For owners; those crazy people who come to your school

13 Sep

This time around, I’m writing a blog my fellow school owners will totally relate to. Many, I hope, will have a chuckle. It will be about the strange people who find their way into your schools, the strange things they say and do. I will start with a 100% completely TRUE STORY, word for word.


After 25 years in this industry, I am sad to report that I can now identify them as soon as they walk in my door. Case in point, yesterday someone walks in the front door. They don’t smile. They don’t introduce themselves. They don’t even look at you. You aren’t even sure WHAT they are looking at; they just stare randomly around your space.

ME: “Hi, how can we help you today?”

THEM: “I just came to check this out” (this, along with several other phrases, is one of the key warning signs that your time is about to be wasted BIG TIME!)

ME: “Have you been to our website?” (and I hand them a postcard with our web site address and our intro offer. I then hand them a class schedule)

They don’t respond. They don’t say “thank you”. They don’t ask you any other questions. They just walk out the door…. and I start to count… 1, 2, 3…..

They come back through the front door… “Can I ask you something”?

ME: “Sure!”

THEM: “How strong are the fighters”?

ME: “I don’t understand the question” (I didn’t, do you? What does that mean?)

THEM: “The fighters, the fighters here, how strong are they? How strong are they mentally and spiritually”? (I am almost exactly quoting them).

I again told him that I don’t understand the question but add that anyone who wants to fight has to train very hard and be in very good condition. Like a fly, or a bored house cat, they don’t respond, they just wander back out the front door….


Years ago, our elevator (which opened right into the old space) opened and out stepped a giant, muscular man with a straw “coolie” hat, a karate belt, and two machete stuck in the karate belt. For now, I’ll call him the Shogun of Harlem…. Well, I see the Shogun of Harlem, who announces as he steps off the elevator “I am Sato” (NOT made up!), and I think that this is going to be a fight. This is going to be a s–t storm.

Fortunately for me, my hing-dai Stephen Innocenzi jumps into action like Bugs Bunny.

Innocenzi: “Hi Mr Sato, my name’s Steve. Sit down. Let me tell you about our yellow belt program. For only $499 you get three months of unlimited training. For another $49 we can upgrade you to the black belt club. Of course, you have to buy the uniform and the school patch…..”

Stephen Innocenzi and The Shogun of Harlem

Mr. Sato stammers. He becomes physically uncomfortable… “I’m not sure I can make a commitment right now”…

Innocenzi: “You can always make a commitment to being a better you, so let me get that paperwork started”….

Mr. Sato: “I’d have to ask my wife, I’m not sure I have time. I’d need to think about it”. He gathers up his stuff, including his machete and gets back on the elevator. To this day, I bow to Innocenzi’s brilliance.

Adam Wakelin at the Cobra Kai

If you’ve been in the martial arts industry for any length of time, you have stories like this. There is something pathetically predictable about the bizarre behavior of human beings. Here are some of my other favorites.

1. The gear collector
They show up for a class and proceed to change into an assortment of t-shirts, fight shorts, uniforms, etc from a variety of different schools. They subsequently show absolutely NO SKILL in anything, confirming your suspicion they never have studied anything for any length of time.


2. The fortune cookie
No matter what you are teaching, no matter what is going on in class, they find the breath and time (since they aren’t actually working out) to quote, rather loudly, some meaningless fortune cookie quote which not only has nothing to do with anything, but which is meaningless regardless.

3. They make your brain hurt…
They do something that defies all logic. My most recent example, someone who signed up for our Muay Thai classes, then asked after the class why they didn’t learn a form…..

4. The European kickboxing/martial arts champion
They make a point of telling you when they first arrive how much vast experience they have, how they are a champion in some imaginary country like Latveria, and how they are already too advanced for the class you are about to teach. They then proceed to barely survive your warm up and demonstrate no skill even in the most basic technique.

Now go google Latveria ….

