Master Daniel Segarra- Part 3

By Master David Allerton (5th Dan)


Moo Sa Do the evolution of Tang Soo Do?
Tang Soo Do’s Warrior Scholar Speaks out.

Master Segarra, thankyou for agreeing to answer my questions once again. In this months column I would like to explore both your recollections of our founder Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee as well as the personal progressions you have in mind for the future of your Tang Soo Do school

Q> Can you relate to us some of the complexities in translating and interpreting hyungs from the MYDBTJI ? It is particularly interesting because you have followed the same path as KJN Hwang Kee yet produced something uniquely different.

Master Segarra: Well Chinese is not my native language and my Korean is functional but limited. So I had to translate character for character each line in the Kwon Bup section of the MYDBTJI and then make sense of it. This took a long time using, three different character dictionaries and various online tools. Many of the characters are very obscure and not used in modern times. I also consulted some Chinese friends to help smooth it out. KJN Hwang Kee was going for historically accurate hyungs, but most of these forms are only one or two sequences in length, so he added the majority of the movements built around a specific technique. Since it is impossible to exactly recreate the Yuk Ro without illustrations and more detailed descriptions I used them as themes and built hyungs around movements that characteristically illustrated these themes. This way I could encode our philosophy into the forms making them philosophy in action, not a separate part of our system. We have ten basic (Ship dan Khum) and Seven advanced (Yuk Ro plus the Kwon Bup form) representing the seven star philosophy of our system. Each hyung is assigned an animal (Bear, Monkey, Eagle, Tiger, Crane, Snake and Dragon) and each animal symbolizes one of seven virtues, attributes and energy centres in the body. It all ties together making our style very synergistic. They only resemble the Moo Duk Kwan versions by name and source, there are a couple of similar motions here and there but that’s it.

Q> If I were to ask you for guidance on how a technique or form can be progressed to a higher level. How would you respond ?

Master Segarra: There are three levels of application 1) static 2) dynamic and 3) chaotic. Most Tang Soo Do students practice the static form. Everything is prearranged or choreographed. Take a wrist grab or a form application for example, after learning it in its static form, we then apply it in sparring. One person will spontaneously deliver a particular attack to their partner during sparring when we blow a whistle. They then escape and continue sparring. This progresses to multiple holds and attacks so you don’t know what to expect and you have to be dynamic.

We then take a series of attacks, let’s say a choke, a wrist grab and a knife attack and have one person close their eyes and spin on their spot. Then the whistle blows and they open their eyes a little dizzy and they have to defend against the attack. Or we will place a defender in a circle of people and push them and turn them while yelling at them then when the whistle blows a designated attacker will attack the defender while everyone steps back. This is all controlled chaos. It develops the seventh level of centeredness (maintain your center in danger). The point is to always test your technique and your center. If we can maintain our center during these kind of challenges the minor ones we face on a daily basis will be much easier.

Q> Based on my experience of Tang Soo Do there isn’t a mainstream attempt to interpret the hyungs for self defence, preferring instead a separate and unrelated system of grabs, restraints and strikes. This makes no sense to me. How do you teach Self Defence ?


Master Segarra: We teach applications of our forms for every movement. You cannot properly do a form if you don’t know what you are doing. That is the exact reason why I developed a new series of hyung. I know the applications and I teach them. As I mentioned once the static technique is understood then we have two person energy drills which make each application dynamic then finally chaotic. We have a throwing take down set, a head control set, leg capture set, arm break set, wrist lock flow set and much more. These are all combined so our members learn Mun San Hap Ki or “spontaneous mastery”. We also require that all skills be demonstrated at the Master level in four ways 1) self defence 2) multiple attackers and 3) protecting others (bodyguarding) 4) as a tactical team.




Q> Can you relate some memorable experiences with KJN Hwang Kee ?

Master Segarra: I assisted Grand Master Hwang Kee with various projects, including his instructor guides and my last project with the Federation was making an English version of Grandmaster Hwang Kee's Philosophy book a reality. I personally hired a translator and helped him with the Moo Do aspects as well as the editing of the project then I surprised Grandmaster H.C Hwang presenting it to him at the national tournament. Sadly my role in this has been minimized after my leaving the Federation. But history is history and that can’t be changed.

