Martin Ducker has been training in Kuk Sool Won for over 27 years. He has been a full-time Kuk Sool Won instructor for 19 years, and also ran a successful Shiatsu clinic for many years. He currently runs the schools at Lowestoft, Halesworth and Ipswich (Suffolk). He and his wife Alison recently celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary with their children Rachel and Jason – all of whom are black belts.
Steve Issacson was born in 1961, has two children, Darcy and Devan, and is married to Teresa. He too has been training for 27 years. Although he now runs the Mildenhall school, he previously had schools in Cambridge, Thetford and Honington. When Steve and Martin began training in 1978 there were no European Kuk Sool Won masters.
How important do you think body conditioning is within the martial arts? Steve Issacson: The techniques do not work properly without the correct body conditioning. When you start as a beginner you are gradually strengthening your body and making it more supple, so that the later techniques will work. Without it, your grip will not be strong enough; you will not be strong or flexible enough. The syllabus is designed so that the physical aspect is there to make sure that the techniques will work. I mean we cannot spend all our time in class doing it, but I just think that we simply have to practise. None of the techniques will work without enough practise.
Kwahn Jahng Nim Martin, what do you tend to focus on? Martin Ducker: I tend to focus on being extremely positive. I also try to see the good in every situation if possible. Of course I do have my moments, like everyone else, but these are now becoming few and far between. Recently Alison and I have really concentrated more on our diets.
After the age of forty I continued to train very hard but was increasingly putting on weight. Then I realised that as you become older your metabolism slows down and diet plays a very important role towards your overall health and fitness. I’m pleased to say that I am back to my fighting weight of 12 ½ stone.
How do think today’s society perceives the martial arts? Taekwondo and Korean Martial Arts May 06 37 Martin Ducker: Over the years we have had to educate the public to view martial arts in a different paradigm. Typically martial arts were viewed as an aggressive type of activity. Today many people are beginning to recognise the positive attributes that the martial arts have to offer, which I’m of course pleased about, as I am now proud to tell people that I am a martial arts ‘professional instructor.’ Steve Issacson: Within our country and our society, the prospect of getting attacked is more probable than it has ever been before. It seems that everybody needs to learn some sort of self-defence. It seems especially important for women and not just in the cities, in the rural areas as well. Society has changed so much, and I don’t mean just because of the different people that move to this country, but because of drugs and everything else. Everybody should be aware and be able to look after themselves. To be involved in martial arts you need to have discipline and structure to get on, and to be able to relate well to other people. Martial arts are not just a way attacking and fighting, they are about mental discipline. As far as I’m con- cerned, martial arts are something that everyone should have a go at, no matter what age you are, be it six or sixty.
Sounds like the National Service? Steve Issacson: Laughs Well near enough, yes. I think that it would be good if everyone had to do it, even for just six months. I’m sure that they would find something to keep for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t matter what job you’ve got or how much money you have, when you walk into the dojang with a uniform on, you’re all the same. The same with the instructor, he might be unemployed or just do a basic job, but when you’re in there, you’re all there for the same purpose. It brings everyone to the same level, and although we cannot change society itself, the martial art aspect of it helps.
Kwahn Jahng Nim Martin: Tell us about the two Scottish schools you opened in Thurso and Caithness?
Martin Ducker: I was originally invited to the north of Scotland by one of my students, and friend Donald Mackenzie, who now lives and teaches
Kuk Sool in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Together we started the first Scottish Kuk Sool Won School in Caithness. Over a period of ten years I had travelled the 700-mile journey up to Caithness more than thirty times, in order to help support the club. I’m pleased to say that the school is still thriving to this day, fifteen years later, under the strong guidance of Pu Sa Bum Nim Cathy Smith. Since then, I have also helped Jo Kyo
Nim’s Chris and Angle Bird establish their School in Aberdeen, which is going great guns as well.
I understand that you have also been a key figure in publicising Kuk Sool, and have involved some important people on the way?
Martin Ducker: I am very privileged to have been invited to perform Kuk Sool exhibitions as part of a team for some of the UK’s most famous
VIP’s, including David Beckham, HRH Prince Charles and Prince Edward. I did take the liberty of presenting each VIP with an honorary Kuk Sool black belt on behalf of Grandmaster Suh, and the WKSA. These events received extensive media publicity. I have heard that some people may think that it is incorrect to present honorary black belts to VIP’s, but I have come to the conclusion that these people are either jealous or they don’t understand the process of gaining some credibility for their art.
