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Channeling Sun Tzu

by Gormack on October 7th, 2016

“It is best to win without fighting” – Sun Tzu

Young Hong was a tough little Korean guy from Seoul who got on a boat and headed to the new world. He was a veteran of ROK Army and a master in the Martial Arts, neither of which seemingly qualified him for much in the way of employment in New York. His limitations in English didn’t help, either.

But he was here. He found work where he could, maintenance, construction. He was strong as an ox and a hard worker.

Before long he made his way to Chicago, linking up with Korean expats there. They found a career path for him: Karate was hot! GI’s brought it back from Japan, Okinawa, and Korea. Tae Kwon Do, the Korean style, was really popular.

Teaching was a challenge at first, but he got the hang of dealing with Americans; the harsh treatment the Senseis dealt out in Korea was a no-go here, nor would parents tolerate kids suffering concussions or broken bones.

But they were OK with discipline: you could be stern and make them do push-ups if they messed up, just not the rough stuff. Mister Hong had found his calling: he was a great instructor.

And an excellent practitioner: his Kata were excellent; so were his Step Sparring techniques; but his Free Sparing was off the charts! He was one hell of a fighter: nimble, fast, strong, athletic.

And smart! He could size up an opponent instantly: what was his reach, which side did he favor, what techniques were his best, did he drop his hands, or leave himself open after an attack, how was his stamina?

Once he had the book on someone they couldn’t hurt him. He played defense, dancing out of range, parrying blows, waiting for a mistake, an opening, for signs of fatigue.

Then, when the opportunity came he took it; took it decisively. If the guy was good a match could go a couple of rounds, if not he could be off the mat in a minute. He took home a lot of first place trophy’s for his Dojo.

Soon he was looking for his own place, away from Chicago. His buddies weren’t looking for competitors, so somehow he found Belvidere, maybe because of the Chrysler plant there. But that’s where a landed, a blue collar town of autoworkers and tradesmen.

He developed a student following, became a man about town, breaking down the town’s normal suspicion of foreigners. All he needed was an opening, his humor and good nature took care of the rest. Belvidere learned to love and respect their new martial arts master.

But he had lots of stories. He told me this one years after it happened. He walked into Red’s bar on North State Street. The drinkers stopped talking to look at him. Soon a big, burly guy came over. He repeated to me what the man said in his Korean pigeon “Hey! You Young Hong! You tough guy, I fight with you!”

Mr. Hong said “No. I not tough – I know little bit” and raised his hand to show a little gap between his thumb and his index finger.

The guy persisted: “You tough guy. We go outside. I fight with you.”

To me he said “I say myself, ‘I make that man my friend!'”

But to his protagonist he said, laughing “No my friend, I not fight with you – you beat me up!” and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “We be friends. I buy you drink!”

Soon Joe, that was the man’s name, and Young Hong were drinking, trading stories, laughing and having a good old time in Red’s Bar on State Street in Belvidere, Illinois.

“Hey Joe, you come my studio. You watch!”

Joe did come to the studio the very next week and sat in the observation area to watch an advanced class: warmups; stretching, Kata; three steps; and sparring.

Free sparing: put on the gloves, foot pads, mouth guard and mix it up. Mixed it up big time on that day. Mr. Hong, one on two against his best black belts. They couldn’t touch him but he went in at will against either, dodging the other; tapping them on the stomach, the chest, the temples, the nose, showing he could take them down any time he wanted.

Joe watched, eyes open wide. Mr. Hong said after the class Joe was very quiet.

I didn’t know Joe, knew nothing about him, but I’ll bet it was a long time before he challenged another Korean to a bar fight.

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