The first time I met Grandmaster, my instructor his son H.C Hwang, asked me to bring up some Pizza to him in his office at headquarters during a Dan test. I knocked on the door and said “Kwang Jang Nim” he then said ‘Ohh Peecha (Pizza)’ I had to laugh at how excited he was about pizza, obviously he liked it. He offered me a slice but I said no thank you thinking I was not worthy of having lunch with the Grandmaster.

This brings up an important point. Grandmaster Hwang Kee was VERY approachable, it was the Senior Korean masters that insulated him from everyone else, they wanted him for themselves. He loved sitting and talking, enjoying anyone’s company. I think if he was not so insulated the Moo Duk Kwan would have progressed a lot further in its development.

Often I would send questions to Grandmaster Hwang Kee through his son, my instructor, H.C Hwang. One time that was pretty funny, I asked him if there was a correlation between the eight key concepts and the eight trigrams of the I ching (four of which are on the Korean flag). A month later Master H.C Hwang called me over and said "Master Segarra, my father enjoyed your question and has responded", I excitedly waited for the answer "My father said, yes there is a correlation" now very excited I waited for more and he said "my father said, you figure it out", we both laughed. See a good teacher doesn’t just dole out information, he encourages the student to discover it on their own.

Training under GM Hwang Kee once I was very impressed by his teaching style. I remember we were doing Chil Sung Oh Ro (Five) and one of the members near me was off in their posture. Grandmaster seemed to thread his hands and foot into the students posture and gently popped them into the correct position. It was pretty impressive from an instructors standpoint.

Since our studio is right near JFK airport I always met Grandmaster Hwang Kee so he got used to seeing me regularly and when I was in Korea he spotted me waiting outside Joong Ahn Dojang (Headquarters) with my student Milo and friend Bill. He invited us up to his private area upstairs near the office to the left and he had some Yogurt drinks for us. He then brought out a photo album which blew me away. First, he taught Ko Dan Ja classes regularly way into his golden years. Second, the Masters were doing what looked more like Kung Fu than what I was learning in the United States. The postures and applications were not techniques we were being currently taught and I was a 5th Dan at the time. Another student of mine looking for me came up with his infant son, Grandmaster immediately took the baby and began playing with him. He (Grandmaster) was having a great time. Then a senior Korean master came up and asked us all to leave. I was not sure why in the beginning but then he verbally chewed us out, I mean flipped out ! I waited for the appropriate time then I let him have it back in spades. I told him we were invited guests and if he ever pulled that crap in front of my students again I’d embarrass him so bad he’d regret it. See that was simply one example of insulating Grandmaster even when he was reaching out. When I asked about the postures I saw in the album I was told 'don't ask'. At that point I knew we were way behind in what Grandmaster Hwang Kee wanted us to know so I pressed even harder in my studies. I realized the direction Hwang Kee wanted us to go and we were nowhere near achieving this. First and foremost he wanted us to learn to be centered because if you are not peaceful how can you positively impact others around you? He wanted us to have a masterful grasp of human relations through philosophy in action and of course be masterful technicians.

I looked around and thought most of the "Masters" don't behave like masters, most of the 'Masters' barely remember their requirements and are far from being centered. I thought how could I get so much out of this art and so many ‘Masters’ missed the point? Then I realized the MDK was very simple back in 1945, over the years it became over complicated with too many one steps, self defence and forms. One steps should make sense and be easily applicable in sparring, that's the whole point! Yet we had 18 techniques that many people got confused, had the wrong stance or side at testings, etc. Then self defence, Ho Sin Sool became static and most did not know how to flow from one technique to another. Then forms, I knew over forty forms. Your average member could not keep up with that number of forms let alone do them well.

