Taekwondo>History>Chapter 14: Early masters

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Chapter 14: Early masters


For better or worse, twentieth-century Korean martial artists were greatly influenced by the Japanese. The Japanese ban on Korean martial arts was not able to suppress their practice completely. Actually, the ban sparked a renewed growth of subak in Buddhist temples, a traditional place of refuge for out-of-favor warriors. Taekkyeon was secretly practiced and passed on to a handful of students by men like Han Il Dong and Duk Ki Song. It was under Han Il Dong, in the 1930s, that Choi Hong Hi, the future "father of taekwondo," began his martial arts instruction in taekkyeon.

Gichin Funakoshi

The first public demonstration of Okinawa-te karate took place in Okinawa in 1906. In 1911, Admiral Dewa, commander of the First Fleet of the Japanese Navy, while stationed in Okinawa, selected ten of his officers to learn Okinawan karate. The first official demonstration of Okinawan karate outside of Okinawa was held at the Kyoto Martial Arts Center in Japan in 1916 by many Okinawan experts, including Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan language professor at the Okinawa Teachers College. In 1921, the Crown Prince of Japan stopped in Okinawa while in route to Europe where he was given a demonstration by Okinawan karate masters, including Funakoshi. This led to their invitation to give a demonstration the following year at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.

After the demonstration, Funakoshi was inundated with requests to teach his martial art in Japan. In 1922, Funakoshi published the first book on Okinawan karate, Ryukyu Kempo Karate, and he brought Okinawa-te to Japan. He taught Okinawa-te at the Kodokan, the mecca of judo, until he established the shotokan in 1936. In Japan, Okinawa-te blended with Japanese jujitsu and Korean taekkyon, which was being introduced into Japan at about the same time, to form a new fighting art Funakoshi called goju-ryu. Funakoshi is considered the father of modern karate.

Mas Oyama

In the later part of the Japanese occupation of Korea, many Koreans went to Japan to further their education and to learn martial arts. One of them was Choi Yong-I (who, due Japanese immigration laws, later changed his name to the Japanese name Masutatsu Oyama), who was born in July 27th, 1923 in a village in Southern Korea.

At the age of 9, while staying on his sister's farm in Manchuria, he began studying the southern Chinese kempo form known as "eighteen hands." In 1938, at the age of 12, Oyama traveled to Japan with the desire to enter an aviation school and become a fighter pilot. In 1941, he entered Tokyo Takushoku University to study aviation, but he put more of his energies into the study of karate. He continued practicing judo and boxing, and his interest in martial arts led him to the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi and thus, he started practicing Okinawa karate.

With his dedication, Oyama progressed quickly and by the time he was 20 years old he had obtained his fourth Dan. It was at this time that Mas Oyama entered the Japanese Imperial Army and began studying judo in the hope of mastering its holding and grappling techniques. When he stopped training in judo, after about 4 years, he gained a fourth Dan. He also trained in goju-ryu for two years under Neichu.

Following the defeat of Japan after the Second World War, Oyama, like all other young Japanese, was thrown into a personal crisis. He found a way out of his despair by training with So Nei Chu, a Korean master of goju-ryu karate. This great teacher, renowned for the power of his body and deep spiritual inclination, had a profound influence on young Mas Oyama. Master So taught him the inseparability of Budo and the spiritual fundamentals of Buddhism. After a few years of training, master So advised Oyama to make a firm commitment to dedicate his life to the martial way and retreat to a mountain hideout and train his mind and body.

In 1946, Mas Oyama went into training at a remote spot on the Mt. Kiyosumi in Chiba prefecture. He was accompanied by one of his students named Yashiro. A friend, Mr. Kayama brought them food supplies every month. Through vigorous training, Oyama learned to overcome the mental strain caused by solitude but Yashiro could not bear it and fled after 6 months. About fourteen months later, Mr. Kayama told Oyama that due to unforeseen circumstances he could no longer sponsor Mas Oyama's retreat in the mountains and so Mas Oyama's original plan of remaining in solitude for three years was ended. He came out of seclusion and began teaching his own style of Karate, kyokushin-kai, around the world including the United States. Oyama karate became known throughout the world for its tremendous power. In 1950, Mas Oyama began his famous battles with bulls, partly to test his strength and also to make the world sit up and notice the power of his karate. Altogether, Oyama fought 52 bulls, killing 3 instantly and taking the horns of 49 with knife-hand blows.

Mas Oyama opened his first "dojo" the Kyokusin Kaikan in 1953 in Mejiro, Tokyo. This was the time that Mas Oyama's karate strength was at its peak so the training was severe. Many students were members of other styles and Mas Oyama would compare styles and build on his karate. He would take what he felt were the best techniques and concepts from any martial art and gradually fit them into his training; therefore, laying the foundations of Kyokushin "ultimate truth" karate.

Hwang Kee

Hwang, Kee was born November 9, 1914, in Jang Dan- Kyong Ki province, where the DMZ is now. Hwang held true to his original name, Taenam, which meant “star boy,” as he rose to be a famous martial arts instructor. Hwang’s first exposure to martial arts took place in May 1921 at age seven during the Dan-O festival, which is the national May festival, where he saw a fight between a man and eight opponents. The man defeated the opponents using various kicks. Some in the crowd said the man used "taekkyon", while others said he used "ship pal ki.” Hwang was so impressed by the fight that he followed the man from a distance and discovered where he lived. Hwang often visited the man's house and, from a distance, watched him train. Hwang asked the man for formal lessons, but he refused due to Hwang’s young age. Hwang continued to watch the man train from a distance and imitated what he saw.

