The following interview with Grandmaster Pan Sim Woon, 8th Dan (Kukkiwon), who had graciously agreed to being interviewed, was conducted via email.
Kenneth Tang (KT): Grandmaster Pan, would you share with us about your beginnings in Taekwondo?
Grandmaster Pan (GM Pan): I started training Taekwondo in 1964 under my secondary school senior who was a brown belt then. We were camping one weekend as I was a scout then when my senior had to leave camp. He would not tell us where he was going to. We pestered him and he told us that he would tell us in the morning. After chores in the morning, my senior led us to an old tree trunk, took one look at it, spun and kicked it with a back kick. The trunk fell crashing down. We were very impressed and asked him to teach us. He was reluctant initially but relented after much persuasion.
Kung Fu was all the rage then and Taekwondo was similar. We were brought up on a diet of such movies and it was desirable to be able to perform martial arts moves. However, I never took any tests because my father would have disapproved if he had known. My senior taught me everything he knew to 1st Dan level. (This is from the interview with Andy Jeffries. See link at end of interview)
KT: How is the Taekwondo of today different from the Taekwondo you learned when you started?
GM Pan: When I first started, it was the late General Choi Hong Hi’s Chung Do Kwan‘s and Oh Do Kwan’s styles that were being taught then. The latest, after attending the 23rd Kukkiwon (KKW) Foreign Instructor Course in July this year, is that, it looks to me, KKW TKD has gone back to the Tai Chi style.
Tai Chi in Korean is Taeguek. The Chinese characters for both are the same. For those who are familiar with Tai Chi will notice that the TKD stances are now the same. Arm movements are circular in nature. In Sipjin, we push the ‘rock’ to the left whereas it is pushed to the right in Tai Chi. Previously, all movements were derived from Karate. You will understand why after reading the next answer.
KT: Would you share a bit about the history of Taekwondo from your perspective?
GM Pan: A lot has been written about the history of TKD but the most accurate one, I feel, is ‘The Modern History Of Taekwondo’ written by the current Kukkiwon President Kang Won Sik and past World Taekwondo Federation Secretary General Lee Kyong Myong.
The URL is as follows: http://tkd.stanford.edu/documents/tkd_history.pdf
KT: Where is your club located?
GM Pan:I do not own a club anymore as I gave them all away to my students when I left UK. In Malaysia, I am just a member of Master Lee Bee Hong’s club in Shah Alam.
KT: Do you still actively teach? If so, where and when?
GM Pan: Yes, I do when invited to teach. I was at Master Ben Wong’s class in Gombak on 4th December 2011 and at Master Chauw’s class in UKM on 3rd December 2011.
You may have noticed my postings in Facebook and our TKD Malaysia blog about the seminar in UKM. It was an extremely rare occasion to have so many successful ‘spliters’ in one lesson, and especially in such a small group. Usually, there is only one. Two is an exception, as happened in Gombak. What was very gratifying was that one of them was older than me! Ask Master Ben Wong to post the photos.
There were a few more ‘spliters’ in UKM who were too shy to have their photos taken! Amazing group! Congratulations to Master Chauw.
In September 2011, I was invited by Francesco Chisari 3rd Dan, my classmate at the 23rd KKW Foreign Instructor Course, to Sicily, Italy to help him. He had been to GM Kang Shin Chul’s dojang four times. He thought that two weeks was enough initially. After returning to UK for two weeks, he invited me for another week. Next, he wants me to stay there for longer!
In that time, I trained Antonio Amato 2nd Dan in Kumgang only four times. He won the silver medal in the Italian Poomsae Championships held recently.
Martina Spadafora 2nd Gup was trained only twice in Taeguek 7 and she won the gold medal.
Of course, they sent me their videos before the championships for corrections. But it was Francesco’s ability to follow my instructions as to what was required to enable the pair to do so well in such a short time. He had learnt how to observe and make corrections in the three weeks that I was there.
Postings are in Facebook about Martina and Antonio.
Francesco’s improvement, especially his side kick, is beyond recognition when compared with when I first arrived in Sicily! Ask the participants in Gombak about my side kicks.
To the negatively inclined, it is not showing off but a celebration of achievement when taught correctly and safely. How will you feel if you improved so much or became a winner after being taught correctly and safely, and in such a short time too? As for me, the teacher, the satisfaction is priceless!
KT: You recently attended the 23rd Kukkiwon Foreign Instructor Course in July. Can you share with us what it was like, and what specifically was covered in that course?
GM Pan: It was a very enjoyable course for me as I prepared well for it physically. A tip for those intending to go in the future. Toughen up before you go.
The course covered the following:
(1) Taekwondo history of Korea.
(2) Common Injury and Prehospital Management in Taekwondo.
(3) Teaching Method of Taekwondo.
(4) Demonstration Theory.
(5) Basic Movement of Taekwondo.
(7) Kyorugi (Sparring Theory).
(8) Regulation for Promotion Test.
(9) Competition Rules and Interpretation.
There was a special lecture after the opening ceremony by the WTF Secretary General Yang Jin Suk on the Instructor’s role and duty. What was significant in this lecture was a new definition for TKD. All of us knew that TKD stood for ‘foot fist art’, ‘the way of the foot and the fist’ or ‘a way of life’. He said that a better definition now is ‘the development of the mind and body to become a good person’, I salute to that. What say you?
