Kuk Sool Won Philosophy

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The Philosophy, Chief Master Suh, In Joo, Once a Martial Artist, Always a Martial Artist

When you visit Master In Joo Suh’s schools you will never miss this motto on the centre of the wall. Master Suh often says to this students, “Martial arts philosophy is all in your practice.” After seven years of training, I still have not fully understood his deep martial art philosophy. The depth of his knowledge of martial arts is staggering. Students flock to his in dojangs in Texas to learn martial arts, but stay because of the man. His story begins in Korea.

The Korean Years: The youngest of nine children, In Joo Suh was born on August 22, 1948, in the Daegu area of southeast Korean. Born into a family that had practised martial arts for sixteen generations, Suh began training at a very young age under his brother and founder of the Kuk Sool system, Grandmaster Suh In Hyuk.

Young Suh’s tough regimen eventually earned him a black belt in 1959. After middle school, his martial arts and high school education continued in Daegu.

In 1967, he graduated high school and became an instructor at his eldest brother’s (Chiefmaster In Suk Suh) dojang in Daejon. In the following years, Suh helped his other brother, Chiefmaster In Sun Seo in Pusan. Suh says that all his brothers imposed — and enforced — a difficult daily training and teaching schedule on him. Suh remembers Chiefmaster Seo as a soft and kind father outside the dojang but a dictator inside the dojang. Suh remarks that the different personalities of his brothers influenced forming his own “hard and soft” personality.

After managing Chiefmaster Seo’s school for two years, Suh joined the Republic of Korean Marine Corps in 1970. He taught martial arts to troops and worked closely with members of an elite Tae Kwon Do team. A special bond between Suh and those now internationally recognized Tae Kwon Do masters in still present. For one year, Suh also had the privilege of teaching a special forces team at camp Manisan.

Discharged from the R.O.K. Marine Corps in 1973, Suh began to pursue his career in martial arts. Under Chiefmaster Seo, Suh continued to manage and instruct at the Korean Kuk Sool headquarters dojang in Pusan. Approximately twenty schools were in the vicinity of Pusan, and Chiefmaster Seo would summon all instructors to train at the Headquarters every Sunday. In order to traing instructors better, Suh organized one week long seasonal training camps and special seminars. During these programs, all masters and instructors would practice from 6:00a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

As one would expect, Suh’s extremely harsh level of training resulted in a superb physical condition. Yet, he strongly believed that the mental strength is much more important than the physical strength. Instructor Suh’s perseverance in martial arts was rightfully recognized with a formal promotion to Kwan Jang Nym, the master level, at the young age of 26. In September 1974, Suh opened his first dojang at the Hae Un Dae area, the largest beach in Korea. Soon after he opened two more schools in Song Jung and Il Kwang.

In addition to expanding his school, Suh worked hard on producing numerous championships and performing hundreds of demonstrations. Six months before immigrating to the U.S. Chiefmaster Seo summoned Suh to train and reside with other instructors at the headquarters. No teaching was required of Suh. Instead, his brother said, “…only practice. Martial arts philosophy is in your practice.” Keeping the words of his brother in mind, Suh was getting ready to face a new world.

The American Years: After receiving an invitation to America for his sister, Suh arrived in Los Angeles on November 18, 1978. His brother, Grandmaster Suh In Hyuk, welcomed him and told him about American customs. “Don’t think America is different from Korean; the only difference would be the time change.” His first visit to Grandmaster Suh’s dojang left a tremendous impression. Suh was surprised to see so many students both young and old training.

A large number of women in class was another amazing scene because women training in martial arts were rare in Korea. Second, Suh had the pleasure of meeting Grandmaster’s three instructors: Ken Duncan, Barry Harmon and Timothy Atkinson. Suh was convinced that his life in America would not be different from the one he experienced in Korean. Suh recalls, “I though life in America was going to feel like heaven. However, I soon realized that the many physical and mental hardships had already begun.”

While Suh was working four jobs in the early 80’s, him and his family had to decide whether or not Suh should continue his career in martial arts. Suh’s wife wanted to own a business instead of a martial art school because she believed the schools were difficult to operate and unprofitable. Martial art was the only thing Suh had ever known. Suh knew if he changed his profession, then his lifetime experience and accumulated knowledge about martial arts would be wasted. Suh could not obliterate his desire to open his school and set his mind to be a martial arts instructor. Upon learning of Suh’s intention, Grandmaster Suh warned his youngest brother that if he opens a school, he would have to teach until retirement. Suh replied with confidence, “That’s not a problem.”

In June 1980, In Joo Suh was finally granted his dream and opened a school in Berkeley, California. Although he still made his made his home in the school, Suh felt very lucky to own his school in America. The following years in the early 1980’s became very productive to Master Suh as a judge and host of some of the most prestigious martial art tournament on the West Coast.

During this period, he met and formed friendships with many martial artists from various styles. These experiences galvanized him to become an even better martial artist through increased training and the search for more knowledge.

