It’s sad, really

In my past I studied a martial art called Kuk Sool, and did so as a part of the “Kuk Sool Won” or “World Kuk Sool Association”.

I was young and naive.

Now, I think the art itself is a fine art and has great potential, but too many problems have happened within the organization. Within the past couple years there was this “franchise agreement” that came up, changed the landscape, caused many more people to leave the organization. I left prior to that shitstorm, because I could see a lot of things brewing that bothered me. The art? fine. The business? horrible.

For some reason today I went to the WKSA website and poked around. I happened upon a document, the “Black Belt Handbook”. I never received such a thing when I received my black belt, and based on what I read in there it’s obviously new, a product of the post-franchise era.

Most of the things in there were fine, just outlining protocols and so on. These were things that were always there, just not etched in a formal document. I did see some of the “penalties and repremand” stuff as being good to have formalized… and I’m pretty sure that some of the enumerated situations came directly from the past antics of some high ranking folks (I know of a few situations). I don’t blame WKSA for not wanting to tolerate and deal with that sort of crap again.

But there were some things in this now formal document that bothered me… some things that were once rumor, but obviously are now hard fact.

First, I recall that to progress up the dahn ranks (i.e. higher “degree” black belt) that there was a loose requirement for “time in rank” and some minimum number of tests, usually 8. I see now that the minimum number is also formalized at no more than 4 per year. So going from 1st to 2nd degree will take you a minimum of 4 years. That’s a lot of time… and money. That was always there, but I recall things could be a little more flexible, like some people were able to find ways to test more than 4x/year and that was OK, or time was close to 4 years but if it wound up being 3 for someone exceptional then sure. But what I see now that they’ve added is a hard requirement of attending “seminar” (every year Kuk Sah Nim and some other Masters come around to each school to lecture and teach… and pimp lots of merchandise). So that’s a lot more money to have to spend. Then you must also attend at least one tournament — every year WKSA holds numerous tournaments around the world, all closed and WKSA only. It doesn’t say if you have to compete, just “attend”, but you will at least have to volunteer as a judge or scorekeeper… because no one likes doing it, but now you have no choice but to … “volunteer”. More time, more money, forced labor… gotta love it.

But here’s what really bothered me. There was always rumor this was how it was, but now it’s written and formalized:

The following are the basic guidelines set forth by Kuk Sa Nim for all Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts:

1. Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts are expected to set the finest examples to students. Kuk Sool Won™ Black Belts should never undertake training in any other martial arts style other than Kuk Sool Won™, nor may they receive certification from any other Martial Arts style.

2. Black Belts shall not exchange any technical knowledge with students or Instructors from other Martial Arts styles whatsoever.

3. Black Belts may not attend Martial Arts seminars organized by other Martial Arts styles, organizations, associations, etc. Black Belts may attend Kuk Sool Won™ seminars and workshops only. Black Belts must immediately inform the WKSA if he or she has knowledge that any member attends any Martial Arts instructions, seminars or workshops organized by associations other than the WKSA.

Emphasis theirs.

(BTW, is the art’s name “Kuk Sool Won™”? Guys, I understand you’re all freaked over your marks and intellectual property, but once you’ve established your marks elsewhere in the document, readability requests you stop using the symbol all the time. I digress.)

That’s quite bothersome. You’re never allowed to train in any other art than KSW. You aren’t allowed to discuss technical knowledge with other people. Where does technical knowledge extend? How to execute Ki Bohn Soo #1? Or the discussion of how to lock the shoulder joint? Hrm.  And you cannot do anything to further discussion or obtain any other martial arts related knowledge — and you are to tattle on your fellow student if you find out they are learning!

There’s so much that’s wrong with this attitude and approach.

But what strikes me is the hypocrisy.

Elsewhere in this same document it says:

Black Belts are strongly recommended to practice diligence and open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness? I guess so long as it’s about Kuk Sool and nothing else.

What about prior knowledge? I know many high-ranking masters studied other arts before coming to Kuk Sool. Are they allowed to use that knowledge in any way? or must they somehow purge it from their minds and be pure-Sool?

How about Kuk Sah Nim himself, with his stories of how as a young man he travelled the countryside learning from any master he could learn from, some only teaching him one technique. What sort of loyalty is that (I would say, to his grandfather… since the story goes that he learned the core of things from him)? If learning from anyone willing to teach him, if discussion with others “not of your loyal style” was something he did well… why was he allowed to and the underlings not?

This is just wrong and unhealthy on so many levels. It does nothing to foster knowledge, improvement of the art, and even really trying to make the art look good in the eyes of the world at large. Tell me where being so closed was ever a good and productive thing? And how can students actually know if their art is worth a damn if it can never be proven on anyone except those that also drink the kool-aid and are willing to compliantly fall on the ground because that’s the choreography of things?

It’s sad, really.

To my friends still in “The Won”, I mean no harm nor offense to you. We can’t agree on everything, and this is just one place we’ll have to disagree.

I really don’t know what else to write… I’m just sitting here shaking my head. I don’t regret leaving the organization. And if you really want to learn the art of Kuk Sool, thankfully there are a lot of people out there that can teach you without all of this controlling dreck.

2 thoughts on “It’s sad, really

  1. That’s a bizarre attempt at lock in. Someone’s trying to set up their martial arts program like a cell phone company. 🙂 Or, perhaps more like a religion.

    • Many people have described WKSA as cult-like. I wouldn’t say it actually is a cult — because it’s not — but it does manifest many of the characteristics. See above.

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