An Interview with Taejoon Lee
What is Hwa Rang Do®?
Thousands of years ago, there were no martial art systems, as we know it today. The martial art is an invention of the 20th century. In ancient times, before the introduction of firearms to warfare tactics, martial skills were part of the country, nation or kingdom’s military combative training and were taught to the soldiers for the defense of their land. With the new technology of modern weaponry, these hand-to-hand martial skills were preserved through the creation of martial art systems, which we practice today as recreational sport or hobby. However, Hwa Rang Do is unique in that it not only preserves the combative skills of the Hwarang Warriors, but their spirit. It was through the efforts of the brave Hwarang Warriors that a society was able to stay intact for over a thousand years, making it one of the longest civilizations in the history of the world. It is this knowledge, philosophy and way of life, which we are attempting to preserve through the creation of the modern martial arts and healing arts system of Hwa Rang Do and Tae Soo Do, which was founded by one man’s passion (Dr. Joo Bang Lee) to empower and benefit the people of today and tomorrow. Today, Hwa Rang Do is one of the most comprehensive systems of self-defense and combative techniques in the world. This system has been developed in accordance to the ancient principles of Um-Yang, which emphasizes balance in life and harmony with others and nature.
How is different from other martial arts?
At a technical level, Hwa Rang Do distinguishes itself from other martial arts by being so comprehensive. Techniques include kicking and punching (as in Tae Kwon Do and karate), joint manipulations (as in Aikido), throws (as in judo), ground fighting (as in certain forms of jujitsu), internal energy (“ki”) development (as in tai chi), and weapon fighting (as in Kendo, Escrima). Notwithstanding their great diversity, these techniques are taught in a conceptual unified manner. More important, Hwa Rang Do seeks to convey more than just technical skills. By following a rigorous, carefully structured curriculum, under a strong ethical code, the goal is to empower students to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual balance in their lives. More than a martial “art,” it is a martial “way” of life, one based on inner strength, overcoming self-imposed limitations, and honorable contribution to society.
Are there different levels of skill involved?
Yes. Beginners typically start in Tae Soo Do, which can be viewed as an undergraduate program that prepares students to enter Hwa Rang Do, essentially a graduate-level program. There are colored belt/sash ranks within Tae Soo Do and Hwa Rang Do. The goal is to achieve a Black Sash, which is in one sense a pinnacle of achievement. However, in another sense, the first degree Black Sash returns to the status of enlightened beginner to continue one’s trek into the higher Black Sash degrees. There are so many techniques and concepts within Hwa Rang Do that a lifetime of skills advancement is possible.
Does it incorporate the mind and spirit as well as the physical? If so, how?
Hwa Rang Do explicitly emphasizes four distinct realms of training: external strength, internal strength, mental strength, and weapon strength. In addition to vigorous physical training, we practice meditation and internal energy (“ki”) development. These exercises require a total union of body and mind. Also, by guiding students to transcend their self-imposed limitations on all fronts, Hwa Rang Do helps students achieve both spiritual self-realization and growth.
Do you need any props or equipment to do Hwa Rang Do?
Yes, protective gear appropriate for the class is mandatory. For example, when sparring, light or heavy armor is worn depending on whether the engagement involves light or full contact. In grappling, heavy uniforms are required to provide protection to the body and also to allow for throws and chokes using the cloth. In weapon fighting, traditional Kumdo (“kendo” in Japanese) armor is used. In addition, Hwa Rang Do features over 108 weapons, with central focus given to ssangjyelbong (nunchuku), staff, baton, knife, and sword.
Is there anyone who should not do Hwa Rang Do?
No. Men and women, adults and children, even the elderly – all can benefit from Hwa Rang Do training. Children with behavioral difficulties and learning disabilities have flourished under our program. Women, who have in the past suffered from psychological and physical abuse, have also gained physical and emotional strength through Hwa Rang Do. Entire families encompassing three generations have trained together at our academies.
As an expert, what do you think is the biggest benefit of Hwa Rang Do?
The benefits come in stages. Most obvious are the physical, in terms of health, flexibility, coordination, and strength. Not surprisingly, these physical benefits improve self-confidence and self-esteem. As training continues, students gain more important mental and spiritual benefits, by learning how to surrender their fears, which often traps them in bad relationships and habits. Through consistent, vigorous training under a strong ethical code, students repeatedly accomplish what they thought they could never do, thereby becoming living proof of the possibility of self-transformation. In so doing, they secure their birthright to true freedom, unshackled by fear. And at the final stages, Hwa Rang Do practitioners become leaders who can command, when necessary, without having to speak a word. Hwa Rang Do is a martial way to become a flowering exemplar of humanity.