Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Complementary Paths of Hatha Yoga and the Martial Arts by Patty Cook

This article appeared in Warwick Valley Living and Warwick Valley Life Magazine (2013)

If you ask anyone what the most popular fitness activities are in America today, hatha yoga and the martial arts will probably rank high on the list. Rather than adversarial pursuits, these two mainstream ideologies have much in common. According to recent studies, both disciplines engage roughly 20 million practicioners in the United States and the evidence suggests that the trends are growing. From small towns to large cities, yoga studios and martial arts schools are familiar fixtures on both street corners and strip malls. Doctors recommend yoga for stress relief and workplaces offer classes to their employees while the study of martial arts is seen as a way to learn self-defense and boost confidence for both children and adults.
How did these two ancient yet complementary disciplines with roots in Asian culture become mainstream physical and spiritual enrichment activities in modern American life? Not surprisingly, if you study the historic progress of both disciplines, you will find that they had their beginnings largely at the same time, and their paths of development are intertwined. The third son of a Brahman Indian king, Zen patriarch, Bodhidharma is credited with initiating a program of exercises and drills that he taught to the shaolin monks. These techniques were imparted with the hope of strengthening the monks’ ability to concentrate during meditation while preserving the spiritual harmony required in monastic life. Considered the Father of yoga, another mystical figure, Sri Patanjali Maharishi, is believed to be the author of the famous treatise, The Yoga Sutras, which remain one of the most influential spiritual writings in yogic practice today.  Consisting of 195 aphorisms or sayings, the work lays out a clear and practical path to gaining spiritual insight and self-realization. Through the subsequent years and up until the 20th century both philosophies became strong cultural components in their lands of origin but only marginally penetrated the western way of life.  Then, during the middle of the last century, interest in yogic philosophy and martial arts found its way into the American psyche mainly through popular culture. The current outlook that yoga and martial arts study has become a “way of life” for so many Americans is a testament to the popularity and accessibility of these two ancient disciplines.
Even though both traditions have evolved from similar roots, they are vastly different in their applications.  The fast paced and forceful movements of a martial artist are in stark contrast to the strong but deliberate yogic postures called asanas.    Even so, certain parallels become apparent.  The atmosphere in both a yoga and martial arts class is one of reverence and decorum with practicioners bowing to each other to show mutual respect. The beginning of both classes might consist of seated meditation and breath-work exercises. A yoga class will then progress to various yogic positions led by an instructor and a martial arts class will move through basic motions and vigorous defensive skills.
For many practicioners, what may have started out as a desire to improve physical fitness and “get in shape” is augmented and even supplanted by a desire to develop a deeper connection to the inner self and a thirst for a more esoteric study. The yoga student and the martial artist begin to realize that they are on a “path” and the practice is a vehicle for their own transformation. How does this happen? Again we can look at what is at the core of both yoga and the martial arts and see very strong likenesses. Both disciplines adhere to a code of moral conduct. In martial arts study it is called, The Five Tenets. They are Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit. These words are recited at the end of each class and reinforced through mutual respect and sublimation of the ego.  Yoga education also ascribes to an Eight Limbed Path which is a series of steps that act a guideline on how to live a purposeful and meaningful life. As the student trains more deeply, she becomes more self-observant and begins to practice detachment which helps to slow the never ending cycle of action, reaction and judgment. It is becoming common for martial arts academies to offer yoga instruction in addition to their training classes because of the balance that is gained from their complementary qualities.
Here in the west, far from their birthplaces, the ideologies of hatha yoga and the martial arts may also be undergoing a transformation. As anyone who has delved deeply into either or both disciplines will tell you, change is the constant force that is at the root of both practices. And it is here in America, where innovation and reinvention are the norm that many believe lies the future of these two extraordinary paths.

Patty Cook received her yoga certification from the New Age Center in Nyack, New York, under the direction of Paula Heitzner, RYT. She is a member of Yoga Alliance and has been teaching and directing the Hatha Yoga program at the Chosun Taekwondo Academy in Warwick, New York for 16 years. She can be reached at:   website: 

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Interview with Master Doug Cook - Instructor, Author and Supporter of Traditional Taekwondo

This interview appeared in Totally Taekwondo Magazine issue # 32 October, 2011 

The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is an ancient Taoist classic. From it we learn that “everything happens in its appointed time.” Master Doug Cook, 6th dan black belt, school owner, author, and regular contributor to Totally TaeKwonDo, couldn’t agree more. Where most practitioners begin their journey through the martial arts during their adolescent years, Master Cook began his taekwondo training in his late thirties; and, if you ask him, he will confirm that the time was right.

