This article by Andrew B. Spiegel originally appeared in the January 1995 issue of the Tae Kwon Do Times, and is reproduced here by permission.
"He was my Master," Master Han replied to my question about Nam's Tae Kwon Do. It was July 1982 and I was looking for a school to begin my Tae Kwon Do training. I was expecting some other answer: a criticism of the school; a negative comment about the instructors. Instead, Master Han gave me his humble reply.
There are only a few ninth dan masters in the world. Han Cha Kyo is one of the great ones. Despite his international reputation and world-renowned achievements, Master Han remains a humble teacher. He can be found most days in the dojang, teaching Chung Do Kwan, traditional Tae Kwon Do, to his students.
I decided to begin training with Master Han after that meeting. Now, 12 years later, I relish attending black belt class at 6:30 AM on Saturday morning, driving nearly 30 miles, to train with Master Han. Despite all his achievements, Master Han can still be found in the dojang, teaching his students. It is the same with his brother, Han Min Kyo, who owns and operates his own school in Danville, Illinois, one hour south of Chicago.
The brothers came from humble beginnings. The elder brother, Han Cha Kyo, was born in Seoul, South Korea, on July 20, 1934. He has been a student of the martial arts for most of his life. In Korea, Han Cha Kyo trained under three masters, one of which was the same Master Nam I has so recently asked about during our first meeting. Master Han rose rapidly in the ranks. Together with General Choi, Master Nam and others, Master Han was instrumental in the development of modern Tae Kwon Do as it is practiced throughout the world today. He has a wealth of experience as an instructor, administrator and promoter of Tae Kwon Do and health. Throughout his years of service, he and his younger brother, an eighth dan black belt, continued to revise and refine t heir ideas about martial arts and health. Their study led to the creation of the Han Method and the establishment of the Han Foundation.
Master Han and his family came to the United States in 1971, settling in Chicago. Younger brother Han Min Kyo, who graduated from Seoul Moonri Educational University, followed in 1976 and eventually opened his own school in Danville, in 1978. During this period, the brothers extended their research and developed the Han Method, designing and obtaining patents for the Oxitrim and Dynastrike exercise devices.
The Han Method names stress and tension as the harbingers of disease and sickness. Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo explains: "From the first day of life, the body is exposed to the environment and must adapt itself to its influences. The body possesses a system to adjust its function to a situation in the best way possible. This reaction occurs without conscious effort. This system is the regulatory system and the result of the adapting reaction is homeostasis. The regulatory system includes the nervous sys tem, which works through nerve endings, hormones and the immune system. The nervous system works like a computer, programmed to keep the body alive. There is input information; a processing step; and output information expressed in the body's physiology and the individual's behavior. It is possible to control the body's state by controlling the input stimuli to the brain.
"There are two important points about the regulatory system -- it is an open system in that any information can enter the system, and the regulatory system is constant, functioning for the life of the individual. Further, the system functions according to the law of supremacy with regard to information it receives. So, by concentrating, a person can introduce selected information to achieve a desired state."
Han Min Kyo explains: "For example, when a person experiences stress, a cycle may occur where he places more pressure on himself to respond to the situation. If the person is not successful, then even more pressure is added to break the frustration of t he cycle. Physically, the regulatory system has increased the person's heart rate and blood pressure. Respiration is also increased and is shallow and uneven. Consequently, the necessary oxygen is not getting to the areas of the body that need it. Muscles are tensed and constrict the proper flow of blood throughout the body. This tension, if not relieved, will alter breathing."
The Han System promotes deep breathing as seen in infants and children inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. "This highly oxygenated blood and increased blood flow brings more nutrients to all tissues and removes carbon dioxide and other waste products harmful to the body's functions. It also aids in the regenerative processes. Through diaphragmatic breathing, not only are blood flow and circulation improved, but tension is released throughout the body." The Han Method is facilitated by the Hans' own inventions, the Oxitrim and the Dynastrike exercise devices.
The Oxitrim is an accordion-like device used in conjunction with Ki Kong Breathing to stimulate the entire cardiovascular system. The device is compressed in conjunction with exhaling in a long breath. This forces the air out of the bellows through a small hole. It also forces the carbon dioxide out of the user's lungs. When fully compressed, the Oxitrim is held in that position momentarily. As the compression is slowly released, the bellows slowly fills with air. The user, at the same time, fills his lungs with oxygen. This process is repeated in any number of exercises. The eyes remain open throughout the routine.
The Dynastrike is a hand-held Oxytrim. Instead of pads on either end, one end is designed to be held in the hand. It is then used for punching, kicking and a variety of basic techniques.
Both the Dynastrike and the Oxytrim are used to help those afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis. A pilot program was developed by Lutheran General Hospital in which the Han Method replaced the bronchial drainage therapy commonly used to relieve the effects of the disease. This CF program demonstrated the Han Method is an effective alternative to relieve the concentration of phlegm that accumulates in the lungs of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers. The Han Method has also been effective in relieving the effects of Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis and a variety of other diseases.
While developing the Han Method, the Han brothers have remained active in the Tae Kwon Do community. In 1973, the Elder Han served as Chief Referee at the first World Tae Kwon Do Championships held in Montreal, Canada. In 1978, he was named Secretary General of the ITF. Since 1978, Grandmaster Han has continued teaching traditional Tae Kwon Do in the Chicago area. He has also continued to refine the Han Method and to teach his students the importance of community service.
Master Han Cha Kyo founded the Universal Tae Kwon Do Federation (UTF) in 1982 in Chicago. "Our aim is to build a non-political worldwide foundation of true martial artists by promoting the spirit of traditional Tae Kwon Do with a special emphasis on teaching senior citizens and the handicapped community," said Master Han in a recent interview.
"The UTF follows the principles of seven fundamental tenets: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, love, community service. We do not discriminate against other organizations or students. We recognize Tae Kwon Do as an ancient art which promotes the highest traditions of moral culture.
"Another major difference is the UTF's ongoing commitment to community service. Community service involves sharing the physical and spiritual philosophy of the dojang with the people from the local community," added the Grandmaster.
How does the Han Method help with those special needs? "These people have special limitations and require exercise just like everyone else. Oxitrim exercises easily adapt to most physical limitations. Ki Kong breathing and squeezing, while keeping eyes closed, is not hard or complicated; it is very therapeutic. "The Oxitrim is a flexible training device designed with the special needs of the community in mind," states Han.
How does community service benefit the UTF student? The elder Master continues, "Teaching the Han Method to these people helps students to develop their inner selves. Community service is a UTF teaching tool designed to build leadership qualities and moral character. It (the UTF) teaches humility and shows healthy Tae Kwon Do students that other people live under more challenging conditions than they do."
In November 1993, Han Cha Kyo transformed his words into deeds. With the help of many dedicated students, he organized the first MARCHPAD, a martial arts tournament for the mentally and physically challenged. The event was held in Lincolnwood, Illinois, with competitors from across the nation.
The students of both masters have also discovered the Han Method. They use it to dissolve the stress associated with everyday life. With eyes closed, Ki Kong breathing and Oxytrim exercises, the mind becomes focused on the body. Problems seem to melt away. I look forward to recharging my batteries each Saturday morning in black belt class. Master Han Cha Kyo has the unique ability to make each class a new experience. The choice I made back in July 1982 was one of the best choices of my life.
Whether teaching the Han Method to a challenged student or explaining it to a media personality, Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo remains humble. A lifetime of achievement has not changed him.
By Andrew B. Spiegel