For those who aren’t in the taekwondo loop and don’t know why Hee-Il Cho is the person to help you perfect your taekwondo moves, here’s the short version of his martial arts bio. He took up the arts when he was a 10-year-old living with his family in Pohang, South Korea. Back then — in the 1950s — Koreans used names like kong soo do and tae soo do to describe their fighting arts. Shortly thereafter, Gen. Choi Hong-hi advocated dispensing with all those names and calling it simply “taekwondo,” Hee-Il Cho said in an interview for the August 2012 issue of Black Belt.
The Search for Self-Defense Moves
As a boy, Hee-Il Cho was drawn to training in taekwondo moves despite the fact that the average dojang was a barren place, the average lesson was filled with corporal punishment and the average instructor — perhaps a 14- or 15-year-old kid — was inclined to blindly follow the ways he’d learned from his master.
“In those days, the only way to survive was to get tough,” Hee-Il Cho said, and get tough he did. The adversity honed his technique, improved his taekwondo moves, strengthened his character and forged his spirit.
TAEKWONDO MOVES VIDEO
Taekwondo Legend and 2012 Black Belt Hall of Fame Man of the Year Hee-Il Cho Demonstrates Self-Defense Moves for Escaping Bear Hugs
Taking Taekwondo Moves Abroad
After serving in the ROK army — yes, he taught taekwondo — Hee-Il Cho instructed special-forces units in India. He came to the United States in 1969 and decided to make it his new home. His reason was one that’s often given by Asian masters who relocate: He wished to spread the benefits of his art to the Western world.
Living in America would give him the freedom he’d need to improve the art he’d learned as a child. Once here, he kept the principles and traditions he deemed valuable but made the mechanics of the movements more scientific — which meant scrutinizing every offensive and defensive technique to determine if it functioned at maximum efficiency.
Get inside taekwondo forms and learn the self-defense moves that were removed for Olympic rule compliance in this FREE Guide — Taekwondo Forms: Uncovering the Self-Defense Moves Within Traditional Taekwondo Patterns.
Updating Taekwondo Moves to Fight Larger Opponents
Why did he think the old ways needed updating? He noticed that techniques that might work against a recalcitrant teenager in 1950s Korea often failed when attempted on a bigger, stronger American opponent. “To defend yourself [back then], you did not have to be a skillful fighter,” he said.
That formula met with success. Hee-Il Cho grew his student body across America, particularly in the states in which he lived and taught: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii. He built his organization, the Action International Martial Arts Association, in North and South America, as well as Europe. He organized tournaments, taught seminars, and produced 11 books and 70 DVDs. He now administers, either directly or indirectly, an estimated 4,000 students around the world.
At age 71, Hee-Il Cho is still going strong, teaching class six days a week in his Honolulu dojang. It’s proof positive that he’s dedicated his life to taekwondo — and precisely why Black Belt named him its 2012 Man of the Year.
About the Author:
Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt. This text was adapted from a sidebar he wrote for the Hee-Il Cho cover story in Black Belt's August 2012 issue.
For more information about Hee-Il Cho, be sure to visit the Action International Martial Arts Association website at aimaa.com.