I started taking lessons in Kuk Sool Won™ prior to the new millennium. I enrolled my two older kids first, then I joined a month or two later. All three of us achieved our blackbelts several years later.
My feelings now, at the end of my relationship with the World Kuk Sool Association, are complicated. Sadness predominates, but there’s also relief, anger, and righteous indignation. Here, you want the TL;DR?
I sent a letter asking questions and got excommunicated.
So, here’s the slightly longer version.
Two years ago, the heir apparent to the World Kuk Sool Association resigned. It had been obvious that there was tension behind the scenes, but it was never spoken of. When Kuk Sa Nim’s oldest son left, we (school owners) began receiving emails containing court documents. The son was suing the father, or his association at least. Those lawsuits are ongoing and I don’t know enough about them to comment publicly.
But the discovery for the case included documents pertaining to lawsuits against the next son in line to inherit. Some of these lawsuits were very troubling to me as a school owner and business associate. They were for things like sexual assault, sexual intimidation, and coercion.
And there were rumors of other cases of sexual crimes outside the country involving this same person and others.
As a school owner, I was in contact with this man several times a year. He has administered the association, at least since I opened my school in 2005. He would probably agree that he and I have never gotten along. Which is fine. I don’t have to like someone to do business with them. However, I have seen his temper. I’ve been on the receiving end, multiple times, of his attempts to ridicule and harass.
But I can stand up for myself just fine if I need to. Some slights I’ve let pass, others I’ve challenged him on. I’ve never received an apology, even when he was obviously in the wrong.
All of my experience with this guy makes me believe 100% the stories that are being told about him.
So, I wrote to Kuk Sa Nim. I’m going to include that letter below, slightly edited. I mentioned some issues that might embarrass innocent people, and I don’t want to do that. Other than those omissions, this is what I sent to Kuk Sa Nim.
Kuk Sa Nim:
I am writing with a heavy heart. As many WKSA instructors are, I’m distressed by recent events and the WKSA’s response to them. I am writing to you for several reasons. As a franchise holder and your business associate, I want to understand your opinions and positions. Also, as a school owner, I want you to understand my history. Finally, as a teacher and local business owner, I need to protect my integrity and my students’ safety.
I opened my school nearly 19 years ago. From the beginning, being part of the association has been a challenge. My (then) instructor, XXXXXXX, exhibited exceptionally bad faith as an instructor and the WKSA did nothing to address it.
First, XXXXXXX lied to me about the requirements for opening a school. He required that all communications with headquarters go through him. He asserted that Kuk Sa Nim wanted him (XXXXXXX) to oversee my school, collect part of the tuition, and all the testing fees.
Because I knew XXXXXXX to be untrustworthy, I contacted headquarters. I found all of his conditions to me opening a school to be false. XXXXXXX’s response was that Kuk Sa Nim must have forgotten.
I opened my school in May 2005. Within a couple of years, we were in the franchising mess. School owners from around the country were calling me, encouraging me not to sign.
I did not see their point. My reply, in no uncertain terms, was that I wanted the association and you, Kuk Sa Nim, to profit as much as possible. I was happy to support the WKSA and fought to remain a member.
Nevertheless, when visiting headquarters, I was frequently told how little the association valued my support. School owners were told that we always “know where the door is.”
Because of XXXXXXX’s complete lack of character and ethics, I requested that you, Kuk Sa Nim, assign me a new instructor. After months of waiting, I asked you about it at the seminar and you recommended Master Carson in Ohio. We spoke a few times on the phone, but he retired soon after.
I wrote to Master Green for guidance, but my letter was returned unopened.
I eventually submitted myself for promotion to second degree since I had students coming up behind promoting to my rank. After speaking to him about XXXXXXX falling asleep while judging at the St. Louis tournament, I asked Ben Mitchell to be my instructor.
He agreed, but with long travel times and miscommunication, we have had a bit of a rocky path.
At the last seminar before the pandemic, Master Alex confronted me in front of other school owners. He asked me to explain why XXXXXXX was no longer my instructor, then became incensed when I refused to answer publicly.
Master Alex spoke to me like a child (I’m in my 50s) and sent me to wait for him to speak privately. In private, I explained one reason I would no longer train under XXXXXXX was OOOOOOO. Master Alex accepted this, but failed to apologize for attempting to humiliate me in front of my peers.
If you like, I can provide a complete list of reasons I will not train with XXXXXXX. For this letter, I will just say I will never be under XXXXXXX authority again.
We have since gone through various stages of training with headquarters. I had hoped that Master Alex would keep some of his promises: help with advertising, group insurance rates, a better website with educational materials, credits toward testing fees for school owners, etc. But none of that has happened.
I have sent various emails over the years offering to write articles for magazines, to help with textbook revisions, and so on. But they have all been ignored.
It looked like some things were going right, though. We began having occasional Blackbelt Workshops in addition to testing and seminars. Someone noticed that despite being under the same banner, there was a lot of variation in the execution of forms and techniques between various schools, and we began the “unification” process. This was welcome to me because judging at tournaments was becoming increasingly difficult.
But, apparently, “unification” became a dirty word. My instructor, Master Ben Mitchell, was treated badly by Master Alex for mentioning it at a tournament. I should note that school owners never used that word until it came down from headquarters. It was your word, not ours.
Since being shamed for using headquarters terminology, we have been instructed that “textbook way” is what we are supposed to do. And Blackbelt workshops, which had been very helpful, ceased.
Several years ago, I started a Facebook page called “I Love Kuk Sool Won,” to share posts from schools around the world. I meant it to be a kind of clearing house of Kuk Sool Won schools, a way to help increase their visibility and boost schools’ visibility at no cost. This was, of course, a volunteer effort. I make no money from the page.
