History > Hall of Fame > Masters > Interview with Master Tom MacCallum, Secretary General of I.T.F.

Interview with Master Tom MacCallum, Secretary General of I.T.F.

Interview made by Jerzy Jedut, 24 October 2004
Jerzy Jedut: You are now Secretary General of the ITF. Could you tell us what did you do in the past and how did you get this position?
Tom MacCallum: Well, I was Under-Secretary General for Administration in the ITF for some years, and then at the Congress in Vienna in January 2001, when the Secretary General, Master Choi Jung Hwa, was expelled from the position, Master Laszlo Harmat put forward that I should be next Secretary General and everyone agreed. When the expulsion was confirmed we sent a letter to Master Choi Jung Hwa informing him of the fact. Then General Choi appointed me to the position on February 1st.
JJ: Can you start from the beginning? I mean we know that you were the AETF Secretary General in the past? So let's go back to earlier times?
TMC: I was abroad with the Royal Air Force until 1972, then I went back to Great Britain. The following year I met with Master Rhee Ki Ha and in the following year I became the National Secretary for the organisation in Britain, which was then the UKTA. The AETF was formed at a meeting in Norway in 1979. Master Rhee Ki Ha was its President and I was Secretary General. That continued until 1984. At that time I was invited by the ITF to go to Vienna as Under-Secretary General for Planning. Later on I was made Under-Secretary General for Administration. And then, of course, in 2002 I became Secretary General of the ITF.
JJ: Do you remember when and where Gen.Choi proposed you to move from Scotland to Vienna?
TMC: There were some difficulties. When the ITF moved to Vienna in 1984 they had as Secretary General Master Park Jung Tae, and the Under Secretary at that time - by this I mean the man who had my position at that time, there being other under secretaries - was not satisfied. I believe this was because as he was the first to go to Vienna to arrange everything he assumed that he would be Secretary General. He was Master Lim Won Sup from Sweden. He was not happy with his appointment as Under-Secretary General and so left the position. He was succeeded by Master Park Jung Taek, who moved to Vienna but didn't like to stay there, so he too left. I believe, although I never asked this, that Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha probably suggested that I went to Vienna.
JJ: Was it really easy for you to move to another country? This was quite a serious decision, different language, different culture, far away from friends...
Tom MacCallum with bert Calender TMC: It wasn't easy. I mean, to be perfectly honest, at that time I was the most senior British person in the ITF in Great Britain and could possibly have had good influence and more money. It was a big decision to make. However, I thought about it and quite naturally discussed it with my wife. At that time I had only one son, and he was just over a year old. When I started Taekwon-Do in Singapore in 1969, there were all these problems beginning with the WTF, I was very interested in what was going on. General Choi had come to Singapore on two occasions to give seminars and I was there. I actually received my first degree certificate from him in 1971. I was very interested in how the ITF worked and was organised. I wanted to be more influential in the world of Taekwon-Do and therefore it was better for me to work in the ITF headquarters than to stay in Great Britain.
JJ: After Gen.Choi passed away Taekwon-Do was divided into different groups. What happened that you decided to stay in Vienna? Did you have any proposal from the other side (Chang Ung's group), to join them?
TMC: When I was in Pyongyang for General Choi's memorial service, they pressed people into having a meeting. Previous to going to Korea, the President, Mr. Russell MacLellan, had sent a letter to everybody to advise that there would be no meeting in Pyongyang. However they wanted a meeting, but I refused to go to it. It was illegal, unethical and underhanded. They had no right to hold this meeting and most of the countries of the ITF were not represented. There were some people there from some countries, but they were not, at that time. authorised to make any decisions to do anything. The Koreans, in fact, paid for people to attend. They told me that I would remain as Secretary General and that was an insult as I was Secretary General as appointed by Gen. Choi and approved by the members. So I came back and told President MacLellan what had happened there and he said that it was wrong, illegal, the meeting was not correct. We then asked various people who were high up in the ITF, leaders of the countries, what they wanted to do. As you know most of them said "No, we don't accept this, we will not accept this." Therefore from my point of view I wanted to go ahead as we were. I wanted to be honest and after this happened I thought, well, it's not correct, and the Chang Ung group will listen to reason. They will see it's not correct and hold the congress, everyone can be there and we will vote for who will be president, and if it's Chang Ung as president, that's fine, if it's someone else, that's also fine, but we'll do it properly, we'll do it democratically. We will have the congress.

