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Articles on Master Byung In Lee

Close Up - Byung In Lee

By Todd Hester
Martial Arts and Combat Sports - December 2000

Adapting Rigorous Eastern training methods for Western martial artists, Korean Kuk Sool Won Master Byung In Lee has preserved traditional values within the framework of modern society.

Age:

Born Hahdong, South Korea, October 12, 1955

Origins:

Began Training at age 13 in Kuk Sool Won

Style:

Kuk Sool Won is a traditional Korean martial art that a combination of the Royal Court Martial Art, called Kung Jung Mu sool; Sada Mu Sool, a family style martial art, and Buldo Musool, a Buddhist martial art. These three arts are really the basis of all Korean martial arts. It is a very comprehensive hard/soft system that gives equal weight to kicking, striking, weapons and ki training. It has elements of hard Japanese Karate and soft Chinese Kung-Fu. The world championships in Houston, Texas, hosting six countries and 2,000 competitors, the style is oriented more toward combat and health, rather than tournament competition.

His Master: Chief Master In Joo Suh

In Joo Suh, in his early 50's is Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh's younger brother and learned from the grandmaster from the time he could walk. His is part of a 17 generation family lineage of the martial art. Now living in San Antonio, he has four schools and continues to pass on his art. He was in the Korean special forces doing helicopter maneuvers and a malfunction caused him to fall out of the helicopter from hundreds of feet up. He barely survived and was told he would never walk again. But now, due to the recuperative nature of the art, he does all aspects of the martial arts. He is unusual in the fact that he actively teaches classes, despite his high position.

Accomplishments:

Eighth degree black belt. Senior Master, below the Grandmaster, and the Chief Master of the World Kuk Sool Association, with schools in 27 countries with an estimated 100,000 members and 10,000 black belts. Two hundred schools are in the U.S. alone.

Position:

U.S. breaking champion in 1982 including boards, bottle, and bricks. Spent five years training at the Kuk Sool Won World Headquarters in Pusan, South Korea. Taught Korean military and police units special weapons, escort control techniques (Yun Heun Sool), pressure point disabling strikes, and combat tactics. Six-time Korean double-sword forms champion 1981, 1979, and 1978 in twice yearly competitions. Five-time breaking champion during that same time period.

Interview:

Q: How do you feel your style differs from other Korean systems?

A: I love my martial art because too much snap in the punches and kicks can be very hard on the joints. Ours is a soft style that is easy on the body that you can do for a long time and that gives you health benefits. You actually improve your health over a period of time rather than hurt it. Even today, when my black belts warm-up the students I also warm-up with them because I want to get the benefit of the exercises. Just like jogging causes a lot of injuries from so much impact, hard martial arts can do the same to the body. Young kids can handle it for a while, but it will eventually catch up with you. Kuk Sool is very family-oriented in the sense that the entire family can practice it together and do the moves together without injury.

Q: What was your training in Korea like?

A: The training there was typically much more intense and vigorous then. The Chief Master would tell us to do things like 1,000 kicks. And we dit it without question. It was the old style of teaching - not westernized. I went to Headquarters in my early twenties, in 1978, lived in the dojang and trained full-time for five years. So I would wake-up at 6:30 a.m. and just train and teach and then go to bed at midnight. I would do the six warm-up forms (hyung) over and over again in the morning, five or six times each. Then I would start techniques of joint-locking. For First degree black belts there are 226 basic techniques, and I would do all of those. Then after lunch we would practice more forms, techniques, and breaking and then start teaching. But the classes I taught were also like classes to me because I would train with the students. It was difficult phycisally, and sometimes mentally, but I learned such an incredible amount that I look back on it as a special time in my life.

Q: How has your training mentally changed since then?

A: Back then I wanted to be the best physical practitioner that I could. The fastest kicker, the best breaker, and the highest jumper - it was all physical because I was young, of course. But now that I have gained some wisdom in the arts I look at things differently. What is now more important to me is to be the best teacher I can be. I want to find the best ways to help people improve their martial art and also their life and their health. It is a continuing evolution. I don't say that I am the best teacher, because I don't think anyone can say that about themselves, but I can say that I strive to be the best teacher, which is a different thing. I want tot help the family to be strong and to be together.

Q: Where did your double sword weapons expertise come from?

A: The double sword is a traditional method of fighting that was popular in the old kingdoms. I started learning it from the grandmaster, and the Chief Master, who inspired me to take it up so seriously. I like the double-sword because I like the balance of working both sides of my body at the same time. You don't neglect any part. It requires a great deal of physical precision that , at some point, translates into a mental precision that can help you in many areas of life. I like the combination of mental and physical.

Q: What do you teach your students to focus on?

A: I want them to have respect for themselves. I want them to feel good about themselves. When a person respects themselves then they will respect others, too. This respect will then flow down to their work, their family , and their entire lives.

Technical Tip:

To do your forms correctly, it is important to focus on following the five bylaws of forms practice. They will always make you improve. Simply said, keep your eyes bright and focused, your mind clear, your body low and well-centered, your feet balanced and moving underneath you, and your hands fast, moving faster than your feet. Your should strive to not be rigid on the inside. Relax your mind and spirit and your body will relax also.

A Master's Advice:

Never give up martial arts even if they are hard and you get dejected and meet with disappointment. If you continue to do it, it will eventually become part of your life. Just as if you stop eating you die, if you stop continuing to challenge yourself, your spirit will die. Look at martial arts as a special gift to mold yourself. It is much more than just fighting, it is a way to reach a higher level of existence.