Grandmaster O’Neil, thank you for doing this interview sir, lets begin.
What country did you grow up in as a kid? Do you still live there?
I grew up in the United Kingdom within the Wiltshire area not too far from the Stonehenge Monument – I still live there too.
How big was your family that you grew up with? I grew up with two brothers. Mike being the eldest, 4 yrs my senior and Chris being the youngest, 1 year my junior.
So what age did you start TaeKwonDo? I was 17 years old when I started Taekwon-Do
What inspired you to start? ie a film star, lack of fitness, self defence, confidence etc
I was always interested in Martial arts from the days of the Bruce Lee movies I used to watch, however I never really thought I’d start practising. My entire school life was pretty poor; I was asthmatic and quite often the victim of many bullies, one night when I was 17yrs old I was at an Air Cadets meeting when I looked across the way and saw people doing a Martial art in the RAF Gym at Boscombe Down, I had no idea what Martial art it was, however it was at that point I decided I could do something with my life to beat the bullies so decided to have a look, I walked in and read the word ‘Taekwon-Do’ on the back of a student, I decided to join the School – it was Wednesday 13th September 1978.
When you took up TKD, did your family support you?
Both my brothers and I started Taekwon-Do, my eldest Brother started just before me to be fair and Chris just after me. To this day although
my Mother has always supported me, I’m not too sure she fully understands what it is I actually do lol.
Regarding family, did any of them take up TKD ?
We all did Taekwon-Do; my eldest Brother Mike is a 5th Dan Blackbelt and whilst he no longer trains he’s still heavily involved in Taekwon-Do, he’s the author of the best selling Colourbelt and Blackbelt Student Taekwon-Do Handbooks which are sold all over the World. My younger Brother Chris achieved his 6th Kup – Green belt around 1980, I have 4 Biological Children 3 of which did Taekwon-Do when they were younger before I taught a Childrens’ class, they managed to get to Green Belt level, more recently my Wife and 3 Step-Children all achieved Blackbelts under Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha.
How many times did you meet the founder?
I can’t recall exactly how many times I met the Founder but it was many times, I attended as many International Courses as I could given the
opportunity as they arose. They were all fantastic courses some of which were TWO weeks in duration which is unheard of nowadays.
Did you ever travel or assist him? Please give details.
I never actually travelled with or assisted the Founder of Taekwon-Do but certainly travelled and assisted with the Founder of UK TaekwonDo Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha, as my Instructor he’s invited me to assist him with many seminars Nationally and internationally, in particular International Seminars in the Caribbean, Canada,Greece, Finland, Cyprus, to name a few, and countless National Seminars in the UK.
What is your fondest memory of Gen Choi?
I have many great memories but one that’s always springs to mind with Gen Choi , I was IV Dan & attending an International course with Gen Choi when Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha volunteered me to perform Juche on my own in front of Gen Choi Hong Hi and the entire seminar, – I stood up and said to myself “I got this”, then proceeded to go completely the wrong way on move No.1, instead of taking left foot left I went right foot right. Gen Choi looking puzzled voiced out aloud laughing! , “I thought I asked for Juche – not Choong Jang”, – In the end I did a fantastic Juche – a photo is attached of the flying reverse turning kick towards the end, often commented of how high I was off the floor. Definitely didn’t want to disappoint Gen Choi again lol.
Did you ever compete during your career at all.
Yes I competed a great deal from Green Belt to 3rd Dan. Green belt was the earliest grade you could ever start as a competitor, and in those days if you wanted to become an International Instructor you were advised to retire from competition. Typically IV Dan international Instructor
actually ran the events as officials as opposed to competing, nowadays we have white belts starting and even Masters competing, certainly wasn’t permitted in my day, to be fair 4th Dan’s upwards in those days were very few and far between anyway so were needed to umpire the events.
Do you have a memory about competing you would like to share? i.e.Injuries sustained, the teaching methods taught by your instructor, highs or lows, people met etc
To be honest in those days it was brutal, oddly though hardly anyone sustained injuries, training was hard, sparring pads were nothing more than just a piece of foam over our back hands and instep, we were taught ‘No contact’, but “hit him as hard as you could or he’ll hit you” kind of mentality.It was tough, adrenalin always pumping and sparring was so exciting. I did particularly well in Power Testing and won many Medals, Gold Silver & Bronze, had my fair share of medals in Sparring too and several in Patterns, but I was never a serious competitor in that I never wished to compete nationally or internationally, I was running 3 TKD Schools, had a full time job and bringing up 4 kids, plus as I said I retired at 4th Dan to fulfil my passion as an International Instructor, technical excellence and knowledge as opposed to competition.
What was your best title won to when competing?
I cannot recall but several Champion in Power and medallist positions in Sparring and Patterns but no Major titles like European or World, that wasn’t really my thing, although I was typically always in attendance at virtually all competitions as an official.
Did you ever serve on your national TKD squad?
