Grandmaster Andy Ah Po

The History of a Martial Artist


Grandmaster Andy Ah Po

Grandmaster Ah Po's Early Years of Martial Arts

Grandmaster Andy Ah Po began his martial arts training early in his youth in Hawaii. At age 6 he began studying Sil Lum Gung Fu. During his early school years in the islands he studied Jiu Jitsu, Aikido, and Japanese Karate. He left the islands in 1959 to join the U.S. Air Force.

The year 2017 marks Grandmaster Ah Po's 70th year in the martial arts. He began studying Tang Soo Do in 1959. 2017 also marks Grandmaster Ah Po's 58th year as a Tang Soo Do practitioner and 45th anniversary of being promoted to the Dan level. He opened his own martial arts studio in Carmichael, California in 1966 and continues to teach weekly Yu Dan Ja and Ko Dan Ja classes at Mission Tang Soo Do which is owned and operated by his student Master Matt Sumpter.

As mentioned earlier, he began his Tang Soo Do training in 1959 under his original instructor Grandmaster Mariano Estioko (Dan Bon #759). However, because Grandmaster Estioko had lost his direct ties with Grandmaster Hwang Kee and the Korean Soo Bahk Do (Tang Soo Do) Association, Moo Duk Kwan, at that time, Grandmaster Ah Po was not able to test for Cho Dan until 1966.

The fact is, that all of Grandmaster Estioko's original students at that time decided to train knowing that they would not be able to be promoted to the Dan level as this was more important to them than being concerned about receiving rank.

"This is how things were in the old days" states Grandmaster Ah Po, "all we ever wanted to do was train".

In 1965, Master Jong Hyong Lee who was stationed in San Diego in an exchange agreement between the U.S. and the Korean military contacted both Mr. Mariano Estioko and Mr. Chuck Norris and was able to re-connect them with Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee and the Moo Duk Kwan. As a result, the first Tang Soo Do Dan testing in California was held in 1966 at Chuck Norris's dojang in Torrance, California.

Grandmaster Estioko was promoted to 2nd Dan and Chuck Norris to 3rd Dan at that time (although Estioko was actually Norris's senior but did not have the opportunity to be tested since leaving Korea).

The Dan testing that day, which was very comprehensive and extremely physically taxing, lasted for over 12 hours. Approximately 12 individuals actually tested for Cho Dan at that testing but only Andy Ah Po (Dan Bon #10187), Gerald Taylor (Dan Bon #10188), and Vic Martinov (Dan Bon #10189) were promoted to Cho Dan at that time. Willie Norris (Chuck's younger brother who was later killed in Vietnam) also tested that day but was not promoted to Cho Dan until a few months later.

Championship Years

During the 1960's and 70's, Grandmaster Ah Po held several national and international championship titles in both forms and free-fighting competition in the "open" tournament circuit including the California and Northwestern United States Heavyweight Championship titles and a Grand Champion title in the Korean forms division of the prestigious Long Beach International Championships that was sponsored by the legendary Ed Parker.

He retired from competition in 1972 and has gone on to train and coach other National and International Tang Soo Do Champions including his son, Master Anthony Ah Po, his daughter, Master Annette Ah Po, Master Sandra Russell, and Master Curtis Mata. In addition, he has coached several California Tang Soo Do teams over the years that have successfully brought home the "gold" on several occasions in team fighting and team forms at National and International Tang Soo Do competitions.

In his book "Tang Soo Tao……The Living Buddha in Martial Arts Virtue" (published by Coleman's Printing PTY. Ltd., Australia, February 1981), Robert Caputo founder of the Australian Tang Soo Tao Association and a former student of Grandmaster Ah Po's, wrote the following about Grandmaster Ah Po's martial arts prowess and tournament career in the late 1960's and early 1970's:

"Mr. Ah Po was an excellent teacher and had all of the qualities of my previous instructors and much more. I couldn't believe how happy I was to find a man with his characteristics and development of martial technique. He was a man well disciplined, who stressed absolute perfection in basics and encouraged the utmost scrutiny to all students in the learning of forms. He was equally at home in any free fighting situation as he was doing his forms. He was incredibly innovative and could pull incredible fighting techniques almost out of mid-air from the most basic elementary motions.

