Ladies and gentlemen of standing, I give you Master Willie Lim, a man before his time, a man of reality, a man of the classical dimension.
by John Dawson – Martial Arts Illustrated ~ The constant on going battle to search for ultimate truth persists within the very soul of humanity. For some it is an endless quest, an adventure to seek self satisfaction, substance, logic in a puzzle of illogical consequences. In the arts two specific factors are more apparent than any others, the first is obvious: perfection, a goal that persists. We never attain it but chase it regardless. The other is underlying truth, the veritable whys and wherefores that allow us to reason. We look for a more pertinent answer, a solution to a problem, answers to questions. solutions can satisfy our souls, give us ’cause’, but the finalized personal solution could also enlighten a fellow traveler of the same quest. We can feed off one another to seek a ‘reality’, the ultimate truth, though truth is an individual as opinion itself. The results of our life’s work can be kept personal to us or be shared by an attentive studious martial arts public.
My subject for this insight is none other than the multi-talented Willie Lim, 7th dan. A man of observed, even attentive foresight who questioned until he discovered real solutions to real dilemmas. The man’s life is a veritable trial against ordeal in order to find reality. Ladies and gentlemen of standing, I give you Master Willie Lim, a man before his time, a man of reality, a man of the classical dimension.
John Dawson: How many years have you been involved In the martial arts, and what was your first style?
I have been involved in the martial arts since 1961. It was actually my dad to be honest who pushed me into the martial arts. The first style I did was Kyokushinkal Karate. For an Asian I’m quite big, and it seemed I was getting injuries all the time. That’s when I branched into Tai Chi because the teacher was an herbalist. I went to him for all the herbal treatment and then became his student. In 1963 I started Tae Kwon Do with Choi Chang Kim.
John Dawson: Did you ever meet Mas Oyama of Kyokushinkai Karate?
No, I have not met him at all, but we have corresponded for a long time.
John Dawson: Was Choi Chang Kim instrumental in your martial arts development?
He was instrumental in giving me a good solid basis on which to build.
John Dawson: Being a Korean exponent, how do you view other systems?
When I was teaching in New Zealand I was the pioneer for all the martial arts families,
so I had people like Benny the Jet, Bill Wallace, etc. I brought in all of them. Everyone has
something to offer, it’s all part of development, so at the end of the day you put two and two together and that’s how we develop, rather than following blindly.
John Dawson: Drawing on your own experiences, have traditional martial arts underlying strengths? How ‘deep’ do you think traditional systems really go?
TKD, as you and I learn it, John, is an option of shotokan karate and is watered down from when the Okinawa passed it on to the Japanese: they never passed on the real art. Most Japanese instructors don’t like to hear this. But when you have been involved in the art thirty-five years, you place it realistically. People ask what my base is. My base is TKD. I haven’t gone away from that, I just have a better understanding of what I am doing. If I am to relate to that then a lot of what we do is still elementary. It works like a ‘crowbar principle’ – use it and it’ll get you in the house, but why not have a key to open the door? That’s what I am trying to do. It is hard because you are trying to go against the establishment, but unless you are prepared to stick your neck out you don’t see the real side of the art.
John Dawson: Do you still see that as a hard thing to do even in these modem times?
Yes, because it is going against structured martial arts. It’s so steeped in tradition we don’t question things, it’s handed down – this is tradition, this is what they do in Japan, this is what they do in Korea.
John Dawson: So we have` been learning face value techniques?
We were sold a package and that package came to you. As we got better and better that package became more refined, with more power. It is still the same package, nothing has changed.
John Dawson: So do you feel that those Japanese and Korean people bringing martial arts to the western world did this knowingly or unknowingly?
Unknowingly, because even after I saw this for the first time I hunted around for the right art. The right art is not known, it is one of those things, if you happen to meet an instructor that knows someone, or you are keen enough to search around for it, you will see something different. Then again, one art it is not everyone’s cup of tea, so it is up to the individual. What is truth to me may not be truth to you.
John Dawson: Is George Dillman’s approach similar to yours?
Different. I did an earlier interview and they asked me if I trained with George Dillman. I said yes, I was responsible for all these seminars in New Zealand, even the early ones in California. I was the organizer: Now, because I am presently outside the group, some brand me the rebel. What George Dillman teaches is a lot of crucial techniques, that’s a very Important part of the art, but what you and I do, block, kick and punch, I would term A, B and C, not art. If you are really good at it – I say it because no one stands there and lets you hit them – you are good at it and you use it, then I call this letter Z. What about all-the letters in between? So that is what I am pursuing; ending with a whole alphabet of techniques. It is up to the individual to specialize or develop what he wants to use, and we are all different, that’s how I would put it.
