 you had to return to Korea. What were your duties after your return?
In 1993 I became the head of the National Team Department of the Korean Taekwon‑Do Federation. My main task was to assemble and oversee the training plans on a daily basis and to be in contact with the coaches of the national team. That was a very difficult and responsible task as that was when the Korean national team completely established itself as the most successful national team in the world. At that time I never considered being an instructor anywhere else than in Korea, let alone in the Czech Republic. In 1994, however, the founder of Taekwon‑Do sent me as an instructor to India for six months. I eventually stayed in India for a year. Teaching Taekwon‑Do in India is not as easy as it may appear. Hundreds of kilometres of dusty paths as a pillion passenger, accommodation without air conditioning, no family, frequent outdoor practices in high temperatures etc. I have to admit that I was glad when I was able to return home. In 1995 I resumed my job as the head of the National Team Department.
You did not stay in that position for very long, however. In October 1995 your second five-year period in the Czech Republic started. How would you characterize that part of your life?
My work here led to first international accomplishments. Radka Dlouhá, now Heydušková, brought the first world champion title from the adult world championships. Internationally, and among other Korean instructors, Czech Taekwon‑Do started to make a good name for itself. All that not only due to good results, but also thanks to the good work of the Czech federation, financial support from the Czech government or even the opportunity to study Taekwon‑Do at a university. Many of my friends among other masters congratulated me on a job well done. In some countries, instructors teach the entire system of Taekwon‑Do at once. A white or yellow belt gets the equipment and is allowed to fight against a black belt. That is a great misunderstanding of the educational system of Taekwon‑Do. Similarly, in the school, they do not teach you addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, exponentiation, and square root all at once. Everything has its logical order. Of course, when you start teaching correctly, the beginnings are slow because it takes time to build solid technical potential. But then a long-time development is guaranteed, which is followed by success. Ultimately, such practitioner is better. At that time, I started to recognize that my system starts to bear fruit.
In September 2012, you were awarded the highest possible rank, the 9th degree. How did that make you feel?
I have to admit that it was unexpected. 9th degree may be the highest possible rank, but I feel that I still have a long way to go. Many people congratulated me, but every one of those congratulations felt like a commitment to further work. It does not matter much to me if I have the eighth or ninth degree. The work is still the same. When the Korean federation asked me to fill out the application for the 9th degree, I thought it was just a future eventuality and that the federation was just taking advantage of me being in Korea. When I was filling out the application, I realised how much my achievements had been, in essence, connected to Czech Taekwon‑Do. Therefore, I consider my 9th degree a success of the entire Czech Taekwon‑Do Federation ITF. I have said those words many times since September because I do not want them to fade out. The number of my certificate, K–9–1, is a great honor for me as well since it means that I was the first DPRK citizen to be given the ninth degree.
Nowadays, you are the second man of the International Taekwon‑Do Federation. What is the job of senior vice president like?
There are altogether five vice presidents in the ITF. The position of senior vice president means that I am the principal one and I stand in for the president during his absence or when it is impossible for him to carry out his duties.
You are also the chairman of the ITF Technical and Educational Committee, which means you travel all over the world to teach Taekwon‑Do to instructors. Could you give us your qualified opinion on the level of Czech international instructors?
In general, I can say that the quality of Czech international instructors is extraordinary compared to other countries. However, as a good teacher, I can never be completely satisfied with my work. Even instructors have to realize the student-teacher relationship and maintain it.
What improvements would you suggest to Czech coaches regarding their work with students?
There are no coaches in Taekwon‑Do, there are teachers. We are not only a sport; we are, above all, a martial art. Every instructor, no matter his degree, has to realize that he or she is still a student. If the instructor wants to teach well, he or she has to keep improving as well. Hence, seminars, seminars, seminars. Today, people are mostly interested in football and hockey. Taekwon‑Do is for everybody and medals do not matter there. It can teach plenty of useful things—from self-defence to patterns of good behavior. That’s how anybody can win their ‘medal.’ People often choose Taekwon‑Do because it is impressive and beautiful. They watch various jumps and high kicks on the screen and then join a Taekwon‑Do school. That’s where the role of the teacher is crucial. The teacher must not only show techniques, but also teach the tenets of Taekwon‑Do. Of course a good teacher must know the techniques very well in the first place. That is the basic characteristic of an instructor. However, many people quit if only technique is taught. It is important to emphasise ‘Do’, i.e. the way of life, which contains education. That is very important for the parents of young students. An instructor should inspire confidence not only in his students, but also in their parents or other people.
How do you evaluate Czech Taekwon‑Do compared to other countries?
Of course every teacher thinks that his students are the best. That is natural. Even with that in mind, however, I can claim that Czech students are of really high quality. Our results in competitions can support this claim.
In this perspective, what do you consider the principal strength of Czech Taekwon‑Do?
A great strength is the knowledge of theory. Concerning technique, I must mention the worldwide acknowledged fact that Czechs are consistently the best jumpers.
On the contrary, where do you see weaknesses or imperfections?
As the father of Czech Taekwon‑Do, it is difficult to answer that question. But surely more of individual training and effort is needed. Seminars or common practices alone are not enough without individual effort.
What differences do you perceive between Czech and Korean Taekwon‑Do, between Czech students and their Korean counterparts?
Of course, people are the same. The Czech government supports Taekwon‑Do a lot as well, but in Korea, Taekwon‑Do has the status of all other sports combined. There is greater motivation for the Korean students to develop individually and they usually practice by themselves every day. They really do not want to end up second. That is why they train a lot.
What would you recommend to the members of the Czech national team? How should they improve their training?
