GTUK GRAND MASTER ROY OLDHAM, THE EARLY DAYS TILL NOW…
by Mr Adrian Walker
AW – When and how did you first start in martial arts sir?
GMO – I first started in South Africa. I was over there in 1965/66 at 20 years old trying to find a new life for myself and my family. I lived in “Joburg” (Johannesburg) in defiantly a rough area named “Hill Brow” There were all sorts of people living there especially Chinese. I came friendly with a Chinese family who ran a restaurant across the road from where I was staying, and I watched them often practicing a form of Wing Chung. They invited me to practice with them on occasions, so that’s how I first began to be interested in martial arts.
I eventually returned to Britain after the devaluation of the pound, as they wouldn’t allow you to send money back home.
On my return a friend of mine said he was starting to train with a Gung Fu instructor, and would I like to come along. The instructors name was Mr Tom Keary who was very tough, and he taught a style called “Tiger Ripping” Gung Fu, which he had learnt in Singapore. It was really like Chinese Boxing with lots of contact, low kicks, grapping, and flesh attacks. We wore black training suits, and baseball boots! You wore a black belt as a beginner, and the highest grade was white belt. I still like this concept as it denoted the more you train the more you became humble as you realised the less you really knew. White was for innocent (pure) but this style was a far cry from being gentle, and innocent, in fact it was ruthless, and was very suitable for all out street fighting.
AW – How did you get to meet First Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha, and start Taekwon-do training in the UKTA?
GMO – In those early days major cities started to be dominated by Japanese Masters, and Judo/Jujitsu were being taken over by Karate. In Coventry alone where I lived there was at least three Japanese Masters training regularly. So the news of a Korean instructor setting up quickly spread across the city.
My friend, and I were inquisitive to find out what he was like, so made a visit to his training hall at Woodlands School, Coventry. This training hall was the “ very first civic Taekwon-do dojang” in Great Britain, and believe it or not is still there today still with holes in the walls, and floor, it is exactly the same today as was when I started to train there in October 1967. I actually took a couple of my senior members to visit the “first dojang” it was strange to see it again.
Anyway my friend, and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing when we were allowed to watch the training. First Grand Master Rhee was a 5th degree then, and was absolutely awesome, so much power, and flexibility, he was punching, and kicking the brick wall at the end of gym full power while the students were doing their press ups it was frightening! He suddenly approached us, and asked if we wanted to join. Upon filling in the application forms he noticed my friends broken knuckle “Gung Fu training my friend told him” “Not here” said First Grand Master Rhee, “you can not train with a weak hand so leave” then he turned to me, and said you train next week, and that’s how I started.
AW – Can you tell me more about First Grand Master Rhee, and early training methods?
GMO – Yes, there is so much to tell about my experiences with First Grand Master Rhee so I will try to give you a brief idea what he was like, and to train with.
First of all you cannot imagine the physical power he had developed, he quite easily could maim or kill you with one blow for sure. I remember the first time First Grand Master Rhee introduce the reverse turning kick, who would forget!
He split a Lonsdale punch bag straight in half first shot. At a demo once for the West Midlands Police he asked someone in the audience to go, and get a stone from outside. They brought in a smooth large round stone, the granite kind! He did no more than split it into with a knife hand after a few attempts. I have never heard such stillness from an audience in disbelief.
Fingertip thrust through four pieces of wood was the norm for him. He was a big man, and had that certain look in his face not to mess with him. I always admired his inner strength there was no weakness at all in him, and he was very professional in all he did.
He was bought over to Britain by a group of RAF personnel they had trained with him in RAF Changi, Singapore.
Training would start with lots of press-ups on slates not the wooden floor.
The stretching programs in those days were crude, and hard, working in three’s forcibly stretching each other’s legs apart. The drill work was very Karate based, big blocks, and loads of waist twist. We practiced on a makawana board sometimes; it was all about toughening your tools, and full power techniques, lots of hard blocking, and fixed sparring. It was very disciplined, no talking in the dojang, or the changing rooms, the less contact with fellow practitioners the sharper you became.
AW – What was the promotional system like in those early days?
GMO – In the very beginning there was just three promotional tests’ to black belt I seem to remember, white, blue, Brown. This soon changed to what it is today when the ITF was introduced to the UK. I actually started in a world body called the “KTA” (Korean Taekwon-do Association) I still have my ID card. I took my first degree in fact all my tests in front of panels of Korean Masters, breaking bricks was always part of passing your degree test’s, and your mental power was always stretched to the full.
AW – What was the sparring like in those early days?
GMO – Free sparring was done the hard way “edging on full contact” with no S/T gear, similar to Karate but continuous. I sparred First Grand Master Rhee most nights along with others to our peril! There was more combination of hands & feet at full power not so much double kicks as there is today. Sport Taekwon-do was just being introduced at that time of taekwon-do’s development. If you did fancy kicks you normally found yourself being leg swept looking at the ceiling with a fist then blocking your view! “We used leg sweeps then” I also used to spar with Karate students on occasions.
