Martial Arts

Training in Korea
Part 3 of 5

By Master Todd Huddleston - 8th Dan
Yonsei Martial Arts Academy, New Orleans, LA

Sitting center - Master Han and Master Huddleston to his left

The Head Master

During my training, the Head Master at Tang Soo Do headquarters was Master Han Chi Sup. Master Han was not as tall as me but he was much more muscular. Hard features were chiseled on his face and grabbing his wrist was like grabbing a pipe. His voice was deep but a little scratchy and scary, especially during training. He had a commanding presence when with students, but he was humble and unassuming in public. When I started training with him I believe he was in his forties, but can't be sure since Koreans always look younger than their age. I did not know how long he had been teaching Tang Soo Do, but I did know he had been president of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Association for several years and was well respected in Tang Soo Do circles in Korea. This was evident by the way other masters behaved around him at official functions.

I also know that he had taught on the U.S. military base there and also taught in Malaysia. He was very formal in everything he did, from bowing to other masters, to ordering students to bow several times during class. This formal style sometimes made communicating with him difficult since he always spoke using Sino-Korean, a much higher and formal form of the Korean language. But if he spoke to you, you listened, for Master Han always lectured students. And his lectures were not just to hear himself speak. They were always about something important, such as your attitude during training or how to live life. (He once lectured me for an hour while I stood at attention at the front of his office, using most of the scheduled class time.)


Master Han performing Ki Kong form - August 1998
Seated are two of the highest ranking Masters in Tang Soo Do in the world
Center - Hee Seok Choe - Dan # 5
Right - Yong Deok Kim - Dan # 2

As one can imagine, being the Head Master at the headquarters school, Master Han's martial arts technique was impressive. It was very powerful, but not choppy like Japanese karate. His technique always had a flow to it which seemed influenced by Tai Chi. This was definitely visible in his blocks and strikes and all the forms that he taught. His kicks were powerful and high which showed his flexibility, but not as flexible as a dancer. He was an expert at self-defense techniques, which he could demonstrate from any position including sitting down, and was skilled in several weapons but never taught us any. Aside from Tang Soo Do, Master Han is an award winning Han Cha (Chinese Characters) painter and is also skilled in acupressure. (I once watched him bring an old man who had been drinking too much back to life by pushing certain pressure points on his back.)

Master Han taught each and every class, doing the whole warm up with the students and demonstrating every technique throughout the session. He yelled out what he wanted done and if a student made a mistake he always gave them an earful. No exceptions. He was a stickler for details. He gave each student the attention they needed and he always paid particular attention to senior belts. This was great for me since I was one of the highest ranks there. Students learned things his way, no differences. Master Han always knew where a student's limit was and pushed students just beyond their limit. That way their technique would improve and the student would grow. I found this out many times when I was the only student in class for he would push me to the point of vomiting. Master Han's answer for all of life's problems was: more training. On the whole, he was just plain tough. On a Tang Soo Do retreat, me and a few other masters and students ran with him several miles before our training started in the morning. Master Han ran both runs in uniform and barefooted on the concrete, leading the group the whole way. I hadn't seen anyone do that before or since.

Master Han's teaching style was no-nonsense and uncompromising. He believed students were at the school to train and nothing else. Students did things his way or they left. I soon found this out after only training there three days. I was the only one at practice that day and I was having trouble adjusting to the way Master Han wanted me to do certain basic blocks and strikes. His way and the way my original master did them were different and I knew it would take a few weeks to change my old habits. Unfortunately, Master Han wanted it done right then and there, and kept yelling at me when I didn't do it the way he wanted. (I had been doing them that way for fourteen years.) I started to get angry and frustrated with myself because I was trying but couldn't adapt fast enough for him. I'm sure my anger showed as the lesson continued because Master Han ordered me to stop.

As I stood there dripping with sweat, he started chewing me out. I couldn't quite understand everything he said in broken English, but he did say something clearly. "Get out of this school and don't come back for a week. Go home and think about whether you really want to train here or not. If you come back, we will talk." I was devastated to say the least. After only three days I had been kicked out. I had come all the way to Korea to train and it seemed like I had just thrown away my chance. But like I stated before, students did things Master Han's way or they were shown the door.

I waited a week and had my original master's brother, who lived in Korea, call him to apologize for the misunderstanding. Only then was I allowed to come back. New students did not fare any better. When they started their training, Master Han would kill them physically during the first few days to see if they would make it. Master Han never said it, but I believe his personal philosophy was the fewer students the better. He didn't want to waste his time with anyone who didn't really want to be there. The rumor on the U.S. military base was, even if no one showed up for class Master Han would still conduct one. That's how uncompromising he was.

Overall, Master Han made my training very difficult for five years, scolding me on a daily basis. He was not friendly during that time and seemed not to like me very much. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who had trained with Master Han, he just laughed and told me it was a test that he was giving me. My last two years of training however, were a lot better, and he even got to the point where if I missed class, he would call and check up on me. The ultimate honor for me though, was when Master Han presented me with the master's belt after passing my last promotion test. It was a sign that he not only accepted me as a master but also a good student. I guess I had finally passed his test. Not many people can say that!

Part 1   -   Part 2   -   Part 3   -   Part 4   -   Part 5


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