Visiting other TKD and martial art schools can be very educational, as well as being a great way to get in some training when you may be away from home.
The “long”-timers in the UTF learned the protocol about visiting other schools outside of our system through Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo. However, the UTF has never written this down before so that newer-comers could know the typical courtesies involved. I can’t guarantee that the approach described below works in all places, but I never got myself, nor my Master, in trouble by following this approach, whether in a completely different style such as Kung Fu or TaiJi (although you will probably need to be recommended by a mutual friend to try that), or in related styles such as Shotokan Karate, or in different Taekwon-do organizations, which may seem like the same art but all have different purposes, training regimens, class routines, and skill requirements for different levels. Despite starting my training in 1967, recent discussions with Black Belts in other arts appear to confirm that this is still the approach generally expected.
I will use a number of my experiences here to illustrate the features of the traditional approach widely used between martial arts schools, which the UTF also follows. Over the years I’ve taken advantage of “outside” training opportunities from South Dakota to inner-city Philadephia to Scotland to Malaysia. I know Instructor Augenlicht spent a couple years in Norway and had experiences similar to mine when training in non-UTF schools, as have some other UTF students. Once permission was (courteously) obtained to train in another school’s classes, as a visiting Black Belt I was always lined up outside of the class’ regular Black Belt rows. Master Han also did this for Black Belts from other systems who visited our schools – this recognized them as Black Belts, but made it apparent to everybody that they were essentially “outside” of the class’ regular system. Visiting Colored Belts were usually lined up in the regular class lines.
Master Han made it clear that he expected visiting Black Belts (to our school, or any of us visiting other schools) to follow directions as well as possible, and never to say or ask anything that would imply differences between the visitor and what the school was doing. Home was home, and visitors were expected to be courteous guests. Even after class was over, it was best not to volunteer any different information, unless asked by a senior, or permission was given by the Instructor or Master to share with juniors. In a few schools which I visited this principle was confirmed by the Masters themselves, including one who phoned the school to talk to me about this, along with not allowing me to spar with his students. They also all knew Master Han, and were part of the old ATA organization of former Chung Do Kwan Masters, as was Master Han at that time. They were all on the same page.
I asked Master Han what happens if the visiting Black Belt is higher-ranking than the school’s Instructor. He said that the courtesy is for the school’s Instructor, after bowing in, to offer the teaching of the assembled class to the visiting Senior. He then added, “and if you are smart, you politely thank them, bow, and give the class back to them: You don’t know their history, customs, training approaches, students, [or politics]. Showing how you do things compared to what they are used to, will only create problems. Just train, and be quiet.” Occasionally we had visiting Korean Black Belts train in the Chicago schools and I noticed that they all apparently followed the same approach, to the point of not answering any questions we asked them, and disavowing any differences from what we did. As a visitor the courteous thing was to do what kept harmony rather than doing something that might make the host reluctant to accept visitors in the future, or that would bring embarrassment to their teacher.
In August 1980 the ITF issued me a belt and certificate for Dan III, which was my last ITF certificate, since the UTF was then formed by Master Han and he issued me a UTF Dan III belt and certificate. I never even thought about wearing my ITF belt to Master Han’s class after that, since Master Han was my teacher and his was now a UTF school. If I had ever worn it to one of his classes, the best I could have expected would be to be placed outside the class line-up as a visiting Black Belt. (Far more likely I would have been placed outside the building.) But I never would have worn it in his presence since I was well aware of the ancestry insult it would have been to him, and that was not how I felt. It would certainly have been appropriate for me to wear my ITF belt to train in an ITF school when I was out of town, but the opportunity never came up in those first few years, and I doubt I would have worn it anyway since my primary allegiance was to my teacher.
One day, well after Grandmaster Han had died, I dropped by one of our UTF schools one day and the 2nd Dan leader announced to me that he was now a 3rd Dan. And then he laughed. He had originally trained with Master Han, and then lived in New York and trained with a different system, and then moved back and resumed training with Master Han for several more years until Master Han died. It turned out that this leader had just attended a tournament in New York where his other Master saw him and said it was so long since he was last promoted that he shouldn’t still be a 2nd Dan. The man gave him a brief exam and wrote out a 3rd Dan certificate. The UTF school leader knew that that certificate had nothing to do with the school he was running, or with who he considered his Master to be, which was why he laughed when he announced his promotion to me. He was well aware that each martial arts organization has different purposes and focus in its training and therefore uses its own set of criteria and standards to judge a candidate qualified to be a particular rank. Both my ITF and UTF certificates state, “ . . the federation grants a --- Dan in accordance with its rules and regulations . .” Few, if any, organizations would presume that their standards applied to all other organizations. In fact, quite a few Chinese and Japanese martial arts acknowledge only five levels of Black Belt. Nine levels used to be standard for TKD organizations since three threes was considered a special number in that culture. Now, it is possible to find people claiming up to 12th Dan, the last I noticed, so there are definitely differences, on the surface as well as deeper.
Also after Grandmaster had died, I was talking to an ITF Regional Director with whom we were sharing a Black Belt class. He informed me that I could re-join the ITF if I wanted to. All I had to do was to pay the ITF for all the tests I had missed, take them satisfactorily, and surrender all my UTF belts and certificates to the ITF. And then, knowing me well enough, helaughed.
Over the years when Colored and Black Belts from other schools have joined our organization, they were allowed to continue to wear the belt they had earned elsewhere as they trained to learn our way. When they were sufficiently prepared, they were then given a test with UTF expectations for that rank. This particular element of the traditional courtesy is actually quite variable between schools, as some of our students have discovered when they had to start over with a white belt when they joined a different system.
The UTF has never prohibited members from training in other arts since it can broaden understanding and serve as a means to compare how things are done in the UTF. Master Han, however, was usually puzzled by people who spent much time training elsewhere since he thought they could have been using that training time to improve their UTF training. He saw different arts as different “ways” (do s) leading to the same core understanding; they were just different ways to get to the same place. So, to him, starting a new art just delayed getting deeper and closer to that universal core. It was like starting out on a particular route to get to a city, and then partway along it going back and starting on a different path to the same city. For the time spent, you would have been closer to the destination if you had just stayed on the original path. The beginning of those different paths can all look quite different, especially to beginners. But to people like Grandmaster Han, the destination of all those different paths are the same.
But sometimes experiencing different scenery can help us see home in a different way, and several UTF teachers and students have benefited from earning Black Belts in other practices. One student I teach in Black Belt class has a higher ranking in Karate now than in the UTF, however they would never think to wear that uniform to my class, nor the UTF uniform to Karate class. Karate may seem more different than Taekwon-do, but there is often as much difference between UTF and other TKD organizations. For example, WTF focuses on sport applications, ITF has a unique approach to generating power and uses different sets of principles each for performing patterns, sparring and board-breaking. Various other TKD organizations have their own sets of interests, expectations, and standards. The UTF has a different mission statement (see website) than any of these organizations and so therefore a different set of skills is expected from its members.
So, when dealing with other organizations the first Tenet is the one to keep in mind at all times: Courtesy. Respect the efforts, dedication, lineages and ways of the school you are training in, whether as a member or a guest. Don’t assume that the UTF way is the same as another organization’s path, and be aware and respectful to differences.
Paul Y. Irvin, VIII Dan
Co-President, UTF 8-04-14b
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