(Side note from KT: wonderful new definition of Taekwondo. Long overdue)
On the last day, there was the graduation examination (paper test and poomsae) and farewell lunch.
Also, there was a bonus trip to the Championships in Chuncheon after lunch for those who wanted to go, free-of-charge. Here is a tip for shoppers of TKD merchandise. The prices at the Chuncheon championships were a fraction of the ones found around the KKW. Incredible!
KT: Would you share with us your views on Poomsae? We know that poomsae are the “encyclopaedic reference” for the techniques and training methods of Taekwondo, and that they (and the patterns of other martial arts) are supposed to be the foundation of an art.
GM Pan: Poomsae is hyung, form or pattern as we know it from the early days before the KKW and the WTF even existed. It is a series of defensive and attacking movements against imaginary opponents.
KT: These days, it is a very rare dojang or even instructor who approach poomsae as a practical method for physical conditioning as well as skill development, whether for sparring or self-defence.
GM Pan: You are absolutely right. This is due to a lack of or non-existent knowledge of what TKD is all about! Put it very simply, TKD is like a language. One would start at kindergarten level and progress from there. One would not start at joined-up letters and write essays on the first day! Would you? What, start at PhD level? Making money is more important? Charlatans give all proper instructors a bad name. The dangerous thing about such people is that they injure people physically and mentally along the way. And they will have all the necessary ‘paper backup’ to prove that they are legitimate!
Notice how the Poomsaes progress from Taeguek 1 to Ilyeo, from simple movements to more involved ones. So, one must start by learning the basic moves before even attempting to perform Taeguek 1.
KT: I’d even venture to say that there aren’t that many instructors (even supposedly high-ranking black-belts) who have a clue about how to properly use poomsae for these two purposes.
GM Pan: You are absolutely right again! I had the good fortune of seeing some photos of the KKW test held in KL recently. The examiners’ faces were a ‘picture’! PRICELESS! Many of the participants will NOT get beyond yellow belt from me!
KT: Why then do we still train in poomsae? What are they for? They must serve a purpose, a purpose which, it seems, has not been revealed to a lot of instructors.
GM Pan: Think of the common Tai Chi pattern as practiced by people everywhere. It is the same and only one pattern that is practiced for a lifetime! There are other forms but seldom seen. Practice makes perfect. So, hopefully, training in poomsae makes perfect TKD movements.
Poomsae training is designed to cultivate in the practitioner the following: (1) eye control (2) concentration of spirit (3) speed control (4) strength control, (5) flexibility and (6) balance.
KT: Can you share with us your views and perspectives on this, and how one can correct this?
GM Pan: All instructors, lacking in TKD know-how, must go back to ‘kindergarten’. There is no other way! It is fraudulent to carry on without the mental and physical knowledge. Certificates gained through theory are not worth the paper they are written on. Dans gained from questionable examiners are also useless.
KT: How do we cultivate/practice the qualities represented by the patterns (e.g Pyongwon = plains, Taebaek = Taebaek mountain range, Hansu = water, etc).
GM Pan: There is no other way but practise, practise, practise physically with intelligence.
KT: What are your views about the current state of Taekwondo, internationally? Locally?
GM Pan: Internationally, the kyorugi competition is getting fairer with the electronic scoring system but not so with the poomsae competiton. The poomsae judges will have to be on top form to satisfy everybody. I am minded to ask the poomsae judges to show all the participants their expertise on the floor before judging. That should be revealing! LOL!
Locally, you know more about it than I do. Having witnessed some competitions and being in one myself, there is a lot that will have to be improved.
KT: What do we need to do to improve the current state of affairs in the local Taekwondo scene?
GM Pan: Unqualified, clueless and incompetent people must resign or be sacked and banned from TKD forever. No good ganging up on people for the sake of making money or going on free jaunts and coming back with not a lot to show for it. They are only bringing TKD into disrepute.
KT: On the international front, what are we NOT doing to produce world-class competitors that can compete successfully at the world level? What do we NEED to do? How do we start?
GM Pan: I remember some years ago, we won many gold medals in one year in international competitions. Get that instructor back. Sack the rest.
KT: How do we practice Taekwondo as a holistic discipline, as a wisdom tradition, so that we become not only better fighters/martial artists but more importantly, better people?
GM Pan: ‘Honesty is the best policy’. That was what my second instructor used to tell me all the time. If you cheat, you are only cheating yourself. So, what kind of a role model would a cheat be then to the young ones?
KT: Are there any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with all Taekwondo practitioners both in Malaysia and internationally?
GM Pan: Train hard, enjoy and be happy!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Grandmaster Pan for giving up his time and energy for this interview. Obviously, such a short interview cannot do justice to the subject matter of Taekwondo and the broad and deep experience of GM Pan, who is a fount of wisdom and knowledge in this specialized area.
There is also a previous interview (2009) of GM Pan by Andy Jeffries, a practitioner from the UK here: http://andyjeffries.co.uk/articles/interview-with-grandmaster-pan-sim-woon-8th-dan-taekwondo
I’d encourage anyone who is serious about improving their study and practice of the beautiful art of Taekwondo to get in touch with GM Pan to further their knowledge and expertise.
GM Pan can be contacted at https://www.facebook.com/simwpan