17 miles later and we arrive in Pohang. On 13th October 1940 Hee Il Cho was born here; the man who would become the very first Senior Grading Examiner for the T.A.G.B.
He started his Martial Arts training when he was 10 and got his Black Belt at just 13 years old. In a later interview he spoke of why he had started Martial Arts “Although they were not really gang members, young people used to roam from town to town and beat up kids and take away their toys. One time, I was beaten up by some boys around 12 or 13 years old. At the time I thought it was pretty bad, so I wanted to protect myself.”
He went on to comment on how difficult his training had been in a poverty-stricken area “In those days, the only way to survive was to get tough. So it didn’t bother us that much. Hunger was a natural thing; we ate maybe once a day. Your character becomes stronger when you have to go through hardships like that…. Training is like driving a car – you have to put gas in your tank. In those days, because of malnutrition, many things were not so effective. After training, we would get dizzy because we didn’t put anything into our body. That’s not the way people should work out.”
Cho joined the Korean Army in 1962 at the age of 22. Now a 4th Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon-Do he taught the Art to special forces in the Korean, Indian and US Armies.
Later in 1968 he emigrated from South Korea to the US, travelling though the country before settling in Los Angeles in 1975. In an interview speaking of his experiences teaching Tae Kwon-Do in America and the challenges he faced with members of the public he said “All this has created a great conflict within me, for if I cannot use my skill to protect myself from any person who walks in off the street and demands a fight, how can I hope my students will retain confidence in my ability to teach them this skill? And yet, if I use my skill and hurt someone, even if self-defence, have I not betrayed the spirit of what Martial Arts are all about?”
Tae Kwon-Do had changed a lot since he had started, and in a later interview he had said “The training methods were very primitive back then, not based on a scientific approach as they are today. The Instructor would say, ‘Block this way, kick this way, punch this way’ and no questions would arise. And the kicking method was different. It was not as technically good as it is today. Today’s method is much better… Students used to punch hard surfaces and make their knuckles big. The training was tougher, but not as skilful… The only things better then were the discipline and respect that were taught.”
In 1980 he founded Action International Martial Arts Association, based in Hawaii, and when the Tae Kwon-Do Association of Great Britain was formed in 1983, Cho became our first Senior Grading Examiner.
Now 81 years old and a 9th Dan Grand Master, Cho is still actively involved in Tae Kwon-Do. Over his life he has written 11 books, produced over 70 videos, and has been the featured Martial Artist on over 70 magazine covers. His message: “If you teach long enough, you realise that you want to pass along the spirituality, the belief that the individual can accomplish whatever they want.”
We will be celebrating our arrival here with 17 knuckle press ups before continuing 14 miles south to a temple.