I was never part of any National or International Squad.
What age did you become an instructor?
I became an Instructor when I took over the Stonehenge School as a Red belt when my Instructor left the school, however I became an Official Qualified Instructor under Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha in 1984 when I was 23 years old
What encouraged that transition?
I was always interested in the learning of Taekwon-Do and the thought of teaching Taekwon-Do really excited me, it was inevitable in my mind that I would become an instructor and pass on the knowledge and skills I have learnt to others.
What is your best memory as an instructor? Students achievement / First Black Belt / or title status etc.
After being an Instructor for nearly 40 years it’s almost impossible to recall my best memory when I literally have 1000’s, I’m always proud of my first ever Blackbelt Ernest Wattie, who I’m still in touch with to this day which is great. I guess to summarise as an Instructor my fondest memories are seeing any of my students stand in front of Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha for their Blackbelt grading, not only is it an achievement for them but also a great achievement for any instructor. I’m always proud of students who achieve medal positions at tournaments and the School has literally produced 1000’s of champions over the years which I’m proud of, whenever I take students to tournaments we always come home with medals, an unbroken records since I started teaching.
So what has been your best achievement in TKD apart from becoming a Grand Master?
I guess my best achievement is to say that my School is the 3rd longest running Taekwon-Do school in the United Kingdom that’s still running in the same town with the same instructor, (albeit it was running for 4 years before I joined). All too often schools’ close, instructors’ change. Not for Stonehenge School founded in 1974 which is 2 miles from the Stonehenge monument and still going today in the same town. This is by far my greatest achievement, apart from being honoured with the responsibility of Grand Master by my Instructor Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha.
Do you have one memory you can share about TKD? A fun story /who you met etc.
So many memories, so any great times, so many stories, one such was when we hosted Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha in Wiltshire and a local Swindon Instructor arranged the evening socials meal in a Japanese Restaurant in Swindon. The restaurant was full of people mostly Japanese people worked at the nearby Honda manufacturing site, during the evening we introduced Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha to the Restaurant owners who after talking asked for a comparison between Japanese Karate and Korean Taekwon-Do. We gave them a respectful comment of course!! However Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha demonstrated a Taekwon-Do punch on the solid brick pillars holding up the bar. It sounded like a bomb went off every single person in the restaurant stopped eating in their tracks and looked up and stared at the bar. It was awesome. There were no further questions about the difference between Taekwon-Do and Karate that evening, and we had the best meal ever.
What are your hopes or plans for TaeKwonDo in general for the future?
Sadly it seems Taekwon-Do has become so diluted nowadays & so competition based in some aspects. I fear the original purpose of TaekwonDo as a Self Defense art is diminishing in many instances. Some students I see wear Blue/Red & sometimes Blackbelts and yet have absolutely no concept of personal survival or tactical self defense, no concept of spatial awareness, and no understanding of the techniques they practice or how to use them to defend themselves. We have so many tools in our tool box after many years of learning Taekwon-Do and yet so many student continue to use just one tool for every job – which often never works. As instructors we usually always offer a full banquet of food at every single Taekwon-Do lesson, it always strikes me with disbelief just how many students still go home hungry. I will do my best to maintain the integrity of Taekwon-Do through the teachings of my Instructor Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha, and will continue to offer as much as I can to students at my seminars so they go home with an understanding that this Martial Art of Taekwon-Do can and will actually save them in a hostile situation if it ever comes their way.
If you could change anything from your career, what would it be?
For everyone to just get on and work together for the longevity and integrity of our Founders work, people are all too quick to discredit others for doing things different, rather than discredit it would be nice for everyone to help everyone else understand. I was at a tournament watching blackbelt patterns when I heard one instructor say that’s wrong he has no idea what he’s doing (Move No. 6 in Po-Eun –Forefist Pressing Block). I agreed but then took the opportunity afterwards to speak to the blackbelt to discuss the technique. The Blackbelt was truly
grateful for the knowledge because he had no idea of the purpose of the technique, he understood it and performed it as a outer forearm Low Block.He then went on to ask me loads moIre questions about his patterns, which I happily discussed with him. He went home a different Blackbelt that day. If we all took time to help instead of criticise the Taekwon-Do world would be better one.
Lastly, what is your current position you hold in TaeKwonDo apart from GM? I’m currently the Vice-President of A.C.E. Taekwon-Do, also the Child Protection Officer of ACE TKD. I’m also very proud to be the 2nd of only TWO Grand Masters Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha has ever promoted to IX Dan. We have monthly 3G meetings (3G meaning 3 GM’s) Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha, GM Cutler & myself discussing everything about Taekwon-Do from History to Pioneering techniques and the development of Taekwon-Do as a whole for the future with new terminology and new techniques, Pioneer Rhee Ki Ha is more than aware he has no right to change the book, however having said
that Taekwon-Do is much like the original creator of the motor car it must develop and evolve.
Thank you for your time Sir! TaeKwon