In May 1935, Hwang traveled to China where he worked for the Manchurian railroad. During the previous 20 years, hwang had practiced and trained himself in the martial arts but he never had any formal training. In 1936, Hwang had his first formal martial arts lesson from a local well renowned martial artist, master Yang, Kuk Jin. Yang trained Hwang in the arts of seh-bop (method of postures, bo-bop (method of steps), and ryun-bop (method of conditioning). He also trained him in “dham-toi-dip-e-ro” and “tae-kuk-kwon,” which were disciplines of form and its combat applications. Hwang trained with Yang until August 1937 when he had to return to Korea for personal reasons. He returned to China in 1941 to visit and practice with Yang, but, as China became a communist country, all communications between Yang and Hwang ceased.

In 1939, Hwang began working for the Choson Railway Bureau. During this time he visited the library and read books on Okinawan karate. Through this study, he developed the forms for Soo-bahk-do Moo-duk-kwan. Pyung Ahn hyungs, Bassai hyungs, and Kong Sang Kun hyungs may be practiced a little differently from the original Okinawan Pinan forms, but their origins stem from the influence of Okinawin karate.

On November 9, 1945, Hwang combined his training in Taekkyon with the Chuan’fa he learned from Yang and added the Okinawan forms he learned from books and founded the Moo-duk-kwan. Moo meaning martial, military, and prevent inner/outer conflict. Duk meaning virtue, ethics, and discipline. Kwan meaning style or school. Thus, Moo-duk-kwan means “style to teach moo and duk through training in the martial arts.”

In 1957, Hwang discovered a book called the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji, a historical document of Korean martial arts that was published 300 years ago and is the only known Korean martial art book from that era. From the book, Hwang discovered the traditional soo-bahk-ki (hand striking technique) and soo-bahk-hee (hand striking dance). Hwang created the name soo-bahk-do from both soo-bahk-ki, and soo-bahk-hee. He combined both names through his belief that soo-bahk should teach moo-doo (martial way) Philosophy of stopping inner and outer conflict. Soo-bahk-do moo-duk-kwan developed independently of taekwondo and has spread around the world.

Tong Shul Choi

Yong Shul Choi was born in Taegue, Korea in 1904. In 1909, when Korea came under Japanese occupation, Japanese troops took young Choi to Japan to work. During this time, it was common for the Japanese occupying forces to take young male Korean children to Japan for various types of labor. For work, Choi was assigned to Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), the 32nd patriarch of the "saito-ryu aikijitsu" style of martial arts. The fighting techniques that make up daito-ryu aikijitsu are: joint locks, throws, body trapping, chokes, grappling holds, and to a lesser degree, kneeing, punching, and kicking techniques. Takeda was forty-four years old at the time and Choi was a seven-year-old boy. As a houseboy and later a manservant to Takeda, Choi learned daito-ryu aikijitsu.

Choi remained in the employ of Takeda for thirty years, until April 25, 1943, when Takeda died. At that point, Choi returned to Taegue, Korea. After Korea's liberation, Choi set about founding his own martial art.

Initially, Choi taught his students a very pure form of daito-ryu aikijitsu, but, as time progressed, he was influenced by other Korean martial art pioneers, such as General Hong Hi Choi and Hwang Kee, who were expanding upon the offensive nature of taekkyon. Their discoveries influenced Choi, who slowly began to incorporate their punching and kicking techniques into daito-ryu aikijitsu. Like the other martial arts, his new style developed slowly and went through numerous name changes. It was not until 1963 that the name and the system of "hapkido" (the way of joining power) were finally formalized. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, studied daito-ryu aikijitsu with Takeda during the period Choi was in Takeda's service. For this reason, some draw a comparison between hapkido and aikido. Although they are similar, they each have distinct martial art philosophies.

Other Okinawan matters

In 1887, Kabun Uechi went to southern China where he studied the three foremost styles of kempo. He Studied pai-gai-noon-chaun-fa with Shiwa Shu (Tzu Ho Cho) who taught the best patterns from each of the three styles: sanchin (the exercise developed by Bodhidharma), seisan, and san-ju-roku. After 13 years in China, one of Kanbun's students killed a man in an argument, so Kabun left China and swore never to teach kempo again. A decade later, he moved to Japan because of poor economic conditions. In Japan, some of his Okinawan friends were getting beaten up by Japanese gangsters, so, to help his friends survive these attacks, he started teaching kempo again in the early 1920's. What he called pai-gai-noon kempo was later changed to the name to pai-gai-noon karate-do in the 1930's.

After Kanbun's death in 1948, his son took over and named the style "uechi-ryu" in honor of his father. After Kanei's death, his son Kanmei took over, but, due to political disputes, uechi-ryu fragmented into several groups.

In 1929, Chojun Miyagi, founder of the "goju-ryu" style of karate went to Japan; followed by Kenwa Mabuni, founder of the "shito-ryu" style. The first university Japanese Karate club was established at Keio University in 1924. The University of Tokyo was the first to introduce the use of protective equipment for competition in 1939.

Shinan Kori Hisataka introduced karate-do to Taiwan in 1929. In 1932, he reintroduced karate-do to China at the celebration of the creation of the Chinese Confederation of Manchuria. This was the first official recognition of Japanese karate-do by China.

Karate was first introduced to the United States by Norimichi Yabe in 1920 during a West Coast demonstration. In 1963, Shihan Masayuki Hisataka introduced "shorin-jiryu kenkokan karate-do" to the United States. In 1964, he officially represented Japan at the New York World's Fair and gave the first official presentation of karate-do at a world event.

Arguably, the greatest of the early taekwondo masters was Choi Hung Hi.

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