Around this time, his eldest brother, Chiefmaster In Suk Suh, and Senior Master Jung Oh Lee arrived in the States. Byung In Lee also immigrated to the states and developed a close teaching relationship with Master Suh in Berkeley. Byung In Lee was one of Master Suh’s first group of black belt students. The relationship between these two masters continues in the present. They also share a passion for martial arts and business. Master Lee currently operates a large school in Austin, Texas, and holds a seventh degree black belt.

The year 1983 proved to be another prosperous year for the second U.S.C.A. tournament. The University of San Francisco gymnasium was filled with over 5000 spectators and at least 1200 competitors. In 1984 though, the third U.S.C.A. tournament at San Francisco Civic Auditorium gained the most notoriety. An incredible 10,000 attended and around 1400 competed. The continuous success in tournaments led Suh to open two more schools in Richmond and Modesto, California. After gaining recognition in California, Suh wanted to spread his art to other states and considered relocation his schools in Jacksonville, Florida. Then, Grandmaster Suh introduced Master Suh to Lupe Gonzales in San Antonio, Texas. Master Suh has previously enjoyed a visit to the city and especially liked the community.

In mid-August 1986, Master Suh decided to move to San Antonio and open a school. That year, the World Kuk Sool Association officially promoted Master Suh to eighth dan. Master Suh’s reputation from California grew faster in San Antonio as more students enrolled to train with such an experienced artist. The San Antonio Convention Center was the site of the next U.S.C.A. tournament in 1987. Once again, masters and instructors had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

Throughout more than 500 tournaments and demonstrations, Master Suh has developed close and personal relationships with Kuk Sool masters and other highly noted masters of varying styles. In addition, many politicians, wealthy businessmen, actors and people in the entertainment industry are among his closest friends. Grandmaster Suh promoted the U.S.C.A. tournament from 1988 because Master Suh needed to concentrate on his school and continue personal training. Suh opened his second school in mid-October 1995 in Windcrest, Texas.

Master Suh says, “Practicing and teaching the martial arts in my lifetime commitment.” Although he holds licenses in acupressure and acupuncture in Korean and message therapy in Texas, Suh decided to nullify them in order to focus on teaching. His doctor recently told him that he is as healthy as a 19 year old. This means he will be able to keep his promise to teach classes for many more years. Opening schools for his black belt instructors is another of Suh’s long term goals. For two years though, Suh would like to visit temples in Korean to explore his studies and concentrate on meditation.

Philosophy: In Joo Suh strongly feels that “Once a martial artist, always a martial artist.” He believes there is always a beginning but no ending to the martial arts. Once a stylist has reached the task of teaching, he will always be a teacher. He explained his thoughts in the following way: “In a lifetime, one will built up many relationships, but he will truly have one mother and one father. Whether he and his family encounter a life filled with happiness or hardships, the fact he has one set of parents will never change. This kind of relationship is what you and your master should look for.

In order to build this relationship, martial artists must possess an indomitable spirit, undying loyalty, and exhibit a modest attitude.” Master Suh believes that one should not pursue a career in the martial arts if he has no love for them. “Don’t say anything negative about my martial art,” says Suh. “If you love your martial art, then you must respect others as well.” Suh feels all martial arts serve the same purpose and goal in life.

Suh always emphasizes, “Don’t be a technical martial artist. Become a mental martial artist.” He sees learning this tenet can eventually lead to the creation of your own martial art and philosophical views. Everyone has his own martial art. Differences in height, bone structure and many other factors make this happen. However, there are two most important things to ask: Who is your instructor and how long have you been a practitioner of your martial art? In order to become truly proficient in the martial arts, Master Suh replies, “Open your eyes, close your ears, and close your mouth.” Without a second’s hesitation, he looks directly at me with a huge grin trying not to laugh. “But don’t close your nose… you will die!” It is this type of wit Suh possesses that offers a valuable learning experience and at the same time, provides an enjoyable atmosphere that his students favor.

Master Suh summaries his martial art philosophy in one word, tree. He compares the root of a tree to one’s mental strength. As a healthy root becomes the foundation of a healthy tree, a strong mentality is the fundamental element for becoming a good martial artist. Then, the branches and leaves are compared to one’s techniques. Based on a good root, the tree can spread more branches and leaves become darker. It is the same in martial arts training. A martial artist must cultivate a strong mentality first and instill it in his techniques. If one fails to do so, his technique will ultimately fall apart, and it will be difficult to recapture them. Furthermore, an oak tree will produce the same kind of oak tree even in a different environment.

An instructor will initiate his techniques to his students, and his techniques will remain the same to everyone. Master Suh stresses once more, “If you are searching for the truth of martial arts, love them first and find it inside your Martial art!. Master Suh will be formally promoted to the rank of Chong Kwan Jan Nym (ninth dan Chiefmaster). The Master replies that nothing changes with this accomplishment; it only leads to a new beginning. More practice and more teaching are duties for the future. He mentions there are many inconveniences in this life as a result of his profession. However, he clearly states that there are no regrets for the path he has clearly chosen to follow. After a life that most of us may never experienced has passed, he will be proud his is name is Master In Joo Suh. ~ By Bryan Perez