[L]ocal 7th Dan Taekwondo Master, Phil James has been awarded one of the highest accolades, by being inducted into The Taekwondo Hall of Fame as a Pioneer of the Martial Art.
In a ceremony held in New York, Phil James received the honour in recognition of being an instrumental player in establishing Taekwondo in the UK. His achievements now stand in the Taekwondo history books alongside other inductees such as Taekwondo’s founder General Choi Hong Hi and legendary Martial artist and Hollywood superstar Chuck Norris.
Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, it has taken many years for Phil James to reach this point. It all started back in the 1970s when a chance encounter with a Taekwondo black belt named Percy Gill would set the wheels in motion of what would become an incredible journey.
Phil James said: “I was part of a demonstration team displaying self-defence techniques for the Scots Guards. At one particular demo, I broke a piece of wood with a hand strike and everything went well. We got word there was a Taekwondo black belt in the audience (which was very rare in these days), so we convinced him to show us some Taekwondo. Well he took the wooden boards I had been breaking and stacked them all on top of each other. He then picked up a brick I used to balance my boards on, placed it on top of the wooden stack and smashed through the brick with his bare hands, splitting it in half! From that moment I was absolutely hooked and did everything I could to become his student and learn Taekwondo.”
…and so the journey began! From inside the old judo training hall of the Blue Coat School in Kendal, Phil James, with a small gathering of friends, began training with their Taekwondo Master. Thus Kendal Taekwondo was born and the first steps were taken of what was to become a long lasting legacy; a legacy that would continue to impact people’s lives for years to come.
Phil added: “The training was tough! We were doing things you just couldn’t get away with today. He would send us out to run up to the top of Scouts Scar to retrieve something he had left there for us – but we’d be sent out in our Taekwondo uniforms and bare feet. That was just our warm up! Percy Gill was a formidable man – he was originally stationed in Singapore with the RAF and I was the first person to be taught by him when he returned to the UK in 1972.”
In 1978 Phil was awarded his 1st Dan black belt by Korean Grand Master Rhee, one of Taekwondo’s original pioneers. This would mark a turning point, which would see Phil James handed the reins to take over the running of Kendal under his Instructorship. With dreams of expanding the reach of Taekwondo further, he went on to open clubs in Cartmel and Kirby Stephen and quickly became known as – ‘Cumbria Taekwondo’.
Many years were spent travelling the country, spreading Taekwondo and linking with other clubs, through competitions, training sessions & seminars. There was a real esprit de corps, with practitioners of the art often travelling to Kendal simply to train under Master Phil James.
Cumbria Taekwondo’s reputation was one of strength and quality, and afforded them the opportunity to travel to the Taekwondo motherland; South Korea and train at the Kukkiwon headquarters. A year after this visit in 2000, Korea would send a team of their finest athletes to the UK to demonstrate and compete with Cumbria’s team.
The Korea v Cumbria Fight Night, would see Cumbria successfully win 1st place, beating the Koreans at the very sport they created. At a time before Taekwondo was an Olympic movement, this was the world stage and this was Cumbria athletes competing at the highest level of the sport, defeating world class competitors.
Grand Master Phil James now spends his time overseeing the promotion of students through the black belt ranks as one of the most senior International examiners in the UK. There are very few people in the Taekwondo world that do not know of Phil James; very few people that haven’t been inspired or helped by him in some way. There is a presence that follows him, an aura that can be sensed when he enters a room, one that commands respect without asking for it, one that can instill fear but inspire the best out of you; it is the spirit of a true Master.
A journey that began many years ago, with the transmission of taekwondo’s philosophy, knowledge and skill from master to pupil, from Percy to Phil, from Phil to his students continues to this day. Sadly Percy passed away a few years ago but some 40 years later, Cumbria Taekwondo is still thriving, with Phil’s students now leading the next generation of children.
It can be said that immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leaving your mark behind. Pioneers are those that leave their mark and open the way for others to follow. There is therefore no accolade more fitting for Grand Master Phil James, than that of – ‘ Pioneer of Taekwondo’.