Authentic Lama Pai Kung Fu: The teachings of the late Chan Tai San
Buy it now at

Training with Equipment – the heavy bag

7 Sep

Training advice with David Ross of NY San Da

The heavy bag is the most basic piece of training equipment. Its primary use is to allow the student to practice their striking and kicking techniques at full power and to become accustomed to the impact. However, when properly utilized, the bag can also be used to teach distance, timing and footwork.

bag work

The following points should be kept in mind when practicing;

 Don’t stand square in front of the heavy bag. Use your fighting stance, keeping one shoulder in front of the other.

 Don’t stand in place in front of the heavy bag. Move in both directions around the bag.

 Since you do not have to worry about injuring a partner, use full speed and power.

 Picture the heavy bag as an actual opponent with arms and legs. Identify actual anatomical targets on the bag.

 The most effective fighters visualize oncoming attacks and defend as well as launching attacks.


The jab and cross combination provides a good example of how the heavy bag can be used to teach distance, focus, power and impact. The jab is used to establish correct distance. The cross must be thrown straight and must focus upon a specific target. The cross should be a powerful blow, capable of knocking your opponent out if it lands cleanly. The student must become accustomed to the impact of a solid hand strike.


The heavy bag is also an excellent tool for the repetition of basic combinations. In the case of the jab, and rear leg round kick combination there is also the issue of timing. The combination must be smooth and uninterrupted. DO NOT withdraw back into your fighting stance after throwing the jab. The hips are already turning and the kick should be thrown smoothly and immediately. Finally, the heavy bag can be used to teach hand positioning during the kick. The rear hand must be positioned between the face and the heavy bag, preventing a counter punch.

foot jab to round kick

David Ross
Head instructor NYSANDA

More on the late Chan Tai-San

2 Sep

You can buy “Authentic Lama Pai: The teachings of the late Chan Tai-San” at

Sifu chan Tai-San had both Chinese and American students. The Americans were the majority at the Gee How Oak Tin Association on Bayard street. That was really because Chinese students would often come, were confronted with Sifu’s personality head on, and would opt for another arrangement.


I think sifu was even harder on his Chinese students, he expected they know every aspect of the “proper” things to do in the kung fu world, even if they were “juk sing” (ABC)… Considering the grief he gave me, an American with no previous Chinese cultural training, over stuff like the right place to put a tea cup or the correct time to pour tea, I can only imagine the sort of stuff he expected of Chinese students…


Other times, Sifu Chan would be contacted by all Chinese groups to teach on a contract basis. Sifu Chan, as was his nature, would of course take the money, then often mess with the heads of those groups. It was like “I am Chan Tai San, and I thumb my nose at you and your thinking you are anyone”

Sifu Chan’s favorite “trick” was to take the money and then have a monkey, usually me, a lowly gwai loh, do the actual teaching. I got used to the drill. He’d tell me to show up some place at a certain time. By the time I’d shown up, Sifu had taken the money and closed the deal, he’d usually start something with the group. Then, as soon as I arrived, he’d hand them all over to me and LEAVE…. I taught in the White Crane school, and in 4 or 5 different “associaitons” over the years because of this “trick”…


I remember two times when this created an actual argument. The head of one of the associations was absolutely not going to accept a dumb monkey teaching his members, especially when he thought he had paid for famous Chan Tai san. Sifu Chan simply told the guy, “anyone here that can beat him?” The answer was no. So Chan told him basicly “stuff it” (actually, he said something about crabs that don’t smell too good and something about seeds withering for those of you who speak Cantonese).

One time, I showed up at the school of a famous Chinatown Sifu. My sifu was teaching this Chinese guy. I assumed he must be a senior student who the famous teacher wanted to get some extra stuff for. I can’t tell you how many big name teachers in the US paid my sifu to come and give them some extra stuff. The list is LONG and is BIG NAMES. Well, Sifu Chan hands him off to me like always. Like always, I proceed, in Cantonese. Prior to this, every time I taught, I was teaching guys who only spoke Cantonese. I went on for about an hour….

