NFL stars train Tae Kwon Do with Young Brothers Institute in Pittsburgh that could resemble an NFL training camp. Some of the most famous names in professional football have turned to one of the world’s oldest martial arts to give them an edge when they hit the field and opposing quarterbacks.
Instead of pounding steel braced tackling dummies, and chasing down terrified quarterbacks, these members of the NFL elite can be found going through forms, executing kicks, punches and free fighting with other students and instructors.
Young Brothers Institute of Tae Kwon-Do in Pittsburgh is quickly gaining the reputation as the school and martial art of choice for some of the biggest names in professional football. These multi million dollar athletes come here for one reason; they want to train under 8th Degree Black Belt Master Young Bo Kong.
“We have many big name football players training in Tae Kwon Do here,” said Master Kong. “It began in 1974 with Frank O Harris and John Kolb from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Frank had always wanted to do Tae Kwon Do as a boy but was unable to afford lessons, then he became a famous football players and could afford to do whatever he wanted, so he began training here.”
Terry Long, another member of the famed Pittsburgh team was also training with Master Kong at the time. Terry was one of the strongest athletes in professional sports; often he would press up to 650 pounds during a workout. One day instead of pumping iron, Terry was snapping out some very high kicks, which caught the attention of Line Backer Greg Lloyd.
“I couldn’t believe that a guy as big and as strong as Terry could be so flexible,” recalled Lloyd. “When I asked him how he got that way and he told me it was from the martial arts class he was taking.”
Out of curiosity Lloyd accompanied Long to his Tae Kwon Do class. After hearing Terry sing the phrases of his teacher Master Kong, Lloyd expected the martial arts instructor to be a giant with legs like tree stumps and arms like King Kong. However when the two men were introduced for the first time, Lloyd was dubious about how such an average looking man could train, let alone take-on someone with the power and size of his friend Terry Long.
“I saw this little-itty-bitty Korean guy and thought to myself, ‘what the heck can he do?’ When he began his work out I couldn’t believe my eyes. Master Kong was pure poetry in motion. His kicks were fast as lightening and accurate to within a fraction of an inch. I knew then and there that I wanted to learn from that man and I’ve been training with Master Kong for 14 years now.”
Driven with the desire to be the best at whatever it is he does, Lloyd worked as hard at learning the martial arts as he did to earn his MVP status on the football field. According to Master Kong the football star was given no special privileges because of his notoriety outside of the dojang.
“Greg is an excellent martial artist and he worked very hard to earn his black belt,” recalled Master Kong. “He received no special treatment and had to earn his rank just like anyone else. Gregg Lloyd is no media black belt; nothing was given to him. He is an excellent martial artist and a true master of Tae Kwon Do. In the dojang Greg is very respectful to his classmates and fellow black belts, but when he was playing football he was called one of the roughest players in the game.”
For more than 10 seasons Steelers great Greg Lloyd waged war against opposing quarterbacks and anyone else who got in his way. In a game known for it’s toughness, Lloyd was called as the baddest of the bad by his peers.
Quarterback Jim Harbaugh, said that Lloyd was so tough that if you gave him a sock and a cue ball he could take-on Bosnia. Accolades of a similar nature echoed across the playing field wherever Lloyd roamed. According to Master Kong, all of those quarterbacks were very lucky that his star black belt kept his Tae Kwon Do skills in check during a game, otherwise the results would have been lethal.
“Greg has a very strong ridge hand strike. He can break six hand held boards at a time. If he were to really hit someone with his power he could easily cave in their brain, even if they were wearing a helmet.”
“Clubbing is one of the techniques we use to get past one of those big linemen,” Lloyd explained. “Well the club technique can also be a ridge hand strike when applied in the right place. I’m a little guy (6-2, 228 pounds) so I need all the advantage I can get when I’m going up against people like Reggie White and others who weigh 300, or 320 pounds. When you start hitting guys under the arm in the back of the muscle, it starts to have an affect on them. To the ref it looked like a club hand, which is a legal move. Since they didn’t know what I was really doing I kept the ridge hand in my game plan. Eventually it wore them down and gave me an advantage. Now don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t come out of the block throwing a ridge hand, it was more subtle than that.”
“When Greg first came to train with me I could see in his eyes that he was something very special,” recalled Master Kong. “Even during the regular season Greg would come to class although he was suffering many aches and pains from that weeks game. Most football players only train during the off season because the workouts are so hard, but Greg is a breed apart from many of his peers. He would come in and train even though he was hurting. That is one reason why he is so good. Greg wants to be the very best at everything he does so he worked out extremely hard to perfect his Tae Kwon Do skills and is today a 4th degree black belt.”
It didn’t take long for the word to spread about the benefits of Tae Kwon Do under Master Kong, known as the faster kicker alive. The slim Korean teacher continued to astonish the muscle bound turf eaters that visited his school with his speed and agility. The benefits of the Asian art form was not lost on these multi million dollar athletes who depend upon staying in top condition to make a living, not to mention staying in once piece in the process.
