The following interview with Grandmaster Leow Cheng Koon, 8th Dan (Kukkiwon), who had graciously agreed to being interviewed, was conducted via email.
Kenneth Tang (KT): Grandmaster Leow, would you share with us about your beginnings in Taekwondo?
Grandmaster Leow (GM Leow): It was in 1962 when I started work in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur. I was involved in Martial arts when I was in Malacca, and when I got a job in K.L, I started to enquire about martial art schools where I could enroll.
I found some of them mostly teaching Chinese styles which were then not only secretive but quite disorganized in the training methodology. They follow strictly to the hierachy system and strong fundamentals in dynamics of execution which I now realized that comparatively Taekwondo has now taken a back seat. By chance, I found and enrolled to learn Taekwondo under Gen. Choi Hong Hi and later under Master Woo Jae Lim who were Koreans of OH DO KWAN style.
There were many other Korean instructors whom I was fortunate to be trained by, such as Master Choi Chang Kuen (now in Canada), Master Choi Kang Jo, Master Rhee Ki Ha, Master Kim Bok Man, Master Bong Sik Koon, Maj. Nam Tae HI and Master Lee Byoung Moo. They teach and practice Martial Art.
(Editor’s note: All the masters mentioned here would, by now, be Grandmasters)
Under Maj. Nam Tae HI , a four-member Malaysian team (comprising C.K.Leow, P.S.Chen, Quah Huat Leong and Ooi Ah Ching) were the overall champions at the 1st Asian Taekwon-Do championships in Hong Kong on 26th Sept.1969. In 1972, with the late Kol. Mohd. Noor ( Military Police) in Camp Genting we introduced Taekwondo to the Armed Forces. In 1973, I was in Kukkiwon when it was inaugurated in conjunction with the 1st.World Taekwondo Championships. The rest is history!
KT: How is the Taekwondo of today different from the Taekwondo you learned when you started?
GM Leow: When I started, I was taught the only “way”; obey, hard training, very strong skills, never yield to defeat and be sincere to oneself always. Today, most “instructors” yield to monetary gains than to the values of martial art. As such, the students they teach are comparatively “sissy” to our times. To them color of the belt is more important than (true-to-the-art) capable performance. Getting a certificate is a lot easier than maintaining the qualification.
KT: Would you share a bit about the history of Taekwondo from your perspective?
GM Leow: Many good articles about the history of Taekwondo could be found in martial arts websites. In my perspective of Taekwondo, Taekwondo should always be taught as a martial art for practical defense purposes. Taekwondo, from its roots, implicate many other forms of oriental self-defense styles, e. q. from India (Bodhidharma), China and Japan. Taekwondo is Universal without boundaries and should always be evolving. To stand still is the beginning of deterioration.
KT: Where is your club located?
GM Leow: I do not have a club, but I remain passionate of Taekwondo and fuel that passion by conducting martial art courses and clinics for the States that want to be relevant.
KT: Do you still actively teach? If so, where and when?
GM Leow: I only instruct instructors and black belts, when the need arises.
KT: Would you share with us your views on Poomsae? Why do we train in poomsae?
GM Leow: Every traditional martial art has its own “patterns” and it is this that determines the particular style of one to the other. Patterns are devised by man and it is mainly for exercise and health by executing good balance, breath control, muscular strength and endurance, concentration etc. By executing the true specific basics in patterns is to achieve self-realization according to one’s physical attributes, capability and age.
To me, the true value of executing a pattern, is to properly execute “true to form” basics on an imaginary opponent without a set sequence. In this way, you can stop the movement when you have defeated the imaginary enemy. The “shadow play” is martial art training with or without weapons.
To be effective, one must first master waist power and able to harness the body energy to one concentrated point in execution. The execution must have acceleration and a stopping point for destruction. Breath control is important to good balance.
Sport Taekwondo is a good means of propagation. You compete with rules and regulations and if one is not careful, you tend to be “robotic” in your executions/combinations and to stop when in close quarters. This could be fatal in actual self-defense situations. Train the right way and you will achieve confidence mentally and physically.
KT: What are your views about the current state of Taekwondo, internationally? Locally?
GM Leow: In Sport Taekwondo, internationally some countries are training their competitors as professionals. Locally, it is pathetic and the organization needs medication!
KT: What do we need to do to improve the current state of affairs in the local Taekwondo scene? 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 Leow: If it is sport, than have a development programme especially for Sport Taekwondo instead of overlapping with martial art (Dans, martial art grading, martial art examiners etc.), with taekwondo sport for all.
Can you expect officials of a failed organization to give solutions to the present organization and officials who lack in-depth knowledge of Taekwondo to decide proper directions? For a start the national agenda must be the best of the best to be selected to represent Malaysia. To do this , the national selection must be open to all national Taekwondo organizations registered with the Sports Commissioner.
Sports are for all. If Kukkiwon can open their doors to ITF and GTF, why can’t we also do the same, unless some of the current officials have selfish agendas compromising the spirit of bringing glory to Malaysia. Request a forum for all national Taekwondo organisations for a better future, after all their black belts /instructors are also having the Kukkiwon certificates. Kukkiwon is the Mecca for Taekwondo. The current “governing body” is not the only Taekwondo organization in Malaysia. Our motto, and focus, must be: One Malaysia, One Taekwondo!
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?
Train the traditional way (the martial-art way). It is always here but the tenets have been hijacked. Moo Duk Kwan (a Korean government-recognised martial art ) is taking the initiative to bring back the values of discipline, reverence, honesty, respect and loyalty. Hopefully in the near future other Korean Kwans will also do the same.
KT: Are there any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with all Taekwondo practitioners both in Malaysia and internationally?
GM Leow: “It’s the journey, not the destination” as the saying goes. Know yourself first, before you decide to do unto others.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Grandmaster Leow for taking the time to do this interview. And, personally, I’d like to thank him for his perseverance and guidance, without which I would have left the Path of Taekwondo.
Because of him, I was able to continue on this journey, after the untimely death of my own instructor, the late Master Low Hoo Yong, to cancer, and despite the “chaos” that had embroiled the Taekwondo arena back then.
Thank you, Sir.
If you’d like to go forward in your own journey, please do contact GM Leow at ckleow43 @ gmail.com (remember to remove the spaces)