Not being deterred by age, he trained diligently under the direction of several masters, eventually earning his 1st dan black belt in traditional taekwondo. His thirst for a thorough understanding of the philosophy and advanced techniques unique to the art, however, ultimately lead him to the door of martial arts legend, Grandmaster Richard Chun. After receiving his 2nd dan, Master Cook established the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, a school dedicated to traditional taekwondo instruction and Ki, or internal energy, development. Later, in an expression of his passion for writing, Master Cook decided to share his knowledge of taekwondo through the printed word, composing many articles for leading martial arts publications. In doing research for these articles, Master Cook discovered that there was little material available concerning the philosophical doctrines of traditional taekwondo. Seizing an opportunity to help remedy this situation, and to follow in the footsteps of his grandmaster, he began work on his first book, Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior. Destined to become an international best-seller, this work was followed in 2006 by Traditional Taekwondo: Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, and in 2009 by his most popular work to date, Taekwondo – A Path to Excellence. All three are currently available through international online suppliers and major booksellers worldwide.
      Today, Master Doug Cook teaches as many as five classes a day, six days a week at his dojang located in upstate New York, and travels to New York City to train under Grandmaster Chun and his instructors on a weekly basis. He was a six-time gold medalist in the New York State Championships and the New York State Governor’s Cup Competitions. He holds a D3 status as a US Referee and has received high honors from Korea in the form of a “Letter of Appreciation” signed by World Taekwondo Federation past-president, Dr. Un Yong Kim. In 2003 Master Cook was awarded the Medal of Special Recognition from the Moo Duk Kwan in Seoul, South Korea. In 2004, while attending a training camp in Korea, Master Cook received a Special Citation from the Korean government for forging a stronger relationship between Korea and the United States through the martial arts. In June 2006, he was inducted into the Budo International Martial Arts Hall of Fame as “Taekwondo Master of the Year”. In 2007, Master Cook was invited on several occasions to speak as a guest lecturer at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, at the time, the only institution of higher learning in the country to offer a major in the martial arts. Master Cook was recently listed in Black Belt magazine as one of the Top Twenty masters of the Korean martial arts in America. In 2009 he was invited to speak at the prestigious Korea Society in New York City and will appear in Legacy, an upcoming television documentary on taekwondo scheduled for release in 2013.
In this Totally TaeKwonDo exclusive interview, Master Cook shares with our readers what it is like to train under a true martial arts pioneer, thoughts on his literary contributions to taekwondo, and his formula for maintaining a successful taekwondo school. He also spoke of his frequent experiences while training in Korea, and his vision of taekwondo in the future.

TOTALLY TAEKWONDO: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
MASTER COOK: The honor is mine. Let me say that I am blessed to live a life filled with taekwondo and to be a regular contributor to Totally TaeKwonDo online magazine.

TT: How did you first become associated with Grandmaster Richard Chun?
MASTER COOK: As you know, Grandmaster Chun enjoys a high profile in the martial arts community by virtue of his writings, his experience as an international master instructor, and his position as president of the United States Taekwondo Association.  As a yellow belt, I recall reading a description of poomsae philosophy in one of his many books. I knew then that there was much more to taekwondo than kicking and punching and that someday I would seek his instruction. My opportunity came in 1997, when I met with him, demonstrated my skill, and was subsequently accepted as a student. It was the realization of a dream.

TT: How has your relationship with Grandmaster Chun affected your training?
MASTER COOK: Aside from the fact that Grandmaster Chun is one of the five original masters to emigrate from Korea with the intention of spreading knowledge of taekwondo in America, he sincerely personifies the spirit and beauty of the art. To see him train is to appreciate the awesome power hidden within each technique. To speak with him is to learn humility and respect for tradition. Frequently, I have gone to him for advice and he has given it freely, often by answering my question with a question in the Socratic Method, causing me to think the problem through for myself. Furthermore, he and his instructors, Masters Pablo Alejandro, Samuel Mizrahi and Maurice Elmalem have patiently taught me the importance of detail and relaxation in self-defense, poomsae and sparring. Training at the Richard Chun Taekwondo Center prior to its closure, significantly improved my abilities as a martial artist both mentally and physically. Fortunately, I am able to continue this brand of training with his instructors at Haddock Taekwondo in New York City.

TT: Tell us about your school, the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, and how you arrived at the name.
MASTER COOK: In doing research for my book, the term “Chosun” continuously surfaced throughout Korean history, first as Ko-Chosun in ancient times, and then again when referring to the Yi or Chosun Dynasty that existed between 1392 and 1910. Literally translated, it means “land of the morning calm”. Flying at thirty-thousand feet, about to make our final descent into Incheon International Airport during one of my many training trips to Korea, I recall seeing the peninsula shrouded in mist. In that moment, all the political turmoil that existed below evaporated and truly all appeared calm. I knew then, if and when I established a school, it would be called “Chosun”.  

TT: Do you import the lessons you learn at the Richard Chun Taekwondo Center to your school for the benefit of your students?
MASTER COOK: For the most part, yes; certainly the self-defense drills and advanced Moo Duk Kwan poomsae. However, at Chosun we adhere to a stringent curriculum composed of a repeating template that increases in complexity throughout the various belt levels; for instance, promotion from one rank to the next is predicated on proficiency in an escalating series of basics, one, two and three-step sparring, self-defense, poomsae, sparring and breaking skills. Students are also expected familiarize themselves with Korean terminology and the philosophy associated with their forms. There is nothing haphazard about our program; every student knows exactly what is expected of them in order to achieve advancement. Everything is clearly written out to avoid confusion and preserved as downloads on our web site to be included in the training journal our students are required to maintain.

TT: Do you emphasize some aspects of taekwondo over others in your teaching methodology?
MASTER COOK: My instructors and I highlight the self-defense, physical fitness, and self-enrichment components of taekwondo; this is in keeping with taekwondo as a martial way or a path to enlightenment. In addition, we amplify our practice with meditation and Ki development exercises. While our school attends several tournaments a year, I do not view the classical martial arts simply as sport and subsequently do not focus on competition. Instead, we offer a series of technical seminars and self-defense courses to dojangs and civic groups at little or no charge or, in some cases, as a community service. Not long ago, a U.S. Army medical unit requested that we instruct them in taekwondo self-defense skills. This was a great privilege. It was an honor to serve our country in this manner, doing what we do best.

TT: What forms do you practice?
MASTER COOK: As a United States Taekwondo Association affiliate school, we perform the eight Taegeuk and Palgwe set of poomsae, in conjunction with the traditional Moo Duk Kwan and required Kukkiwon black belt Yudanja series. We also practice the Pyung-Ahn hyung and several of the ITF tuls, although these are not required for promotion.

