Taming the LTSI Lion

UK TaeKwonDo Masters’ partner speaks out after 30 years about the real man behind the mask.

I am tracey leaonard, to many Mrs TaeKwonDo the object of this article is to let others know about my partner and what made him who he is today.

Most seem to think of Chris Snow as an outspoken Master of Taekwon-do and many have said his reputation is good, but still some have him pinned wrong – probably as he has tackled many seniors when they wronged him or his students (or even others) over the years.

In issue six of Original ITF Magazine, Chris disclosed his childhood abuse situation that happened at the Hilltop Boarding School.

Many have said it was a brave move to disclose something so painful from his past. I asked him why he did this and he stated it was him trying to help those who may not have yet come to terms with a similar situation and, in essence, he feels he is healing by doing this.

This is what I know of the situation that made him what he is today (and I have shared my life with him for nearly three

This is about his wayward behaviour as a teenager, how he turned to drink, drugs, violence and became hooked on slot machines, losing everything in his life and having to rebuild from scratch. This was all due to his past haunting him.

The situation of losing his dad to cancer when Chris was 16 led to a lot of bad decisions over three years until his dad passed in 1989, but TaeKwonDo would be his saviour. Also, one person and their action, be it small or big, was a guardian angel that changed his life.

His actions that day put Chris back in TaeKwonDo and helped him get his life back on track.

At 11, Chris left the school he refers to as hell and was still recovering from the motorbike accident he had at the age of 10 that left him in a coma and with 360 stitches on his stomach, inside and out.

He went into a secondary school which was a weekly boarding school, with 60 troubled kids who all had different conditions such as ADHD and various behaviour issues.

The school has a bad reputation, so violence was always prevalent. Chris said he knew of the reputation beforehand but, boy, was he due to get a rude awakening. On his first day, he sees a 5th year kid go mad, beating up the Headmaster with a snooker cue and fighting with four male teachers.

That same day, a chair was thrown at a teacher by another pupil and, that dinner time, he also witnessed a fight in the school yard which was bloody.

On his second day at the school, violence was to come knocking at his door. A 4th year kid and his three friends start chatting to him – the next thing, Chris was thrown against the wall by him, punched in the face about three times and had his money taken.

This money was used to buy tuck every dinner time. This happens the next day and the next day, each time the violence gets worse. Chris said “I remember thinking if I do nothing, he will do this for the next two years he is here”.

So, that Friday, the lad attacks again, only this time the violence is more intense. Chris had never had a fight in his life, as his previous school was run on fear so no one would dare to fight.

He said “I was standing by the steps that lead into the court yard and the lad attacked me again. All I could think of was to grab and hug him and push both of us down the stairs. We tumble down the stairs and get a few cuts from the concrete steps. The kids are shouting… fight, fight, fight”. The fight is then pulled apart.

Chris recalls “After that, I am left alone. Graham and Alan, who are 5th year students and good friends of mine say to me you need to watch your back! The lad and his mates are planning something bad.

About three weeks pass and one evening the gang drag me into the toilets, shut the door and begin to beat me up. Thankfully, Graham and Alan had been watching me closely. They kick the door of the toilets in and beat the lads up badly.
Graham says “you’re marked so I suggest you learn to fight, as in 12 months we won’t be here to protect you”.

Over the next 12 months, Chris said he got a real thirst for Martial Arts – he tried Kung Fu, Karate, Tang Soo Do, Muay Thai and Judo before finally finding TaeKwonDo under Billy Vigour, who was teaching at the Dacorum Sports Centre. Chris says “It was only about fighting to me in the early days. I did not care about exams, patterns, breaking or the ethics I follow now. I’d fight at school and win some and lose quite a few too, so my standing became good in the school”.

At this point he is left alone, even by the bully boy and his mates. At 13, he changes TKD clubs to another Instructor, Mr. John McDonald who convinced him to grade.

Chris stays there for about a year until the age of 14 when he transfers to Mr. Manning (now Grandmaster). After getting a bad beating whilst home one weekend, he realised he still could not fight properly. He says the line work taught him nothing, just to kick high and look good….

At 14, Chris’ dad is diagnosed with Parkinsons. Within 6 months, they say he has been misdiagnosed – unfortunately it’s actually a brain tumour. He admits at this point he was starting to go off the rails, snapping at everyone and fighting much more, but he was due to learn a valuable lesson in life.

A local lad calls him out with his mates whilst he is at home for the weekend, so being over confident, he refused to back down.

Chris said “I remember heading down the road and he’s there, so there’s more abuse. At this point, I realise he’s bigger than me, older and I know his reputation. He is known locally as a seasoned street fighter, so I’m thinking just go into the chippy, get ya chips and go home… NOPE, not gonna happen! He says something and I go back at him, not backing down. Next thing, we are fighting. I do a turning kick to his face and, after that one shot, I get a seriously bad beat down”.

Chris’ family are known locally so, when they saw his injuries, they were baying for blood. Chris told them it was his fault and made it clear the lad must be left alone. Ironically, Chris and the lad become friends and he respects him for not
backing down against him.

After that situation, his sister and a carpenter friend built a 60 foot training gym in the families back garden and Chris would train for many hours a week in there. Chris states “I realised I had no power and my training was pretty poor, so I changed Instructors and tactics in training” again.

Chris joins Mr. Manning’s club in 1987, training is hard as hell and he is a guy that can fight. His Dad’s health is deteriorating fast and he is in and out of the Royal Free Hospital for Chemo. By now, Chris is training four hours a day in his gym. The better he gets, the less he is fighting (see, martial arts do work!).