Mr. Ah Po never did anything fancy. Everything he did was basic, simple and direct and it always worked. In tournaments and in clinics held all over California, I watched him demonstrate his dynamic power of simple basic motion on most of the major black belts who are famous on the tournament circuit today (during the 1970’s and ‘80’s). None of the people I saw him fight with could ever stand up to him.

He eventually stopped fighting tournaments because he'd either be disqualified or knock someone out. Also, I think he just got bored. Much of my fundamental principles of the external Korean art of Tang Soo Do I owe to this instructor's patient, meticulous guidance."

Note: It is important to note that Master Caputo's remarks concerning Grandmaster Ah Po either being disqualified or knocking his competitors out at tournaments does not explain that these situations only occurred when his competitors either failed to use "control" or attempted to knock him out first.

Tang Soo Do Organizations Served

Grandmaster Ah Po was a Charter Member of the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation, formerly the U.S. Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. For over 27 years, Grandmaster Ah Po served the Federation as a member of the Board of Directors and in the capacity of Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer. He also served as Regional Examiner as well as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the federation, as an appointee of Grandmaster Hwang Kee, founder of the Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan. He also served as personal escort to the late Grandmaster Hwang Kee and his wife who is also deceased.

Grandmaster Ah Po is credited with founding the original name of the Federation and also wrote its original Charter and By Laws. In addition, he wrote the Federation's competition rules manual and developed many of the procedures and testing forms that are still in use by that organization today.

In the year 2002, Grandmaster Ah Po resigned from the U.S. Soo Bahk Do Moo Do Kwan Federation, Inc. and founded the Tang Soo Do Martial Way Association, Inc. (formerly known as the Tang Soo Do Moo Do Kwan, Assoc. Inc.) because he felt that the federation was no longer serving its members as defined by the original founding purposes and Charter of that organization. The primary purpose of his association is to continue the original Tang Soo Do teachings and philosophy of the late Grandmaster Hwang Kee.

In addition to heading his own Tang Soo Do association, Grandmaster Ah Po serves as the personal instructor and senior advisor to Grandmaster Charles Ferraro, founder of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association, Inc. Grandmaster Ah Po is affiliated with The Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance and its founder, Grandmaster Darryl Khalid.

An Active Martial Artist and Role Model

Over the years, Grandmaster Ah Po has traveled to and conducted hundreds of seminars in all designated regions of the United States as well as in Hawaii, Germany, and Australia. He is a world-renowned martial artist and was inducted into the World Karate Union's Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1999. Since that time, he has also been twice inducted into the U.S.A. Black Belt Hall of Fame and into the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association's Hall of Fame.

Grandmaster Ah Po is also well known for his demonstrations involving the utilization of "Ki" or internal power. The types of Ki demonstrations he has become well known for are unique to him and him only. Practitioners from a variety of styles often seek him out for his martial arts expertise. He has also received many awards over the years from several martial arts organizations which not only continue to recognize him for his martial arts skills and expertise but which also acknowledge his integrity and contributions to the martial arts community at large.

Grandmaster Ah Po's Current Dan Rankings and Certifications

In the year 2002, members of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association, Inc., under the direction of Grandmaster Charles Ferraro, presented Grandmaster Ah Po with a 9th Dan Tang Soo Do certification as recognition of his long standing seniority in Tang Soo Do and expertise in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan system.

Prior to that, Grandmaster Ah Po was promoted to the 8th Degree Tang Soo Do Dan rank by Grandmaster Hwang Kee of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Association, thus making him only one of 5 individuals who were actually promoted to that rank by the late Grandmaster Hwang Kee during his life-time. However, as a result of Grandmaster Ah Po’s decision to resign from the U.S. Soo Bahk Do (MDK) Federation, Inc. (it is important to note that he never resigned form the Moo Duk Kwan) shortly thereafter, he was never presented with his certificate by the successor of that organization.

