Dojang Culture

Who (or what) is a Great Peng?

Great Peng and the purpose of Taekwondo

Dapeng (大鵬) is a giant bird that transforms from a Kun or giant fish in Chinese mythology.
In Chinese mythology a Kun (鲲) giant fish transforms into a Da Peng (大鵬) or giant bird.

Whether one’s martial arts journey began yesterday or decades ago, it began with a set of intentions. Some people train for fitness or for self-defense — or simply for the camaraderie of the dojang. Others aim to stand out as tournament competitors, champions who have defeated or surpassed all rivals in a sports tournament.

Sooner or later, however, as the years and injuries accumulate, everyone comes to a point where one pauses and reflects, asking, “Where is my Taekwondo training — my martial arts journey — taking me? How does Taekwondo fit into the rest of my life?” 

“Where is my Taekwondo training — my martial arts journey — taking me? How does Taekwondo fit into the rest of my life?”

Hwa Chong, World Kangdukwon Kwan Jang Nim and President
Hwa Chong, Kangdukwon Kwan Jang Nim

Taekwondo schools often tend to discourage students from seriously analyzing or questioning the fundamentals. Kangdukwon, however, encourages its students to actively examine and question everything about Taekwondo — indeed, everything about life.

Hwa Chong, Taekwondo teacher and mentor par excellence for over fifty years, recently remarked that “every student of Kangdukwon should understand the purpose of Taekwondo.” Its purpose, he said, is “to turn an ordinary person into an extraordinary person.” That is the whole aim and purpose of Taekwondo.

“The purpose of Taekwondo is to turn an ordinary person into an extraordinary person.”

— Hwa Chong

So of course the question that follows is: What then do the Great Grand Masters (such as Hwa Chong) mean by an “extraordinary person”?

Peng represents Indomitable Will

"Dapeng" (大鵬, a mythological bird in China) from the Kyōaka Hyaku-Monogatar (狂歌百物語, Japanese picture)
A single wing of a Great Peng, it is said here, is so great that it darkens the sky. Da Peng (大鵬) from the Kyōaka Hyaku-Monogatar (狂歌百物語, Japanese picture)

To illustrate his point, Grand Master Chong draws upon the metaphor of the Great Peng (大鵬). A fanciful creation of the ancient Chinese poetic imagination to Western interpreters, the image of Peng, a giant bird in Chinese mythology, soaring high in the sky is a symbol of great aspiration and indomitable will.

The Peng begins life as a Kun (), meaning a giant fish, but the word kun originally meant fish roe or spawn. In other words, the incomprehensibly great Peng starts life as a small fry, a little fish in a sea full of bigger fish.

What distinguishes the Kun from all other fish, however, is not its gigantic size as much as its ability to sprout wings and transmogrify itself into a truly gargantuan creature that lives high in the sky. A single wing of a great Peng, it is said, is so great that it darkens the sky.

大鵬 Great Peng

The Ch’an Buddhist master Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清, 1546-1623) declares the Peng is the image of the Taoist sage, and suggests the bird’s flight does not result from the piling up of wind but from the deep piling up of te or “virtue”. Julian Pas concurs that “the true sage is compared to the enormous bird.” The Peng soars above the limited perspective of the worldly multitude.

“A fish need wings to become a Peng.

What are the wings of a Peng?

This answer is found in the Five Virtues:

Wisdom, Benevolence, Faith, Discipline and Courage

These are your wings.

As your virtues grow and expand, so do your wings

Until one day, you are flying.

That is enlightenment or accomplishment in Taekwondo.

Some people are born with talents.

Others must strive to attain that enlightenment.

Neither things nor techniques bring enlightenment.

Virtuous actions lead to enlightenment.

That is the conclusion, the goal of Taekwondo practice.”

— Hwa Chong

Peng or Pinocchio?

As odd as the theme of the Peng may seem to modern educated people, yet the same theme appears in more familiar guises, including European fairy tales. All convey similar messages: the need for a moral compass to navigate life and discover or recover one’s authentic identity. It is the path to live as a Zhenren (真人), “a person who has cultivated perfection and attained the Tao”, literally a “true or genuine person”.

Like Pinocchio, we are all puppets. Pinocchio by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) - the first illustrator (1883) of Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino
Like Pinocchio, each one of us is a puppet buffeted by inner and outer forces. Pinocchio by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910) – the first illustrator (1883) of Le avventure di Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino

The ancient notion of the Peng is an example of a worldwide theme with such variations as The Adventures of Pinocchio, which chronicles the adventures of a wooden puppet whose lonely maker, Geppetto, makes a wish that his puppet could be a real boy. A fairy grants his wish by bringing the puppet, Pinocchio, to life, but tells Pinocchio that he must prove his worth before she will make him into a real boy. Little Pinocchio must transform himself to become an authentic human — a daunting task for a marionette with a head and heart made of wood.