AW – Were there many tournaments in the late sixties?
GMO – No, tournaments were unheard of when I first started, only in the USA had we heard of Taekwon-do tournaments, but when they were first introduced to the UK they were very different compared to today. I seem to remember First Grand Master Rhee saying to us all one night “Tournaments are the end of Taekwon-do as a martial art, Tournaments will dilute the purpose of a student’s technique, and will lower students respect towards each other”
The very first tournament to be put on in Britain I entered, I suppose it should have been call “The British Taekwon-do Championships” It was open to red belts only. There were very few entries ten in total I believe.
If I remember right you had to get seven points for each section; (Seven different breaks, Seven patterns, and Seven free spar’s) totalling 21 points.
I manage to get up to 17 points, and was in front of the opposition before being disqualified on the last fight of the night by applying far too much contact. I was against an opponent they called “Spider Man” he was good. It was a stupid thing to do, and I’ve regretted it ever since.
The tournament was televised, and was held at the Rugby Ben Memorial Hall on a centre ring a bit like boxing and wrestling is today.
Championships are so much better now thanks to people like Dave Oliver who pioneered tournaments to what they are today. Dave started TKD just after I did, and trained at Warwick. He also visited First Grand Master Rhee’s dojang regularly, and we became good friends. He was, and still is a very funny guy with no holds barred when it comes to telling it straight, how it really is! I respect him greatly.
AW – Can you tell me how Taekwon-do was introduced to Britain when no one knew what it was?
GMO – You are right Adrian no one did know what Taekwon-do was then but we were all eager to spread the word. Most of the clubs were military RAF & American Air Force bases.
We were thrown into instruction, no Instructors Course then to help things along. My first experience of being an instructor was to teach at a USA Air Force base occasionally & I trained at RAF Wittering on occasions. I also was told to assist Mr Murray Walker at a newly opened civic club in Rugby. We used to advertise Taekwon-do as “Korean Karate” just to get people to know what we were talking about. First Grand Master Rhee was not happy at all by this, so we quickly changed the name back to TKD.
We did demo’s everywhere sometimes in the middle of cities holding up the traffic to get press, and “police” coverage. I remember the “in thing” for a while was jumping over car roofs, and breaking wood before landing. Of course only the good jumpers could do this it drew huge crowds. I tried one advertising trick once I remember. I went to the Coventry Telegraph Newspaper office, and said I was going to jump off the top of their building on to the building next to it, and break some wood. They accepted the challenge to my surprise! I hit the front page that week, and not the pavement as expected. If you are ever passing the Coventry Telegraph building just look up you will see what I mean?
I did demo’s with famous celebrities such as Chris Tarrant who appeared on a TV program called “Tiswas” at the time, and also demo’s with “The Kenny Ball Jazz Band”
When the YMCA in Leicester was to be opened by Prince Phillip we also seized the opportunity to do a demo, and even got him to hold the wood for an air break!
AW – How did you open your first club for the UKTA?
GMO – Opening clubs in those days was not like now, I mean you put one advert in the paper and the response was enormous. Breaking wood in the air, and breaking brick’s was unheard of. Compared to Karate then Taekwon-do was very spectacular to watch, and was very free in movement everyone wanted to see it. I really respect our instructors nowadays for their steadfastness and teaching of their students they have exceptional dedication.
The first club I personally opened for the UKTA was in Coventry, the usual thing just down the road from where I lived, at Binley Park School. Unfortunately First Grand Master Rhee said I was encroaching on his area, and he did not appreciate it! “It was a bit cheeky thinking about it now considering I was only a first degree at the time” Anyway all hell let loose, and he made me advertise the opening of the club out of my own pocket, which left me penniless. Also no one would dare help me with the opening demo in case of the repercussions after.
I remember being very nervous on the opening night, and what a night it was!
I went to drive into the school but couldn’t get in because there were cars everywhere, I thought there must be a parent’s night on. Anyway when I got to the gym I was shocked to see a very, very large crowd of people, waiting outside, and they all wanted to see the demo!
I was on my own, and nearly did a “leave by the back door escape” but I thought about the money it had just cost me.
I was in the changing room scared wondering what to do when First Grand Master Rhee walked in. He said “let’s do it” I was so relieved to see him. There were so many people in the gym we hardly had any room to demonstrate! Did First Grand Master Rhee open all the stops he was brilliant! The UKTA had 200 sign up that night, and 100 on a waiting list. The following year I opened a small TKD academy in Sawday Street, Leicester, also clubs in Stratford upon Avon, and Hinckley.