At the end of this hour, I heard the guy, in English ask me, “uh, do you speak English?” Poor guy, never had the courage to speak up before this. Apparently, he was ABC and didn’t speak Chinese. His sifu had set up the appointment, he’d shown up, been first confronted with Sifu Chan, then me! I’d rambled on for an hour in Cantonese, not one word of English…

My late teacher, Chan Tai-San

1 Sep

Learn more; Chan Tai San book at

The first time I saw Chan Tai San, I didn’t even know who he was, much less that I’d spend a good part of my life with him. I had heard some rumblings about him around Chinatown, particularly during the brief period I was lion dancing with the Dragon style people since Chan Tai San was teaching some Bak Mei and some of the Lung Ying people had sought him out to learn it. The rumblings were mixed, and at the time I wasn’t really that interested in finding a teacher. I was pretty much teaching my mixture of Hung Ga and Shuai Jiao, with some boxing and assorted other stuff I had picked up. I never really imagined how meeting him would shape my life so much.


I was sitting in a restaurant that no longer exists (and sadly so, it was a real landmark, at the turn of the century Sun Yat Sen had tea there while collecting money for his cause in NY). It was a little place, and mostly Chinese. But I managed to order my shrimp in rice noodle and my coffee and it was the sort of place that if you sat and BS’ed they didn’t care.


Old Chinese men arguing was nothing strange here, but one old guy was louder than the rest. He then suddenly stood up and proceeded to run through a line of movement. Now, I know it was bak Mei, at the time I just knew it was some sort of Kung Fu. Sifu Chan was already in his 60’s by the time this happened, yet he moved as if he was an active student in his 20’s!

After demonstrating the movement, he apparently must have felt he proved his point. The guy he was arguing with sort of put his head down, and Sifu Chan actually slapped his forehead. As I would later learn, Sifu Chan when it came to martial arts was ALWAYS right, and he wasn’t shy about telling you, showing you and pointing it out afterwards.

fei hok teui live

At this point, Steve Vventura, who was eating with me, had pulled our friend the waiter over. He was a man I’d get to know over the years and call “uncle”. I didn’t know either at the time, but he was a relative of Sifu Chan’s. He did Taiji and Tan Teui (spring legs) in the part every morning. His Taiji was his own synthetic form, he’d studied with like 20 different guys including version of yang, chen, wu, hao and li…

Anyway, my “uncle” as I would learn to call him, told us he was a famous teacher who had just arrived from China recently. He told us the name, which only sort of stuck, we were dumb lo faan who didn’t speak Chinese at the time. But he also told us he spoke no English and wasn’t exactly interviewing for students. A little crest fallen, I figured it wasn’t mean to be…. of course, I was wrong.

front cover art small

The same month I saw Chan Tai San in Tin Yik, Stephen Laurette came to me and Steve Ventura and asked us if we wanted to meet this old teacher he had studied with the year before. Laurette said that he’d lost track of the guy, but he had bumped into him the other day on the street and gotten his new address.

I met Stephen Laurette when I was doing Shuai Jiao with Jeng Hsin Ping. Laurette was an extremely skilled 7 Star Praying Mantis person, and also quite a scholar. He had studied with Sifu Chiu Leun in Chinatown for many years. Laurette had picked up quite a lot of Cantonese, and also could read and write pretty well. Like a lot of guys in TCMA, he wanted to learn more of the applications. For that reason, he decided to study Shuai Jiao to compliment his Mantis.

I had read the Shuai Jiao articles over the years and liked the idea of wrestling the “kung fu way”. I had done western wrestling and Hapkido, in addition to the Hung ga Kahm Na (Qin Na or Chin-Na). When I saw a flyer for Shuai Jiao lessons in NYC, I jumped at the opportunity and also found my way to the lower eastside, where I met Laurette.

