Grandmaster Harkess is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has been part of the I.T.F. for over 45 years and was a loyal stalwart to it until 2018. Now running the World I.T.F Taekwon-Do Council (W.I.T.C), he states it has gone from strength to strength. We sat down and conducted a telephone interview with him to do a ‘Grandmaster in Question’ interview for you, our readers.
Sir, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I will ask you a few questions and, if you can answer, this will be great. Let’s begin.
What country did you grow up in as a kid? Do you still live there?
I have always lived in Scotland. I was brought up in a fishing village called Cockenzie and Port Seton, which is about 12 miles East of Edinburgh. I got married in my mid twenties and moved to Edinburgh with my wife, Joyce, where we still live now.
How big was your family that you grew up with?
It was me, my mum and Dad and my two younger sisters, Linda and Val.
So, what age did you start TaeKwonDo?
I was 21 when I started Taekwon-Do. I had previously practised Karate for a short period before moving to Taekwon-Do.
What inspired you to start i.e. a film star, lack of fitness, self defence, confidence etc.
It was the mid 70’s and I was influenced by Bruce Lee films. As a young man I wanted to be able to defend myself should I get into any difficult situations when out and about and his movies inspired me to learn a Martial Art. A friend of mine suggested I try a Taekwon-Do class under an instructor called Mr Teh Hock Aun. I remember seeing his ad that same week that said ‘Learn the most powerful Martial Art known.’ I was impressed as there was a black and white photo of him alongside the ad where he was breaking many tiles with an elbow strike. I think after visiting his club and seeing him in action, with his fantastic kicking skills, I became hooked and made a decision then that I would pursue TaeKwon-Do.
When you took up TKD, did your family support you?
My parents had never heard of Taekwon-Do. However, as I got older and made it my full time job they were really proud of me. I invited my father as a guest of honour to attend the International Instructor Course (I.I.C) in 2004, which was conducted by myself in Edinburgh. He was amazed by the size of our organisation, United Kingdom Taekwon-Do Council (UKTC), and the technical standard of the instructors and their demonstrations. He was especially impressed to see his Grandson, Mark Harkess, demonstrate advanced patterns. My wife, Joyce, has always been a great support.
Regarding family, did any of them take up TKD?
My sister, Val, commenced training when I did in 1976. She took a break and returned a few years ago and is now a part-time instructor alongside my team. My son, Mark, has done very well competing nationally and internationally and is now an excellent instructor in the UKTC. He is admired by his students and respected by his peers. He has in fact just been promoted to 7th Degree Master by the W.I.T.C. I am proud of all his achievements in Taekwon-Do and I couldn’t manage without him. My daughter, Kim, gained a 1st Degree, and is very much involved in the administration of UKTC. My nephew is Josh Taylor, the undefeated Boxing Champion of the World. He earned his UKTC Black Belt in Taekwon-Do and was a British Champion and International Competitor before he discovered his love of boxing.
How many times did you meet the Founder?
I first trained with General Choi Hong Hi in 1979 in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1986, the late Jim Scott and I attended a 10 day I.I.C in Vienna under the main guidance of Park Jung Tae. This was a two week course where we trained 2-3 times a day and we were privileged to be instructed by the founder as well. A lot of famous future Masters from all around the world.. I went on to train under General Choi Hong Hi many times in Austria, Scotland, DPR Korea, England, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Canada and France.
What was your fondest memory of General Choi?
As mentioned I attended many seminars with the Founder. They were all amazing to be part of as the Founder gave his all on every seminar. He was an inspiring man and his knowledge was second to none. We would go for meals together and his conversations were always interesting, especially when he discussed his time in the army and his life in Korea. I remember him fondly addressing me as ‘Harkess’ on many occasions! I even have a photograph of General Choi Hong Hi with my son, then 9 years old, sitting together. It is a very special photo.
Did you compete during your career at all?
Yes, I loved competing in my younger years. I first competed in the Scottish and U.K Championships in 1976 as a green belt and won 2 golds and a bronze. I went down to Barry in Wales the same year and won a gold in sparring. I won a silver medal in pattern as a Blue Belt in the Scottish Open in 1977. I also won medals at Black Belt level in 1981, 1982 and 1983. I was placed Bronze at the I.T.F World Championships 1984 in under 76 kilo sparring.
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?
I have lots of fond memories from when I used to compete, however winning a medal at the World Championships was the most rewarding for me.
Did you ever serve on your national TKD squad? Give details
I was a member of the Scottish Team at Crystal Palace in 1980. We were runners up to England in Pattern.
What age did you become an Instructor?
It was 1980, I was 27 and the first club was in Leith, Edinburgh. I decided to teach full-time in 1985.
What encouraged that transition?
The transition for me was easy as I have always been passionate about Taekwon-Do and I wanted to share my passion with others.
What is your best memory as an instructor – students’ achievement, first Black Belt or title status etc?
I have many incredible memories as an instructor. Firstly, seeing the UKTC grow to 10000+ members alongside Grandmaster Derek Campbell, Master Stephen Rooney, Master Brian Leckie and my son, who have been an absolute pleasure to work with and we are great friends and a fantastic team. All of our instructors are amazing. We all work for a common cause and that is to make the UKTC stronger than ever and to share our love of Taekwon-Do with others.
So, what has been your best achievement in TKD, apart from becoming a Grand Master?
It has to be starting Taekwon-Do in the first place and creating our own Taekwon-Do family within the UKTC. It has been 46 years of an amazing journey which I have found very fulfilling.
Do you have one memory you can share about TKD – a fun story, who you met etc?
Taekwon-Do has always been fun for me, especially travelling the world, seeing all the beautiful sights and meetings lots of interesting and like minded people with a similar passion for Taekwon-Do.
What are your hopes or plans for Taekwon-Do in general for the future?
My hope and plan for Taekwon-Do is that the UKTC and WITC continue to grow and inspire people with the Tenets of Taekwon-Do; Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self Control and Indomitable Spirit.
If you could change anything from your career, what would it be?
I would change nothing from my career in Taekwon-Do. I have learned from my mistakes and my achievements and I am proud to be President of the UKTC.
Lastly, what is your current position you hold in TaeKwon-Do, apart from GM?
Since 1993 when the UKTC was set up, I have held the presidency. My team are the driving force and, above all, my extended family who I trust and care about.
Grandmaster Harkess, Sir, thank you for giving us such an honest and enlightening interview. I wish you all the best for the future with the WITF and the UKTC. If you would like to make contact with GM Harkess, you can visit his website at www.uktc.com