TT: Tell our readers about your experience of training in Korea.
MASTER COOK: Almost indescribable! We have traveled to the “land of the morning calm” on five separate occasions now and are in the throes of planning our next training tour for July 2012. Clearly, I feel one must experience Korean culture firsthand in order to fully understand the roots of taekwondo. In doing so, the practitioner makes a geographical and historical connection with their physical training. Visiting the Kukkiwon, the various dojangs and universities; meeting the many gifted masters and students of the art, adds color and meaning to one’s practice that can only be appreciated by traveling to the homeland of taekwondo. We attempt to go every three years and are fortunate beyond measure to be accompanied by Grandmaster Chun since doors that typically remain closed to Westerners, open wide in his presence. We welcome practitioners from all styles of taekwondo. Parties interested in joining us can contact me at

TT: How would you characterize the training in Korea versus here in the West?
MASTER COOK: We train very hard for extended periods of time during our visits. After all, that is why we go and we choose to take advantage of every educational opportunity available. We balance the intense kicking and self-defense drills found at the university level, we travel to outlying dojangs and to Kyongju, the ancient capitol of Silla, where we visit and train at ancient Buddhist temples located in the training grounds of the Hwarang. There, we practice basics, poomsae and meditation. During our last excursion in 2010, we were exceedingly fortunate to train at Kukkiwon, Kumgang Taekwondo Center, Gulgosa Temple and, as always, with Grandmaster Gyoo hyun-Lee at his dojang in the suburbs of Seoul. Naturally, we reserve time for cultural pursuits and sightseeing as well.

TT: Aside from being a professional martial arts instructor, you are an author, columnist and frequent contributor to this magazine with three best-selling books to your credit. How did that come about?

MASTER COOK: Clearly, it is not enough to address the physical portion of our art; one must contribute academically as well. The inspiration for all three of my books, was drawn from great masters such as Dr. Richard Chun and Sang Kyu Shim, who have demonstrated their devotion to taekwondo through their literary skills. In reading their work, it quickly became evident to me that taekwondo is not merely a series of physical techniques, but a road to enlightenment, a path to excellence. Realizing this, I too felt a desire to express my love for the martial arts through the written word. Following in the footsteps of my mentor was not difficult once I began research for my books. As odd as it may sound, I almost felt I was being guided by an external force that was using me as a conduit to disseminate this knowledge. Writing my books was one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences of my life. Presently, I am working on my fourth book with Grandmaster Chun, a work that will focus on the original iteration of Poomsae Koryo in conjunction with the current version we refer to as Kukki Koryo. The response to this body of work has been favorable, indeed, based on the many letters and emails I receive weekly from around the world inquiring about the differences in these two poomsae. Release is planned for 2013.   

TT: What expectations do you have for your school and how do they coincide with your prediction of how taekwondo will evolve in the future?
MASTER COOK: This is an interesting question, the second part of which I can only voice an opinion. As I see it, taekwondo currently sits at a crossroads. On the one hand, we have an element dedicated primarily to the practice of WTF Olympic-style taekwondo. Schools of this nature are clearly in the majority and mirror the approach taken in Korea. Conversely, there exists a minority of institutions and associations, here and abroad, that focus largely on the self-defense and life enrichment aspects of the art with little or no emphasis on sport competition. I, and other like-minded instructors, refer to this alternative style as traditional taekwondo. Nevertheless, this nomenclature may appear to be somewhat of a misnomer since the history or “tradition” of taekwondo as it exists today, is relatively short with much of it being devoted to its promotion as a world sport. Like it or not, the answer to this paradox lies in the fact that taekwondo owes much of its pedigree to foreign influences, some of which are rooted in Funakoshi’s Shotokan karate-do and, to a lesser degree, Chinese gungfu. Consequently, in its early developmental stage, prior to its promotion as an Olympic sport, taekwondo contained a complete palate of offensive and defensive techniques including hand strikes, blocks, throws and sweeps. Sadly, at least in its sportive form, these techniques have been forfeited altogether in favor of those certain to score in the ring. With this in mind, the notion of taekwondo having a “traditional” component based on self-defense, predating the WTF, materializes. It is my belief that we must maintain this traditional approach to training if the defensive art of taekwondo is to survive in its fullness. Subsequently, the primary mission of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, in unison with establishing satellite schools, is to, first and foremost, promote the complete art of taekwondo while recognizing and appreciating its sportive mate for the catalyst it has been in promoting Korea’s national martial art and Olympic sport, worldwide. In the end, however, I think all practitioners will agree that both martial art and combat sport, in union with their diverse administrative arms, must learn to coexist harmoniously if taekwondo is to advance successfully into the future.

TT: In closing, are there any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
MASTER COOK: Yes. I feel extremely privileged to teach taekwondo professionally. As an instructor, it is gratifying to know that you are instrumental in helping students of all ages develop confidence, defensive capabilities and improved health. Taoists metaphorically claim that one can achieve immortality by sharing their knowledge; if this is the case, then every taekwondo instructor should strive to live forever!

Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of three best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo - Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, and his most recent contribution, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, focusing on the rewards and virtues of taekwondo. Master Cook and Grandmaster Chun are planning their next training and cultural tour of Korea for July of 2012. Those interested in joining this excursion can contact Master Cook at or                                                                                                                                                                                      

The Eum/Yang: Symbol of Harmony, Balance and Acceptance of Constant Change by Master Doug Cook

This article was published in Taekwondo Times Magazine issue #67 August, 2013

Taoism and its reliance on the Way or path of natural order, remains a cornerstone of Asian thought to this day and has given rise to what is perhaps one of the most recognized icons of all time: the Yin/Yang.
This eternal symbol, rooted in the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, or I Ching (Korean: Juyeok), is composed of two tear-shaped elements circling one another. Nestled in the lobe of each is a representative sample of its mate. On a three dimensional level, this elementary circle can be extrapolated into two, discreet orbiting polarities thus giving rise to a spiral, satisfying both the cyclical and linear nature of life as we travel through time.