Tell us about your Shiatsu practice? Martin Ducker: Actually, today I only teach Kuk Sool as my main profession. Originally I decided to study Shiatsu / oriental medicine as a way of learning more about the body’s energy system, which incorporates pressure point knowledge and application. I did have a separate business, practising acupressure for several years, as well as teaching Kuk Sool, but I became overworked and eventually burnt myself out trying to do both. I am still a registered practitioner, but I only use acupressure to a treat a small number of friends and family, or to help speed up the recovery time for individual students after prolonged illness or injury. I have concentrated a lot of my time and energy into this particular subject. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my own instructor Kwahn Jahng Nim Philip Holmes for his encouragement and inspiration to me, to continue pursuing oriental medicine. KJN Philip is a highly qualified acupuncturist and one of the highest authorities in Kuk Sool in the UK when it comes to healing. Hopefully he will be asked to produce some articles regarding this subject for Tae Kwon Do and Korean Martial Arts Magazine in the future.
How realistic is it to open a martial arts school with a view to making a living? Steve Issacson: I personally think that it is harder in this country than it is in other parts of the world, like the United States. The reason being that people don’t want to pay as much for their leisure time here. People don’t want to pay too much up front, like they do in the US.
Yes it’s changing, and people do pay on monthly systems. But to get your own place like this lovely school here Norwich is difficult and obviously costs so much. Of course it can be done, but the people who do it in this country tend to have more than one school. I still think that as my kids get older I would like to open another school, but not while my children are young. I did this before and ended up missing them; they are only going to be young once. I was going straight from work, saying hello to them and going off to teach and I was losing out, and my wife was also getting fed up. One day full-time, yes.
Martin Ducker: When I first started out as a professional instructor there was no one else around teaching full-time, it was almost unheard of.
I always recall my mother telling me to ‘go out and find a proper job.’ Thankfully, I persisted with the venture and ended up where I am today, with what I like to think is a successful business. Anyone can now start up a career as martial art entrepreneur, quite easily, but I would recommend searching out one of the many martial art business management companies here, in the UK, such as the Educational Funding Company, to give a helping hand through the initial early stages. Like any other business it takes time to build. My best advice to anyone starting-up, is find someone who is already successfully running a martial art school and ask them lots of questions.
In October 2002, you both received your Master level, or fifth degree black belts, in South Korea. Tell us about this?
Martin Ducker: It was a memorable occasion, as you would expect, receiving your Masters degree in South Korea. But I have to say the ceremony was quite strange, the atmosphere was very subdued, and I had only a handful of close friends including my wife to witness the event, but it was still a very exciting moment. However, it didn’t really sink in until I got home, when all my black belt students gave me a surprise party.
What does it mean to you to be bestowed with the title of Master? Steve Issacson: It is an honour. It is something that I never thought I would achieve and I hope that I can show that I deserve it through teaching and helping other people, and by setting an example of how to behave towards other people. I hope that other people realise that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can get to this level if you put the time in and work hard enough. To have the Master title is just brilliant, and, when I got it, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. To get to the first level of Master,
and think that I once walked in knowing nothing! I must admit that when I got the big plaque and certificate from Kuk Sa Nim it was great, it was like, ‘Are you sure this is for me?’
Martin Ducker: Of course it’s a great privilege and an honour. Also, for me it personally signifies martial art maturity, becoming an adult in the martial art world. It seems quite ironic that, when you become a Kuk Sool Master, you are presented with a ceremonial white belt, which signifies one journey about to be completed, and another one about to begin. I recall the very next day after receiving my 5th Dahn, Grand
Master Suh, congratulated me and informed me that, 7 had come of age.’ I was a grown-up in the martial arts world, I had reached twenty-one.