But for the past couple of years, I have been distressed to watch as WKSA schools left the association and I could no longer include their posts on the page. I was angry at first, for their disloyalty.
I even emailed Master Alex to let him know that court documents were being sent to school owners.
Of course, I read these documents as they have come to light. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a saint. I understand people make mistakes in their personal lives, and that sometimes situations develop quickly and we make decisions in line with our values but on reflection, they can seem misguided.
Sir, I’m deeply troubled by several things, and I hope you don’t mind if I list them simply:
- Your alleged interaction with the young woman in Canada
- She should have been heard and believed.
- Her abuser shouldn’t have been promoted further.
- She should not have been encouraged to change her story to the police to cover for the abuser.
- Master Alex’s US court cases
- Court documents should have been made available to anyone with business dealings with Master Alex from the beginning.
- This would obviously include all WKSA school owners.
- The lack of transparency reeks of a cover-up.
- International allegations against Master Alex
- Again, details should have been provided to anyone doing business with WKSA.
I have tremendous respect for Master Alex as a martial artist. He has much more skill and knowledge than I ever will. That said, if he is guilty of sexual assault, he should be in prison, not leading an international organization pledged to “promote the development of a better society.”
I used to say the best people I knew in the world were in the World Kuk Sool Association. That has gotten harder and harder to say over the past few years. Undoubtedly, there are still some good people here. I am not certain that is enough of a reason for me to stay.
I have pledged myself, and my students, to be loyal to the WKSA, to obey its rules, and all the rest. The Association has not acted in good faith towards my students and myself, nor towards the aforementioned young women in Canada, the US, and the UK.
One highlight of my martial art career, sir, was when you came to my school in the summer of 2009. It was a terrible summer (business-wise), and we had fewer attendees than we expected. But it was a kind of vindication of the hard work that I had put into my school those previous few years.
But, sir, I am pained to say that I feel the only course forward is for me to leave the World Kuk Sool Association. If I remain silent in these matters, I am as guilty as any who committed crimes.
I will not be silent.
If there is another way forward, I would love to hear your thoughts.
I truly wish you well, sir.
I’m not sure Kuk Sa Nim ever saw my letter. The following is the response I received from headquarters.
Re: Resignation from WKSA
In reference to your E Mail addressed to Kuk Sa Nim which has now been forwarded to my attention.
In your letter you mention your concern regarding several Kuk Sool members together with the way in which the WKSA has handled the recent controversy that has been posted on social media.
Please be assured that the WKSA handles situations in a manner that it feels is pertinent and correct while adhering to its beliefs and values. These matters are handled privately, and are not something to be discussed with others, posted and exacerbated on social media with claims made by persons who are ill informed and have no knowledge of the actual facts.
Although the WKSA is disappointed that you as a PSBN wish to leave the WKSA and therefore terminate your Franchise Agreement, we do understand, and wish you well in your future endeavors.
We take this opportunity to remind you of your responsibilities necessary to finalize your leaving and consequently terminating your Franchise Agreement.
- Please return the following to WKSA HQ at the address above.
- The Flags and image(s) of Kuk Sa Nim
- The Letter(s) of Appointment.
- Please advise all your Students and Instructors that you have resigned from the WKSA.
- Please advise all your Students and Instructors that if they wish, they may transfer to the nearest official WKSA School of their choice.
- Please remove all mention of Kuk Sool, Kuk Sool Won, and the fist logo from your School premises, including Student Uniforms, websites, advertising, E Mail addresses, and any other place or item bearing any of the above as all of these marks are protected by Trademark Law.
- Please remember that the Generals Uniform is also a Trademark of Kuk Sool Won and you must now refrain from wearing this and using the Rank of 3rd Degree Kuk Sool Won.
- Please take down your Facebook pages of “Kuk Sool Won of Muncie” together with the page “I Love Kuk Sool Won”
Again, the WKSA wishes you well in the future, and we look forward to receiving the items requested above and to your compliance in the use of the WKSA Trademarks above.
Please return a signed original copy of this letter to the WKSA Headquarter Office at the address above.
WKSA TradeMark and Franchise Compliance Officer
Some friends are worried that by sharing my story, I’ll be playing into the hands of the traitors (their word, not mine.) I see their point. But honestly, what loyalty do I owe the Association now? I mean, I still have respect for Kuk Sa Nim despite disagreeing with decisions he has made. I still deeply respect my instructor, Master Ben Mitchell, Master Harmon, Master Farley, and too many more to name. I’m sorry to not be working with them anymore.
But this excommunication? This is a badge of honor I’ll wear proudly. Because they broke ties with me for asking questions.
There’s a difference between questioning authority and challenging authority. In my letter, I tried to be as respectful as I could, considering the topics. I asked for advice, for other options.
So, anyway, things change. We’ll move forward. The name of my school will change over the weekend. The website will change, but the old links will still work. I won’t scrub my site of all the WKSA images, etc, but we’ll take it off the signs and uniforms. Happily.
I’m not giving advice to other school owners. This was personal for me. I’m a huge believer in transparency. If I make a mistake, you’ll always hear it from me first. Other students and school owners might have valid reasons for staying. No judgement from me. I tried to stay, too.
One last time, here’s the WKSA Pledge, which I have lived by for twenty-some years.
As a (former) member of the World Kuk Sool Association:
I pledged to obey the rules of the association and conduct myself in accordance with the true spirit of martial art.
I pledged to be loyal to my country and promote the development of a better society.
I pledged to work together with all classes of people without regard to politics, race, or religion.
I pledged to promote international goodwill and strive for world peace through the practice of martial art.
I kept that pledge.
The guy who kicked me out can’t say the same thing.
I’m at peace.