So I wasn't too bothered. However, later on, in October, it became serious for me, because the Korean people in the office were telling me that Chang Ung was president and I had to follow what he wanted. I had Mr. Russell MacLellan as president and I wanted to follow what he said. They wouldn't accept it. So my position was really very difficult. Then they started to obstruct my work and physically threaten myself and my wife, who was working part-time in the office. I had to call the police twice to the office. I informed both Mr. MacLellan and our Austrian lawyer that I could no longer go to the office as it was too unpleasant for us both.

JJ: Did you have any proposal Chang Ung directly, but from Masters to join them?
TMC: I can only remember one, Master Stylianides. He couldn't understand, he telephoned me and he was speaking to me as if nothing had happened and everything was alright. I said, "You know, Georgios, your point of view is wrong and, sorry to say, we cannot work together." He said," Everything is alright. " I said," I'm terribly sorry, but the position is Chang Ung is not president and you personally said you accept it. I'm sorry but I can't accept it. The president is Mr. MacLellan. From my point of view you are wrong in this situation and I can't talk to you about Taekwon-Do business." And then he started to say more about this and that and I said,"Georgios, please, I'm terribly sorry, I don't want to be involved in this. If there's anything more to be said I think it's now going to be said by lawyers."
JJ: Do you think our ITF led by Master Trân Triêu Quân will develop in the future or share the same fate as GTF? GTF was established by Master Park Jung Tae, but now there is almost no GTF? What do you think: what is our future? Do we go the same way, or another?
TMC: No, most certainly no, unless there is a disaster we will not go the way of GTF and others. I think that the people who are there with us are now satisfied. From my point of view it has changed very much since the days of General Choi, and now I'm talking about the administration of the ITF. There are many good projects underway at this moment in time and there are many people who have an input into the ITF who previously had intelligent ideas that were not being used.

Myself, I can see that we now have a very strong, democratic organisation with very good regulations. We will certainly plan more for the future.

JJ: As the closest person to Gen.Choi, maybe closer than the family, have you ever thought to write a book about all these facts you now? We believe that only a few people know details of his life? Maybe it would be a good idea to write this kinf of book?
TMC: Personally, I never thought of doing that. However, many people have said to me that I should do something like that, so that the facts could be known. In fact, about a month ago my wife and I started to put some notes in the computer. I've always kept records; what I mean by that is that in the office when General Choi used to telephone I wrote everything down. And I kept those records. So I have records for all those years.
JJ: So there is a lot of material, a lot of history there?
TMC: A lot!!!
JJ: It would be really interesting to write it.
TMC: Yes.
JJ: Can these facts be confirmed by documents?
TMC: They can be confirmed by documents of the ITF, I mean newsletters or letters, or some such thing. Letters normally not, as General Choi never put anything on paper. He was very careful about this.
JJ: If you were somewhere you always take some notes and photos, so I can expect there are thousands of photos from the past. Have you ever thought to issue some kind of album with faces from the past with the Masters?
TMC: I'm sorry to tell you the photographs are mostly all in the old office. I didn't get them back. Many videos are also there. In my home I have a few photographs. To be perfectly honest I personally never used to like having my photo taken. I'm not that kind of person, seeking publicity. I was there when photographs were taken, and I took some also, but those photos belong to the ITF. They are in the old office.
JJ:It would be very interesting to get access to them. When did you encounter Taekwon-Do for the first time? Who was your instructor and how long have you been practising as a normal student?
TMC: In the RAF I had always played football and rugby and such sports. But in Singapore in 1969 there was no rugby because, basically, there is not much grass there. I wasn't too old to play in a football team, I was 26, but as someone who had just arrived it was not easy to get into a team. So I wanted something to do.