The Peng transforms itself and is the agent of its own transformation, unlike Pinocchio, an enchanted log that was transformed into a “real boy” not by his own agency, but by that of external agents — a fairy and a puppet maker. As in any true fairy tale, we learn that finally “the Fairy with Azure Hair saves Pinocchio at the last moment.” Unlike the Peng, Pinocchio does not and cannot transform himself.

The message is clear: Be a Peng, not a Pinnochio.

Another difference between Pinocchio and a Great Peng: Pinocchio must learn his lessons from hard experience. Again and again, he stumbles and falls in with bad company until finally he returns to care for the aged Geppetto.

The Great Peng, however, is a different sort of fish. His transformations begin even when he is still a small fry. Before long, he is a fish of gargantuan size. When he can grow no further as a fish, he sprouts wings to fly and remain aloft for six months at a time. His wings are so broad that one wing alone darkens the sky.

What does it mean? Why bother with a 2,000 year old Chinese poetic fantasy? How does the transformation of the Kun into the Great Peng apply to us or to Taekwondo?

Taekwondo may be thought of as such an alchemical process of refinement and self-transformation. You only get as much out of it as you put into it, in other words.

Like puppets, each one of us is conditioned from childhood to conform to certain beliefs about oneself and what one is capable of achieving in life. From infancy, we are essentially puppets buffeted by forces from within and without that we do not fully understand, let alone control.

“The World Kangdukwon Federation should establish a ‘Great Peng Award’ for outstanding contributors and achievers who promote Taekwondo globally in the future.”

-Hwa Chong

Taekwondo — as taught by genuine masters of the art — is much more than a body of techniques for punching, kicking and blocking. A grand master who has not learned how to think like a general is not an authentic grand master.

As Grand Master Hwa Chong is telling us, Taekwondo is nothing less than a lifelong process of evolution or transformation from an ordinary person into a Peng or a Zhenren, a sage whose lofty perspective goes far beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. Or a true cosmopolitan, at the very least.

"I don't know who your are anymore."
“I don’t know who your are anymore.”




The poem that inspired Nelson Mandela, ‘Invictus’ read by Morgan Freeman

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

“I have given you a compass. Now use it!”

“We must break out of our shells and evolve.”

Tradition versus Innovation

Hwa Chong, World Kangdukwon Kwan Jang Nimand President addresses senior WKF officers

[Ann Arbor, Michigan, 14 August 2021] After nearly seventy years of training and teaching Taekwondo, Hwa Chong, the Kwan Jang Nim of Kangdukwon Taekwondo, continues to urge Taekwondo students of all ages and levels to grow and evolve both as martial artists and as human beings. Taekwondo training and principles, he says, should be understood and applied at all levels and all periods of our lives, otherwise we fail to live up to our full potential as human beings.“We must evolve as individuals and as a federation also. Who can show the way for going forwards?”, he asked a small gathering of senior students from Kangdukwon’s first decades in America.

“We must break out of our shells and evolve” —Hwa Chong

"We must break out of our shells and evolve," says Kangdukwon Grand Master Hwa Chong
“We must break out of our shells and evolve,” Kangdukwon Grand Master Hwa Chong tells us.

Grand Master Hwa Chong was attending a gathering of his senior students in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Among the chief topics of discussion was the future of the World Kangdukwon Federation with the full retirement of Grand Master Chong.

“I am now 82. So I am not sure how much longer I can carry on. You need to make these decisions for yourselves. I am now like the figurehead on a ship, there only for show,” he said to a gathering of senior Taekwondo students and officers from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. 

Addressing the issue of WKF leadership succession indirectly, he praised Chung Ju Yung, who rose from poverty to build Hyundai, one of Korea’s and the world’s most successful business empires. He urged Kangdukwon students and teachers to study the book Made in Korea: Chung Ju Jung and the Rise of Hyundai.

Made in Korea: Chung Ju Jung and the Rise of Hyundai

“In the future, Kangdukwon leaders should be like Chung Ju Yung,” who, he said, embodied all the qualities valued in Kangdukwon: discipline, determination, courage and a willingness to accept risks in the service of his corporate family and the Korean nation.

Taekwondo, he said, was born in the crucible of the Korean War (1950-53), when Communist forces pushed free South Koreans until they had their backs to the sea. They could have accepted the inevitable and fled, but they fought back tenaciously under extremely tough circumstances and saved the nation. That is what is called the Spiritus Invictus, the unconquerable spirit of Korea and Taekwondo, he said.

Korea’s per capita income was only US$67 in 1953. Today it is over $34,000. Because of the spirit and hard work of Chung Ju Yung and other hard-working Koreans like him, today Korea is among the world’s most developed economies. 

