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An evening with Grandmaster He Man Park

GM H.M. Park, a historical legend and driving force of Tae Kwon Do, visited the Louisville TTCA School on Oct 23rd, 2000 for a two-hour class and social. The following is GMA instructor Brandon Sieg's effort to document the occasion.

Note: This represents my very best effort to accurately portray and/or convey the teaching, comments, and sentiments of GM Park that evening. I have tried to be conservative in my interpretation for fear of "putting words in his mouth." But the possibility of error is only increased when the message has to go through a second party translator (in this case, GM Choi). I apologize for any errors or misrepresentations that may be present.--BS

Impressions

While several of us were already in the dojang stretching and socializing with our friends from other TTCA schools, GM Park unassumingly entered the room and began to warm up. GM Park is small in stature but was hardly lost in the room. At the risk of sounding cliché, he genuinely has a presence that fills the room. When he spoke, his voice was forceful but not gruff...also seemingly oversized for his body. I was immediately impressed with how his face beamed with a vitality of someone much younger. The only thing keeping me from guessing his age at 45-50 was the knowledge that GM Park has been doing TKD for 50 years. As the class started and he began to demonstrate, it became obvious that the apparent vitality was not just cosmetic; his movements had a snap and power to them that some of my college students never achieve. That is to say nothing about that intangible, subtle quality of movement that partially defines true mastery of the art. Some people can flail their arms and legs very quickly, but looking at the motion one can tell there is little or nothing substantial about it. Then there are others that may not be as fast, but have that extra quality...perfect coordination, every part of the body in complete unison, maybe just magic....that makes the movement so strong that you say to yourself, "I never want to be on the other end of that!" That intangible element can easily be observed but never duplicated without the prerequisite thousands and thousands of repetitions. If GM Park was lacking in speed from strength, he more than made up for it with superior technique, making his display of the basics simply awesome.

The Class

After the obligatory class opening, warm up and introduction by GM Choi, GM Park took over the class with GM Choi translating. While GM Park may not be skilled in conversational English, as the class continued it became apparent that he had enough of a command of English to lead a class in the dojang. Even when GM Choi had to leave the room for administrative matters, there was little or no language barrier.

He prefaced the class with a discussion about how everything in TKD comes back to the basics, and that is where true mastery lies. The most important element is the stance: the body needs to be upright. He emphasized that blocking and punching do not come from the arm, but from the body, so the body and hips need to turn or rotate to add power. He also stressed that to maximize power, the vector of the technique must be perpendicular to the target. This has implications in blocking techniques, in that the trajectory of the block must arc around to meet in the incoming punch at a 90 degree angle. A common mistake is the block with an excessively linear or inside track, making it difficult to impact at the proper angle. Additionally, he focused on the snap at the end of techniques. To illustrate these points, he invented some basic exercises (kibon il, ii, sam, sa).

The first basic exercise turned out to be "basic blocking #1" that all TTCA students are familiar with. I can remember my eyes meeting those of GM Choi and sharing a grin with him as it became apparent that it was the same basic exercise. Of course, no one in the room even dared to acknowledge that we already knew it, probably because to do so would suggest that we were above or beyond it. GM Park brought me and Mr. Patrick Yocum to the front to demonstrate the pattern for everyone else and then proceeded to use us as illustrations for correction of form. Being one of the first guinea pigs, I was not sure to expect, which compounded my nervous tension already present from simply being around such an influential master. Scared to make a mistake, I can recall doing the pattern very conservatively. I recognized I was holding my breath and tried to tell myself to relax, but just then he startled me by quickly commanding us to repeat the drill. During the critique, GM Park pointed out that when doing high blocks, I was using too much strength and my entire body was rising with the block, reiterating that power comes from the turning of the hips and the dan jun and that the weight should sink. He could easily see what I was feeling...that in my tension I was holding my breath in my chest, thus destroying my root. I have ambivalence towards that experience now: part of me is rather disgusted with myself for having committed such a "white belt" mistake and not leaving a better impression, but another part is kind of glad for "taking one for the team" in that we all got to hear his explanation and correction.

He pointed out that basic blocking #1 is comprised entirely of outward movements and explained that he designed the second exercise to complement the first with all inward movements. This pattern was new to me but quickly became a favorite. As an instructor, I can appreciate the simplistic brilliance of the two complementary exercises...the yin and yang....simple and subtle. The third basic exercise was similar to our "Basic blocking #2." The fourth was a kicking pattern (all stretch kicks and front kicks). GM Park emphasized that when kicking one should be careful not to fall forward onto the kicking leg, or conversely, fall back too heavily onto the kicking leg when setting it down behind you. Either case will result in a lack of mobility as the leg is planted. He stressed rechambering the kicking leg to a neutral position next to the base leg, so that the leg could be place in virtually in any direction in a controlled manner. Thus, whether comprised of hand or leg technique, all four basic exercises were designed for "center of gravity practice."

After watching our forms and one-step practice, GM Park proceeded to take the black belts through Koryo and Keumgang forms. GM Choi brought out his old Chung Do Kwan manual to show pictures of GM Park demonstrating Keumgang, a form GM Park invented "a long time ago" (he said as he rubbed his now nearly bald head, in contrast to the head of hair in the pictures). GM Park gave some general warnings about forms practice, such as TKD is not an up and down style and stressing the importance of not adding extraneous or telegraphic movement into the technique. While doing Koryo, he particularly emphasized the hand position of the "tigers mouth shape". Care must be taken not to lead with the palm rather than the thumb and index finger, otherwise the alignment is off to send the strike into the chin at a down and in angle to possibly dislocate the jaw. Similarly, he stressed turning the hand outwards a little on the knee break to ensure that the striking surface can impact the patella (and not be impeded by the fingers). During Keumgang, he made sure that it took us a full 10 count to gradually reach the signature block of that form. GM Park also mentioned how the chunbi position was originally shoulder width but was changed to a slightly narrower stance to allow for quicker movement out of the ready position when starting the form. He made reference to chunbi now returning to a shoulder-width position but did not elaborate as to why.

The Closing

As class finished, he gathered us in for some closing remarks. He gave us some compliments and noted that we were different than the pure sport players. He said that TKD is now a sport, and so the emphasis is on attacking [offensive] technique. He seemed to lament that there is little moral development anymore, only development of the body....so people are/will refer to it as "killing martial arts"-the type that destroys society. Rather, TKD is for survival [against aggression]. The traditional way of training makes TKD practitioners a family and produces a peaceful society. Given GM Park's involvement in the Olympic TKD movement, I found these remarks a little surprising. He concluded class by giving everyone a seminar certificate from Kukkiwon. It was a generic certificate but a wonderful gesture, and I was ecstatic just to have something with my name and his signature on it.

After class, he seemed to tire of the excessive number of pictures that Mr. Rick Haines and I took, but was still accommodating, and Mr. Haines and I were not about to let the opportunity slip away and take the chance that one or two pictures wouldn't turn out. While taking pictures, he looked at the backdrop of the flags and TTCA emblem, studied the logo, and commented favorably about it.

I can only hope that he found the TTCA students to be equally favorable and decides to return the next time he is making his American tour.


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Last modified: July 05, 2012


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