ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR
Master Han D. Cho executes a Flying Side Kick (1989).
Master Cho is a 8th Dan black belt from the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF), 9th Dan black belt from Moo Duk Kwan, and a Cornell alumnus. He has been teaching and coaching at Cornell for the last 31 years, and 27 years in the Ithaca community. His Cornell team has captured the Eastern Collegiate Taekwondo Conference (formerly Northeast Collegiate Tae Kwon Do League) cup over 23 times. He has promoted more than 200 black belts, many of whom have gone on to open their own schools. He was named the Coach of the Year in 1998 by the National Collegiate Tae Kwon Do Association, the official governing body for collegiate Tae Kwon Do programs in the U.S.
My life in Tae Kwon Do
By Han D. Cho
My journey into the martial art world started when I was in elementary school in
Korea. Tae Kwon Do was part of the Phys Ed. Program we all had to participate in once every week. Over a thousand of us would stay in lines doing basic stances while the master instructor shouted instructions in a megaphone. A team of children black belts would demonstrate the moves we were trying to learn, but I was often too far back in line to see them. When I did see them, I was most impressed with their high kicks and amazing flexibility. The black belt kids were there to inspire us, but I was rather embarrassed that I wasn't able to be like them. This memory of what I felt then serves me well now. As a teacher, I'm aware that what might be an inspiration to some might be discouragement to others. The trick is not only to show it, but to explain it. I must instill a positive attitude in the people I want to inspire.
I wanted to pursue Tae Kwon Do training further, but that meant I had to join a private school. Unfortunately, my family had limited resources at the time. I wasn't too disappointed, though. Instead of Tae Kwon Do, my first love of martial art was boxing. I was fascinated with the heroic element associated with the sport. Luckily, there was a boxing school in my neighborhood. I frequented the place to watch the fighters in training. I was too young to join the school, so I practiced the moves by myself when I came home. Sometimes the coaches in the school took notice of me and gave me tips here and there. Although the fate of my martial arts experience went towards Tae Kwon Do training, I never abandoned the beautiful moves of boxing. This knowledge served me well when different martial arts started mixing together during the '90s.
My family immigrated to
U.S. in 1977 in search of a better life. I was 11 years old. Instead of living a better life, however, I experienced something I never knew existed in my homeland - racism. I was the only Asian in school. I couldn't understand how some people could judge me without knowing me. Many kids wanted to test me; some challenged me to a fight. So I fought. I fought whoever challenged me. Unfortunately, the more I fought, the more challenges I received. I was scared. I learned firsthand that meeting force with force was not the answer. Violence didn't solve the problem. But I didn't want to avoid the challenges lest they might think all Asian boys were weak.
As soon as I started training Tae Kwon Do intensely, all my fights stopped. I learned how to walk away from a fight. Maybe because now I had nothing to prove to myself, but the real reason was that I didn't want to be bothered with it. After training so hard everyday, the last thing I wanted to do was fight. I was surprised to learn that my pride was still with me even after I turned away from a challenge. I took up Tae Kwon Do to learn how to fight better, but I ended up learning how not to fight. It gave be a strength I thought I never had. I became more confident. My life had changed dramatically. I learned to see positives before negatives. Tae Kwon Do gave me strength to live my life the way I wanted to live.
I also became more disciplined. I was a mediocre student before my Tae Kwon Do training, but I became a straight-A student afterwards. I also focused my energy in other sports, especially wrestling. For four years in high school, I learned many things about myself through wrestling, most notably, perseverance. It is a niche sport which only the ones who have ever been involved intensely could truly understand its immense influence. Like boxing, I never abandoned my love for wrestling.
I came to
Ithaca in 1985 to study engineering at Cornell. I did my best to train Tae Kwon Do by myself, but I soon realized I needed a support group. Unfortunately, some of the clubs on the campus didn't match my style. Then I met Sonny and Junny Whang during my sophomore year. They were in town for law school. Instantly, we realized the huge potential if we united our skills. We had different backgrounds in our training. I trained under one master and had a strong foundation in the basics. They had trained under various masters and had the progressive minds and experience. In 1987, Cornell Sport Tae Kwon Do was born. I must say, the 3 years we spent together working was one of the happiest times of my life. When it came time to graduate in 1989, I could not ignore the immense benefit Tae Kwon Do had given me. I decided to forgo my engineering career and pursue my future in teaching Tae Kwon Do. It was inevitable. In 1991, I opened my service to the
Ithaca community. If I thought making champions out of college students was most rewarding, I was wrong. Teaching Tae Kwon Do to children was my life's calling.
I was busy at perfecting my Tae Kwon Do curriculum during the '90s, but I paid close attention to the exciting new revolution in the world of martial art. In fact, if the internet revolutionized the way we communicated, then this martial art revolution was just as huge. For centuries, different martial arts remained separate because of tradition, distance, and culture. Then through competitions like UFC and PRIDE championships, and with the help of the Internet and globalization, martial artists all over the world realized how much more effective their skills could be if they combined the different styles in their training. Thus, out of this melting pot, emerged a new marital art called Mixed Martial Art (MMA). My knowledge in Tae Kwon Do, both traditional and competitional, and my cross training with boxing and wrestling allowed me to adopt this new martial art well. In 2001, I added my Mixed Martial Art curriculum to my Tae Kwon Do curriculum. The results have been tremendous.
Because of my expansive curriculum, I am frequently asked whether I am a traditional martial artist or a modern martial artist. My answer to that question is that I am both. I am a traditional martial artist because I believe martial art is more than just kicking and punching. It is about how we view our world and our lives. I find beauty in the way early martial artists used their moves to unite their mind and body. Their techniques fascinate me. I want to preserve that history. Traditional martial art is an expression, an expression to reach inner peace in all of us. It's no different than an old painting, or a song, or a poem; it touches my soul. Some things only get better as time goes by. Martial art is spiritual to me.
I am also a modern martial artist because I believe in progress. If we are secure with our traditions then we must not be bound by it. We must learn to adapt in a constantly changing world. As a teacher, I must not only instill a tradition on my students, but also show them my courage to make changes. Martial art is changing very rapidly right now. Because of globalization, new techniques are being developed constantly. It changed more in the last 10 years than any other times in the past. To me, this is truly exciting. Before the mixed martial art revolution, I didn't like the way martial art was heading. The influence of media and movies made martial artists seemed almost cartoonish. People actually believed some masters could kill you with one grip, or shoot you with fireballs coming out of their bare hands, or disappear into thin air. Even more appalling was how some masters actually took advantage of this misinformed public to make money. The beauty of martial art moves lies in leverage, timing, and precision, not fantasy. Practicality is important. Modern martial art such as boxing, wrestling, sport Tae Kwon Do, sport Jujitsu, and kickboxing are practical because their techniques are derived from competition, not just from theory. Martial art is a science to me.
Currently, I am living in a life of my dreams. I get to share what I love and be loved for what I do. Everyday, I have a chance to see people of all ages practice Tae Kwon Do. I see them work hard and improve. There is a smile of a tiny 4-year-old girl who finally understands the first 8 moves of her first poomse. There is a 50-year-old father of two who can do more push-ups than anyone in the school. There is a junior high school girl sparring with her mother in preparation for her upcoming tournament. No one cares how old you are, or where you come from, or how you look, or what you do; everyone is equal and everyone strives for one common goal. Everyday, I am inspired. Everyday, I am humbled. In teaching Tae Kwon Do, I have come to full circle with my martial art experience. I am now at the beginning once again.