I had the time in 2010 to ask Grandmaster Pan Sim Woon, 8th Dan in Taekwondo, some questions about his views on Taekwondo and poomsae.
Andy Jeffries: Good afternoon Grandmaster Pan, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Let’s start off at the beginning; when and why did you start training Taekwondo?
Grandmaster Pan Sim Woon: I started training Taekwondo in 1964 under my secondary school senior who was a brown belt then. We were camping one weekend as I was a scout then when my senior had to leave camp. He would not tell us where he was going to. We pestered him and he told us that he would tell us in the morning. After chores in the morning, my senior led us to an old tree trunk, took one look at it, spun and kicked it with a back kick. The trunk fell crashing down. We were very impressed and asked him to teach us. He was reluctant initially but relented after much persuasion.
Kung Fu was all the rage then and Taekwondo was similar. We were brought up on a diet of such movies and it was desirable to be able to perform martial arts moves. However, I never took any tests because my father would have disapproved if he had known. My senior taught me everything he knew to 1st Dan level.
AJ: You’ve long been known for staying away from the politics of Taekwondo, was there some specific past event that turned you away from politics or is it just in your nature? How easy do you find it, training/teaching without the politics? Do you have any advice for Taekwondoin [Taekwondo practitioner] wishing to train without getting involved in power struggles?
PSW: In general, my experience and view is that politics attract people of limited ability who craves power. Take a look around you. Tickles me all the time whenever people try to impress me with their knowledge of Taekwondo.
Training without politics is easy because one is concentrating on training only. My advice to Taekwondoin is to train ‘in pursuit of excellence’ because nobody can take that expertise away from you when you have achieved it.
AJ: You’re a qualified International Instructor from the Kukkiwon, how did you find the course? What were the main points you took away from that experience?
PSW: The course had a very uplifting experience for me. Getting updated is always wonderful. Meeting old friends and making new ones, seeing other standards of TKD practised and back to being a student was great!
UPDATE: Grandmaster Pan is now a 1st Class International Kukkiwon Instructor, having attended the course at all three levels
AJ: As a fan of Taekwondo poomsae, what are your favourite poomsae and what makes them different in your eyes from the rest? How often and in what way do you practice your poomsae?
PSW: Keumgang. A simple stress free pattern with basic stances, forward, backward, sideways, turning, stamping, slow, normal and easy arms movements.
Chonkwon. Unique movements like the circular arms, the jumping and spinning crescent kick and a few others, not repeated in other patterns, put this pattern in a class of its own.
Mental training of the poomsae whenever there is free time in my head. Physical training whenever I feel like it.
AJ: What are your goals and aspirations for the next few years? As you’ve nearly reached the highest normal grade in Taekwondo, what’s next for you?
PSW: This is it. 8th Dan is good enough for me. Help people to achieve as in fitness, health and youthfulness.
AJ: If you had to assess someone’s Taekwondo ability in 10 seconds what would you ask them to do (assuming they know how to do anything you ask)? What would you look for in their performance?
PSW: Sitting stance middle section punch. Accuracy in physiological functions are what I will be looking for.
AJ: What are the worst things a Taekwondoin can do in your eyes to reduce the respect you feel they are worth? Are there any particular faults or problems that you feel are particularly bad for Taekwondoin?
PSW: Betraying one’s trust. So, ‘never betray a trust’.
AJ: You are a proud member of the Chang Moo Kwan in Korea. A lot of Taekwondoin outside of Korea are confused as to the point of the Kwans since the Kukkiwon formed to unify Taekwondo. How do you view the Kwans and their purpose/basis in the 21st century?
PSW: It is like a family. What do you do in a family wherever and whenever?
UPDATE: Grandmaster Pan was granted a Chang Moo Kwan 9th Dan in July 2013, at the Chang Moo Kwan headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. I was present at the award ceremony and had a great time.
AJ: Who do you look up to Taekwondo? Why is it about that person that you admire?
PSW: My friend and original instructor, for without him I will not be what I am today in TKD.
AJ: Thanks for taking the time today and best wishes for the future.