Tae Kwon Do in the Early Days
When I took my first karate lesson in 1966 black belts were rare and mystical human beings. My monthly lessons were held in the backyard or garage. My first instructor was a Goju-Ryu brown belt Army recruiter. I met my first black belt (shodan) two years later.

Early in 1970 I began studying a new thing called "Tae Kwon Do" - otherwise known as Korean "super karate."  Master Chung was - at the time - a 6th dan and the official "Jung Moo Kwan" representative in the U.S.  He operated a dojang in Huntsville, AL and supervised instructors in branch schools across the Southeast.  In the early and middle 70's Chung's organization known
as "Universal Consolidated Martial Arts Jung Moo Kwan" boasted a membership of 1200 students in three states.  Mr. Chung also had a 6th dan in Hap Ki Do and a 3rd dan in YuDo, which he incorporated into his overall curriculum. Shortly after opening his dojang in 1970, Mr. Chung was promoted to 7th dan, and then to 8th dan a few years later.

It was in the days when Viet Nam veterans were returning home from serving in Southeast Asia. I recall that several of Chung's early black belts had actually earned a first or second degree in Korea or Viet Nam and gravitated to Mr. Chung upon returning to the Southeastern U.S. in order to
continue their training.  They were his first "branch-school" instructors .... very tough and aggressive men.  Some of them had earned their black belts in Tang Soo Do, and some in Tae Kwon Do, but in those days both styles were the same - only Tang Soo Doists called the hyung (kata) by their Okinawan names while the Tae Kwon Doists called them by their Korean names - and the Tang
Soo Do guys wore navy blue belts instead of black belts.

Tae Kwon Do was by far the most explosive and aggressive style of karate in those days.  Korean stylists had taken the tournament circuit by storm. Korean stylists were known for their bouncing style, jumping kicks, spinning kicks, leg-sweeps, ridge-hand attacks, and "wheel-kicks."  And they were very quick and aggressive.

Korean masters were increasingly opening dojangs in the larger cities and sponsoring very large and impressive tournaments.  Literally hundreds of competitors would come from across the U.S to compete in these tournaments. The Koreans were a close-knit group and supported each other in the tournaments.  Before the finals of each tournament the Korean masters would join efforts to form a very dynamic demonstration team.  Gymnasiums would be packed with spectators as they anticipated the dazzling, almost unbelievable exhibitions of Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do.  We were expected to help out at every Korean master's tournament.  We would be rewarded with an afternoon instructional session and be given the opportunity to learn from Korean masters other than our own.

There were different styles of Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do back then - such as Jung Moo Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, Chang Moo Kwan - but they were essentially the same - really a Korean version of Shotokan. Though not admitted today by the Koreans, back then they readily acknowledged their roots in Kempo and Shotokan ... with the added flair of the Korean kicking techniques.  The most popular black belt form for tournament
competition was "Pal Sek" (Bassai/Passai).

Upon receiving the black belt in 1972 I was afforded the privilege to join the required monthly black belt workouts.  I had trained five days a week for two years in order to gain the opportunity to test for black belt.  My test lasted three hours.  It was a piece of cake when compared to the monthly

Black Belt workouts began at 6pm on Saturday evenings and lasted until about 2am.  They were grueling and almost unbearable.  Just about all of us - usually about 12 or 15 black belts - always came out of those workouts with our jackets bloodied and literally torn to shreds.  Liability wasn't a
worry in those days.

We started with warmups and jumping exercises.  Then we were drilled for about an hour on basic blocks and punches, followed by a wide variety of kicking exercises.  Next came the one-and-three-step fighting techniques (which were quite spirited).  We always tried to break each other's arms and legs with our blocks.  "Every block is an attack!" would be Mr. Chung's battle cry.  Next came the Hap Ki Do training and YuDo matches (wooden floors - no mats).  Next to last we did all our forms - over and over again.  Harder!  Faster!  Stay in formation!  You failed to end where you started!  Then, forms application.  Each of us had to execute every form while being attacked by four other black belts.  Finally - when we were dead tired - came the free-fighting.  These were heavy-contact (no protective equipment) events that included throws, sweeps, armbar-takedowns ... just about everything you can imagine.

We had no reservations about kicking to the lower or upper body.  Higher ranks had to fight multiple opponents before the night was over.  We had to fight each other at least once.  Matches would go on and on.  Then, each of us had to fight Mr. Chung.  He took no prisoners - killed his wounded - he was speed personfied.  You simply can't block what you can't see.  He judged "the quick and the dead."  You either "got quick" or you "got dead."  Mr. Chung especially enjoyed knocking the breath out of larger men (he was a diminutive 5'6", 140 lbs.).  His spinning  kicks and leg-sweeps seemed unstoppable.

He placed an emphasis on toughened bodies and calloused hands.  We were shown a regimen of striking pots filled first with beans, then with rice, later with sand, and finally small gravel.  We were shown how to heat the pot to make the results more effective.  And of course, the  striking post was
a daily requirement.  You couldn't get away with that today, I don't think.

That early version was technically called "sorim mit soryong yu Tae Kwon Do". That's the Korean way of saying "Shorin Ryu and Shorei Ryu."  But Tae Kwon Do began to change in the middle 70's.  A new set of forms (ITF) was introduced, and then another (WTF).  The nine largest "kwans" joined forces to form the Kukkiwon and create "Olympic Taekwondo."  Many of the older masters simply retired rather than make the change - my master Chung was one of them.  The kwans maintaining the traditional way are governed by the KiDoHae - South Korea's oldest martial arts organization - and are not affiliated with the Kukkiwon.  My style of "Jung Moo Kwan" is one of these kwans, and today I am its official U.S. representative, having been ranked by Mr. Chung and the KiDoHae of Korea as a 7th dan.

In the early days I never saw women or children enrolled in Jung Moo Kwan. The youngest I remember was about 16, the oldest in his 40's.  Training was very intense and everyone was loyal to the master and the style.  With no handgear to impede us, we were constantly grabbing the opponent by his sleeve or lapel to pull him into a kick or throw him, and thus tearing the sleeves
and lapels off.  You don't see that much anymore.  We were always having to replace our uniform jackets (we weren't allowed to wear judo uniforms). I used to order two at the time.  There was never a thought that karate was an aerobic exercise or a method of childcare - it was pure combat science - for men only.  As I reflect upon it, I can see how rugged and time-consuming the regimen was.  Hardly anyone lasted past second degree.  I was blessed to be in business with my dad back then and could afford to plan the hours and hours required for black belt training.  I have been under Mr. Chung since 1970.  Though he is well into his 60's now and has been retired to Torrance,
California for several years, I still think of him as my instructor.

Dr. Charles Owens
KiDo'Kyo Christian Tae Kwon Do Association
Alabama, USA

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