The Master At Work
Lee Henry encounters the deadly hands of Taekwon-Do master Paul Cutler
Taekwon-Do Master Paul Cutler isn’t your average martial arts teacher. One of only two 8th Dan Masters in the British Isles, he has worked for 33 years to perfect his knowledge of the Korean discipline and is a highly respected member of the UK Taekwon-Do Association Master's Council.
Having settled in NI in 2004, Cutler started teaching in Lisburn and now also runs classes in Newcastle, and affiliate classes in Banbridge and Belfast.
Standing tall at six foot two, he’s as fit as a fiddle and as nimble as a Russian gymnast. Although he has an in-depth knowledge of a man’s vulnerable spots, those most elusive ‘pressure points’, Master Cutler is the epitome of the gentle giant. So how did he get into Taekwon-do?
‘I discovered Taekwon-do by accident, whilst in Oxford in the early Seventies. I was interested in martial arts and the mystique that surrounded them. There was lots of stuff nobody knew about, lots of secrets.
‘One day at work I bumped into a guy who was going through some moves and I went along with him to his club. I didn’t start that young, but it became an obsession; it got into my blood. Everything I did was Taekwon-do.’
Founded by his mentor, the Korean Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha, the UK Taekwon-Do Association owes a lot to its English-born disciple.
After joining the Territorial Army in the early 1980s, Cutler was appointed by Rhee to promote and teach the burgeoning martial art throughout Europe and beyond. He has since set up classes in Germany, Holland and Australia and become a key member of the UKTA Masters Council.
‘Although we’ve progressed substantially in the last two years, we’re still trying to get Northern Ireland interested in Taekwon-Do,’ Cutler admits. 'In 2005 we had an International Seminar in Ballynahinch and a very successful martial arts display in Andersonstown leisure centre. More recently we’ve worked with Sports Development NI, appearing in one of their promotional DVDs.
‘Martial arts in general have their ups and downs. With every new spate of popular martial arts films, naturally the demand increases. But I’ve been impressed with the level of interest shown in my classes. Northern Ireland has kept me very busy.’
Master Cutler is quick to extol the many advantages of Taekwon-Do. The flexibility and speed of his incredibly long legs and hardened weapons of fists indicate the immense time and effort he has put in for his art. Now aged 57, it’s obviously been extremely good for him.
‘Through the practise of Taekwon-Do you become fit, you become strong,’ Cutler enthuses. ‘It’s all about muscle alignment, from the centre, which gives you very good posture. It’s not something to be scared of. A lot of the stretching exercises are very similar to those employed in yoga. There are many benefits for people of all ages.’
'Taekwon-Do' literally means ‘the way or art of hand and foot’, and was the first of the main kicking arts. Visually it is similar to karate, in that it employs the use of high, precise kicks as well as punches and blocks.
The training incorporates a host of elementary stances such as the horse stance, which involves standing straight, then lowering your body whilst bending your knees, as if sitting on a horse. It may sound easy, but it give it five minutes and you’ll be screaming for the sofa.
‘A lot of parents bring their children to my classes wanting them to learn discipline. I always tell them: ‘We can instill discipline in class, but you have to follow it through at home.’
‘Nevertheless, you can see that the more they train, the more respect they have for people.’
Like all Eastern philosophies or martial arts, Taekwon-Do offers more than just physical exercise, with the physical and the mental welfare of the individual being perceived as one and the same thing. Master Cutler has observed these benefits at first hand.
'I've just finished a self-defence class in Lisburn and the girls were amazed at what they're capable of with a little bit of guidance. We give them the confidence to look after themselves.
‘Martial arts are about setting goals and working to achieve those goals, both physically and mentally, so our pupils are always developing. Our code of conduct seeks to instil courtesy, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit in all of our students.’
Although Master Cutler acknowledges the necessity to make his classes enjoyable, especially for kids and first-timers, he did have some advice for those contemplating a step onto the mats.
'If you're going to do Taekwon-do, you've got to take it seriously. Taekwon-do is very much about competitiveness, not with other people, but with yourself.
'It's like learning to read or write. By black belt, you've got the alphabet, a few words and sentences, but you can't write the whole story. From there you've got to start putting together paragraphs and chapters, it's a constant learning process.’
For further information on Master Cutler’s classes check out his website or contact 02892 604108