It’s now 1989, Chris is training hard and respect in the school is there. Everyone is in awe of him, they called him ‘Bruce Lee’. Chris recalls “I could kick like Van Damme style, spar and punch hard”. However, the more sick his dad got, he just became more focused, training so hard some days he was physically sick. His Dad passes away in May 1989 and his world crashes.

Chris made a promise to his Dad in his final moments of life that, one day, he would become a master in TaeKwonDo. When he gets that grade in 2016, he has this embroidered on his belt which he still wears today – the words say ‘The promise was achieved’, which many often ask about. A promise of 27 years, now that’s commitment.

Chris says “Sadly, I turn to drink and drugs after dads passing and pack up TaeKwonDo for four months. I am in a gang and we just get stoned every night – drink, fight and party. My gym becomes a drug den where we party every night. We are even going to the illegal raves in warehouses until early morning.

We have no respect for anyone around us, often having the police turn up to break up our parties. I am even carrying a knuckle duster and using iron bars in fights. To be honest, there was no boundaries when I fought”.
However, one evening towards the end of this period, three of his four sisters say they need help decorating their mums’ bedroom. He wanted nothing to do with it, they argue and he tells them to get lost. Chris leaves the house and goes to his sister Angie’s house next door, followed by Christine (his eldest sister).There is a massive barney. Angie has some friends over who witness this argument.

After the row, Chris is seething and just storms out the house – the boyfriend of his sisters’ friend, Terry, follows him. He is 35, Chris is 16 – they get into an argument and Terry takes him to the floor, puts him in a neck lock and he says calmly “You’re gonna listen to me”.

They talk and the rage becomes tears. See, no one had bothered to talk to Chris, so he was venting his anger unknowingly. Terry says to him “You were good at your martial arts, why have you thrown it all away?”. At this time, Chris admits he was right – he was gambling £90 to £100 a week also as a coping mechanism, selling things in his home to fund his drink, drugs and gambling habit, but he was in a well-paid factory job getting £200 a week (which was good money at the time).

Chris says “The words of that stranger that night changed my life, as I returned to TaeKwonDo within weeks which was hard. I kept a few friends, but got out of the gang. It took about 8 weeks to stop gambling and that was tough – I simply cut down every week, doing £10 less a time, until I walked in that pub, put £1 in and said that’s all you get off me. It was hard, as even today 33 years later, I walk past a machine and it calls me…I just replaced one addiction for another”.

Now he was a TaeKwonDo junkie instead, training all the time. loving his art, on a good diet and had self respect. Chris
started buying designer gear instead and using his money on positive things. He eventually stopped hanging out with his so-called friends, so drugs and drink disappeared from his life.

He recalls at this time another serious altercation happening when a lad is ringing his home and threatening his mum. He travels to the area, finds the guy and beats him up. The next day, Chris runs into the guy again at a fair – this time though, the guys’ gang are also there, a fight starts and the gang beat him up badly (16 to 1 was not a fair fight though).

As Chris was travelling home after this, he gets stopped by the police as he is covered in blood and has a few injuries. He argues with the police and gets arrested. He spent the night in a cell and that was enough for him to realise things must change. He was released the next day with no charge and says today “I guess that was Gods way of saying sort yourself out”.

The years roll on and he is competing 5 times a year, winning some, and he is no longer drinking or taking drugs. He is turning his attention however to opening his first club in 1994 at the age of 21. Chris says “Mr. Manning gets me to visit the BUTF’s Head Office. Master R.M.K. Choy says I know about your antics (which I presume he is referring to me often turning up at class with cuts and bruises and often bragging about the last tear up I had). He says if you want to teach, it all stops now as, when we become instructors, we are put on a pedestal and gain so much respect from the public”. He was 100% right.

Chris gets qualified under the BUTF and starts his ourney as a TaeKwonDo Instructor, but he admts he was still battling anger and getting in the odd fight (but a lot less then). We have our first daughter in 1995 and life changes from that point, making him think before he hit out.

Roll forward to 2023, he has won many accolades for teaching over the 29 years. He has been inducted into various Hall of Fames, but the journey as he looks back has been a tough, rocky road.

Chris tells me “When I look at the past, certain aspects changed my character. I stood up against many Grandmasters and Masters for their bad behaviour towards me, my students and others and I still put some in their place now.

This attitude comes from the boarding schools I attended. I learnt to look after myself from the second school where I was fighting daily, but learning a lesson from being beaten up badly in the streets. I learnt from my actions that, with strong willpower, you can change your life. You can start a new chapter, as it’s never too late to start again like I did. Okay,

I became a TKD junkie (which I am still today!) but, at 21, I met you. A beautiful girl who, at 49, I am still with. You stripped me like an onion and found the real me under all the issues, through the darkness and showed me the light. You gave me the confidence to face my demons head on. You gave me two beautiful daughters and all of the above has made me the guy I am today”.

“Would I change anything? NOPE! It’s what I call my DNA, as it really is what made me the man I am today.
I named this article ‘Taming of the Taekwon-Do Lion’, as the lion is the clubs’ emblem and, like a lion, I have become quiet and controlled”.

Now he says he is living the dream, only much calmer and wiser. He is a working DJ at weekends and has been for 15+ years and a TaeKwonDo’ist for 39 years – in his view, both sectors complement each other, like they are his ‘Ying and Yang’.

Article by Tracey Leonard (Master Snows’ partner)

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