John Dawson: Do you find it hard to communicate these underlying strengths? For example, the development of poomse, you turn to the left, to a multitude of attackers, and low block, then turn 180 degrees, which is traditional. But it is different, now things have advanced a bit, the pioneers like yourself have helped us see the light. I remember reading about George Dillman years ago and I saw his video and thought, well this is a knowledgeable guy, but without sounding rude to him he seemed very ‘packaged’. The way things are packaged. Maybe it’s my skepticism.
In anything we do I think you have to have honesty, including martial arts. You still have honesty and integrity, you have to market their use. That’s not the game I am in, or I could earn better money elsewhere. It’s hard, how do you tell someone who has been doing traditional martial arts for twenty years, that’s okay but let me show you a better idea, if it works take it on board. That’s what most people are not prepared to do. For years their ego couldn’t handle it. A very important part of the art is self development, that is what the martial atrs are about if you are not prepared for that then you will always be a beginner in my book.
John Dawson: Do you find it hard to communicate these underlying strengths? For example, the development of poomse, you turn to the left, to a multitude of attackers, and low block, then turn 180 degrees, which is traditional. But it is different now things have advanced a bit, the pioneers like yourself have helped us see the light. I remember reading about Dillman years ago and I saw his video and thought, well this is a knowledgeable guy, but without sounding rude to him he seemed very ‘packaged’. The way thing are packaged. Maybe it’s my skepticism.
In anything we do I think you have to have honesty, including martial arts. You still have honesty and integrity; you have to market their use. That’s not the game I am in, or I could earn better money elsewhere. It’s hard, how do you tell someone who has been doing traditional martial arts for twenty years, that’s okay but let me show you a better idea, if it works take it on board. That’s what most people are not prepared to do. For years their ego couldn’t handle it. A very important part of the art is self development, that is what the martial arts are about. If you are not prepared for that then you will always be a beginner in my book.
John Dawson: If someone wants to go on one of your courses what would they learn from you?
I would show you a deep rendition of the forms. I could take for example one of the forms. I could take for example one of your forms, paterns etc. and say ten different meanings of that form; the next time I came round, I could repeat your form and give you a different interpretation. So what this is telling you is that you shouldn’t see everything through tunnel vision, and that’s what the martial arts is developing.
John Dawson: Do you think the Dillman approach to things has sensationalized things a bit much?
Dillman is very good at what he is doing, make no mistake about that. In my personal opinion, I would not be here if not for what he showed me, but I went on from there to learn from someone who taught him: Oyada. He’s the person from whom I originated. Like anything, we see the knockout, we sit back, we re-analyze and put it in its real perspective, then and only then will it prove us a martial artist. There are no ‘pop a pill’ and have a go knock-out techniques, even I know that.
John Dawson: Don’t you think the American market is saying watch this video and you’ll be able to knock a person out with one punch, there’s no academical background?
That’s what a lot of them believe. Like anything you still have to go through the years of training, and that’s my own honest opinion.
John Dawson: If you could change anything about the structure of the martial arts, maybe the technicalities or the philosophies, or the way they are taught, what would it be?
If I could change, say, the syllabus and help those who want something different, then I would put what I am doing or what Dillman is doing, into it, perhaps at a level of black belt instructors. That’s where it should be, so if you reach black belt level, you then take it to a different stage, and as you progress we take it to a higher level, so always there is something else. We are aiming to reach that black belt level, two years later we are still doing the same thing, that’s where all our blackbelts drop out because there’s no syllabus for them.
John Dawson: How do you view sport martial arts?
There is room for sport martial arts, we all come through that avenue. It caters also for the young ones. It is where we make our money. As more old people are Involved in the art then we have to keep the self defense part of it with the sport.
John Dawson: Do you not feel that sport combat confines technical ability by a set of rules?
Yes, this is true, but it is a sport as I mentioned. Firstly, it is restricted to young people, where does it leave room for the elderly people or those who are not athletically inclined, so that’s a big drawback I think. As a martial arts instructor you are going to get people who are very sport inclined, you have to cater to them. Then you are going to have people who only want self defense, you start them off with the same basic techniques. One of your previous questions asked if they would become self defense inclined, there has to be a balance.
John Dawson: Who has been most instrumental In your martial arts career so far?
There have been different people who have helped me through the years. When I was at a burnt out stage with Taekwondo, I met Prof. Wally Jay, we were already friends and he suggested Dillman who gave me a big boost. It was like a fairytale story, you see something and, wow, again you sit down and re-analyze things. When I shifted to America I saw an opportunity to train with Oyada. I, think he was instrumental in me looking for answers myself more than anything. But In fairness to everyone no-one gives you all the answers – the search must come from you alone.
John Dawson: What in particular did Oyada point out, to you?