Honestly, I grabbed Laurette the first day because he was the biggest guy there. I figured if I could learn to throw him, I could learn to throw anyone! But we ended up getting along for more than that. Laurette was always up to learn something new, and we ended up exchainging Mantis and Hung Ga over the years as well as doing Shuai Jiao together…

Laurette had met Chan tai San because Sifu Chan’s wife was Chiu Leun’s cousin. That’s just the way stuff worked in Chinatown those days. Laurette found Sifu Chan strange, to say the least, but could appreciate that he had stuff that apparently NO ONE else had… Sifu Chiu had told Laurette that Sifu Chan was a unique guy… that was true on many levels.

Laurette had studied Lama with Sifu Chan for about 8 months and then Sifu Chan left NY. He had gone back to Toronto, Canada for a while. I won’t tell you why now, some other time maybe…

When I met Laurette, he’d mentioned Sifu Chan to me, but since he wasn’t in NYC, it never was much of an issue. Then he came up to Steve Ventura and I and said that he’d just bumbed into Sifu Chan on the street and that if we wanted to meet him, he’d set up a meeting…

Here is the real kicker to this. At the time, I was teaching Hung Ga and Shuai Jiao. I’d done some Mantis, some dragon, a bunch of stuff, but I was pretty happy with what I was doing. I had no real desire to learn a new method. But I had one problem, the version of Hung Ga we did only had the 4 core forms. There were all long, and none were really fancy or pretty….

When I first asked to meet Sifu Chan, my initial desire was just to learn some pretty forms! That’s pretty f-in ironic in the long term…

We arranged to bring Sifu Chan to the space I was using for my own classes. Laurette translated. Sfu Chan asked if we would pay him $80 per month for lessons. He’d come a few times a week and teach us what we wanted. I forget the hows and whys, but Steve Ventura originally asked to learn Choy Lay Fut. Laurette and I decided to do Lama. Actually, I think Laurette had asked for a particular set already, Siu Lo Han.

Self defense is bull—t…….

26 Aug

The idea goes like this; people who aren’t interested in studying martial arts still need self defense, everyone needs to be able to defend themselves. So for years, people have offered self defense seminars and short term self defense programs. But the sad reality is, most of it is total bull—t. In fact, the entire idea is mostly bull—t.


Consider this, for centuries men who spent their entire lives training to be warriors, who trained with weapons, who went into battle with those weapons, with armor, fought and DIED. It is simple and it is straightforward, no amount of training can totally prepare you nor guarantee your success in a real fight. What is a “real fight”? Assaulted by surprise, by multiple attackers, conditioned criminals, larger, stronger, with weapons? How many people have fallen victim to the new “knockout” trend, where dumb (I mean really stupid) kids just walk up and punch someone?


Harsh reality, the best defense is to not be there. It’s awareness of the reality. It’s situational awareness. It’s not being a deluded dimwit like the 100 lbs woman who was a Taekwondo black belt and “sparring champion” (in POINT FIGHTING) who thought she was such a badass she’d hang out in bars and talk crap to men twice her size. She was found dead in a ditch along the road one day.


Of course, if you are in a profession where your life is regularly threatened; a police officer, a correction officer, etc…. you need specialized training. But without the awareness, it’s fantasy role playing. Note one of the best programs for this sort of thing, called “DIE LESS OFTEN“. I love the name, and the strange look on people’s faces when they first hear the name. DIE LESS OFTEN. It’s fu–ing brilliant. And we don’t have much brilliance in the martial arts community…..

Martial arts is NOT a game of tag!

25 Aug

In retrospect, I was sort of lucky. My first martial arts experiences were boxing (PAL program as a little kid) and Taekwondo (Moo Duk Kwan under the late Pong Ki Kim). There is no such thing as “point sparring” or light contact in boxing. The Taekwondo I learned was full contact, the old school style with out pads and full contact kicks to the head and body. So I suppose I never associated martial arts with anything other than full contact.


