Full Name: Parmjit Rai
Age: 41 years
Length Training: Started Taekwon-Do in 1979
Grade(s): 7th Degree Master Instructor
Instructor(s): Master Choi Jung Hwa, President of ITF
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Snapshot of the person
Favourite Food: Indian
Favourite Music: anything relaxing
Favourite Book: Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia
Favourite Pattern: Hwa-Rang
Favourite Technique: Downward Kick
Favourite Film: Enter the Dragon
Favourite Colour: Red
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Grand Masters, especially those who have large international organisations, often tour the world giving seminars and holding gradings. They often travel with assistants, men and women who willingly give their time to help teach, train and demonstrate alongside the Masters. Depending on the Master and martial art in question, this can often lead to them having to suffer some amount of physical discomfort.
One of these dedicants is Master Parm Rai, 7th Degree Instructor and Assistant to President Choi Jung Hwa of the ITF. Master Rai has travelled the world over as President Choi’s assistant, and is often called upon to demonstrate, teach and clarify points as and when needed by President Choi.
Having met Master Rai whilst interviewing President Choi, I decided that I would interview Master Rai about his thoughts and experiences of Taekwondo.
“I am truly dedicated to Taekwon-Do.”
What other styles have you studied?
Only Gen. Choi’s ITF
Why did you start martial arts?
I was young when I started and my father put me in Taekwon-Do because of the discipline.
Do you think that Taekwondo is the perfect style for you? Why?
Yes, Taekwon-Do is based on scientific techniques. There is a purpose and explanation for each movement in Taekwon-Do. It truly is good both physically and mentally. In Taekwon-Do there is always room for improvement. I learn every day.
Gen. Choi always used to say that Taekwon-Do is created equally for men and women. I believe that in Taekwon-Do your body gets a total body workout.
If you were starting martial arts afresh today, what style do you think you would go with?
I am truly dedicated to Taekwon-Do. It has done great things for me. Learning Taekwon-Do has made me a stronger person physically and spiritually.
I remember when I applied for the Police service. During my interview I was so comfortable, speaking with confidence because my instructor used to let us get in front of our Taekwon-Do class and teach when I was younger. This really built my confidence, allowing me to speak in front of anyone.
My interview quickly changed from policing questions to Taekwon-Do questions. Because of my confidence I am now a Detective in Canada. I would only do Taekwon-Do
Do you believe that patterns are at the heart of Taekwon-Do?
I believe the full composition of Taekwon-Do is the heart of Taekwon-Do. Patterns are a very integral part of Taekwon-Do. I truly believe that patterns are the beauty of Taekwon-Do. It’s something special when you see a group of students do a pattern together moving as one person. Through patterns you learn attack and defence techniques, balance, coordination and development of power. I often compare patterns to synchronized swimming. Watching synchronized swimming is so beautiful, watching patterns is so beautiful as well.
What does it take to succeed in Taekwondo?
Success is measured in many ways. It often depends on the individual. I know some students do Taekwon-Do for stress relief, some do it for competition, some do it for physical fitness, some do it for fun, and some do it to hopefully have a successful career in Taekwon-Do.
I believe if you have fun and try your hardest, you have succeeded. I believe a good student is one who is always willing to learn. I know personally that I have built a lot of friendships all over the world through Taekwon-Do. This is so fulfilling for me, because of Taekwon-Do I have been able to see many countries and learn a lot about other cultures and beliefs.
“I believe that Taekwon-Do patterns should also be part of the Olympics.”
What was the hardest belt for you to achieve and why?
They were all hard. I take every test seriously. If you don’t prepare then you won’t be able to perform at your best.
What is the lasting impression of your first class?
Having my white belt tied by my first instructor, Master Lee Sukhi.
What is it about Taekwondo that you love so much?
There is so much. One thing that always sticks out in my mind is hearing Gen. Choi saying in his seminars “We are one big Family”. This is so true. A Taekwon-Do student can travel to another country, and walk into an ITF Taekwon-Do school, and be greeted with a smile. He or she will be treated as part of the Takwon-Do family.
I am very fortunate that I got to learn under great instructors such as Master Lee Sukhi, Grandmaster Park Jong Soo, and Grandmaster Jung Hwa Choi. Because of Taekwon-Do I got to travel and learn from so many instructors. Like when I come to England, it is always a pleasure to see Master Nicholls, Secretary General of ITF. He is an inspirational Master Instructor who is always working hard.
Do you think that the Olympics gave a fair impression of Taekwondo (in all forms)?
Currently I do not believe they do. I know Gen. Choi always dreamed that Taekwon-Do would be included in the Olympics. I believe that Taekwon-Do patterns should also be part of the Olympics. They represent the beauty of Taekwon-Do.
Have you always been with the ITF?
Yes I have always been with the ITF, and will continue under President Choi. I remember when Gen. Choi left Canada to go to North Korea. This was Gen. Choi’s last time in Canada as he passed away in North Korea. I will never forget, I was at the Airport with a few other instructors and Master Choi. Gen. Choi got out of his wheelchair and hugged Master Choi. He then walked over to us and said “Always support Master Choi, my son.” This was Gen. Choi’s last words to me which I will follow as a Taekwon-Do student.
How did you get to where you are now within the ITF?
I am only a student of the ITF, and learning all the time. I love to teach and learn. I am fortunate to have been able to travel with our late founder, Gen. Choi and now his son, Master Choi. I have learned a great deal from travelling. I know when I teach, I sometimes allow gup belts to teach while I train under them.
This is a fulfilment for me, as it allows the gup belts to build confidence, and for me to learn something from them as well. Any instructor that tells you they know Taekwon-Do does not know Taekwon-Do. Taekwon-Do is a continuous learning art.