Theoretically, we teach them everything correctly here. The problem is that students join the national team without being sufficiently prepared by their school of origin. Therefore, on the national team they have to learn basic techniques first, instead of drilling what they have already learned. I have to once again point out the lack of individual preparation.
How do you like being in the Czech Republic today? What do you appreciate about this country and what, on the contrary, do you miss about your homeland?
I spent almost half of my life here. I cooperated a lot with the Czech federation and the result is thousands of students that I am fond of. I have completely adapted to this country, I like Czech food and the Czech Republic feels like home to me, mostly because I have my entire family here. Moreover, I visit Korea regularly.
What was your relationship with general Choi Hong Hi like?
I remember general Choi as an ordinary, yet very special person, who thanks to his unmeasurable lifelong effort created Taekwon‑Do, which still exists and that is a huge success. General Choi Hong Hi made Taekwon‑Do a very modern and scientific discipline. No other martial art possess a treatise of its style as extensive as the ‘Encyclopedia of Taekwon‑Do’. For me he was mainly a great instructor and I will respect him my entire life. I was very often in contact with general Choi and that gave me the chance to understand Taekwon‑Do directly from its founder. Because I took part in creating the Encyclopedia, we spent several weeks together in the same hotel. Every day I was tasked with demonstrating selected techniques in front of the photographer and the founder was always very pleased. We spent more time together on the demonstration tours. After every demonstration, we had the opportunity to hear general Choi’s immediate evaluation and he liked our team very much.
What is your opinion on Taekwon‑Do competitions? The implementation of full contact into our competitions has often been discussed recently? What is your perspective on this topic?
We cannot change Taekwon‑Do as we please. Fighting is not the only goal. Why should we blend Taekwon‑Do with other martial arts if we have our own system? Similarly in basketball, there is the two-step rule, even though more steps would sometimes be better to score and that is what they do in handball. Every sport has its rules that represent and characterize the uniqueness of that discipline. There must not be full contact in competitive Taekwon‑Do. What we aim for in Taekwon‑Do is not sparring, but ‘ilkyokpilsung’ (defeat your opponent with a single technique). It is much more difficult to control your moves and avoid full contact during practice and competitive sparring. Taekwon‑Do has other disciplines for that. Grandmaster Jung Woo Jin, who lives in the USA, once took his students to Korea for a friendly match, which was incorporated into a broader cultural event. However, the Korean competitors misunderstood the point of the entire event and all grandmaster Jung’s students ended up with at least a nosebleed. That is the exact opposite of why we hold competitions in Taekwon‑Do. I can say without any doubt that a person who is interested in Taekwon‑Do only for competitions is not a normal person. We must teach ‘Do’. We must teach how to greet others, display courtesy and we must raise gentlemen.
Which disciplines of competitive Taekwon‑Do do you prefer? In which have you achieved the best results and which do you value the most?
For me, all the disciplines are equally important. I had not had many opportunities to compete, since I became an instructor very soon. And an instructor has other duties than competing.
What was the biggest motivation for your training?
The most motivating thing for me was that Taekwon‑Do is a lifelong path through education. Of course, physical exercise is important, but the tenets of Taekwon‑Do are the real challenge. That is the true motivation.
What advice, recommendations, would you give your students?
To learn in a correct way. There is a saying in Korea: ‘If you want a well, only dig in one place.’ Similarly, a Taekwon‑Do student should walk the path he or she has chosen and no other. Walking more paths at once is neither correct nor efficient.
In your perspective, what are the most important prerequisites for a person to become a good student?
Every student should know what his task is. In Taekwon‑Do that is precisely described in the Encyclopedia and each student should know his duties.
What qualities should a true master of Taekwon‑Do have?
A master is naturally a teacher as well. Therefore, a master has to know the technique, be a good person and take care of his or her students. Bad teacher means bad student. There is a very good system in Taekwon‑Do. The basic definition of Taekwon‑Do is a path through life. A good teacher must know how to explain this to people. Nowadays, mostly children and adolescents start doing Taekwon‑Do but it used to be mostly adults. That can be considered a great success because the beginning of life is very important. However, it makes the role of the teacher somewhat more difficult.
Which of your Czech students do you value the most and why?
In martial arts, an instructor is at the same level as a father. Is it possible for a father to assess which child is better and which is worse?
Today you are once again passing on what you have learned to another generation of students. Does this work fulfil you? Was this your aim and dream?
No man can see very far ahead. Life has given me the opportunity to teach Taekwon‑Do and I am incredibly grateful for that. I really enjoy teaching.
What are your plans for the future? Is there anything else you would like to achieve?
I would like to work more on Czech Taekwon‑Do. I want it to be an example for the entire world. And I do not mean technique or medals, but mainly ‘Do’.
You have a daughter and a son, do they practice Taekwon‑Do? What rank have they reached so far? What kind of teacher are you for your children?
It is always better when the father does not have to teach Taekwon‑Do to his children. The founder of Taekwon‑Do also entrusted another instructor with the teaching of his son. Thus if you want to know about my children’s Taekwon‑Do, you have to ask their instructor Martin Zámečník.
Grandmaster, thank you very much for the interview. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Thank you as well. In conclusion, I would like to assure all the readers of this article that Taekwon‑Do is not only about technique. Instructors, please, study Taekwon‑Do thoroughly. And dear parents, let your children practice Taekwon‑Do and be patient. We will do everything that we can to raise not only good Taekwon‑Do practitioners, but also, and foremost, good people. That is the correct path through life: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.
Members of the Czech Taekwon‑Do ITF Federation