Contrasts, in martial arts

I was flipping through a bunch of pictures on the Mu Sool Won of South Austin Facebook page. It was a few hundred pictures from “seminar”. But there was something different about this seminar. Something about Byung In Lee. It’s too much for  a “comment”, so here I write.

Let me back up and give a little history.

I have a black belt in a martial art known as Kuk Sool. When I received it, I was part of an organization known as the World Kuk Sool Association, which is the original/founding organization of the art, created and run by Kuk Sool’s creator, In Hyuk Suh. In my time in the organization I found the art itself to be a wonderful and practical art, but I grew to discover the art was not for me. I think there was too much “art” and not enough “martial” and I struggled to find people I could work with that wanted more “martial”… demos, spin kicks, acrobatics, all nice, but I’m more concerned with fighting and self-defense. I think Kuk Sool can be very solid in this area, it’s just not really stressed because… there’s not as much money in it. And that’s what ultimately drove me away from Kuk Sool, was the business practices and how so much was kinda cult-like-driven towards isolation and feeding of the parent organization. I’m not saying Kuk Sool nor WKSA are a cult — it’s not; just that things were so driven towards feeding the parent organization, especially money-wise. The last “seminar” I attended was particularly bothersome because they spent every moment they could pimping merch and not really teaching anything of value (exception, the segment with Master Sung Jin on dan bong was worthwhile).

And you see, whenever we had seminars, In Hyuk Suh never taught. He’d come out and speak for a little bit, which sometimes was useful, many times not, and frequently arrogant, then go back and sit in the office and let everyone else teach, like his sons Sung Jin and Alex, or  Barry Harmon. Now, Masters Sung Jin, Alex, and Barry are fantastic teachers and people to learn from, don’t get me wrong there either. But come on… why can’t the founder teach us something? Some say it’s his age, but geez… if all the stuff spouted about the age-defying effects of martial arts practice are to be true, then he should be able to show us just fine. I’ve seen older men and women throwing around 20-somethings — hell, Keiko Fukuda is older and in arguably worse health than In Hyuk Suh but she still gets on the mat!

Anyways, a couple of years ago there was yet another schism within WKSA and many people broke off because of a b.s. “franchise” agreement. WKSA lost a lot of good people, including Byung In Lee. But frankly, WKSA’s loss is the gain for the rest of the world because now Master Lee can do as he wishes, and we’ll all be better off for it.

This is what struck me about those photos.

What do I see in the photos? Well, of course I see Master Lee, with his big smile. The first time I met the man he was smiling and joking with me. In fact, now that I think about it, the very first time I met him I came to visit his school when I lived in north Austin to research it. I recall some other student was warming up the class, but only because he was taking care of business including talking to me. Then he got out on the floor, limbered up a bit, then went right into teaching the class. I’m not sure what his rank was at the time, probably 8th degree? And many times people of such high rank don’t teach the colored belts but have their lower-ranked black belts do so. But not Master Lee.

And so that remains.

What was in the pictures? Master Lee out on the mat. He’s doing everything with the students. He’s directly teaching the students, be it some 3rd degree school owner or some white belt child. Doesn’t matter to him, he’s teaching those who wish to learn.

It was such a study in contrasts to look at how Master Lee carries himself vs. how others carry themselves. I have the highest respect for Master Lee because of the person he is. He’s fun loving, a family man, a bad-ass martial artist, humble, always smiling and joking. If there’s any ego about this man, I’ve never seen it. He’s a good man, in every true sense of the word.

Looking at those pictures just spoke so well about the sort of man he is. I don’t see myself going back to Kuk Sool, but so long as he’s teaching the art and producing good students willing to carry on, the art will recover and do alright.

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