“I believe that the stretching exercises I learned in Tae Kwon Do have played an important part in extending my football career,” said Baltimore Ravens star Rod Woodson. “After spending the summer training with Master Kong I was in great shape, I was stretched out and when I reported to training camp I was limber and ready to play.”
“When I first met Rod he was a world class hurdler,” said Master Kong. “He had a choice after college to either become a track star or play football. His passion was with football so he decided to go that route. While playing with Pittsburgh he was a six or seven time pro bowler. I remember when he started training in Tae Kwon Do…his legs were very big and strong. Like Greg, Rod was also very gifted in both football and Tae Kwon Do. I noticed that Rod picked up techniques very quickly. I show him something once and he has it down. He studies how I kick and often times learns a technique simply by watching, Rod is a very intelligent man. He has been training with me for five years now.”
“Tae Kwon Do is an excellent work out,” said Woodson. “I especially enjoy kicking; it works my hip flexors and helps to develop all the muscles in my legs which is great for me in my position running and covering wide receivers.”
“In addition to kicking Rod’s hand eye coordination improved greatly as a result of our Tae Kwon Do training,” explained Master Kong.
“My hands have to be quicker than the receiver I’m covering,” explained Woodson. “My sparing and hand techniques from class really comes into play there; it also helps me to anticipate what the guy I’m covering is going to do and subsequently how to check his hand movement.”
For Woodson, Tae Kwon Do sparring sessions have many benefits that extend from the training floor to the playing field. During a game he is able to apply the reflexes he’s developed during sparing and use them to analyze the body language of his gridiron opponent.
“Without a doubt my sparring has helped me during a game,” said Woodson. “Even when someone is running at you full speed you can still get a read on where they’re body weights at and what route they’re going to run. The same holds true when you’re fighting someone in class. You read their body position so you know what kind of an attack they’re going to use and how to defend against it or counter with one of your own.”
Woodson reflected on the time he squared off against Master Kong in a sparring session, “I spared him once and that was enough,” Woodson said with a smile. “Aside from his kicks being faster than a speeding bullet, every time I tried to attack he anticipated my move before I even got there. The man is awesome.”
Both Lloyd and Woodson say that one of the greatest contributions Tae Kwon Do has made to their game was the ability to stay focused regardless of what was happening around them.
“Tae Kwon Do enhanced my overall perception of what was happening on the field,” said Lloyd. “I was able to see more, subsequently I reacted faster and was able to out maneuver people and get to my objective a lot faster because Tae Kwon Do improved my over all focus. I also developed a quickness from the martial arts that enabled me to get in there and hit someone with a lot of power. I learned in Tae Kwon Do to stay relaxed until the very moment of impact, then you explode on your opponent unleashing all of your power at the last second. I transformed that technique over to football which enabled me to hit 300 pound guys between the shoulder pads and put them on their behind.”
“Greg and Rod both have very strong legs,” said Master Kong. “They have told me that the kicks they’ve learned in class has helped to improve their overall strength when they play football. Anyone can benefit from the exercises we do in Tae Kwon Do, but it is especially helpful if you are a professional athlete.”
Woodson’s kick of choice is the spinning hook, which he delivers with great speed and devastating power. As with all students it takes a lot of time, sweat and practice to perfect the Korean kicking techniques. For Woodson this was time well spent because in addition to becoming a better martial artists, the attributes of these kicks has also helped him to improve his game.
“For me the kicking aspect of Tae Kwon Do has helped make my hip flexors so much stronger,” explained Woodson. “As I kicked more, they went higher and my legs got stronger. I’ve noticed that during the off season as long as I’m working on my kicks, my hip flexors stay strong and that’s very important. In addition to keeping me flexible, Tae Kwon Do stretching and kicks helps to cut down my chance of being injured during a game. I have to give all the credit to Tae Kwon Do for that.”
“I believe that Tae Kwon Do added a couple of years onto my career,” said Lloyd. “When I started doing Martial arts I had no serious injuries until 96 when I tore my knee and that happened because somebody stepped on my foot and I got a staff infection from that injury when I got a shot from a needle that wasn’t properly serialized. However it was because of the stretching and Tae Kwon Do exercises and workouts that I was able to stay injury free for so many years.”
Both Lloyd and Woodson agree as do the other sports stars that train in Tae Kwon Do that the art has both enriched their lives and prolonged their profession, and they give all the credit to Master Kong.
“It isn’t often a person has the good fortune to train under a grand master who participates on a daily level as Master Kong does,” says Woodson. “He is the reason that I keep coming back. Because Master Kong is there every day working with you and that kind of instruction is very rare these days.”
“Master Kong is the MVP of martial arts as far as I’m concerned,” says Lloyd. “If there were a Superbowl ring for Tae Kwon Do he would have one for each finger of each hand. He’s just that good.”