This article by Carol Hart originally appeared in the November 1992 issue of the Tae Kwon Do Times, and is reproduced here by permission.
What do you get when you combine ancient Buddhist breathing methods, martial arts and modern medical science?
If the Han Method is not a miracle, it's the closest thing that many of us will ever see that resembles such a marvel. The Han Method, developed by Cha Kyo Han of Wheeling, Illinois, is a scientifically-based system whose roots lie with ancient Buddhist monks who conceived the breathing methods. Grandmaster Han has taken this knowledge and combined it with recent medical insight to create a program that has helped thousands to overcome the stresses of life that can lead to serious health problems as stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure. The Han Method is also successfully used to combat debilitating, life-threatening diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and asthma. The genius behind the system is Cha Kyo Han who was born in Seoul, Korea, 58 years ago. He grew-up in a poor neighborhood where there were gangs and street violence; simple survival was difficult. "We realized we had to do something," commented Han, "so a hundred of us youngsters started training (in martial arts). After a few confrontations, the hoodlums realized their days were over."
This was just the first example of the drive and determination that would take the young Han to heights of excellence. At 26, he became a Korean National Champion, a title he was to recapture repeatedly. He became such a proficient competitor that he wasn't allowed to compete anymore and became an instructor and leader of Tae Kwon Do demonstration teams in Eastern Asia. Once he even kicked over a bull during a demonstration!
In the early 1970's, Master Han immigrated to Chicago. He had one dream in mind: to use his abil ities to help those less fortunate. He opened a traditional Tae Kwon Do school, where to this day he still derives his income, and began to develop his ideas. The result was the Isotrim and the Han System of Isotrim and Breathing Exercises, products of over 30 years of experience in martial arts, acupressure, acupuncture and Western medical knowledge. The Han System is a set of compression exercises stressing slow, deep abdominal breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) and mental concentration. The object used for training is the Isotrim which is an accordion-ribbed plastic cylinder with foam rubber pads on each end and spaced air holes. To exercise with the device, the participant begins by closing his eyes, inhal- ing deeply through the nose and then commencing the particular technique while exhaling slowly through the mouth. Compression of the Isotrim is done in a gradual manner; no conscious force should be applied while performing an exercise. The individual must concentrate on diaphragmatic breathing throughout the exercise and all effort must be made to relax the body and mind. Miscellaneous stress or distractions will impair the benefits of the training. After finishing each set of exercises, the participant feels relaxed and more energetic. Diaphragmatic breathing is crucial to health. It is the natural way of breathing using the naturally designed passages: the nose for inhaling and the mouth for exhaling. If mastered, diaphragmatic breathing will increase lung capacity and strengthen the muscles of the diaphragm. As a result, more fresh air can be taken into the lungs, increasing oxygen, which increases blood oxygen saturation. The highly oxygenated blood and increased blood flow bring more nutrients to all tissues and remove carbon dioxide and other waste products harmful to the body's functions. The increased oxygen and nutrients condition proper tissue function which promote regenerative processes. The relaxation accomplished through diaphragmatic breathing will reduce tension and increase blood flow to the individual areas and improve circulation. Master Han does not claim that the Han System is a cure-all for disease. It is a system which can improve body efficiency through improved breath control, blood circulation and relaxation. The Han System of Health Maintenance (HSHM) and Isotrim Exercise is designed to reduce the poison of stress and allow the body to function more productively. His system has been recognized by the medical community and he was given several hospital grants to continue his research. Also, he has lectured worldwide on his system.
Grandmaster Han and his associates have had great success helping those with serious health problems. Sue Iwinski of Schaumberg, Illinois and Chris Lang of Wheaton, Illinois, have M.S. (multiple sclerosis) and are just two examples of individuals whom have been helped by Master Han.
When Sue Iwinski was 23, she fell down a flight of stairs. This incident coupled with a loss of coordination signaled Sue that something was wrong and she sought medical help. It wasn't until she was 29 that she was diagnosed with M.S. Iwinski physically deteriorated to the point where she was using a motorized wheelchair and could only walk with the aid of two quad walking canes -- when she had enough energy to stand on her own.
It was at this point in 1987 that she met Master Han and was introduced to the Han System. After hearing success stories of those using the device and following Han's program, she decided to prove to herself that it was a hoax. Daily she conscientiously practiced the breathing exercises with the Isotrim. Instead of proving the stories false, she began to witness an improvement in her physical condition. Within six weeks she walked into a grocery store, shopped and walked back to her car without her motorized chair. "When I got back into my car, I burst into the most wonderful tears. I had actually walked through the store!" Now Iwinski teaches the Han Method to disabled people in her area -- and she dances, too!
Chris Lang was diagnosed with M.S. in 1974. At that time, he was in a Navy hospital medic and was in charge of caring for POWs returning from Vietnam. (He spoke on the telephone with President Nixon's per- sonal secretary, Rosemary Woods, about the POWs and their situation.) When he was diagnosed with M.S., he was given a medical discharge from the Navy, but not before learning a few powerful lessons from the returning POWs.
What Lang learned from the POWs were actually the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do. Although Chris had never practiced martial arts, he understood their meaning through the POWs whom he cared for in his work. Many had been prisoners for six or seven years and it was their faith, perserverance, courage and indomitable spirit that gave them the will to live through their ordeal and not become bitter or hateful.
Lang took on those same traits when it came time to face his own ordeal. Not wanting to take a passive role in the management of his disease, Lang began to look for alternative methods of therapy. While being treated with conventional medicine, he investigated untraditional treatments such as nutritional therapy--eating only certain foods, etc,-but found the claims to be bogus. He looked to traditional, experimental therapies and took part in a study at the University of Chicago Department of Neurology Research Project. The medication caused such serious side-effects that his wife and his father, who was a doctor, urged him to stop the treatment. He eventually did after much soul-searching; but, he remained in the study after he was asked to stop because he felt that this might be a way to help others with the disease.
For years Chris Lang's friend, Dr. Jim Langlas, had urged Lang to take classes at his Tae Kwon Do school. Finally, when his friend moved his school closer to Lang's home, he took the plunge and visited a class. He was intrigued with the martial art and began classes. That was almost two years ago and he cannot speak more glowingly of Tae Kwon Do or his experience with the Han System.
When Chris started classes, he could not raise his hands over his head or make a fist with his right hand. His right leg was so severely impaired that he had trouble walking even with his crutches. Now Chris Lang can raise both hands over his head, make a fist and walk up and down stairs with his crutches. He firmly believes that the Han System which couples exercise on the Isotrim, breathing exercises and Tae Kwon Do has produced a regeneration of his nerves.
"Master Han has given me a way to take control of my disease. Medications are just short-term masking affects that don't do anything to improve your physical health, " says Lang. "Tae Kwon Do, the breathing and the exercises with the Isotrim restores my energy level. It can restore anyone's energy level. And the techniques focus my attention on physical feats I have trouble doing at times.
"The Tenets of Tae Kwon Do are so positive to my life. They have helped me live and I have enjoyed my life so much more since I started martial arts," says Lang.
Grandmaster Han is quick to point out that he cannot help anyone if they are not willing to help themselves. "I can give you the tools, but if you don't use them, nothing will happen. I can't give you your health, you have to work for it," he states.
By Carol Hart
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