The Moral Crusade has begun
In the previous two articles Master Choi has spoken about his childhood, his relationship with his father and the art of Taekwondo. In this final part of the interview, Master Choi moves on to speak on society and the moral duty martial artists have.
There’s no denying that society the world over, but especially in Britain, seems to be in meltdown. Not a day goes by without some child being kidnapped, abused, bullied (physically, online, over their phone or a mixture of all three) and this being reported in the news. We are facing a greater terrorist threat now than we have for a long time. Finally, people as a whole either don’t seem to care, or are attacked for seeming to care.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your views) the Church is no longer the guiding force it used to be, youth groups such as the Brownies, Guides, Cubs and Scouts all seem to be losing out as the apathy spreads and more children stay at home playing computer games.
One area that is experiencing massive growth is martial arts. Martial arts have been cited as being the largest participation sport (after football) in the United Kingdom. Master Choi firmly believes that martial arts can be used as a positive force for moral and social change.
We were initially talking about how he would like to see people view Taekwondo in the future. Master Choi would like to see Taekwondo playing a big role in society, bringing more education to families; “As we progress more in the material world, I think we are losing much of the morality as human beings. I think TKD can substitute that loss.”
During his opening speech to the attendees of the weekend seminar, Master Choi stated that the ITF were the guardians of Taekwondo and that nothing should be changed within the system. This included the patterns as well as normal techniques. Obviously such a statement has ramifications, the biggest being the possibility of Taekwondo stagnating. I asked Master Choi how he saw Taekwondo progressing if his intention was to preserve Taekwondo as a system rather than as a concept.
“Much of the technical aspect that we practice has been completed by General Choi. There are confusing aspects of Taekwondo that need to be clarified which is what I mean by improvement.”
“Remember General Choi said ‘I have barely had time to teach technique to my students, to teach morality takes a long time, I hope our sons can finish the job for me’. In other words General Choi’s time was [based on] more physical teaching and our time is more moral. By becoming good examples, becoming good brothers and sisters so we can imbue more morality, and explain [morality] and also become part of the learning process of morality. I hope we can achieve it, I’m sure we will.”
There is a certain perception that the general public has with regard to black belts. That perception seems to be that they are immediately bestowed with greater wisdom, patience and almost superhuman abilities as soon as they wrap the often coveted belt around their waist. Black belts become not only invincible in battle but also seem to become the equivalent of knights of the round table. Students quite literally hang on every word that they utter, often to the point where they ignore commonsense.
Master Choi is of the opinion that; “The white belt connotates innocence, not knowing anything. When we talk about black belt it means a person who knows many and much, a made person. Their duty to this society is very heavy and very deep. Unfortunately a lot of people only take the sensational part of Taekwondo and do not give to society what is needed.”
Is it fair to blame people for the sensationalisation of Taekwondo however? Taekwondo and martial arts in general are sensational to an unknowing public and as with the case in sparring discussed in the previous article, Taekwondo has concentrated on this due to what could be called a lack of leadership. Master Choi believes that this is because Taekwondo is taught by instructors rather than teachers. “Remember to become a good Taekwondo person you need good teachers. And we are lacking good teachers to rear good instructors and good students.
This ITF aims to turn that tide and make sure that our black belts and practitioners contribute to society rather than becoming a problem.”
The last sentence is a very strong statement indeed. ITF Canada is going to make sure that their black belts and students contribute to society. ITF Canada, under Master Choi’s guidance, is most certainly entering the mat on the side of strong moral guidance and ‘good’.
I asked Master Choi if this statement meant that we could see more ITF Canada members taking a more active role in their community; “Correct. Our number one priority in this organisation and in the 21st Century is to enlarge our scope in moral teachings and learnings.”
We talked about how some other martial arts systems have the completion of community-based projects as part of their black belt gradings. Was this something that the ITF would consider?
“We do encourage that and part of the curriculum is that. You have to remember that all of these are ceremonial things. No matter how many services they provide, if that person inside has not changed to a better person then it means nothing. But that is one way to teach them about selflessness of course.”
Or, as Martin Luther put it “Good men do good works, but good works don’t make good men”.
Good works are what inspire Master Choi. His admiration for those people who can give more than they have is something that he wishes to emulate and wishes he could do more of.
“Especially in the latter part of my life. If someone has something and they give a little, that’s okay but people who don’t have much but give everything, that is something that I admire.”
Master Choi made a point of speaking about Bill Gates. He was sad that Bill Gates is often perceived wrongly by people. It’s not commonly known for example, that he gives roughly half his earnings to the poor, “and that made me have a different respect for him. People like that are wonderful. There are too many greedy people who take but give nothing. I wish that I could become one of those people who can give more to the needy.”
I asked him if this was something that Master Choi could see himself dedicating his life to later on. The answer couldn’t have been any clearer, nor more heartfelt.
“If I want to wear this belt I must. What other kind of joy is there in being a human being than giving? I don’t think there are many comparable joys.”
I was interested in seeing whether Master Choi’s views were being taken on board so I asked him what he would say was the greatest act of selflessness he has found in Taekwondo.
“We have too many examples. Immediately we have our Secretary General sitting here. He himself, without my knowledge, has gone to many countries, especially countries that cannot afford to learn Taekwondo and has selflessly given to them on many occasions.”
“The last trip was just about a week ago to Afghanistan. Some time before that he travelled to many African countries. I am very proud of that and very happy, because that is what my father had asked us to do. The last frontier was to introduce TKD to those people that could not afford to learn.”
“We have done it and our Secretary General is a role model for that.”
This is all well and good but people tend to dig their heels in when they think that they are being forced to do something (no matter how good the benefits) and to disregard advice if they feel they are being preached to. There is a fine line to tread and I was curious as to how Master Choi was going to tread the line between showing what was right and preaching.
“Most education is done by becoming a good example. Students want to emulate their teachers, and if a teacher is an aberrant then their student will be. Therefore our number one priority is in rearing good, able and model citizens who are good Taekwondo instructors.”
This is no short-term commitment that Master Choi is making, he’s determined that they will shed the dead wood, sift out the chaff and generally encourage people who do not wish to become better people to find an association that will better suit them.
Such a process can take a long time and we discussed how long he though it would take them to get to the stage where they were happy with the people that they have.
“Even if it takes forever we must. We must fight an uphill battle to make sure that we can contribute to society as good model citizens. Even if it’s forever. We must.”