In Chinese martial arts, I came to learn that when most Chinese refer to sparring, they are NOT talking about full contact. I can’t say why, but among most Chinese sparring is a game of tag. It is some sort of cultural bias. Even my own teacher was guilty. He told me a guy was going to visit from Canada. He told me the guy was really good at sparring/fighting. When the Canadian arrived, we invited him to spar, and frankly he was terrible. We embarrassed him in front of Chan Tai San. Then we asked Chan Tai San why he had said the guy was good? Chan Tai San ignored us.


After Chan Tai San had passed away, the hing-dai met a teacher who has also been a coach in Guangdong. He had just arrived and was looking for students, he tried very hard to convert us. Over tea, he told us that among all the coaches he was the best at sparring. He said he had beaten all the other coaches. Stephen Innocenzi, a training brother of mine, asked if that meant that he had beaten Chan Tai San. The teacher shook his hand violently and was very clear, NO! For him sparring was like a game of tag. He said no one wanted to spar Chan Tai San, because for Chan Tai San sparring always meant full contact. Despite the one Canadian debacle, that had been my experience with Chan Tai San.


However, I had consistently and continuously seen people called “good fighters” who could never demonstrate more than light contact games of tag. It annoyed me, it still annoys me, that this was the standard in Chinese martial arts. But it sure does explain a lot!

The Chan Tai San Lama Pai book is still available at

The lost concept of commitment

1 Aug

I was obviously a child, but I dragged my parents into the late Pong Ki-Kim’s Taekwondo/Hapkido Dojang and begged them to sign me up. My father was afraid I wouldn’t actually go, so he signed me up for the “yellow belt program” which was just three months. Of course, he had to renew my membership and the rest is history. That’s because I knew what I wanted and I was committed to it; I wanted to be a black belt. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I was going to do it.


Not long after I met Chan Tai-San, he wanted me to make a commitment to him. He was worried that I didn’t understand him enough, so he got someone to translate. They asked me if I was willing to commit to Sifu Chan and follow the path. It wasn’t a hard question, YES. I knew Chan Tai-San had real knowledge and I wanted that knowledge. And I was willing to do what had to be done to be his student.


Among the many changes I am seeing in today’s population, without a doubt a major change is a total lack of commitment. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me they want to “fight” but can’t commit to the necessary time to train. Fighting isn’t easy, and training is a MUST. But the reality is, I see more people who want to talk about fighting, act like they fight, but not actually train.


I no longer teach kung fu in the traditional format, but I still get flooded with requests for me to accept a few students and teach them the “traditional way.” Recently, I did just that; offered to open up a traditional kung fu class. My in box was SWAMPED with email. I told people they would have to commit to three days a week and commit to train at least six months; half the people couldn’t do that they said. I dedicated 16 years of my life, six days a week, to Chan Tai-San. They wouldn’t dedicate 72 hours…


The smallest membership I have at my school equates to about a 3 month commitment. If you want to learn martial arts, you need three months to learn the basics. Even if you are just into it for fitness, it takes three months to learn the workout and see results; determine if it is really going to work for you. Still, about 30% of the people who come in can’t make that commitment (or so they say?). If you are doing another activity, another form of exercise, ok MAYBE I can get that, but most frequently, when I ask them if they are doing any other exercise, they say NO. They aren’t even willing to commit to their own health and wellness. I have an option as cheap as $75 per month, that’s $2.70 a day. You aren’t willing to spend $2.70 a day to be healthier and live longer? Dear lord!


If we are looking for reasons why Chinese martial arts are in crisis; this is part of the story for sure. Even in the past, Chinese martial arts was a unique commitment. How can we expect it to continue to function in that format in a culture where people aren’t willing to spend $2.70?

The worst lie……

30 Jul

Today, I am going to take the dark comedy debacle of Gus Kaparos and draw from it an important lesson for all martial artists. No, I am being perfectly serious. The title of today’s blog might give you a hint. Yesterday, I friend of mine sent me a screen capture of Gus Kaparos, owner of Green Cloud Kung Fu in Patchogue, proclaiming that upon reflection, he had actually won his fight with Novell Bell.