Yet, how does this timeless icon apply to the Korean discipline of tae kwon do? The answer to this question lies in how deeply the practitioner wishes to probe the metaphysical aspects of the martial arts. Taking a utilitarian approach to the basic theme underscoring the Eum/Yang can have a significant impact on the practical application of tae kwon do technique in general. For example, poomsae, hyung or tul, the choreographed formal exercises that stand as a central pillar of traditional tae kwon do, borrow heavily from the philosophical principles surrounding the I Ching. Each of the Kukkiwon gup or color belt poomsae draw their philosophical individualism from the Palgwe whose eight sets of trigrams surrounding the Eum/Yang represent nature in its fullness. The natural elements of heaven, thunder, wind, water, fire and earth, are all in evidence as the practitioner learns to overcome the physical limitations of the body, instead experiencing the spiritual aspects supported by these components while performing this brand of moving meditation.The Ying/Yang furthermore acts as a metaphor for the duality of opposites; the struggle between two opposing forces to exist in a state of equilibrium. Moreover, it embraces a belief in constant change as a central dynamic of daily life. Even though certain characteristics of this time-honored symbol are altered somewhat in the Korean Eum/Yang and the Japanese In/Yo, the underlying principles inherent in its design remain fixed. Depicted in its elegance is the never-ending harmony that exists between two unlike forces; forces such as light and dark, soft and hard, right and left, good and evil, and night and day. This harmonic resolution rests on the fact that, rather than negating one another, these contradictions are supportive in their oneness. Eum is considered the passive, receptive polarity, while Yang can be thought of as the assertive or active partner. Dividing them is a high-energy, sine-curve boundary line. Rather than remaining in a static state, this division vibrates kinetically with Ki, the vital life force.
Meditating on the Eum/Yang, one ultimately concludes that almost everything we do in tae kwon do returns to this elegant symbol. From the give and take of self-defense drills, where one practitioner lends their body to another under the shadow of potential injury, to the relaxed state of the muscles as a prelude to the penetrating power of a kick or a strike, harmony between opposites abound. A healthy, balanced juxtaposition between competition and practical self-defense must be maintained as well if the art and sport of the discipline are to coexist in concordance with one another, ultimately benefiting both sides of the equation.
Finally, if we hope to realize a substantive gain from our practice, we must cultivate a deep appreciation for the breath containing Ki, the universal life force. Therefore, if the Eum/Yang exhibits anything in its extreme simplicity, it is the smooth transfer of breath - inhalation and exhalation particularly during meditation - as it mindfully enters and leaves the body. This action clearly provides potential energy coupled with an amplification of technique so vital to the martial artist.     
Unquestionably, tae kwon do is about kicking, striking and self-defense. Moreover, it has clearly blossomed into a world sport with full recognition by the International Olympic Committee. Yet, as in the past, it remains a vehicle for developing a strong character and a sharp mind. One is constantly reminded of this dichotomy by the universal symbol of the Eum/Yang.

Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books focusing on taekwondo. He can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at or

The Traditional Martial Art of Taekwondo by Master Doug Cook

During the 1960s, if a person desired to study a martial art, their choices were likely limited to kung fu, karate or judo, all often popularized in the cinema by luminaries such Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris. Today, however, every strip mall across the nation boosts schools featuring taekwondo. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the public knows little of this martial discipline or why it has so successfully taken root in such a relatively short span of time.
Taekwondo is the traditional martial art and Olympic sport of Korea, an Asian
discipline with over ninety-million practitioners worldwide. What is it then about this unique way of life targeted at cultivating the mind, body, and spirit that has captured the hearts and minds of so many? Could it be that taekwondo contains over 3200 self-defense techniques with proven effectiveness on the field of battle? Or is it the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the art that attract those seeking more than a simple, physical workout. Perhaps, it is the fact that taekwondo shares the spotlight, along with judo, as being the only two martial arts in a constellation of many, recognized by the International Olympic Committee with the exclusive privilege of participating in the Olympic Games. Either way, it is clear that taekwondo has taken its place as the fastest growing, most popular martial art in the world today.   
Without a doubt, the current popularity enjoyed by taekwondo, literally translated as “foot-hand-way”, or “the way of punching and kicking with hands and feet”, is largely due to an ingenious process of standardization introduced during its formative years. This development required the core infrastructure of taekwondo to become unified and, therefore, transferable wherever it is taught. Students practicing the art in New York, for instance, can, for the most part, relocate to another state or country and feel secure that their proficiency and rank will be recognized by another legitimate taekwondo dojang or school. This is a great benefit to families transferring from place to place due to attractive job opportunities. 
Yet, it is important to note that taekwondo is not merely about kicking and punching. Rather, it is an action philosophy that seeks to enrich the lives of those who diligently apply its ethical principles to their daily routine. Subsequently, it fosters achievement over simple intention – a process frequently forgone in modern society where promises are made but seldom materialize. Furthermore, while on the surface taekwondo represents a system of authentic self-defense coupled with a means of attaining high levels of physical fitness and weight-control, the art rests on a virtuous foundation influenced by the three Asian philosophical paradigms of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. For the practicing martial artist, of whatever age, the doctrines borrowed from these systems act as a moral compass, pointing the way towards self-improvement. Overriding virtues such as courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit, serve to govern the use of the many potentially dangerous techniques students learn.
Born in ancient times and nurtured through global conflict, it is commonly believed, that modern taekwondo represents two sides of the same coin; one focusing on the combat sport of Olympic Taekwondo where tournament competition and triumph in the ring is the primary mission, with the opposite side labeled Traditional Taekwondo where self-defense and character enrichment prevail. While both styles are frequently taught in unison, in searching for an appropriate school, potential candidates need to be acutely aware of the differences since many years of loyalty, practice and effort preface success in the art.
Lastly, it is essential to find a legitimate school led by a certified instructor. Too often today, martial arts are seemingly created overnight with little or no attention given to tradition, accuracy of technique and lineage of its pioneers. A few hours of research and visits to the various locations will result in a rewarding and ultimately enlightening experience while pursuing a path to excellence through the disciplined practice of taekwondo.

