CRISIS IN TAEKWONDO
This page updated on July 21, 2006
|On this page we
will look at the various difficulties that the Taekwondo
Black Belt and students are having today with the politics
of commercial taekwondo.
The following is a copy of an e-mail sent to Mr. Sidney Rubinfeld from the Taekwondo Times staff.
I've been putting off writing you. Your article on unscrupulous instructors really ruffled some feathers. Some instructors --who probably charge an arm and a leg to test for black belt--called our new publisher and complained about the article. Well, Mr. Jung told me that I cannot publish you anymore because you upset too many of our readers.
I'm very sorry for this turn of events. You have always sent us good pieces and I hate to lose them.
TKD Times Staff
I received the copy from Mr. Rubinfeld on July 20, 2006 and have his permission to publish it.
Now this Mr. Jung is the same person who is trying to get the North Korean TKD Demo team inside the USA borders.
the situation in North Korea we are working hard to get
the visas for the team approved. However, there has been
no recent news of note. I will keep everyone updated. Our
September issue just went to the printer and I am
including in this email a copy of the ad that will run in
the magazine announcing the team's visit."
KUKKIWON CERTIFICATE FRAUD IS RAMPANT
The KukKiWon is a well-respected and well-run organization. However, there have been many documented instances where unscrupulous instructors have promised KukKiWon certification only to pocket the money and provide bogus credentials, or no credentials at all, to trusting students.
What can be done about it?
Having begun my training in martial arts at age 15 in 1964, I hardly expected that one day I would encounter a situation that is now present in the Tae Kwon Do community. I started training with Richard Chun when he was then a third Dan in Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do. This being some nine years before Tae Kwon Do formally entered the arena, the arts were then known as Korean Karate. We received Dan certification from our Master that was co-signed by his Master. This was a rather informal affair but, notwithstanding, of great importance to us all. I remember entering the Manhattan Center auditorium where the representative kwans entered under their respective tae guks (flags). There were the Oh Do Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, Kang Duk Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, etc., schools represented with their masters and their respective Dan arrangements. Although we had many similarities, we were bound to our masters under these Dan arrangements and they were predominately not transferable from kwan to kwan.
There was a great union that occurred under the Korea Martial Arts Association. The KMA gave birth to the KukKiWon that blossomed into a tremendous gift to martial arts and, truly, to the world. There will be, in the not too distant future, five million black belts worldwide.
Although prices everywhere and in everything (consider gasoline costs!) have gone through the roof; a KukKiWon certificate is still modestly priced (or it should be) if you actually get it! Herein, lies the malaise. A First-Dan actually costs $70 when paid directly to the KukKiWon. Of course, a master is entitled to make a living and can charge any amount above that $70 as his fee. However, in New York the average fee can range from as little as $250 up to $800 in some schools for Cho-dan (First Degree!) By most peoples' estimation, that is excessive. There are many schools nationwide that charge very little above that $70 for First-Dan. A friend recently paid a fee of $1,000 for a Third-Dan and was informed that she would have to pay an "expediting" fee if she expected to receive her KukKiWon documentation before six-months. At least in these instances, the actual KukKiWon certificate was delivered even if it cost a "kwon" and a "tae" to get it!
But there is much more to be told. A Master on the East Coast recently promoted thirty students, accepted fees of $550 each, promised KukKiWon certificates and NEVER produced them! This master, when questioned by his students, summarily expelled them from his school and never delivered on the promise. At that point, a few went to other schools, having to start at color belt level and begin training again as well as paying testing and KukKiWon fees again.
I trained under such a master but at least had my fee returned.
I went on to another master that had a KukKiWon flag on his wall. When I finally tested for Second-Dan, I was told that I would get my certificate in about six weeks. This went on for over a year and after polite questioning I asked the master to meet with me for tea at his convenience to discuss this. This master told me that his master would soon be going to Korea for a visit and would hand deliver my application. I waited patiently and e-mailed the KukKiWon directly. They had no receipt of my application, no receipt of any money paid, didn't know my master or his master. I heard excuses ranging from a poor transportation link in Korea to a funeral being held there as the reason for not getting my KukKiWon certification. I e-mailed the "grandmaster." After some exchanges with the Florida "grandmaster," he began to threaten me and make vile insults regarding my family. I then pursued a series of measures I thought would rectify the situation.
