Hwa Chong

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.”

“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

Down the Rabbit Hole: Taekwondo, Black Holes and Finnegans Wake

A Martial Artist’s Spirit Journey

Fifty-some years ago, I encountered Taekwondo. Little did I know that it would propel me on a life long journey that grows more amazing with each passing day.

As a freshman majoring in astronomy at the University of Michigan, I was fascinated by black holes, massive stars that undergo complete gravitational collapse so unimaginable that nothing, not even light, could escape from their intense gravity. I was struggling to wrap my head around differential equations, and it was not going well. It would not be my first failure in life, nor my last.

The author (at left) trained with U-Michigan TKD Club luminaries including chief instructor Joe Lloyd, Club founder Jim Young and Saleem Jehangir, who introduced Taekwondo to Pakistan and the Asian subcontinent.

Failure in astronomy stared me in the face. My mind was full of questions about the nature of the universe, and yet neither astronomy nor I could offer solutions. So I looked elsewhere, studying philosophy, anthropology, economics, and so on, still finding no satisfaction.

Unity of Theory and Action

That was when fate stepped in. To graduate, undergraduates needed two semesters of physical education. I chose Taekwondo. Back then, no one knew what it was, so we explained to friends that we were learning ‘Korean Karate’. To get the most of it, I joined the U-Michigan Taekwondo Club, a fateful decision that would transform my life.

Our head instructor, the 29-year old economist Mr. Chong (as we called him in those days), taught us to see both micro-views and macro-views of the world around us. While other Taekwondo instructors taught fighting tactics only, he taught both tactics and strategy, training his students first to be like foot soldiers, then like officers, and ultimately to think and act like generals.

The Power of Failure: The author learned qualities like humility and adaptability from repeated failures in life. His Taekwondo friends, teachers and even juniors often used him as a punching bag, as seen here in 1974. Photo courtesy Grand Master Joseph Lloyd

I was already pondering Unified Field Theory, a term coined by Albert Einstein, who attempted to unify the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. Master Chong carried it further and spoke rather of the Unity of Theory and Action. That is, blind action without theoretical understanding is bound to fail, and theoretical understanding alone is mere talk. Success arises when theory and action complement each other.

The Power of Failure

Master Chong taught us to convert our weaknesses into strengths, either through hard training or else by re-imagining and seeing the issue in a whole new light. Every ‘failure’ is also an opportunity for one to reflect, learn, and evolve to the next level of understanding.

Grandmaster Chong’s personal example had a far-reaching formative influence upon me. Fascinated and inspired by what he called the spirit of Taekwondo, I soon set out on a spirit quest to Asia that continues to this day.

In 1970, I chose not to do my junior year of study abroad in Germany, but instead designed a plan to circle the globe in pursuit of the spirit of Taekwondo in its many manifestations. With a one-way ticket to Korea, and after a short stay in Seoul, I entered Beomeo-sa, a Zen monastery on a mountain outside Pusan, and lived as a monk for the rest of my two month stay in Korea.

Wormholes and Finnegans Wake

Nobody has succeeded in decrypting Finnegans Wake, James Joyce’s dense multilingual comedy written over a period of seventeen years.

Ultimately, I decided to become a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka in 1971. That was where I met the German Swami Gauribala, a remarkable man who had left Germany in 1936 and never returned, to become first a Buddhist monk, then a Hindu monk, and finally a simple hermit, a ‘nobody’. A citizen of Shambhala and a true cosmopolitan, he described his life as a quest for the Holy Grail.

German Swami became, after Master Chong, my teacher and role model. For fourteen years, until his passing in 1984, I lived and breathed to learn from him what I could. His final challenge to me was to study and understand the virtually unreadable 1939 novel by James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, written as a dream monologue retelling the history of the world. I still study it daily.

Transitions from Taekwondo to Aikido to Waltz

After returning to Michigan to complete my undergraduate degree in religious studies, Master Chong promoted me to first dan in 1976, not because of any exceptional ability on my part, but out of my sheer dedication to the art and to the masters of the art, Master Chong and his students, starting with Master Joseph Lloyd. Influenced by yoga and the teachings of German Swami Gauribala however, I had already begun to migrate to a nonviolent and non-competitive martial art, Aikido.

In 1976 shortly after being awarded my first Dan, I returned to South Asia. Based in Karachi, I served for five months as guest instructor of the Pakistan Kang Duk Won Tae Kwon Do Federation. After organizing one of Pakistan’s early national tournaments in December 1976, I retired from Taekwondo to resume my studies across much of South Asia.

While I was working in Frankfurt, Germany, I was able to resume Aikido training. When I returned to Ann Arbor in the mid-1980’s, I studied Yoshinkan Aikido for four years under Takashi Kushida Sensei, a worthy counterpart to Grandmaster Hwa Chong. Then, for twenty years from 1989 until 2009, I resided in Sri Lanka and India, trying to live the way the German Swami had lived, until I returned to America to settle in Florida where I live to this day.

“Master Patrick, how old are you?”

“Seventy, sir!”

“No, you are wrong! Think how old your DNA is. Your DNA has survived for millions of years. That means that you are millions of years old!”

-Hwa Chong

Master Chong taught us that Taekwondo is to be used in service of justice only. It follows, he says, that the true martial artist must also be a cosmopolitan, a person of broad vision who always cultivates a warm heart and a cool head. She or he is one who can see and serve justice: in the home, in the business world, in the dojang, and wherever needed.

At seventy, I now live in Gainesville, Florida, a campus town like Ann Arbor where I can dance and/or train seven days a week. My training with the Gainesville Old-time Dance Society (GODS) consists of contra dancing, waltz, and country dance traditions of England, Ireland, Scotland, Israel, and—not least of all—Dances of Universal Peace—while still training twice weekly at Aikido of Gainesville. Since 2014 I also serve the cause of justice for the Yezidis of Iraq and other persecuted minorities globally.

All this ever since 1969, I owe to Kang Duk Won Grandmaster Hwa Chong, Taekwondo teacher extraordinaire, economist, and cosmopolitan philosopher from a time when he and I were still young men.

What I have learned from Taekwondo: Nothing is impossible andThe best is yet to come!’

Patrick Harrigan, long time student and friend of Hwa Chong, the Kwan Chang Nim of KangDukWon Taekwondo, is Vice President for Public Affairs of the World Kang Duk Won Federation and the Secretary of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of North Africa and the Middle East. A student of comparative religion, photographer, and author, since 1972 he has studied the role of sacred geography in South Asian mythology, especially traditions concerning Kataragama, the multi-religious shrine of the pan-Indian war god Skanda a.k.a. Murugan in Sri Lanka.

Note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Taekwondo Life magazine and is reproduced with the publisher’s kind permission.