It takes a special person to not only achieve 8th Dan in WTF Taekwondo but to meet all the requirements and fly out to Korean in order to do this. As a result, Master Tony Vohra is the only person who has achieved this grade in this country and is now the highest-ranked WTF black belt not only in the UK but also India.
Master Vohra explained how it was decided that he could grade to 8th Dan.
“I’d been writing to the Kukkiwon for a while. To get recommended you need an 8thDan or higher and this had to be done at Kukkiwon. I did my Seventh Dan on 30th May 1998 and Kukkiwon certification was issued 5th August 1999. So I had to wait 8 years from 7th Dan to be eligible for 8th dan which came up at 5th August 2007.”
Getting the 8th Dan was crucial if he wanted to achieve his ambition of completing the 1st class instructors course; “In 2006 they brought out the 1st class instructors course and I applied but they said I had to be Kukkiwon 8th Dan and have 1st and 2nd class so I couldn’t go on it. Some people encouraged me to just go along and everything would be fine but I didn’t want to risk it.
When it came to this year I rang the Kukkiwon and asked when I would be able to do my 8th Dan and they gave me the date of 5th August 2007 which was the 8 years time period wait from 7th dan Kukkiwon issue.”
To get 8th Dan an instructor has to test at the Kukkiwon. Not only does this mean that you have to travel to Korea which can be expensive and daunting task in itself, but You have to do a thesis or essay that’s a minimum of 10 pages. The subjects instructors can choose from are;
1. Development of Taekwondo Techniques
2. Taekwondo Spirit
3. Teaching Ideas Based on Experiences
4. Methods for Systematic Improvements
Having shown he has a penchant for exceeding the standards set Master Vohra took the thesis to heart.
“I did a school operations manual that was 90 pages long.”
Fortunately he was able to tie in the trip to do both test and the instructor’s course. There was however the slight obstacle of not having a recommender. Luckily he was told that because of his history and work in Taekwondo, constant communications sinc e 1979 and the good relations that he enjoyed with them and his trips to the Kukkiwon in the past, all he had to do was attend the Kukkiwon.
“Unlike some other WTF black belts over there they also had all my records dating back as far the seventies.”
Because of his good relationship with the Kukkiwon and his emphasis on Taekwondo the martial art rather that Taekwondo the sport the recommendation came from the Vice President of the Kukkiwon Sang Kuen Song.
Such is his standing in the eyes of the Kukkiwon that “They actually arranged a special testing on 20th July 2007 purely for me because of my standing and because I was one of the first people to examine for 8th Dan. Basically I did the physical test and they brought me to the table. The examiners were;
1) Tae Sung Lee
2) Jae Kyu Jun
3) Young Bok Kang.
They gave constructive criticism on my practical test. They all said that I needed to be stronger, slower and more confident. I said that it was because I was very nervous.”
Whilst he was over there, Master Vohra continued to build on his relationship with the Kukkiwon and the International Department, especially Mr Lee Hyung-Sun (Section chief of International Department).
“Basically Mr Lee Hyung-Sun looked after me when I arrived and arranged for my administration of Kukkiwon practical test there and looked over my thesis. We went through to the Vice President of the Kukkiwon Sang Kuen Song and gave him copies of my articles in Taekwondo and Korean martial arts magazine issue of July 2007. He saw the stretching article and asked if I could still do that, so I said I was happy to demonstrate my splits there and then!”
When travelling to a Mecca of martial arts such as Korea, it is always advisable to attend as many local schools as possible and with this in mind he went with Master Young Yip Na’s dojang and met his father Grandmaster Na Dong Sik. Not only that, he was also honoured to be asked to teach stretching at their club that evening.
The following day on the 19th he had 3 hour training session with Mr Chong-Kwan Lee Education Kukkiwon World Taekwondo Headquarters 8th Dan, General Manager of Academic Department of the Kukkiwon, and Vice President of Poomsae Special Committee of the WTF at Kukkiwon who took him through private lesson to work on his Poomsae.
“I did a lot of training with Mr Chong-Kwan Lee to brush up on my forms as he said there were some small problems with them. It turned out that as far as they were concerned I was the only one testing on the 20th July 2007 but Brendan Ryan from Ireland was invited to grade as well for his 3rd Dan. We went back to Master Young Yip Na’s club (where I had taught the night before) so that Brendan Ryan could train as well.”
When it came to the grading, he is only too willing to admit that he was very nervous. This was with good reason. Not only had the grading been arranged especially for him, but he was being personally trained by some of the most influential and high ranking Kukkiwon officials and the whole point of his trip (attending the 1st class course) hung upon him passing this grading.
The format of the exam was for two forms to be performed for each exam so Brendan Ryan ended up doing six patterns.
“I went on first and did my forms, the panel interviewed me and I watched whilst Brendan did his 6 forms .I, along with Mr Lee Hyung-Sun went and spoke to the Vice President Sang Kuen Song for a short interview. After the interview he asked if I was going home now! I told him that I was doing my 1st class instructors class. There was a problem in that the results aren’t processed immediately but on a quarterly basis. Fortunately as I was there for the 1st class course they pushed it through for both of us.”
As we talk it becomes clear that Master Vohra is held in very high esteem by the Kukkiwon and that he holds a lot of respect and fondness for them in return.
“The next day I had the weekend off and went to see my friend Master Son Young Gul. I stayed the night and then came back the following day to see if I would be able register for the course.”
Our next article will give an in-depth and exclusive look into the material presented in the 1st Class Instructor’s course.