An Interview with Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee
Dr. Lee is known throughout the world as the founder and foremost authority on Hwa Rang Do, a wonderfully - balanced Korean original Martial Art / Healing art. We were happily rewarded with this interview, conducted by Master Henry Lee, Hwa Rang Do Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Lee's oldest son. Master Lee is head of the Sulsa Task Force, which offers special instructions to elite law-enforcement and military units. We thank Dr. Lee for sharing his time with us, and trust our readers will both enjoy and learn from this gifted man's insights on what a knife is and isn't.
FK: How do you view the knife as a combat weapon?
Lee: Among the 108 different weapons found in Hwa Rang Do (HRD), the knife and sword are the most fundamental weapons in developing basic forms and movements. The knife would seem to be the easier to learn; however, it's not. A knife requires more intricate movements, as well as learning to use both hands. As the hand with the knife moves to slice, stab, or tear, the other hand must move to block, parry,and/or grab. The knife is the most practical weapon for the modern day warrior as well as civilians. For the warrior it is both a weapon and a tool. For the civilian, it is something easily accessible as it is kept in nearly every home.
FK: What is the most important aspect in knife training?
Lee: The mental development and the control of human emotions. A knife is only an object, like a paint brush without a painter; it can only come to life in the hands of a master or artist. Therefore, it is not the knife which combats an opponent, it is the person holding the knife. The greatest emotion to control is fear. The mind must learn to appease this monster, to tame it so that its energy can be redirected to accentuate the your level of awareness and strenght. Clarity in thought creates clarity in action.
FK: How does one go about gaining control of her or his emotions?
Lee: First, you must become confident in your skill level. This means countless hours of practicing the movements, so they become second nature. Furthermore, as the painter paints with a brush in order to create, the knife practitioner must practice with a live blade in order to understand its capabilities. This furthers the state of mental acuteness and instills greater respect for the weapon itsself.
FK: What kind of knife do you prefer for combat?
Lee: Both the double-edged and single-edged knives serve particular purposes. The double-edged variety are more of an offensive knife as they can be used for multi-directional cuts. The single-edged knife is more effective as a defensive weapon, which can be used in a reverse grip with the dull edge against the forearm for blocking. I feel a guard is necessary for two reasons. One, it will provide protection against injury. Two, it will offer protection should the point or edge encounter a hard surface which might deflect, or cause one to lose momentary control over the weapon. One should choose the knife which is most comfortable to the practitioner. However, you should also practice with as many different knives as possible before selecting your favorite.
FK: Which do you favor as the most effective knife grip?
Lee: The reverse grip seems to be most practical as well as most powerful. The forward grip is good for thrusting, like a fencer does, or for slashing from side to side. The one benefit of the forward grip is reach. One can lunge a great distance and penetrate the opponent's defensive perimeter. On the other hand, the reverse grip conceals the weapon along forearm until it is ready to be used. The stab becomes more powerful as it is accentuated by the force created by the hammering motion, a swing downward with great centrifugal force. From the reverse grip one can cut and stab with great power and ease. I suggest learning to use both grips to your advantage. This ability is first learned in knife familiarization.
FK: Michael Echanis is a widely-known personality, primarily
through articles in Soldier of Fortune Magazine and through his books
on Hwa Rang Do. How did you come about training him and why was he chosen to
implement Hwa Rang Do in the U.S. military?
Lee: Echanis first came to me looking for the wrong things. He was all pride and ambition, wanting to learn how to become invincible. I saw he had the burning desire necessary to overcome any obstacle to his goal. So I first cured his leg, which could not be used due to its severe wounding in Vietnam. After he healed, he learned the power of healing and became more appreciative of life. This instilled in him the humility necessary to be a warrior with character, for humanity, and not against it.
I realized Mike would be the best candidate to spread Hwa Rang Do in the military, which I had always wanted to do since coming to States. I trained him specifically in the way of Am ja (Art of the Shadows) and Un Ship Bop (Method of Invisibility) which was all the training necessary to become Sulsa (Korean version of the Japanese ninja, the Sulsa was around 1000 years before the art of Ninjitsu was founded in Japan). When Echanis had reached a proficient level , he contacted a friend in the Green Berets and I gave permission for him to develop a program for their instructors.
I had hoped Michael could maintained Hwa Rang Do in the military where it would have served the greatest needs, but he was to die in 1978 while training special forces soldiers in Nicaragua. I have lost a great student and a good son. There is no one to replace him and I still hope to find someone who can keep the Hwa Rang Do spirit alive in the military.
FK: What exactly is a Sulsa and how do you become one?
Lee: Sulsa literally means technique-man, or technician. It was a title given to special agents of the kingdom of Silla, one of the three kingdoms in the present Korean Penisula, about 1800 years ago. All of the Sulsa were Hwa Rang Do warriors who were hand-picked and trained in the art of espionage, then sent to neighboring kingdoms for intelligence gathering and other covert operations. Today, I teach the special techniques of Un Shin Bop and Am ja to a select group of my personal best instructors. They, in turn, teach different law-enforcement agencies as well as special units of the military. We offer a taste of Sulsa through an outdoor training camp. Subjects covered include cover, stealth, and camouflage, sentry removal, land traversing, knife defense, and hand-to-hand combat.
FK: If there is any one thing you would stress about being the
warrior, what would it be?
Lee: That is simple. Character. Understadning the fragility of life and the imperfections of humanity. A true warrior must strive for peace, not for war; abolish chaos and restore order; eliminate injustice and rekindle compassion. As it is in this case, the knife used by a mother in the kitchen can create delicious meals, but in the hands of psychotic killer it can brutally take a human life. It is most important that practitioner of the combative arts take moral responsibility for his actions. This is by far the most crucial aspect of becoming a true warrior. One must always rememebr that a warrior is first and foremost a human being ...and then a soldier.