Grandmaster Don Baird (Masters Hall of Fame, 2009) is 4th generation in a colorful lineage of great masters. His own master is Suh, Young-ik who trained with the well-known Park, Chul-hee, the founder of Kang Duk Won. Master Park studied with Master Yoon, Byung-in the founder of Chang Moo Kwan (one of the most prominent martial art systems in history).
Master Yoon, though Korean, was born in China, where he studied under great masters whose lineage stems back countless generations. He lived there until after WWII ended in 1945 before he moved back to South Korea. Shortly after WW II Master Yoon opened his first school in Korea with the name of Kwon Bop. Kwon Bop was an extremely popular style in Korea during the 40’s/50’s which, by the way, is simply the Korean translation for the Chinese words Ch’uan Fa. Kwon Bop IS Ch’uan Fa, a Chinese Kung Fu.
A few years later Master Yoon renamed his style to Chang Moo Kwan and was one of the original 8 Kwans that opened following the war. His dear friend was Master Kanken Toyama who also studied Kung Fu in China and then became the Master instructor of his art Shudokan at the Nihon University, Japan. The two of them spent a lot of time training and sharing ideas which helped solidify the concepts Master Yoon was working on when developing Chang Moo Kwan.
Master Yoon, the first Grandmaster of our style, went to North Korea in 1950. He never returned. Lee, Nam Suk took over the Chang Moo Kwan style while Master Hong and Master Park developed a new school called Kang Duk Won. Master Park became the Premiere Master of the style and helped pioneer it as a world recognized system. (Chang Moo Kwan and Kang Duk Won were basically the same style but the split came from political and ideological differences.) Master Yoon died in 1983.
Tae Kwon Do & Kung Fu History
During the period around 1955, the Korean government was attempting to nationalize their martial arts. While China had Ch’uan Fa Wu Shu (Kung Fu was not a term they heard till the 1900’s), and Japan had Karate-Do, Korea didn’t yet have a national name for their art form. The government decided to create a new name from scratch – Tae Kwon Do, “the way of the feet and hands.” They wanted a new, unified national system to be developed.
Many Masters didn’t go along with that decision. They wanted to maintain their own heritages rather than manufacturing a new heritage and history. During the dissonance and chaos, promotion certificates would say, for example, Chang Moo Kwan/Tae Kwon Do and so on with the other kwans. Many masters did not easily move away from the original Ch’uan Fa forms they had mastered (palgi kwon, chang kwon, tang kwon, doju san, 7 hands, one hand set, and numerous other forms).
Grandmaster Suh, the teacher of our current Grandmaster, Grandmaster Baird, embraced the new name of Tae Kwon Do when he came to America to teach his martial art. He and his Korean martial art friends developed the American Tae Kwon Do Association, of which he became President. Because of that, Mr. Suh’s promotion certificates issued to his students displayed Tae Kwon Do and not Kang Duk Won. But they, under the ATKDA banner, continued to teach the Kang Duk Won style (forms) along with sport. Keep in mind that, early on, Tae Kwon Do was simply a “heading” and not the actual, historical style being taught. While the Korean government attempted many things with the phrase Tae Kwon Do, it did not become a style, per se, until nearly 1973 when they turned it into a sport for the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WTF) and eventually the Olympics (eliminating the old forms completely).
To summarize: in the 1950s and later, Tae Kwon Do was used as a heading for all Korean styles such as Tang Soo Do, Chang Moo Kwan, Kang Duk Won, Song Moo Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, and many others. In 1973, Tae Kwon Do became solely a sport style — hence, there are two defined Tae Kwon Do eras: one being a heading for older, traditional martial arts such as ours (Kang Duk Won); and secondly, the name of a modern WTF sanctioned sport. These two Tae Kwon Do approaches are not the same and often confuse folks who do not have a strong background in Korean martial art history. (Note how, for example, Grandmaster Baird’s certificates are signed by Mr. Suh as President of the American Tae Kwon Do Association. Yet, the actual style he taught was Kang Duk Won, a system related to the Ch’uan Fa styles of China.) Grandmaster Kim Soo (creator of Chayon-ryu) and personal friend of Grandmaster Suh, became our school’s greatest resource for understanding the roots of our system. It’s such an interesting story and one Grandmaster Baird has enjoyed sharing with his students.
In the end, Grandmaster Baird decided, as a result of his years of study, to return to the original name of our martial art, eliminating the term Tae Kwon Do because he wanted our traditional heritage to be remembered. Kang Duk Won is a far-reaching style of a strong and old kung fu history. Grandmaster Baird wants to protect that history and its original techniques. Grandmaster Suh knew what his goals are and supported his efforts. Grandmaster Baird is a very traditional-minded martial artist and became a student of martial art history in order to better understand what Mr. Suh taught. In Dec. of 2013, following Mr. Suh’s death, he renamed our Kang Duk Won style to Suh Do Kwan in his honor and Grandmaster Baird continues to teach the traditions and forms that he taught.