So it made me look back at how it was done in the old days and it was much simpler. One steps were practical, Self defence was simple and flowed. As a matter of fact in the U.S we only did wrist grabs. In Korea, there was headlocks, chokes, groundfighting, weapon disarms. Korea had A LOT more material that was simpler, here we had a lot less material that was more complicated, just the opposite. I’ve actually posted some old MDK videos from the fifties up on the website, which proves my point. Think about this if you are truly concerned with the well being of your students instead of making a fleet of cloned karatebots, why would you not teach them the skills to make them safer like Hwang Kee originally did? Why would you teach them only wrist grabs? Back in Korea you learned a variety of skills to make you a formidable opponent and a master of life. They were practicing, Ki Gong (Chi Gong), much more practical self defence, first aid, philosophy, hand conditioning, weapon disarming, they had such a well rounded curriculum, yet we were stuck learning one more form, one more wrist grab etc. Modern Tang Soo Do got away from the original vision !

There is a concept for the most part not taught outside Korea called Su p’a ri (???). Su pa ri describes the three phase cycle of learning. It literally means protect-deconstruct-transcend. Basically after developing a sound technical foundation one must then develop the deeper levels of the forms, then learn how to apply them spontaneously. Almost every organization I’ve seen is stuck in the Su (standardization) phase. Understanding Su p’a ri helps us avoid the pitfall of getting trapped between the static but definable Forms, one steps, ho sin sool etc. and the dynamics of actual fighting. The realities of real combat are very different from the controlled environment of the static aspects of martial arts training.

Q> KJN Hwang Kee is acknowledged as a martial art prodigy ; I believe his son GM H.C. Hwang played a pivotal role in the development of the Chil Sung hyung (7 star forms). What would you say are the major achievements in your own Ryu Pa (development)?

Master Segarra: Actually I was in a class being led by GM Hwang Kee and his son assisting. GM corrected him (H.C Hwang) several times. So it was obvious to me who developed the forms. I know there were certain sequences GM H.C Hwang requested to be changed or altered because they were too athletic for the majority of practitioners. So maybe that’s where the confusion is regarding who developed the hyungs. GM Hwang Kee created the Chil Sung hyungs.

The achievement I am most proud of is taking Tang Soo Do to a higher level, and I think Grandmaster Hwang Kee would be proud of what I have done. Our system is what I wished I had when I was a starry eyed young Dan member. I’ve not only uncovered what many senior masters would consider ‘secrets’ but I have broken down those ‘secrets’ in an easy to learn step by step system. Things like the Ship Sam Seh, Ki Gong or Chi, mental mastery etc. I’ve broken these down into easy to understand scientific steps in plain English not mysterious fortune cookie diatribe. Anyone can benefit from this no matter what level or rank. As a matter of fact some of the most prestigious Masters and Grandmasters of Tang Soo Do and other martial arts have wholeheartedly endorsed my meditation book which is just a small part of our curriculum. It is my mission to make real martial art masters and share the techniques and methodologies that have given me much success in Tang Soo Do. You can’t take knowledge with you when you pass, so I don’t believe in keeping the good stuff secret. I want to make the Tang Soo Do world better than when I came into it rather than the same status quo. It’s time to open the doors and share everything and make Tang Soo Do one of the most respected martial arts in the world again.

Q> What projects do you have in mind for the future ?

I have a new book on the history of our school coming out this year called ‘from Tang Soo Do to Moo Sa Do’ following that I have translated the Kwon Bup section of Korea’s ancient martial arts text the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji (which GM Hwang Kee drew heavily from) which will be published soon as well and a Ki Gong book with the eight brocade and the various Ki Gong (Chi gong) exercises Grandmaster Hwang Kee published in the Soo Bahk Do Dae Gahm. We are currently filming an instructional video series as well so I have a lot of projects on the drawing board. It’s my mission to take Tang Soo Do to the next level and I am very excited to share this with my Tang Soo Do family around the world.

Master Segarra, thankyou for your insightful replies. Perhaps I could keep UK students informed of your future projects through this column.

I’d love to share my experiences with your readers and I look forward to developing relationships in the U.K. I would also like to credit Christina Santucci for her work in producing the photos for this article.

Yours in Tang Soo !