What are your duties?
I am currently the treasurer of ITF and Special assistant to Pres. Choi. My duties are simply to teach and learn.
What’s the best part of your job within the ITF?
I have got to meet many people in Taekwon-Do and have made many friends. My best part is to interact and teach. I am fortunate that Master Choi has allowed me to teach seminars, therefore allowing me to travel and see different countries, cultures and to meet people. I do not look at Taekwon-Do as a job but a commitment.
How has Taekwondo changed your life?
Taekwon-Do has given me a basis in life. It gives me energy and wisdom. Taekwon-Do has a lot more to offer than just physical exercise. The philosophy and moral culture you learn through Taekwon-Do is exceptional. If practiced properly, you are a modest person.
“Always support Master Choi, my son.” Gen. Choi
At the time of the split(s), how did you feel and why did you follow Master Choi?
I was at Toronto Airport the day Gen. Choi left Canada for North Korea. Master Choi has a vision to preserve his father’s legacy. He is not out to gain political gain. There is no one closer to General Choi than his son, Master Choi. The split is unfortunate.
As long as we all practice Taekwon-Do the way Gen. Choi designed it, it will live on forever. I truly believe one day we will all be together again. I remember Gen. Choi at the airport, got out of his wheelchair and approached a group of us standing near him. He said to me “always follow my son, Master Choi.”
Did you know General Choi?
Yes. I was fortunate to have known a great man. We used to go to Gen. Choi’s home every New Year’s day and wish him a Prosperous New Year. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to travel with him to France in 1998 as his assistant. I learned a great deal to Taekwon-Do and history from him.
What is your greatest memory of him?
Gen. Choi taught Taekwon-Do until the day he passed away. He always was ready to teach. I remember in France at the hotel, a colour belt student was in the hallway, approached Gen. Choi, and asked him a question about a movement. Gen. Choi started teaching this student until he was able to perform the movement correctly. I’m sure this student will never forget this lesson. Gen. Choi could have easily said I’ll show you at the seminar but stopped what he was doing and taught right there.
What is your worst memory of him?
What was his most inspirational aspect?
He was always willing to teach no matter where he was.
“I sometimes allow gup belts to teach while I train under them”
What is Master Choi’s most inspirational aspect?
Master Choi is a wonderful philosopher and instructor. There is no one that I know who has more knowledge than him in Taekwon-Do. You have to remember he was groomed by his father, Gen. Choi to be the next successor. Master Choi is motivated to carry on his father’s teachings.
Do you think that the ITFs will ever be united again?
I think one day it will.
Was it ever put forward that Master Choi change the ITFs name in order to distance it from the dreadful politics that now exist?
Master Choi believes in carrying on his father’s legacy. He believes in the ITF. I don’t think Master Choi will ever change the ITF name and nor should he have to. Master Choi only wants to spread Gen. Choi’s ITF, not stop it. He is not after suing anyone for wearing the ITF crest. The more who wear the ITF dobok the better.
First there was hip twist, then came the sine wave, now it seems to be moving back to a combination of the two, do you think that this focus on this one aspect is somewhat detrimental to training when there is so much more that could be worked on with regard to good technique?
Sine wave was always there in Taekwon-Do; however it was not emphasized or taught in the early stages of Taekwon-Do. Hip twist is naturally present and has to be utilized in conjunction with the proper use of knee spring (sine wave) to generate maximum power.
It is very important that we understand the purpose of the technique. There is so much to learn in Taekwon-Do. I don’t think one ever stops learning. Each movement must flow from one to another.
“The composition of Taekwon-Do addresses all aspects of self-defence.”
Master Choi is very keen on Taekwondo being far more than ‘just’ a martial art, and wants to make society better, do you share the same vision and how are you and the ITF working towards achieving this?
This is very important for students of Taekwon-Do. As you know, Taekwon-Do teaches a lot of Moral Culture. We as students should be giving back to communities. The children are our future, and will be pillars of society’s to come. I think it is very important for instructors to talk about moral culture and the “DO” in their classes. A lot of the good qualities in society are disappearing and as martial artists it is our duty to bring them back. I know in the ITF, when grading for senior rank, we look at what you have done for the community and how have you assisted in making this a better place to live.
How has this been received by members of the ITF?
Members are happy. Taekwon-Do is not only about kicking and punching. It is a way of life. Therefore one must pave the way for a good life. As far as I know, students of Taekwon-Do are doing their part by giving back to the community.
Taekwon-Do is often called un-practical due to the fact that it is very sport based and the applications trend in Karate doesn’t seem to have caught on in Taekwondo, is the ITF addressing this and making it more practical when it comes to self-defence and the martial aspect?
I believe Taekwon-Do is very practical. The composition of Taekwon-Do addresses all aspects of self-defence. The curriculum of Taekwon-Do is very complete, it is up to the student on how much he/she wants to learn. Gen. Choi’s encyclopaedia has a whole section on the human anatomy and the appropriate techniques that can be applied to the various area of the body.
Why do you think that so much of that was removed from the syllabus over the years?
I don’t think it was removed. Taekwon-Do has evolved like anything else.
Where do you see the ITF in five years?
I believe Taekwon-Do will be as one again. Pres. Choi brought ITF back to South Korea in 2004 by having the World Championships there. There are now hundreds to ITF schools in South Korea where at time there wasn’t one.
He is following his father’s legacy and wants the ITF to grow. The ITF under Pres. Choi is growing each day with members coming all the time. I know that Pres. Choi wants all to train with the ITF and for all the students to wear the ITF crest. He is not removing the crest off anyone’s do-bok. There are many senior grandmasters and masters still teaching Taekwon-Do. They should put politics aside and concentrate on the betterment of ITF.