“Yoon Byung-in (born in Mu-sun, Bong-Chon, Manchuria, China on May 18, 1920. He died, April 3, 1983), also known in English references as Byung-in Yoon, was a Grandmaster of martial arts. He is believed to be the first Korean national to study Ch’uan Fa (Chinese Gung Fu/Kung fu) in China and to return to teach it in Korea… Yoon studied Chinese Chuan Fa under the guidance of a Mongolian instructor in Manchuria.” (via Wikipedia)
Grandmaster Yoon taught Park, Chull-hee;
Grandmaster Park taught Grandmaster Suh, promoting Mr. Suh to his first Master’s rank (4th) in 1958 (see photograph above of the group).
Grandmaster Suh retired from teaching full time in 1976.
Grandmaster Baird was given the school when Mr. Suh retired but continued guiding and teaching Grandmaster Baird for years to follow.
Mr. Baird continues to teach today, over 45 years later.
However, many of the original kwans came through the chaos with absolute clarity. They retained their dignity and continue in the tradition of the time-tested, original Ch’uan Fa forms developed in China. Korean masters, such as Master Baird’s teacher, Grandmaster Suh, committed themselves to the integrity of those forms and their preservation by teaching them to people all over the world.
Grandmaster Suh and Grandmaster Kim Soo
Grandmaster Kim Soo was a close friend of Grandmaster Suh (1938-2013). They trained together in Korea while on the Presidential Bodyguard Team and also both trained under Grandmaster Park, Chull-hee. Grandmaster Baird remains close friends with Grandmaster Kim Soo. The style was called Kang Duk Won at the time which has its roots in Chinese Kung Fu.
Grandmaster Suh and Don Baird
Grandmaster Suh moved to the United States in the middle sixties. He opened his first school in Burbank, California and began his career of teaching martial arts. Teaching seven days a week, Mr. Suh was a very exacting teacher and his classes left no one unchallenged. On July 20th, 1976, Master Baird was asked by Mr. Suh to be his successor. Today, Mr. Baird is the rank of Grandmaster and continues to teach full time. He has opened two more schools and several of his students went on to open their own schools. Grandmaster Suh passed away on Oct. 30th, 2013. Grandmaster Baird trained with him since 1972.
On Dec. 14th 2013, a dinner with 180 guests and students was held to commemorated the life of Grandmaster Suh, and rename the system after him, and honoring his family. Mr. Suh passed October 30, 2013 leaving Grandmaster Don Baird as his successor. Baird had been a student of Mr. Suh for over 40 years. Grandmaster Suh’s wife and family were in attendance to celebrate the life of Mr. Suh and to also support the efforts of Grandmaster Baird and his continued passion to protect the legacy of Grandmaster Suh and his teachings. Mr. Baird was inducted into the Masters Hall of Fame in 2009.
Grandmaster Don Baird
Technical Advisor – Police
Grandmaster Baird, in 1992, was appointed Technical Advisor to the Burbank Police Department. He devoted himself to the department doing research, technical development, and riding hundreds of hours on patrol. At one point, he received a commendation from an officer (Sabatini) that credits Master Baird with saving his life. Later, he was praised in an open letter of recommendation by Police Chief Dave Newsham. Recently, he was given a letter of commendation from the Mayor of Burbank.
Great Masters of the past are well rounded individuals that not only were involved with the fighting arts but also the healing, writing, music, painting and calligraphy arts. Master Baird is no different in that respect. Areas of his accomplishments include chi kung healing practices, fine art photography, writing poetry, composing and performing music. His performance career includes being a featured soloist, principal clarinetist with several symphonies and playing for most of the major studios such as Warner Brothers, Disney and MGM.
Featured in Magazines and Videos
Grand Master Baird has been featured repeatedly in Black Belt Magazine, Inside Kung Fu, Inside Karate, and Fighting Stars, he has also been interviewed by Fred Rogin (twice), worked with Jay Leno, and featured along with Arthur Ashe in the 80’s TV series called “The Otherside of Victory”, a show dedicated to featuring professional athletes that are the very best in their field. Grandmaster Baird and Arthur Ashe were presented in the pilot of the series. “The Otherside of Victory” first aired the half hour before the Super Bowl. Millions of people around the world had a special opportunity to see Grandmaster Baird teach as well as demonstrate his impeccable martial art skill.
Grandmaster Baird Follows Legacy
Today, Don Baird continues his personal practice and teaching of Marial Arts at his new location in Wake Forest North Carolina. His daily training remains primarily based on his extensive martial art education with Mr. Suh. In December, 2013, Grandmaster Baird renamed the style to Suh Do Kwan, in honor of their lifetime relationship. Grandmaster Suh’s legacy and teachings are revered under Mr. Baird’s guardianship (37 traditional forms, 72 animal techniques, extensive angles and footwork, several hundred grappling moves, and numerous chi kung breathing skills). As a note, Grandmaster Suh did not introduce the animal techniques nor the complex breathing exercises until after 1974. He used to say at that time, “Train forms for your own balance; train animal techniques for self-defense.” Grandmaster Baird has followed that advise exactingly; so do his students.
As the years passed, Grandmaster Baird has also been influenced by Sifu James Wing Woo (WuShu, Yang Tai Ch’i) and Grandmaster Steven Nacua (White Crane, Hop Gar). Push Hands and other sticky hand styles became a regular part of his school as a result. These techniques enhanced the foundation of what made the system work so effectively for Police Officers as well as the private sector needing tried and true self-defense.
The legacy continues.