Master Doug Cook, a 6th degree black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, and an author of four best-selling on taekwondo, all published by YMAA of Boston. A six-time NYS gold medalist, he has trained in Korea seven times and is the recipient of many awards presented here and in Korea. Master Cook can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at or at

Taekwondo - The French Connection by Master Doug Cook

This article appeared in Totally Taekwondo Magazine #55 September, 2013

Sharing a common ambition to penetrate the often self-imposed limits of physical endurance and concentration, eight martial pilgrims from my school, the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, converged on the tiny village of Puylaurens located in the South of France. There, for one full week in August,
surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of Chateau Borio Blanco built in 1630, we explored the principles, practices and philosophy of traditional taekwondo in fine detail, unencumbered by outside distractions and workaday demands. 
In pursuing my profession I have always felt obligated to teach the most authentic, effective Korean martial arts skills, both physical and academic, possible. And there are many; so many that all unimpeachably require a lifetime to master. So, in class after class, we fortify our basics, perfect our poomsae, hyung or tuls, attempt to unravel the secrets of defensive tactics, and then skim the surface of the more esoteric doctrines associated with our art. There, in the solitude of the French countryside among the sycamores and fields of sunflowers, we were afforded the opportunity to view our martial talent through the lens of undivided time.
Each day began early with a breakfast consisting of freshly-baked croissants, strong coffee with milk warm from the cow, grain cereals and yogurt complimented by a variety of cheeses, butter and jams. Following the first meal of the day, my students, all from Warwick, New York, made their way up a steep flight of steps to the loft of a rustic barn, constructed during World War II. Renovated by owners Yaron and Kiki Rosner for the purpose of formalized retreats, the environment lent itself perfectly to mindful practice.
With clocklike precision utilizing seated meditation as a prelude, each session progressed from a series of warm up and flexibility exercises to internal energy or ki development drills, bone-strengthening, basic skills, and a full roster of ho sin sool (self-defense), il su sik (one-step sparring) and sam su sik (three-steep sparring) practice. After being infused with an equally satisfying lunch, the warm afternoons, likewise, were filled with baljitki, (footwork), kyorugi (free sparring) and poomsae (forms) practice - the central pillar of any classical martial art. At day’s end, each participant was flush with awareness and reinvigorated with wonder at the majesty of traditional taekwondo.
The evenings offered time for reflection and camaraderie. Late dinners, featuring succulent local dishes such cassoult, were fortified by rich red wines, crispy breads, leafy salads and an assortment of fine cheeses, leaving us ready for a good night’s rest in royal accommodations.
Several segments of the carefully crafted curriculum provided highlights that today remain crystallized in the minds and bodies of the participants. The Chosun Taekwondo Academy syllabus requires our students to perform the Kicho, Taegeuk, Palgwe, Kukkiwon Yudanja and Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo poomsae as taught by Grandmaster Richard Chun, for promotion tests. Aside from these necessary formal exercises, we also offer training in the Kibon set and several ITF tuls. Yet the one hole I have repeatedly identified over the past sixteen years of our school’s existence is the exclusion of the five Pyung-An hyung. Originally created in 1902 by Anko Itosu as a vehicle for teaching Okinawan te - later karate-do - to local school children, these primordial formal exercises then known as the Pinan set and subsequently renamed Heian in Japan by Funakoshi, have intentionally or unintentionally acted as a blueprint for the creation of both the Korea Taekwondo Association Palgwe poomsae and to some extent General Choi’s Ch’ang Hon tuls. Given the environment of total immersion, undeterred by demands of work, chattering mobile devices and laptops, I decided to teach my students the first three of these seminal hyung. All participants embraced their lessons well and much to my delight, by week’s end, were executing all three with proficiency and true martial spirit although Pyung-An Sam Dan with its crescent kick - elbow block - back fist - return sequence seemed a favorite.
Moreover, physical practice in taekwondo is unquestionably essential since, first and foremost, it is an action philosophy; there is no replacement for it. Nevertheless, just as a grand mosaic with pieces missing appears incomplete, so is our art minus its historical and philosophical dimension. Consequently, on day three, I chose to offer a three-hour discourse on these vital elements of the art. Relying on a PowerPoint presentation for visual depictions of the subject matter, I provided important information on the history of Korea beginning with Ko-Chosun and the Three Kingdoms period through the Japanese Occupation and the Korean Conflict. We then moved on to the legend of Bodhidharma and the development of Okinawan te/karate-do, the creation of martial “ways”, identification of the original kwans or institutes of the early 1950s including an introduction of their founders, and concluded the session by describing the distinction between a modern combat sport and a traditional martial art.
Korean technical nomenclature too was not immune to instruction. I have always held to the belief that, if a student of taekwondo wishes to “own” a particular technique, they should have the capacity to call it by its Korean name. Subsequently, we would, each day, run through a litany of terminology for basic skills; low block-arae makki, high block-olgool makki, front kick-ap chagi, horse stance-ju choom seogi, etc. Then I came upon a term that seemed to surprise many of my students: mu do. This term can be construed as “martial way”, “martial spirit”, or “Korean martial art”. We used it during the seminar in such a way as to conjure strong martial spirit and intent during the long hours of practice. When someone would notice a fellow student’s energy flagging, they would shout: “Where is your mu do!?”, and the rush of renewed ki this would elicit was almost palpable.
Given the complex potpourri of technical skills rendered, each student took away something different from this spiritually-enriching adventure; one spoke of a new-found attention to distancing while another felt the history section and the personalities involved was most illuminating. Yet, in the end, after five days of close, intense training in the physical and academic components of traditional taekwondo, students Olga Pico, Marcele Mitschelich, Ignacio Cytrynowicz, Arun Salgunan, Kiki Rosner, Christina Cytrynowicz and Deborah Szajngarten, realized a unity of spirit amplified by a sense of unparalleled accomplishment not often found the hectic pursuit of daily life.
With barely veiled sadness at the thought of leaving this paradisiacal setting of disciplined practice, we spent the final hour of our retreat articulating the overall gains each of us had accumulated during our stay. As a symbol of my immense gratitude, I presented each student with a certificate of achievement.
On Saturday morning, our time of departure had finally arrived. Stowing our luggage in the trucks of a stout Peugeot and a racy Alfa Romeo, we pecked cheeks and shook hands bidding each other farewell, some of us bound for Barcelona, others heading to Casablanca and Toulouse. Either way, our bond was to be temporarily broken until we would meet again in the safety of the dojang with shared memories, never to be forgotten.
         Each year, members of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy set out on a martial pilgrimage, each separate and different, intended to bolster martial skill, cultural exchange and an expanded worldview. In July of 2014, we will venture forth on our seventh journey to Korea, the homeland of taekwondo, where we plan to visit and train on Jeju Island, at Golgusa Temple in Kyongju, the Kukkiwon in Seoul, the World Taekwondo Instructor Academy under the direction of Grandmaster Kyu Hyun Lee, and the Kumgang Taekwondo Center with Master Byeong Cheol An. Of course, we allocate ample time for sightseeing and shopping. Our martial expeditions are open to all and it is common for us to welcome participants from other schools and styles originating from different parts of the world. For information regarding these comprehensive journeys, visit our web site at, or call (845) 986-2288.

Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo - Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, and Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo, a recently published work, co-authored with Grandmaster Chun. Master Cook can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at or
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Embracing Do: A Way of Life by Master Doug Cook

This article appeared in Totally Taekwondo Magazine issue #54 August, 2013

Taekwondo: “Foot, Hand, Way”, or the “art of smashing with hands and feet”; three simple words representing a universe of power. Certainly, the consequences of striking with feet, tae, and hands, kwon, are clear. However, to underestimate the significance of the last syllable, do, due to its grammatical positioning within the root word taekwondo, is to admit to a profound ignorance in this diverse, holistic discipline. To subtract this suffix entirely is to remove the heart and soul of the art, transforming it, instead, into a mere pugilistic pursuit; a hollow, physical exercise rather than an organic philosophy complete with a ritualized set of moral principles.   Pronounced “doe”, this simple two-letter declaration above all symbolizes the spiritual, intellectual and ethical dimensions manifest in the traditional Korean martial art of taekwondo. Literally translated, do is The Way or Path every martial artist must travel. It is the essence and standard against which all practical and theoretical technique is measured. It is the level we must seek; the ideal we embrace. It is a continuum the sincere practitioner will visit time and time again with never any hope of reaching an end. It is a work constantly in progress. The late Grandmaster Sang Kyu Shim put this journey into perspective when he wrote:

  “One must not confuse the skills of living with the Way of living. The martial arts point the way while providing the skills to follow the Way. This is the road to creative change, a road of encounter and discovery. It is the road of a million miles that begins with the first step.”

