Totally TKD magazine recently spoke to Master Willie Lim, a pioneer of the art on New Zealand and a revolutionary in the area of ‘hidden’ pattern applications, on his opinions on the state of Taekwon-do today and what he thought of General Choi.
The Rebel Master
By Marek Handzel
The term ‘legend’ is an often overused one. But in Taekwon-do circles, it’s commonly used to describe the pioneers of the art. So to describe Master Willie Lim as anything but legendary, is not only a bit disrespectful, but just plain wrong.
One of the main instructors to have brought Taekwon-do to New Zealand, he is now based in the USA, where he teaches his own particular versions of Tae Kwon do and Tai Chi, which he calls the ‘Classical Dimension’ or the ‘old way’ style. Loath to involve himself in any martial arts politics, Master Lim is at the forefront of a global movement to study and promote the understanding of the ‘hidden techniques’ or as he likes to refer to them as, bunkai, contained in modern striking arts.
He has, throughout his life
in the arts, stretched out
beyond Taekwon-do in
order to help him,
ironically enough, to gain
a deeper understanding of
the art. This has led him
to train with other legends
such as Taika Seiyu
Oyata, the founder of
Ryute Karate, George
Dillman, the pressure
point karateka specialist,
Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace
and Hee Il Cho, among many others.
Born into a Malaysian
family of Kung fu
practitioners, Master Lim actually started his martial arts journey as a student of the Japanese arts after his father, a power lifter, introduced him, when he was 14, to a famous Judoka at the time called Master Cheng Hai. Master Lim describes him as having “dabbled” in Kyokushinkai Karate, which he taught him for two years. It was not a choice that his whole family appreciated. His grandmother, a student of the Lean Wah Kun and Tai Chor Kun Chinese styles, once told him that karate was “the equivalent of a crude iron, only good for making nails.”
After seeing a physician about an injury sustained in training, he also began formally studying Tai Chi, which he has continued to train in and teach to this day.
Perhaps wary of his grandmother’s advice, his focus soon shifted away from his Japanese Karate after he saw a picture of General Choi kicking a flower pot in one of his local newspapers. After finding out about a meeting in which Taekwon-do was to be introduced to Malaysia, Master Lim promptly turned up and became the youngest member of the Taekwon-do association in the country.
The association grew rapidly in his area and was able to sponsor Master Chang Kim Choi (CK Choi) to come over to teach in Penang, after which Master Lim’s training stepped up to another level.
In order to further his education, he moved to New Zealand as a young man to attend college and then university. Along with four other students of CK Choi, he began teaching Taekwon-do in the northern half of New Zealand.
At the time, the patterns were not something that Master Lim spent much time contemplating. In fact, he was not very interested in them at all, and focused his energy on sparring and competition.
“I did the patterns as they were part of the syllabus but not with the same value and understanding that I place on them now,” he says.
His ‘conversion’ came about due to him suffering a period of “burn out” as he describes it, no doubt brought on by the hard work he and his peers put in trying to promote General Choi’s art in a country dominated by karate stylists. In order to freshen himself up, it was suggested to him that he invite George Dillman over to Hamilton (where he was based) to show him and his students a new perspective on the patterns.
“After seeing what he did,” he says, “I revived my interest in the art.”
This sparked a desire in Master Lim to ensure that he and his students grew as martial artists. As a result, he brought over a number of prominent individuals from different styles to New Zealand, which already began to single him out as different from some of the other “Taekwon-do-is-the-best-style-in-the-world” instructors who were promoting the art.
Not that he was concerned about what others in the young Taekwon-do community thought of him – the standards he was responsible for spoke for themselves.
“I believe our group was responsible for improving the general standards of the martial arts community (in New Zealand),” he says. “Whenever General Choi was there in NZ, he would always use my students to demonstrate (techniques).”
Master Lim was also protected from any criticism for ‘diluting’ Taekwon-do by the General himself. “General Choi used me as a buffer against the other Korean instructors operating in my region,” he recalls.
“He supported me. I believe he did so because he could see many of the Korean instructors breaking away from the ITF when they ‘got big’. He has foreseen this pattern happening all over the globe, even before he aligned himself to North Korea.”