“In the future, we should develop and master not martial skills, but business skills. We should work together to conquer markets instead of territories.”

“Don’t forget the North Star!Now I have given you a compass. So use it! Otherwise, without a compass you will get lost and come to a bad end.”

“If you follow honeybees, they will lead you straight to nectar. Follow flies and they will lead you into a pile of dung,” he reminded his students.

It is like that with martial arts also. Authentic Kangdukwon Taekwondo can lead one to the greatest heights of whatever you wish it to be. But follow the wrong dojang or teacher, and in the end one meets with bitter disappointment.

“We must not become tied to traditions. We must keep changing and evolving. That is the spirit of Taekwondo.” –Hwa Chong

“As I have always taught you, avoid attacking an opponent’s strengths. Attack his weaknesses instead.”


Hwa Chong recalled General George Patton, the American general whose ‘three keys to military victory’ were “Audacity, audacity, audacity!” He had learned his lesson from Napoleon Bonaparte, whose motto was “Audace! Toujours l’audace!”

That audacity, that willingness to undertake bold risks or surprising innovations, is what in Taekwondo we simply call spirit.

Grand Master Chong’s concluded by saying, “We must not become locked into traditions. We must keep changing and evolving. Otherwise one gets left behind.” That is true for the individual, true for one’s nation and true for Kangdukwon Taekwondo as well.”

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it”

Someone asked Michelangelo how he created create sculptures such as Pieta and David. “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” he said. A world-renowned psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross and her student David Kessler took this as a beautiful metaphor on human nature — “You are the purest and most perfect being.” It may be invisible, but all of us have a “great person” who is waiting to be taken out inside us.  

In 1974 a columnist in the “Boston Herald American” of Massachusetts printed another more elaborate instance with Michelangelo and “David”: 11

“How in God’s name could you have achieved a masterpiece like this from a crude slab of marble?” someone is supposed to have asked Michelangelo.

“It was easy. All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

They use Michelangelo’s quote to console people who are trapped in self-contempt and despair. They think pure human nature is “covered by masks and roles that they have to wear in reality.” Roles such as benevolent parent, hard-working employee, good student and good daughter or son are pressing down on us like a rock. This is the essence of their healing theory. They advise people to lose the pressure, fear and negative thoughts that they should take responsibility of everything and do “what they want” instead of “what they should.” They tell us to realize that we are more special and significant than we think.

We should cut off unnecessary parts like Michelangelo did, thinking that our mind is a block of stone with a great person inside it. Then, we can recover from despair or self-contempt. It would not liberate us from all the roles we have to play or heal all the wounds we have. But believing that a great being is inside us consoles us. We can find a great person inside us when we cut off unnecessary parts. The imagination itself is consoling. It is all the more consoling because we are living in an era full of distrust, skepticism and cynicism toward human nature.

Courtesy: Dong-A Ilbo of  June 23, 2021

Who is a Do-Ban?

Hwa Chong on spiritual friendship

Everyone needs trusted companions who can accompany one through life as lifelong friends.

In Korean language there is a term for such friends. They are Do-bans, literally ‘Tao companions’.

We must pursue the truths of life by awakening spiritually. That is the ultimate aim of Taekwondo.

Today Olympic sports are pursued for just one purpose: to win. In this single-minded quest to win, however, we forget the greater pursuit of spiritual awakening.

I regard this as the purpose of Kang Duk Won, our ‘Lecture Virtue House’ of Taekwondo.

Collective agreement and collective action is the essence of United States’ social, industrial, and technological achievements.

We have to unite therefore, so small groups (like states) become bigger and stronger (like the United States).

We need a spiritual renaissance. This is the first step to a greater new world.

-Hwa Chong

Who is a Do-Ban?

Do-Ban is a Korean term that one seldom hears in the dojang. It means a friend (ban) in the Way (Tao or Do), in other words, a Dharma friend or in plain English a spiritual friend. 

In Taekwondo we learn through our teachers and through hard training that there are higher aims in life than having a great weekend or having a successful career. Especially in Kang Duk Won Taekwondo, we learn values like honor, loyalty, and generosity, not so much from lectures or discussions as from direct experience, especially by the example of our friends and teachers. We learn that there are certain intangibles, like friendships, that have no price.

A hundred people may all train together in the same dojang, and eventually all of them may become friends. However, not all will become do-bans. In fact, it is rare to find two do-bans in the same dojang or indeed anywhere, for this special type of friendship is quite rare. 

On the surface, Taekwondo seems to be all about fighting, about becoming capable, even fearsome, fighters. But look deeper and you discover that it is about finding and developing something intangible called spirit.

[From conversations with GGM Hwa Chong]