He didn’t point out or say anything in so many words. There is more to it than blocking and punching, I watched him, he is maybe about five-feet and he could hit someone six-feet tall, and that person couldn’t touch him. I mean by hand techniques, not leg techniques. So from that I laughed and said, I have been teaching martial arts why didn’t I see that? I didn’t know any better, does anyone until someone opens the door and shines the light on your head? I would say he was instrumental in a lot of things for me, and I have in turn gone back to the Tai Chi people who are now opening up to me for what I am and where I have progressed.
John Dawson: So would you say that basically instructors don’t potentially realize what they are learning or have at their disposal?
Without a doubt the martial arts, if we’re honest about it, are about opening our eyes to see they are about progressing. It doesn’t matter where you learn as long as you can progress; if you are a TKD instructor then what you learned you take to a higher level of the system. We have to have that approach, it is with that honest approach that we prove tha whole of the martial arts is very important.
John Dawson: Are ther any plans for a book or promo videos on your career?
I have promo videos back home in the USA, hopefully I will get some done over here and put pen to paper and get some books out, then some people could read the text and have a guide.
John Dawson: It’s a pity that TV doesn’t pick up on things, but they have a very blinkered view in journalism about martial arts. In Britain we often see headlines like “Karate Man Chops his way to success’ etc, we don’t need it.
You want to get in tht the martial arts is a thinking man’s art, it has to be otherwise we go back to the ‘crowbar principal’. We have to look closely at at everything.
John Dawson: What are your main ambitions now, Master Willie Lim?
My idea is to introduce this to more people and perhaps to help them in their own way to find their own paths. If that is done then my job is done. Now I only teach Tai Chi most of the time, and I teach only private classes in the States, it’s not on a commercial scale.
John Dawson: Who would you have most liked to have met in your martial arts career?
I would like to meet the head of Tai Chi, Chen Man Ching. I would have liked to have seen what a real art is about because again whilst it’s not directly related to TKD it’s the same, we are doing the same thing all over again. Tai Chi has been accepted as real Tai Chi, that is the hardest part to swallow.
John Dawson: What was the greatest accolade ever awarded to Willie Lim?
I wouldn’t say it was awarded to me, but I would say at the world championships in 1978 when General Choi came to introduce me to all the elite instructors. He got them to stand up and shake my hand because of what I stood for. I told him that I didn’t bow to a Korean, because he is Korean. If he is honest then its a mutual bond, as you understand there is a lot of friction between Korean instructors and non-Korean instructors, right from the early days. I competed with them and did it most successfully. When it became my turn to meet them, he got all of them to stand up, rather than sit, and shake my hand and that meant a lot to me. It’s what you stand for inside,
John Dawson: How do you view the way modern martial artists are taught, are we getting originality or a dilution of TKD?
From my perspective, we are getting a dilution. But like anything we are geared towards promoting this in the Olympic or sports aspects, so if I am coming from that perspective, if I was teaching today I would still be going along that route you’re going because that’s where we are all headed. People like you who want something different, like a different syllabus for black belts, then we are looking into the same classical aspect of TKD.
John Dawson: All we are really doing is reverting TKD back to its original status. Modem times have put in modem thinking and spoiled everything.
I believe that if I talk about judo being introduced into the Olympics it’s still considered by some people a martial art, but once it goes in to the Olympics it’s gone. The martial arts needs a bonding traditional side.
John Dawson: Have you ever had a competitive career?
No not really. The only time I ever competed was in the University Games in New Zealand. We were the first Tae Kwon Do team to ever take part, and won a lot of trophies. We were the first Tae Kwon Do team to compete in karate circles.
John Dawson: How do you view winning?
Winning is part of our development, so is losing. Like anything, if you are not feared for this, especially if you are on the losing end, I doesn’t do the ego good.
John Dawson: What would you most like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for sharing my ideas and what I believe the old art to be, what I believe the integrity of the art is about.
John Dawson: If anyone was Interested In your martial arts, concepts, how could they get in touch or get any info about you?
They could either get in touch with Mick Mulvaney up north or you, as you are now in contact with me. I have people around the Nottingham area who come over to the States and train with me in Wado Ryu who are in this line of work as well.
John Dawson: Anything you would like to add?
I believe Tae Kwon Do, ITF and WTF or whatever organization you belong to, develop to a high degree in the sport in the UK. A high enough standard I think for all the Instructors to sit down and say, where are we going? We have brought our people to the highest level and new ones will come in and if we teach them through improvement we’ll get a higher level of sport prospective in the arts. Sit down and revamp for the black belts – only then will you have developed martial artists.
John Dawson: It’s been very informative, thank you, Master Willie Lim.
No, Thank you, John.
by John Dawson, Asst. Editor
Martial Arts Illustrated, September 1995