I was training around 800 regular members at my highest peak in those days; remember this was way before Bruce Lee came out. “A note here” it is important to advertise as regularly as you can. Nowadays you cannot expect the public to run after you like they did in the old days. The public see flying kicks, and spectacular techniques every day now. You now have to keep thinking of new approaches to attract the public to our art. That’s why I have the greatest respect for our dedicated instructors.
AW – When and why did you leave UKTA?
GMO – I left the UKTA in early 1981. I left through a personal reason, not anything to do with Taekwon-do actually.
By 1981 the UKTA had grown to around 5000 members, and like all associations the bigger they get the more structural change is needed. Unrest, and frustration then usually follows if change was not imminent. So after I left a large group of senior members left also, they are now the TAGB, and are probably the largest group in Europe.
AW – How hard is it to start off an association today?
GMO – Very hard on your own I should imagine. That’s if you are talking about an “association” not a small group of clubs limited to small areas, and run by one man or women.
I smile sometimes when you see all these “so called” association’s today with just a few clubs in them. Nowadays to start off a “real” association I think would be near enough impossible.
When we first started off our association clubs filled up quickly, and we grew at a rapid rate. We all know those days are now gone, and nowadays new membership is very hard to come by. Instructor/s who leave a large taekwon-do body today to start up on their own shouldn’t even try. They would be better off staying where they are, and build on the support a large body can offer. By leaving they load themselves up with a lot of “extra work” and after time struggle to keep their original members happy. These members can clearly see that at the end of the day their new group is not that big, and hasn’t got a lot to offer. The next thing the rot sets in, and black belts and members begin to leave quietly through discontentment.
With a large membership you can do so much more financially.
For instance, we can provide the very best tournaments, send team aboard paid for by the association, and acquire better discounts to pass on to our instructors. Also a large membership spells success, and credibility I feel.
AW – Could you give an outline of events from 1981 to when we joined the GTF?
GMO – Not all my black belts left with me in 1981 some stayed with First Grand Master Rhee which put me back nearly to square one again. As a very small group we decided to start off an association, democratically run, and most of the finances would go back into the association for advertising ect. We thought by doing this it would attract other instructors to join, but it had little effect.
I was contacted around this time by a captain I knew from a USA Air Force base here in Britain. He had moved back to the states, and was training with a USA Taekwon-do group called the Mid West. I told him sadly I had left the UKTA, and our conversation led him to ask me if I wanted to be the UK representative for the group. I talked it over with the black belts I had left, and we accepted the offer. So that’s how we adopted the name Mid West for the next nine years. The funny thing is that I tried to contact them many times afterwards, and to this day have never heard from them since!
Anyway we ploughed ahead with our new name mainly in the midland areas until in 1985 we had a stroke of good luck. Two of my black belts who had left the area for some time both rang me in the same week. I could not believe it, one had moved to Cornwall, and one to Scotland. You couldn’t get any further apart than that! They both wanted to start off the Mid West in their areas. They were Paul Burgess & Bill Crosthwaite. The areas they were working in were virgin territory “as far as Taekwon-do was concerned” and they both found it very hard at first to get established. I remember driving miles to visit them both, to put on seminars, and to help build up their areas. Fortunate for me they were very strong black belts mentally, and would not give up.
We gradually started to grow, and eventually became the biggest Taekwon-do group in Cornwall, and Scotland at that time. Give them the greatest respect if you ever meet them they are pioneers, and have worked very hard towards the association’s growth.
Another break was when a black belt of mine went to Salford University to study, and started a club off there. From that one club we had many universities training throughout the country. Black belts from other associations who knew me from my UKTA days also joined to help us grow in different areas of the country.
Around this time I invited different Korean Masters to conduct seminars, and promotional tests such as Kim Yong Ho, and B J Lee.
But also throughout the whole of this period the attitude of some senior instructors was a bit apathetic to say the least, and I found it hard to please them. Some left, some caused trouble; some just wouldn’t do anything to help. It wasn’t the happiest period for me Adrian, and probably the hardest era in the association’s expansion.
Towards the end of this period we had accomplished around 1500 regular members, and looking back now considering all the ups & downs we experienced I feel we survived well.
I felt we needed an identity, so in 1989 I began searching for national credibility, and an international base. As luck would have it a new Taekwon-do body called the BTC the (Governing Body for Taekwon-do in Great Britain) had just been established. Most of the committee were old friends of mine from my UKTA days, so I applied for our association to join. I revamped our constitution, and went to a meeting to see if they would accept us. They did, and the association became a full voting member.
AW – Can you tell me how you met Grand Master Park Jung Tae, and how did we join the Global Taekwon-do Federation.
GMO – Again luck was on our side Adrian. A senior member of the association heard through the grapevine that Grand Master Park had left the ITF, and was forming a new world body. Grand Master Park had contacted a senior Taekwon-do student in Britain but the senior student had reclined his offer. So we phoned Grand Master Park, and he asked us to join him, and others in Toronto Canada.