In recognition of this terrible injustice, Grandmaster Chung Il Kim of the International Korean Martial Arts Association (himself a very high ranking and most senior Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan practitioner), presented Grandmaster Ah Po with an 8th Dan Tang Soo Do Certificate to replace the certificate that he never received from the late Grandmaster Hwang Kee’s successor. The award ceremony was held at the 2005 All Tang Soo Do International Championships that were held in New Orleans, Louisiana and which was sponsored by the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association.

Current Rank and Title

Currently, Grandmaster Ah Po chooses not to be identified or to be associated with any official Tang Soo Do Dan ranking or degree (i.e. 8th, 9th, 10th Dan, etc.) other than by his current title of "Kwan Jang Nim", as the founder of the Tang Soo Do Martial Way Association and of the unique style of Tang Soo Do that he developed which evolved from his long time student/instructor relationship with the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee in addition to his countless years of martial arts experience.

As such, he is the only head of any of the current major Tang Soo Do organizations who has personal students who themselves are also heads (Kwan Jan Nim) of their own separate Tang Soo Do organizations, including Grandmaster Darryl Khalid, Kwan Jang Nim of the Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and Grandmaster Charles Ferraro, Kwan Jang Nim of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association.

Grandmaster Ah Po’s rationale for this decision is as follows:

Throughout my entire association with Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee (1959 to 2001), and to my knowledge the entire history of the Korean Soo Bahk Do Tang Soo Do Association, Moo Duk Kwan, (dating back to 1945), Grandmaster Hwang Kee never ever purported or professed to hold any Dan rank or degree other than the title of “Kwan Jang Nim”.


The fact is that none of us actually knew what his Dan ranking was. He was, in fact, the Kwan Jang Nim and that was enough for us because he was the founder of Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and we were all well aware of his martial standing among other martial arts icons of the times (e.g. Gichen Funakoshi, Mas Oyama, Gogen Yamaguchi, and many other Chinese Sifu, etc.), in addition to his incredible martial arts accomplishments as well as history and longevity. Historically, this is also true of other martial arts icons and founders of major martial arts systems including but not limited to Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Kyokoshin Kai, Aikido, Hapkido, and many others, etc.


“I would never ever consider myself to be on the same level of Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee (who was my martial arts idol and mentor), but I believe that the Tang Soo Do community has, from time to time, recognized my seniority and experience, and have acknowledged my accomplishments as well as the contributions that I have attempted to make to the further development and growth of Tang Soo Do over the years.


Therefore, in the spirit of Kyom Sam and the principles of Tang Soo Do (as set fourth by and modeled by the late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee), I choose to no longer be associated with or defined by a high Dan ranking or degree at this point of my martial arts career and only by my title as "Kwan Jang Nim" of the Tang Soo Do Martial Way Association, following the precedent that was previously established by the founder of the Moo Duk Kwan as well as founders of other major martial arts systems.


I also feel that some of today's senior Tang Soo Do practitioners may be focusing too much on being identified by a high Dan rank or degree and/or in seeking fame, fortune and recognition, rather than on being good role models; developing excellent students of high moral character; and, by contributing to the continued growth of Tang Soo Do.


The fact is that none of us can ever escape who we actually are and what our personal history in this martial art actually represents which is ultimately how we are defined! This decision on my part, however, is in no way intended to criticize or judge other credible senior Tang Soo Do Ko Dan Ja and Kwan Jang Nim who for valid reasons still find value in holding and being associated with a high Dan rank or degree.

Grandmaster Ah Po's Philosophy as a Senior

Grandmaster Ah Po is often referred to as "The Godfather" of Tang Soo Do by Tang Soo Do practitioners and is highly respected. He has always been known to take his role as a Tang Soo Do Senior very seriously and continues to stress this philosophy. He believes that as a Tang Soo Do Senior his primary role is to serve his juniors and his students.

The greatest of all gifts that we have to offer as human beings is to serve others.

Grandmaster Andy Ah Po

This is a statement and philosophy that he truly lives by and continues to demonstrate through his actions...

Tang Soo!

Revised 07/13/2010