By Katie Mays
Born in Seoul, Korea in 1922, Grandmaster Duk Sung Son was one of the masters to name Tae Kwon Do and bring the art to America. Chung Do Kwan, the style practiced by Grandmaster Son, has roots in Chinese and Japanese martial arts. The diverse background combined with Grandmaster Son’s personal touches have created a strong, ever-evolving art that is in practice all over the country (and then some) today.
In 1963, Grandmaster Son came to New York. He taught in New York City and the Hudson Valley until just before his death in 2011. Having taught at Korean military and police Academies before moving from Seoul, it only makes sense for Master Son to pursue similar ventures in New York. He became a Headmaster at the Military Academy at West Point just outside of Cornwall, New York, where he taught future military new methods of hand-to-hand combat. During that time, he also set up the World Tae Kwon Do Association, the largest independent Tae Kwon Do association in the world, with its headquarters right in the heart of New York City. Classes were held here daily, with the exception of Wednesday nights, when Grandmaster would take the train up to Poughkeepsie to teach the local blackbelts.
Grandmaster Son acquired such a large following after coming to America that there are countless different schools all over the country that claim lineage right to him. Over the last fifty or so years, there have been classes in California, Colorado, Arizona, even extending to Australia, Venezuela, and Ghana, all taught by students of, or students of students of Grandmaster Son.
Because these people practice all over the place, Grandmaster Son began holding a Blackbelt Summer Camp in 1991 for blackbelts to come together and train. The camp took place over four days and was held at the Storm King School in Cornwall-On-Hudson. Campers trained for three brutal workouts a day in the hot sun and socialized in the evenings. This annual event created a sense of family and comradery amongst the people who often seemed to share nothing but the passion for martial arts. To this day, there are similar camps held to continue the tradition begun by Grandmaster Son. Students travel thousands of miles to come together and practice and learn from each other. Grandmaster is linked in one way or another to all of these classes, but the classes have continued to grow on their own, with students from different backgrounds joining in, bringing various new techniques to mix with the traditional art. While the camp sticks to the fundamentals of Tae Kwon Do, every attendee brings a unique perspective to the other campers, helping them to grow their art.
In the Hudson Valley alone there have been classes held in Kingston, Beacon, Wappingers Falls, Poughkeepsie, Cornwall, Fishkill, Newburgh, Stone Ridge, and Greenville. There was even an “Intro to Martial Arts” class held at Dutchess Community College for a while! The blackbelts in the local classes would, and still do, join together regularly at the Wednesday night classes held in Poughkeepsie. Wednesday night classes are a tradition, a call back to the treasured times that Grandmaster’s students would all come together to learn from this man who embodied Tae Kwon Do. The upper belts in the class also continue the weekly tradition of dinner after class, specifically at Milanese in Poughkeepsie. At dinner, recent tests, tournaments, and classes are discussed and stories are shared. A student visiting a Wednesday night dinner can learn a lot over chicken parm and wine. At every dinner a toast is offered in Master Son’s name to remember the man who brought so many people together to practice their art and make lifelong friends.
This art that Grandmaster Son brought us is something incredibly important to the Hudson Valley. Martial arts teach discipline, promote exercise, and most importantly, foster friendships. I personally have learned so much about myself, life, the way the world works, and, naturally, Tae Kwon Do from the people I have met along the way. I have made friends who are two and three times my age and friends who are little more than half my age, friends with different backgrounds and ones with completely opposite lifestyles. Despite our differences, we are all the same when we are practicing Tae Kwon Do together. Everyone practices, everyone teaches, everyone learns. That’s the greatest part, I think, about martial arts; you are always learning. Often, people think reaching your blackbelt is the endgame; they’re wrong. I’ve been told that becoming a blackbelt means you’ve learned the basics. After blackbelt you begin to understand more about how and why we do things the way we do. There is always something new to learn and anyone can learn from anyone else. The master teaches the beginner, but the master can learn something from the beginner too. One of my current instructors, Master Jim Brady (7th Dan) once said that, “you should never go into class thinking there isn’t something you can learn, teaching or not teaching.” Even if you know enough to be showing others how something is done, you’ll often be surprised to find out something new about yourself or your art. I feel this is something important to remember, both about Tae Kwon Do and life in general.
Learning from Grandmaster Son and his students has been such a privilege for me, so I felt it was important to share just a little bit about his legacy in our home with our readers. In case learning about our local martial arts history has peaked your interest, I have included a list of some local classes taught by students of Master Son. Send over an email (you can just write TKD in the subject line) or text/call for class information!
(845) 562-6700 (kellystaekwondo.com)