 While it is true that the term taekwondo itself is only several short decades old, the fact remains that the art we are presently familiar with resonates with philosophical overtones gleaned from a mixture of traditional fighting styles rooted deep in Korean history. One cannot help but appreciate this virtue while visiting the temples and monuments built high in the mountains of Korea intended to memorialize legendary figures such as the Hwarang and their fearless leaders. Still, there are those today who assert that taekwondo is nothing more than a competitive sport based primarily on its acceptance by the International Olympic Committee. These are the few who would remain rooted in the stands cheering on contestants rather than recognize the virtue in champions of the heart. Forgotten are the centuries of invasion and imperialism during which the Korean people have had to defend the sovereignty of the sturdy nation with the blood of their young warriors while nurturing a robust code of honor in the process. This courage is evident in every technique of the national, Korean martial art.                 Today, the contemporary model of do partially stems from a desire expressed by noted masters of the past to transform their traditional martial arts skills, no longer as relevant in times of peace, into martial ways. Simply put, a martial way distinguishes itself from a battle art in that the ultimate goal is not necessarily one of combat preparedness so much as it is in discovering a method or means to achieve personal excellence through the practice of a martial discipline accompanied by its implied code of honor. By way of example, taekwondo, tangsoodo, karate-do, aikido and judo are all offspring of fighting systems used primarily for the purpose of subduing an adversary in battle and expanded upon by their innovators in modern times to include a roadmap for ethical living. Men such as Choi Hong Hi who notably emphasized the military aspect to the art, Hwang Kee, Anko Itosu, Gichen Funakoshi, Morihei Ueshiba and Jigoro Kano, regardless of their national heritage, appreciated the value of elevating their defensive skills, already steeped in ancient ethical philosophies, into still usable disciplines intended to infuse defensive strategy, confidence and morality in society at large. Consequently, tens of millions of practitioners worldwide study some form of martial art in an effort to fortify their physical, mental and spiritual capabilities while becoming proficient in a form of self-defense. Practitioners of taekwondo further support this model by striving to live a balanced life using the Five Tenets as a moral compass. These five ethical directives include Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-control and Indomitable Spirit; virtues the entire Korean citizenry have had to rely on, particularly during the twentieth century, in rising from the ashes of war to their present state of economic and social development. Taekwondo, being a product of this will to survive, coupled with a need to reaffirm a national identity on the heels of the Japanese Occupation, has served as a platform for the cultivation of do.               
Furthermore, taking a utilitarian approach to the basic theme underscoring The Way can have a significant effect on the practical application of taekwondo technique in general. For example, the very basis of martial arts movement, now and in the past, can be traced to the observation and mimicry of nature. Therefore, one must concede that nature is embraced by do. Many of the more advanced strikes and stances such as tiger mouth and cat stance derive their very names from a flirtation with the defensive tactics seen in the animal kingdom. Likewise, the method of wrist rotation found in the execution of the middle punch while in horse stance replicates the revolution of the planets as described in the principles of celestial mechanics; a truly grand manifestation of The Way. Furthermore, Taegeuk series poomsae, the choreographed forms that stand as the central pillar of Kukkiwon taekwondo, are rich in an abundance of natural metaphor. Borrowing heavily from the ancient Asian classic, the I Ching, these essential patterns draw their philosophical individualism from the palgwe with its eight sets of trigrams representing nature in its fullness. The elements of thunder, wind, water, fire and earth are all in evidence as the practitioner learns to overcome the physical limitations of the body, instead experiencing the spiritual aspects of The Way while performing this form of moving meditation. Natural harmony, too, should be evident in the execution of all techniques as it applies to the human anatomy. By practicing within the constraints of the body’s natural range of motion, stress and injury will be brought to a minimum. Likewise, permitting the muscles to remain in a relaxed and natural state will result in the development of explosive power upon impact. Consequently, since The Way is all encompassing in its relationship to physiology, natural movement equates to do. Clearly, from the early stages of social development on up to the present, an understanding of do has been accompanied by a deep appreciation of nature. In fact, one cannot exist without the other.    
The Way, then, is unmistakably paved by virtuous thought and action. It is arrived at through diligent practice and a never ending commitment to excellence. To waver is an admission of one’s humanity. To reclaim the rightful path, however, is a sure sign of discipline and commitment. In the words of the Zen patriarch, Bodhidharma:

“All know the Way; few actually walk it.”

As we advance in the martial arts our sense of balance, both physically and spiritually, begins to increase. Better health ensues. Reflexes are sharpened and a profound appreciation for the value of life pervades our being. Finally, we are rewarded with increased confidence and self-respect through our knowledge of self-defense. This course is a journey marked by many mileposts. It is a highway whose unbroken line leads to the philosophical and spiritual refinement of the individual. With each new revelation the practitioner comes closer to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. This journey, this road is called taekwondo and it is defined by its simple, two letter suffix, do.

Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo - Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, and Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo, a recently published work, co-authored with Grandmaster Chun. Master Cook can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at or
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The Taekwondo Uniform - Dobok by Master Doug Cook

This article appeared in Totally Taekwondo Times online magazine issue #57 November, 2013

Nurses, soldiers, police officers and baseball players all have one thing in common; they wear uniforms. A uniform distinguishes the wearer from others while at the same time, by its very nature, largely unifies a group of individuals within a profession or organization. Aside from acting as a symbolic garment, uniforms tend to serve other purposes as well. They often
are well suited to reflect the work required by the individual. For instance, uniforms worn by fire fighters are uniquely constructed to avoid injury. Likewise, the clothing favored by surgical doctors emphasizes cleanliness and the sanitary conditions necessary to repel infection. Uniforms can also minimize distraction as evidenced by those worn by youngsters in some private schools. So, it should come as no surprise that people practicing classical martial arts within an institutional setting, are required to wear uniforms.

