The Killing Art

I just now got back from our meeting, and I am exhausted.  That was the first 10 hour physically focused class I attended, and while my body was certainly tired at the end, my mind seemed to be even more fatigued towards the end of the eventful day.  It had been a highly anticipated meeting on my part, and I was not let down.  I would even go as far as to say that this was one of the most illuminating martial arts meetings I have ever attended, and it’s a lot of things.

It would be wrong for me to say that this meeting had a highlight that stood out to me. I honestly feel like every little detail of this meeting harmonized together as if part of a grand orchestra to create its final and greater meaning.  The focal point of the  meeting for me was Master Shaffer reporting on her finding in a book she had read called A Killing Art: The Untold Story of Tae Kwon Do by Alex Gillis.

A perspective changing book

Currently, I feel that I cannot comment too much about the content of the book.  Since I have only heard a summary about it, and it is all rather new to me, it is something that I don’t understand well yet.  It must be the case as well that this is a very controversial history of Tae Kwon Do. I don’t think it in any way discredits Tae Kwon Do or what our group is practicing.  It does however totally shatter the pastoral view of the art’s history that one may have, and in its places offers a much more detailed and at times disquieting narration of where the art came from.  The book certainly provides much food for thought: especially for us Taekwondo-ists. I need to personally read this book at some point.

Master Shaffer went over this book around lunch time, and the thoughts of this book stayed with me throughout the rest of the classes and seemed to color everything in a new light.  More than ever, I feel blessed to be part of this martial art book and to be a student of Master Pearson’s.  If there is anyone who could successfully navigate the troubled waters of this history to arrive at a higher martial truth, it would be a dedicated and talented martial artist like Master Pearson.

I am simply speechless at the possible repercussions that this book’s knowledge will have for me.  Before anything else though I need to read it myself and take everything in. Like I said before, it’s definitely much food for thought.

As is the case with any such obstacle though, the discovery of this unknown history only spurs me on to stick to my practice and to dive in deeper to see what I will find.  I certainly want to read up a lot more on the history of Tae Kwon Do and other arts.

Everything this meeting was very enlightening, and this book was very illuminating and put many things about our history into perspective.  I look forward to reading the full book myself and to seeing how it affects my practice.


  1. Mr W.
    I too am very confused. I bought this book through so hopefully it will explain things. I left 13 years ago when they started to change the forms.

  2. Mr. Walsh,
    I have just finished “the killing art” a couple days ago and I am still coming to terms with it. My first gut reaction to the overall theme of the book was grief. I did care for all the political arguing however I was happy to see despite the inside fighting and breaks and reforging of groups that Tae Kwon Do still prevails as a martial art today. That is pretty impressive and encouraging to see. I kinda wish I had not read this. Perhaps if I had read this as a black belt I would not feel so discouraged by it but I have gleamed the book positive elements of sticking with it despite all odds. Again I am a newbie….Thanks.

  3. Mr. Walsh,

    I will admit that this book had as many positive spins on the history of tkd but I guess when I started to read I had in my mind a notion of what I myself wanted to find. I think black belts as well as higher colored belts forget how often lower belts put tkd history and them on a pedestal and expect perfection. I found myself shocked I guess by the fact that tkd has a very “human” history full of its joys but also by things it wishes to forget but happened none the less. For me its like finding a barrel of apples but knowing there are a few bad ones it instead of throwing out the whole barrel I need to go and exam each one and decide what is important throwing out the whole barrel and losing all or going through it slowing and appreciating the good apples for what they all.

    1. Rose,
      You shouldn’t have read it! And I’m sorry you did. If I were you I would forget everything you read, keep it on your list, and re-read the book in 10 years when you’re ready 🙂 Just remember, don’t throw the baby out even if the bathwater is bad! It is good to see you taking your own learning so seriously though and in that I would encourage you. You are a rare gem in Cincy…keep it up!

    2. Rose,

      I can well understand your feelings of disillusionment. Do know that this was my reaction as well. As a blackbelt, I too held just as much a preconceived notion of the history of Taekwondo as being pastoral and idealistic. It is of course discouraging to find out that is not the case.

      However, I don’t see any harm in reading the book. I have always believed that knowledge is empowering no matter how disheartening or shocking it may be. However the forefathers of Taekwondo may have acted, or what ever they may have done, it is not reflective upon Taekwondo as an art. In today’s world, Taekwondo is definitely its own art and it has so much to offer anyone who is willing to partake of it.

      Just because the road ahead seems a little less certain than it did before does not mean that it is not worth traveling. If anything, it only makes the journey more interesting and offers a lot more opportunity 😉

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