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'Even champions need more practice'Experience Korea's modern martial art form: Kuk Sool Won
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승인 2011.09.12  21:55:16
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▲ Aiming and shooting in Oh Sang Hun’s Kuk Sool Won class. Photo by Sarah Delroy

In Korea studying a martial art is often looked upon as a second career. Students practice five to six days a week. In North America it tends to be seen as an interesting hobby.

Oh Sang Hun, a martial arts Kwan Jang Nim (master), suggests people read “East and West” by Rene Guenon to understand the dynamics of the two cultures better when studying martial arts and living in Asia.

“Eastern students practice six days a week, and after school. There was no hagwon [private academy] when I was training,” said Oh in a conversation with The Jeju Weekly last month.

Oh has studied the martial art form Kuk Sool Won since he was 16. He got his black belt in 1994 and began teaching in 2001, eventually opening his own school in Seogwipo.

The motto of the school is “we need more practice,” and Oh says, “Even champions need more practice.”

That level of commitment can be a bit much for some Westerners, but Oh’s school has been a favorite foreigner haunt for years.

Oh says that Kuk Sool Won has the same mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of any other martial art, but that the biggest benefit for himself, personally, has been an increase in confidence.

“When I was small I was weak. I used to be afraid of everything and now I am not afraid of anything,” Oh said.

Tae Kwon Do is usually the first Korean martial art that comes to mind. It’s in the Olympics. There are hundreds of schools all over Canada and the US. Kuk Sool Won is relatively new, being formally introduced in 1961. Like other newer martial arts it combines many different kinds of martial arts into a new form.

Kuk Sool Won draws on the three main kinds of martial arts practiced in Korea: tribal, Buddhist, and royal court styles.

▲ Photo by Oh Sang Hun

The founder, Suh In Hyuk, was taught in secret by his grandfather Suh Myung Duk during the Japanese occupation. The lessons were cut short when North Korean soldiers fatally wounded his grandfather.

Luckily Sun In Hyuk was left with letters of introduction to many different teachers and monasteries. He continued training and researching techniques for 15 years under threat of severe punishment if he was discovered.

In the late 1950s Sun began the enormous task of organizing all the information he had learned over the years into one system, Kuk Sool.

Kuk Sool Won is a comprehensive form of martial art. There is a focus on hand, leg, and lock techniques; falling and acrobatics; body conditioning; animal styles; traditional Korean weapons; martial art healing methods, and meditation and breathing techniques.

That is quite a roster of things to learn. In just one of those categories, traditional Korean weapons, there are 24 weapons to learn, some of which also need to be learned on horseback.

“It is more important to practice one thing,” says Oh, on the breadth of techniques to study in Kuk Sool Won.

He says that what he focuses on now is very different than when he was younger. As a young man he enjoyed the sparring and now he is focusing more on form.

Oh says that the hardest thing for foreigners to learn is that a martial art is not just about knowledge, it is about experience. He says perspective changes when ability increases and that it is impossible to see from that place of new ability until one gets there.

“If you can do 10 push ups now, your mind will change when you can do 100. You need to wait. Diligence is the key,” Oh says.

For more information about classes in Seogwipo, contact Oh Sang Hun at 064-732-8773 or Kim Tae Gwan at 064-713-7470 for classes in Jeju City.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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