We probably need to back up a bit; Gus Kaparos apparently is a habitual liar. In a Sinovision USA interview he did recently, he not only lied about the year he met Chan Tai-San. Gus Kaparos told tales about studying Muay Thai since the age of 10, about beating multiple opponents at once in street fights and about beating up an instructor and taking the keys to his school. The stories were so improbable they inspired a parody video by a former, disgruntled student of his.

Tall tales are not the only thing Gus Kaparos specializes in. He has challenged a number of people to fights, only to find ways to avoid actually fighting. He did it so frequently, it became a joke on Gene Ching’s Kung Fu forum.


Gus Kaparos is clearly a pathological liar, but former students have also suggested he has a drinking problem. So perhaps that explains why he doesn’t even keep track of the lies he tells and apparently talked himself into a fight with Novell Bell. Video of the fight should have told the whole story. Gus Kaparos clearly has very little sparring experience, questionable skills and clearly LOST….


I should mention that this was almost two months ago. It was being quickly forgotten. Yet yesterday, Gus Kaparos of Green Cloud Kung Fu in Patchogue Long Island New York took to facebook to revise history and claim he really won his fight with Novell “Black Taoist” Bell. On facebook, Gus Kaparos said
“I walked in the ring injured recovering from back surgery that almost left me in a wheel chair”. However, there are SCREEN CAPTURES from before the fight where Gus claimed he was in perfect health and said he would make “no excuses” for any injuries!


Gus Kaparos then said “Novel chose to try to blind me with an open finger thrust.” Watch the video at the end of this blog, THIS NEVER HAPPENED.

Gus Kaparos then says “Saying that it was a TKO was a lie! There was no standing eight count and I immediately got back on my feet”. Novell has now released the UNEDITED TAPE. It shows Gus Kaparos’ friends and students giving him extended rests, trying desperately to save Gus from himself.

Gus Kaparos said “In the second round I could have finished him off with a guillotine choke.” Watch this video, and try not to laugh so hard that you hurt yourself. Gus Kaparos has no idea what a Guillotine Choke is!

Gus Kaparos said “The rest of the time I was using my Kung Fu to control his little tantrum”. If by “control” he means getting punched in the face, kicked around the ring and not being able to block a single knee strike?

Gus Kapros then says “The real Sifus that know their stuff could very easily see that I was was calmly controlling a much larger healthier adversary”.

Gus Kaparos said ” I Spoke to other Sifus and they felt the only Technical loss was on Novell’s part”

Watch the video, the man is living in a fantasy land of his own construction. Unable to accept reality.

I have to seriously question how anyone in the martial arts community can still stand behind a man who has been proven a liar of this magnitude. Gus Kaparos wants to talk about “honor” but clearly he has none. Do people not have any self respect anymore?

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, even if this story initially appears to you to have no relationship to you in any way, IT DOES….

It is unethical and dishonorable to lie about your training, your qualifications and what you teach. it is inexcusable to lie to your students. But the worst lie?


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Traditional Kung Fu tactics that WORK….

29 Jul

Traditional Chinese martial arts, AKA “Kung Fu,” has a pretty horrible reputation in today’s martial arts world. As I have previously posted in regards to this, much of it has to do with the culture that has developed; the wrong people in charge, the wrong attitudes, “posers”, “wannabes”, talking about fighting but not fighting, not understanding fighting, etc. Regardless, that does NOT mean that there are not applicable skills in traditional Chinese martial arts.

jaat tactic one

This first picture I post shows a combination of two tactics I am very fond of. The first is the “cross kick” to the shin. Hard to see, effective in not only creating opportunities but also very damaging. There is a similar kick in French Savate, and we combine methods a lot in my school. Here it is combined with using the hand as a distraction, a proven method in real fights.

pek to inside vs jab

Using “pek teui” / “bahk hok tam soi” against the inside of the rear leg. I recommend you wait until they jab, putting their weight forward and turning out their lead leg.

spin hook kick

Again, use the hands to distract. Throw a jab, set up a spin kick….

pek into chaai

When they lift their leg to avoid the Pek Teui, use the same leg to launch a Chaai Teui!