Three association senior’s, and I went over to the meeting a bit apprehensive of what to expect, as we had never met Grand Master Park before. I was pleasantly surprised when he picked us up from the airport as he was very approachable, and friendly. We settled into the hotel, and before long I had made friends with Senior Master Andersen, and the Norwegian delegates. Also there were a lot of representatives from the USA, Canada, I believe nine countries in all attended the meeting.
The first thing we did the next day was to all train together.
The training was conducted by Grand Master Park, and it was then I could see how technically brilliant he was. I also could see how far behind I was technically since I had left the ITF ten years earlier. I felt disappointed with myself, and to cap it all I sparred a very talented opponent from the US who promptly kicked out four of my teeth! Since then we have become good friends, his name is Grand Master Scott McNeely. Apart from that the four days stay was excellent, and we agreed to be the GTF representatives for the whole of the UK.
The GTF organization was formally founded in October 1990 at a statutory congress meeting in Toronto, Canada.
AW – Could you give an outline of events from when we joined the GTF?
GMO – In 1992 Senior Master Andersen, and myself formed the European Global Taekwon-do Council. The EGTC grew at a fantastic rate with many countries joining. Our association hosted the first meeting in England the same year, and we were also honoured to have Grand Master Park present at the meeting. The organisation held its second congress meeting on the 4th of October 1993 in Moscow Russia. Representatives from many nations, and all member states from Russia were present at the meeting.
At that time Grand Master Park visited our shores many times. We also hosted the first European Championships in Scotland in 1996, we sent teams all over the world to different championships at this time, and even managed a first place with our men’s destruction team at the European Championships in the Germany in 1998.
Throughout this period I worked very hard not only to improve my own technical ability but also that of the association’s black belts. Of course Grand Master Park helped enormously with our technical improvements, and I always will be indebted to him.
A heartbreaking time for me in 1998 was when two of Mr Crostwaithes senior members wanted Scotland to be independent to the rest of the association. Mr Crostwaithe had retired from the association by then, and had handed over the reins in Scotland to these two senior members. I feel if he had still been in charge it wouldn’t have happened. Anyway at the end of the day our association lost 1,400 members overnight which was a big blow to me as we were heading over the 4000 members mark at the time.
After this the association bounced back with great vigour, and it bonded us all closer together. We opened new clubs at a rapid rate, and our membership again was growing fast. Also our members began to be much more technically aware, which vastly improved them. At the time I was extremely proud of their achievements.
In the year 2000 the organisation held its 3rd World Championships in Rimini, Italy to celebrate the Millennium, and the coming of the organisations Tenth anniversary.
Our association managed to send a hundred and twelve competitors, and officials to the event. Battling through very stiff opposition from the many countries present our success was evident by becoming second overall world champions behind the USA, several of todays senior members were at this event, Mr Madju, Mr A Holmes, Mr D Holmes and Master Auciello to name a few.
Sadly whilst at these championships we were informed that Grandmaster Park Jung Tae was gravely ill, the association continued with the GTF until late in 2001. Grandmaster Park unfortunately died in April 2002.
In late 2002 I attended an inaugural meeting in London along with five other group leaders to form the UKITF under the leadership of Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa (Son of our Taekwon-do Founder). My belief at this time was to help rebuild one Taekwon-do “I still believe in the unity and strength of one Taekwondo, with one technique” In October 2004 I was promoted to 8th degree (GBR-8-1002) by Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa at the ITF World Championships in South Korea.
In 2011 our flourishing beloved association was ripped apart again by certain disgruntled senior members wishing to implement their own ideas. This was again a major set back but since their departure a new mind-set and approach by the rest our senior black belts headed by Master Richard Auciello has launched us to a much happier place. Upon joining the UITF I was promoted to 9th degree in March 2013 by Grand Master Hwang Kwang Sung (An Original Early Pioneer of TKD) I had no idea of the promotion which was presented at a seminar we had put on in Leicester honouring Grand Master Hwang Kwang Sung. It was one of the greatest highlights of my TKD career.
AW – What are your thoughts on the future of the GTUK?
GMO – If we can get over this terrible coronavirus and our membership all return to their clubs after such a long period away, we can all look forward to a very fruitful future in the newly formed OPEN ITF World Body. This is a time when all students prove their resolute, love for their art, and instructors. I wish them all and their families to be safe and to get through these troubling times. Using the internet at this time is a time for us all to be as one, a family, and to hold fast.
AW – Well Sir it has been great talking to you, and I am sure all the members of the association wish you every success in your future endeavours as our Grand Master.
GMO – Thank you Adrian for your time it’s been a pleasure talking to you, and I wish you and all the members a very happy future in TKD.