Grandmaster Anthony Phelan

Grandmaster Anthony Phelan is one of the Republic of Ireland Taekwon-Do's Association's longest serving instructors, and has been a key influence on the development of RITA schools in Ireland. In Dublin, he has been instrumental in establishing schools in Ballyfermot, his home place, and in Clondalkin. Outside of Dublin, senior practitioners remember years of tuition he gave in Waterford and Cork, and seminars given throughout the country.

Grandmaster Phelan's introduction to the Korean martial art was unusual. Although many people, especially in the early days of the art in Ireland, came upon Taekwon-Do through seeing people in training or because karate schools they were involved in closed, Master Phelan actually saw the deadly art being used in a real life self-defence situation.

He remembers seeing Mr Frank Matthews, whose recent, sudden death shocked his friends and colleagues, defend himself against a number of attackers on the street. Mr Matthews use of the art convinced Master Phelan, who had tried boxing at the CIE club in Inchicore, that here was something special. ``He was bouncing around them,'' GM Phelan remembers. He began training under Mr Matthews in Broadstone, near the Black Church, a school he later instructed at. He points to his association with Mr Matthews; a friend of his brother's as the main reason for sticking with the art in the early stages. ``The main reason for me staying was Francis,'' he says.

Master Phelan with Master Barrett in 1974Master Phelan breaking tiles

Grandmaster Phelan's progress through the grades was rapid and his dedication grew. He remembers that he came back from his honeymoon to do his red belt grading. ``That was part of the agreement of getting married,'' he says. In 1973, after receiving his black belt for his first degree, he began to instruct. ``We used to train seven times a week in those years. ``You could go to different schools - Master Howard in Sean MacDermott Street, Master Rhee when he came over from England.''

He remembers clearly the date when he started instructing September 22nd, 1973, when he went to Waterford. ``There was a karate club there in disarray and most of the members came to me,'' he says. To build up a school in the south east meant taking the train there ``for years'' and he would stay over on Saturday night to teach another class on the Sunday. ``Going to Waterford for years during the seventies and eighties was a long old haul,'' he admits. Throughout the seventies, Master Phelan also taught in Broadstone and later began the Ballyfermot and Clondalkin ones. ``It was continuous. There was no end to it.''

It is no surprise then that he values the trait of `perseverance', one of the tenets of Taekwon-Do, very highly. ``That will carry you through forever,'' he says. ``Taekwon-Do teaches you to overcome setbacks. You can take the problem back, look at it for a while and come up with an answer,'' he says. The other four tenets, which also have a valued place in his estimation, are Courtesy, integrity, self-control and indomitable spirit.

The RITA puts a lot of emphasis on courtesy, believing it is the true hallmark of the Taekwon-Do practitioner. It will also weed out troublemakers who cannot bring themselves to show respect. ``The respect will get rid of the bowsie type of character very quickly,'' Master Phelan says.

With the founder Gen ChoiWaterford 1974

The benefits of over 30 years of instruction have been the enjoyment he receives from seeing his students progress and the feedback from parents who have seen their children prosper physically and mentally through their introduction to the original Taekwon-Do, as taught by the founder General Choi. ``For the kids, it is good for their schooling and good for their confidence.'' Grandmaster Phelan has also seen his students go on to become senior black belts and instructors in their own right. Senior Master Francis Barrett, a eight degree black belt in Waterford who instructs throughout the south of the country, is one of GM Phelan's old students.

Theory and practice
He has found benefits for himself too. ``It keeps you in shape. Goodness knows what it kept me away from. In the early years, it kept me in good shape and off cigarettes.'' Master Phelan describes his favourite technique as a jump, flying reverse turning kick, blindfolded of course. ``It took a lot of practice, and exact measurements to break two inches of timber suspended in the air.''

He has represented Ireland against England in the National Stadium and values his destruction techniques for helping the national team squad gain valuable points that helped Ireland win the day. He has participated in many demonstrations abroad, including Canada and the US Taekwon-Do, he says, is a combination of theory and practice. ``No one will work without the other.'' He also emphasises ``strong, solid blocks'', and ``a good, solid defence'' as essential aspects of true Taekwon-Do, rather than tournament sparring. ``That is what it is about, good defence. Taekwon-Do is for martial artists. Tournament people do not last. They get their best years out of it. When they retire from tournaments, they recede into the background and are never seen again.''

The true Taekwon-Do practitioner will therefore walk away from trouble rather than engage in it. He or she knows that Taekwon-Do is too dangerous to use in any but the most necessary situations. Grandmaster Phelan's advice to RITA members is to concentrate on the movements, and pay attention to the scientific principles that apply rather than going through them automatically.

He points to what General Choi says about stances, that they make practitioners very strong, and are the foundation of the art on which you can build. ``Put more effort in the movements, not just the patterns, but the build-up movements. Put a lot of emphasis on the stances. That is why I could jump so well years ago,'' he says. For him, General Choi is the person he most admires as the founder of Taekwon-Do, who at over 80 years of age, was still teaching and still benefiting from the art.

On 15th June 2016 he was promoted to 9th Degree Grandmaster at a cermony in Pyongyang, DPR Korea celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the ITF and General Choi's memorial.

By Eibhir Mulqueen

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In Memoriam

Gen Choi Hong Hi
Founder of Taekwon-Do
1918 - 2002

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