Remember, the Chan Tai San book is still available at

“A Killing Art,” Taekwondo history you probably never heard…

28 Jul


Today’s blog is actually a book review. As many know, I am a trained historian and former history teacher. Thus, I have greeted a new wave of more academically rigorous, neutral perspective martial arts books with great enthusiasm. I am also a major book addict, I read non-stop. Finally, with a 2nd degree black belt in WTF Taekwondo (but from a school where the Moo Duk Kwan banner still hung and the curriculum was so different that my instructor was frequently sanctioned by the WIF) and a Korean wife and father-in-law who also trained in Moo Duk Kwan, I was attracted to “A Killing Art: The Untold History of Taekwondo” by Alex Gillis.

The idea that the standard Taekwondo history presented by so many of its Korean teachers is not quite right is hardly a new idea. I trained in the 1980’s and watched them drop the Palgwe forms for the Taegeuk forms. So much for reverence for forms that were supposed to be “thousands of years old.” It also didn’t take a genius to notice that the Palgwe forms resembled karate forms. Of course, then there is the nasty little fact that you can find old “Tang Soo Do” books where you notice that “Tang Soo Do” in Japanese reads “Karate Do” and the forms are in fact SHOTOKAN FORMS.

Alex Gillis is not Korean. He is a long time student of Taekwondo, and at times you still see hints of both naivete and hero worship, but at least he is willing to acknowledge the thousand pound gorilla in the room. The founding fathers of “Tae Kwon Do” were all men who studied Shotokan, but in the post war period were loath to remain affiliated with Japan, a country which had occupied, tortured and humiliated Korea.

The Chung Do Kwan was in the Japanese occupation period a Shotokan school, not much more to it than that. The infamous General Choi Hong-Hi and Nam Tae Hi were also shotokan students…. MAJOR CON: The book remains almost exclusively focused on General Choi and his rivalry with the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). While there are several pictures of Hwang Kee, founder of the Moo Duk Kwan, he is in fact NOT MENTIONED ONCE that I remember. For a history of Taekwondo, to not even mention Hwang Kee, especially when discussing obscuring Japanese origins and the politics of unifying all the Kwan, is regretful.

As I mentioned, the obscuring of the Japanese origins, the creation of a new name and the creation of the “Korean martial art” myth, the false linking of Korean traditional Taekkyeon to modern Taekwondo, etc., is no longer all that controversial and surprising. The political corruption, the unbridled use of violence and questionable morals of the major players will be the real surprise here.


I had long heard that General Choi was a “traitor” who had gone to North Korea. But the extent to which he compromised his morals and coddled a brutal totalitarian regime in the quest to satisfy his own ego will probably still shock you. Un Young Kim, whose signature appears on my black belt certificates, actually ended up in prison because of his corruption, yet you’ll still be shocked to see how far it went, and how unprincipled the men who used to lecture us on morality really were. This book documents how the two “international” federations existed to line the pockets of their leadership, were unquestionably corrupt and in many ways just down right racist.

For those of us in the martial arts industry, you’ll also be shocked to learn that in return for using their Taekwondo muscle to suppress (read as “beat into submission and frequently kidnap”) democratic forces protesting Korea’s military dictatorship, the Korean CIA (KCIA) gave hundreds of thousands to dollars to instructors and helped them set up their Dojang. Korean Taekwondo did not just have “good business sense”, they were being secretly funded by both the KCIA, and even more amusingly, but Reverend Moon’s cult!

Of course, the instructors interviewed all deny that they PERSONALLY benefited, it was always some other instructor…

While I really wish the book had addressed Hwang Kee and the Moo Duk Kwan, and discuss the process by which the Kwan were FORCED to unify, the book still provides tons of sometimes whispered by never openly discussed topics. It is well worth the read. You can find it at



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