I contacted the Better Business Bureau. Martial arts, not being a certified or accredited endeavor under government supervision, did not fall under the jurisdiction of any agency, so that complaint went for naught. I then wrote to the Attorney General who, in turn, contacted my master and ultimately was told that the Attorney General does not handle consumer complaints. I did, of course contact many senior and reputable masters in the United States as well as the KukKiWon in Korea. All were supportive, but no one had any authority. United States of America Taekwondo was very supportive and willing to take a role in this, but still I was without my money or dan certificate.
I filed my case in Small Claims Court in New York and lo and behold.... I won and received my money back. While that was truly a victory, it didn't provide my KukKiWon certificate for which I had trained hard. I applied to a large organization for KukKiWon certification and recently received their National Dan certificate and am awaiting the KukKiWon certificate through this organization. That effort has also been met with delays and a degree of rudeness from one of its volunteer administrators.
In speaking to black belts, masters and students that once practiced Tae Kwon Do and have since left, they all recount horror stories of being lied to, cheated and taken advantage of by their instructors. Many have resorted to going to non-KukKiWon routes for certification. Unfortunately, now one can buy knockoff certificates on E-Bay! You need simply to type in the words "Phony KukKiWon Certificates" in the search window to find these garbage certificates.
You can search further under "Fraud in Martial Arts" to find masters listed that have committed grievous acts. There currently is no way to stop these unscrupulous people other than to take legal action and hope you win. There is NO one to report to that can close a school, lift a "license" or directly intervene. Two states recently have proposed legislation to license martial arts schools and these efforts are being strongly resisted by the masters most of whom are honest and honorable but fear government intrusion. Beyond a student taking individual action, which is now required, I offer positive suggestions to resolve these issues.
1. Public exposure of unscrupulous masters
2. Establishment of a regional KukKiWon office in America with power to state policy and control exorbitant promotion fees by school owners
3. Establishment of regional testing centers where one's personal instructor, under the supervision of a KukKiWon approved regional master, can conduct black belt examinations
4. Licensing of martial arts schools
5. The obligation of a master to apply for KukKiWon to either the USA Taekwondo Association, AA U or by some agency to be created
6. A process whereby one could check quickly to determine whether or not an application has been sent to KukKiWon
7. The ability to check the qualifications of prospective masters directly with the KukKiWon before the beginning of training
I would encourage all students to take this opportunity to realize a few things. First, your master is due respect-and so are you. For the sake of the overwhelmingly large majority of masters that do the right thing and support their students, we must not take this for granted but thank them continually... not in a private "konsomida" but in writing. Nothing encourages ethical behavior more than to recognize it in others. As a student that may have been mistreated, nothing is worse than being silent. Tell the KukKiWon in writing, tell USA Taekwondo and tell it to everyone that will to listen. Join a school with an excellent reputation. Anyone that appears online or in a magazine promising to "get certification quickly" will probably never get it for you at all. And, if in the final analysis, we can't fix this problem, then maybe, just maybe ...the idea of a worldwide organization known as the KukKiWon is an idea that has come and gone in practice.
Post script: For the many of us that wonder if one day an ITF/WTF union will ever happen, we must first get our WTF house in order. It might be necessary to replace what we have now in both branches of Tae Kwon Do with an agency that is willing to put much effort into regulating our art. I never would have thought as a novice martial art student in 1964 that today, Pil Sung, for me, would mean fighting FOR the integrity of Tae Kwon Do as opposed to using the spirit of Tae Kwon Do to fight with integrity, honor, self-preservation, and indomitable spirit.
Dr. Richard Chun taught me well.... I will use that indomitable spirit for the survival of Tae Kwon Do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sid Rubinfeld, a WTF Ee Dan and Ph.D., is an educator living in New York State. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org