How do things change for you at Master level? Steve Issacson: You continue to train and practise what you already know, but you are trying to develop and correct it. Just like Kuk Sa Nim says, it is easy to know the name and the number of a technique, but it is trying to get closer to knowing the actual technique itself, refining little aspects of it. It is just a different way of training. I haven’t really learnt anything since I was promoted, but Kuk Sa Nim has revised the techniques that we learnt at third and fourth dahn. Kuk Sa Nim said to me: ‘You be careful with these techniques, you can kill people with these,’ and he actually did the techniques on us – personally. In fact, he put me down a couple of times, knocked me out near enough with this one he emulates sah ji gwan (five finger strike) and ji ahp sool (pressure point techniques). I went straight down, but he just touched me, just touched me, and I was out, next thing I knew I was on the floor, just out of it. In many ways you are learning less, but you just train differently.
Martin Ducker: The level of responsibility does increase, everyone expects so much more from you. I have to add that, when the novelty wears off, I like to think that I am still the same person that I was before. I try to not get too hung up on the title. However, on the other hand I don’t take the position lightly either. I am always constantly trying to improve on my personal development as well as all aspects of my martial art training.
Steve Issacson: For me, I never thought that I would get back up and continuing without a complaint, their only objec- to Master level. So when it happened to me in Korea in 2002, it tive was ‘to hit the other person back.’ Overall the standard of was out of this world. But, it still hasn’t changed me. Yes I have the British competitors was high. I personally believe that responsibility, and yes more people look up to me, and I under- here in the UK we are as proficient at Kuk Sool as anywhere stand that I have to show people that I am now at that next level else in the world and that includes the USA and Korea.
In my training, but I don’t want people bowing to me every three Steve Issacson: The trip was mind-blowing. Just the seconds. I don’t even wear the instructors uniform in class. I fact that you were seeing the places that you had only seen just want to blend in, do my bit, train, teach and enjoy it. On the telly. Just to see the architecture and the workman ship, to see the monks and to have the traditional meals, Tell us about the trip to Korea? How did the although some of the seaweed soups were not for my palate.
Competition compare to the many you have witnessed Just to be there and to be a part of it was great. I was in Europe? Shocked by the tournament. 40 May 06 Taekwondo and Korean Martial Arts Martin Ducker: It was billed as the trip of a lifetime and Martin Ducker: Korea is a rich blend of transition and tradition and a great place to visit. As for the Korean peo-ple, they are overwhelmingly friendly and have some great customs, which are incredibly good fun and interesting to learn.
Did you encounter any language difficulties? Martin Ducker: Like visiting any foreign country, language can always be difficult. The amount that we had learnt as apart of the Master’s degree syllabus did help out a little, but sign language was definitely more useful.
Steve Issacson: Kuk Sa Nim put me in a ring with some Korean masters which was quite daunting as I don’t really speak any Korean, but luckily one of the younger masters spoke a few words of English and he helped me to get by. I could converse by using basic instruction, and I obviously understood the names of the forms and the techniques, so I could communicate through martial arts, but unfortunately it stopped at kicks and punching and bowing laughs.
How do you see the structure of Kuk Sool Won in Europe and the UK at the moment? Martin Ducker: Everything in Kuk Sool is organised and systematised by the Grandmaster himself. The way I see it everything is going according to plan. I remember Grandmaster Suh saying to us at a seminar that, ‘from little acorns big oak trees grow’ – we are now witnessing considerable growth of Kuk Sool throughout the UK and Europe. Personally I would like to see Kuk Sool expand more extensively into countries like France and Italy.
What is there left for you to still achieve? Martin Ducker: That’s a great question Paul. I have to admit that I have exceeded all of my own expectations and ambitions up to now within Kuk Sool. Therefore, my future ambition is not for myself, but for my wife AH. I want to see her reach Masters level hopefully within the next two years. She’s a fabulous martial artist and one of the many unsung heroes involved in Kuk Sool here in the UK over the last twenty years.
Steve Issacson: I am just very much looking forward to going back to Korea (Oct ‘05). That aside, I always want to practise, and to take part in the classes. I do not want to be the type of instructor who just stands at the front of the class and simply shouts and screams orders. I want to be involved, helping people, as much as I can and for as long as I can.
Anything else you would like to mention? Martin Ducker: I would just like to thank you Sa Bum Nim Paul for the interview, and of course my colleague and friend Master Steve Issacson for being a great representative and ambassador for Kuk Sool. Thanks.
Steve Issacson: I would just like to thank Kuk Sa Nim for letting us be a part of the WKSA. I appreciate all the time and effort that he has put into teaching. If it wasn’t for him I would never have achieved my Masters.