The uniforms worn by the martial artist are ripe with meaning and purpose. They amplify tradition by remaining consistent with those worn by forbearers of a given art. They mirror deep seated philosophical doctrines and maximize the ability to endure extreme and frequently, violent motion. Finally, they serve as great equalizers of status whereby the university professor cannot readily be discerned from the elementary school student, the corporate president from the office worker.
Nomenclature for the uniform varies from culture to culture and thus, discipline to discipline. In taekwondo, the V-neck attire is referred to as a dobok; do translated as “the Way” and bok, “robe” or “training clothes”.[1] In the Japanese and Chinese arts the predominant uniforms are commonly known as a gi or a hee fu respectively. Nevertheless, as with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. Often the traditional taekwondoist will wear a gi-style, wrap-around uniform, particularly in Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo and ITF Taekwon-Do given the apparel of their founders Grandmaster Hwang Kee and General Choi Hong Hi.[2] Moreover, we see many styles of garments worn in the Chinese disciplines.
Drilling down into the design of the taekwondo dobok, we see associations with Confucianism, Taoism and Korean culture in general. The distribution of angles that comprise the uniform unimpeachably flirts with the power of three; a number widely recognized in Asian society for its auspicious value. In its composition, particular attention is given to three distinct shapes; the waist line conforms to a circle, the hip area describes a triangle and the cuffs trace a square. The top of the dobok is constructed according to the same manner where three geometric patterns denote heaven (won-circle), earth (bang-triangle), and mankind (kak-square). Taken as a whole these three symbols represent the foundation of the Universe (samsilshingo). In paying tribute to the Ying/Yang (Eum/Yang in Korean), the ancient Taoist icon known far and wide to signify balance, harmony and the acceptance of constant change, the dobok is divided into two parts, top and bottom. Information provided by the Korea Taekwondo Association further introduces the notion that the dobok is inspired by the hanbok – the traditional clothing worn by native Koreans for centuries.[3]
As is the case with the taegeuk-ki or the Republic of Korea national flag, the white color of the dobok is said to denote innocence, purity, dignity and most significantly, humility in the Confucian mold. Other shades simply cannot manifest this metaphysical concept. Here also, the concept of baekeuiminjok as Korea being the “white-clad nation”, resides.[4] Subsequently, in the formative years of Kukkiwon taekwondo, the dobok was completely white. However, in the 1970s, to distinguish the black belt from the color or under belt practitioner, the uniform was altered by adding black trim to the V- shaped collar, while red and black trim was appended to the poom or junior black belt uniform. Likewise, according to Nowling, during the 1980s, in an endeavor by General Choi Hong Hi to distance taekwondo from the influence of Japanese martial culture, a limited number of blue ITF doboks were produced from materials originating in North Korea.[5] Today, there are a variety of designs being considered by the Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo Federation and the Korea Taekwondo Association in an effort to update the current fashion. Lastly, for athletes who regularly engage in martial sport competitions sanctioned by global organizations such as the WTF, ATA or ITF, a specific uniform is generally required for legitimate participation. This is particularly evident in the new extended V-neck dobok now mandated for poomsae competition by the WTF.
Customarily, regardless of pedigree, the dobok should always be kept clean, neat and pressed, reflecting a deep-seated respect for the art, ones school and its masters. Consequently, it follows that if the uniform along with the belt or tti, is worn in an orderly manner, the appearance will encourage precise technique during practice.
Armed with this information, why then do we see such a variance in uniforms and the associated insignia attached to them, from school to school and association to association, even within the same discipline? Speaking from the perspective of a taekwondo school owner, instructor and author, there are a number of reasons for these actions, some unpleasant to admit, others more benign.
Too often in the modern martial arts, dollars sadly trump tradition. To combat anemic enrollment and enhance retention, managers sometimes resort to using a rainbow of uniforms tied to belt rank as a motivational tool. While the novice may begin by wearing the basic white dobok or gi, rank advancement precipitates an obligation to purchase uniforms in an assortment of colors; blue, green, grey, red and black for example, representing an additional profit center to the school. Compound this with a further assortment of uniforms adorned with copious patches that designate membership in ancillary groups such as a Leadership Team or Black Belt Club, and the underlying purpose of the uniform begins to deteriorate all together.
Undoubtedly, martial arts of all styles have proven fertile ground for commercial gain in Western society. In truth, many of us who teach professionally have benefited greatly from what the founders would likely have considered an unmitigated aberration regarding the true purpose of their original missions – to transmit battle-proven defensive skills, infused with character development, to those worthy of their virtues uncorrupted by monetary distraction, personal aggrandizement or egocentric notoriety. By way of illustration, Kwe Byung Yoon, founder of the Han Moo Kwan and co-founder of the Ji Do Kwan, supported the belief that “martial arts instructors should hold a job outside of the martial arts to make a living”.[6]
Nevertheless, for better or worse, the current business model proliferates unabated. Those who earn a comfortable living teaching taekwondo while remaining loyal to tradition by choice seem to be in the minority. Yet, in order to faithfully preserve the rich philosophy, history, customs and technical attributes unique to the national Korean martial art as they were initially intended, a conscious decision to follow the high road as it equates to principle and profit must be made by those in positions of authority. Maintaining a standard relating to the traditional uniform may seem inconsequential. Yet it is clearly a significant, symbolic step in the preservation of the art.

Author’s Note: All photographs, except where stated, are courtesy of Dynamics, Inc., 245-14 Jericho Turnpike Floral Park, NY 11001. 800-538-1995.

Master Doug Cook, a 6th dan black belt, is head instructor of the Chosun Taekwondo Academy located in Warwick, New York, a senior student of Grandmaster Richard Chun, and author of four best-selling books entitled: Taekwondo…Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Traditional Taekwondo - Core Techniques, History and Philosophy, Taekwondo–A Path to Excellence, and Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo and Koryo, co-authored with Grandmaster Chun. Master Cook can be reached for lectures, workshops or questions at or

[2] Even though Chong Soo Hong, Young Taek Kim and Kang Ik Lee are recognized as the founders of Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo, Hwang Kee was the father of the original Moo Duk Kwan before its division in March of 1965.
[5] Nowling, Doug. Juche Fiber & the ITF. Totally TaeKwonDo, issue 56, p.23-28.
[6] Kimm, Dr. He Young. Taekwondo History, p.104

Chosun e-newsletter archive Volumn 5 #1 January, 2014

1487325_774858722528381_446340930_nDear Martial Arts Enthusiast,

Welcome to the January, 2014 edition of the  Chosun Taekwondo Academy e-newsletter. This year, Chosun will turn 17! Just about the same age as four of our Junior Instructors who will be moving on to the next exciting phase of their lives in a few months. As Master Cook says, "these noble 
students represent sturdy links in the great chain of martial arts knowledge." And it is with this in mind, that we celebrate their (and Chosun's) perseverance and indomitable spirit... The journey continues!
(take note of NEW Chosun Winter Schedule and the 2014 Belt Promotion Test Dates listed below)

View the 2013 Chosun Taekwondo Academy Retrospective
Kamsahamnida,                                                                                                                images 2facebook button
Patty Cook, Editor                              
Happy New Year! 새해 복 많이 받으세요
(seh heh bok mahn ee bahd euh sae yo)
Chosun Taekwondo Academy celebrating 16 years!