Korea is a tough little finger jutting out of the Asian continent. It endures winters that sweep down from the arctic, monsoons that blast in from the Pacific, and summers so hot they make Hell jealous. Into this mix, in 1920, Yoon Byung In was born.
Though his family had once been comfortable, with the Japanese occupation they fell on hard times. Though they were not rich, Yoon Byung In presented himself well, always polite, very strong, and extremely smart. If ever forced to fight, he never let anger rule him, he never tried to deliberately hurt his opponent, but rather fought only to the point of stopping the fight.
One winter, while crouching at a street fire, he fell forward and burned his right hand severely. As a result he lost half the length of his fingers, and wore white gloves from that time on.
During his early years Yoon Byung In picked up an interest in the martial arts. He applied for admission to a Chinese kung fu academy, but was turned away. Not to be stopped, he spied in the windows until the master was chased away. Realizing that he had to prove himself, Yoon Byung In arranged the shoes of the students neatly on the steps of the school every day. The Master of the school finally recognized him, and accepted him as a student.
Graduating from upper school, Yoon Byung In was chosen to go to Japan to study at a University. This was an honor which should have gone to an elder son, and which showed just how smart and hard working Yoon Byung in was.
To continue his martial arts training, Yoon Byung In took to striking a tree on the campus every day. The tree actually started to lean over from the daily bashing. One day a fellow Korean ran up to Yoon. Several Japanese Karate students were in pursuit. The Korean had apparently decided that having a girlfriend was more important than studying Karate, and now asked Yoon Byun In to rescue him.
Yoon Byung In asserted himself, and managed to defeat the karate students, but did not harm any of them. As a result, he met the grandmaster Toyama Kanken of the Karate school.
Toyama Kanken was the first person to open a karate school in Japan, he was a classmate of Gichin Funakoshi, and had studied under nearly all the Okinawan legends of Karate. He was quite impressed with Yoon Byun In, and they agreed to teach each other their systems.
Yoon eventually became the captain of the university karate club, and was promoted to fourth dan.
In 1950 the North Koreans invaded South Korea, and Yoon returned to his country. During this time he was essential, perhaps even crucial, in introducing Korean Karate to his country. Many of his students went on to start their own organizations.
Yoon was asked to teach karate to the Imperial Palace Bodyguards. He turned down the position because he would have to salute, and he was embarrassed about his injured hand.
During the war, Yoon’s older brother forced Yoon to go with him to North Korea. Yoon was then drafted and forced to fight in the war.
Yoon was eventually captured and taken to a POW camp on an island off the coast of Southern Korea. When the war ended the allies asked for South Koreans to step forth, that they would be allowed to return to their country. The North Koreans restrained Yoon and wouldn’t allow him to return to South Korea.
In North Korea Yoon was given the task of teaching a martial arts class to the army. His methods and results apparently didn’t agree with the party beliefs, and Yoon was relieved of his teaching position and forced to work in a cement factory.
Many years later, suffering from lung cancer (doubtless form his forced labor in the cement factory) Yoon was allowed to return to his home and family.
Broke, this legend of karate passed away. He had scaled the greatest heights, achieved the pinnacle of martial arts, shared his knowledge freely, and then been forced into slavery and ill health.
Consider this the next time you slip on that pretty uniform, sip a little designer water, step out onto that mat surrounded by wall length mirrors, and do your forms.
And be grateful for people like Yoon Byung In. People who suffered war and deprivation, and yet passed on the arts which lead to the establishment of arts like Kukkiwon Korean Martial Arts.
If you want to experience real martial arts, as designed and taught by people like Yoon Byung In, check out Evolution of an Art at Monster Martial Arts.
Robert McLain wrote the article from which this was derived. That article can be viewed in issue 5 (pg 32) of TotallyTKD(dot)com. More of Mr. McLain’s writings can be seen at kimsookarate(dot)com.