I read an advertisement in a newspaper for Karate. To practise Karate in Singapore you had to get permission from your officer-in-charge. So I duly went and was told, "Well, I don't know about Karate, but there is something here in the gymnasium on the camp. Perhaps you'd better have a look." So I went along there and had a look, and that was the first time I saw Taekwon-Do. I began training in March, 1969.

The instructor at that time was Lee Joon Jae. He was actually the under-instructor. The chief instructor was Lee Byong Moo. Eventually I was training in the RAF Gymnasium twice a week with Lee Joon Jae, but when I got my blue belt I went to Singapore to the main gymnasium there and I was also training with Lee Byong Moo. I'm not absolutely sure but he may have had a sixth degree and Lee Joon Jae a fourth. Then eventually, when all the problems came with the WTF, these two gentlemen went away and were replaced by Han Cha Kyo, under whose tuition I achieved black belt. That was 1971. He was the man who impressed me most. Again, I'm not certain, but he may have been sixth or seventh degree. I think sixth. I didn't know a lot about degrees at that time. He was very impressive. I remember the time when Han Cha Kyo was practising - he truly knew how to practise hand toughening - and broke the forging post after punching it two or three times. He was also very dynamic, very good in flying kicks.

JJ: Do you find it easier to fulfil your duties as Secretary General now as opposed to when General Choi was alive?
TMC: I have to confess that it's easier now for a few reasons. General Choi was a hard task master who used to give me many projects. He was always saying there should be efficiency but at that time it was very difficult because there were Korean gentlemen also working in the office. I had meetings with them every morning where it was very difficult to get them to understand; they didn't speak very good English and never attempted to learn German. It was also a difficult time because they also wanted to have their way in doing things when General Choi had already given me instructions I had to make them understand. It was all very difficult, I must admit that in my position now as Secretary General it's easier from the point of view that I don't have the same complications. Of course, I still have a lot to do, we still have a president and will require things done, but it's not such a hassle.
JJ: Since the 1980s we have the headquarters of the ITF in Vienna. Passed twenty years. There is no very serious organisation (maybe I'm wrong) or strong Taekwon-Do in Austria. What is the reason in your opinion?
TMC: In the first case we have to say that the Austrian people are not particularly into martial arts. They have been a peaceable kind of people for decades and are more into skiing and that kind of sport. However, there are other reasons. When I first went to Vienna there was a school and instructor where we had the first offices in Kaiserstrasse, but they were not attracting many students and didn't try to encourage any. I regret to say their methods were not very modern. For instance, they used to beat people with their belt as a correction method. Nobody likes that kind of thing, so we didn't have many students. I decided to open my own school and opened three in Vienna, but through time we lost many black belts because for some reason people in Austria are not keen to open up new schools. I'm too busy in my job to be able to look after Austrian matters, it's just not possible.
JJ: Do you have any 'credo' that you follow, or you believe?
TMC: I believe in Taekwon-Do, I have to tell you that. I really do believe. I think that it has a great deal to offer young people because religion for many people in this world is no more. They have lost their faith and I think that Taekwon-Do can give you faith. In this modern society, when people work less and have more leisure time, you need something to occupy your life and thoughts. My real thinking is that Taekwon-Do is a modern way, if not exactly a religion, to combine your mind and body. To give you some sort of satisfaction and ideal. You can practise Taekwon-Do on your own, whenever you like. Otherwise in my life? I go to my training; at the moment I have one school. I enjoy reading as a relaxation. Only one other thing I do regularly nowadays, I go bowling. From my point of view, I think Taekwon-Do has a great future. If there were a big movement to get all people together to practise and to make sure that we have a goal, then I believe it will be alright. But it's a long journey.
JJ: What kind of event impressed you the most in Taekwon-Do?
TMC: General Choi's seminars were the things that impressed me overall, because, yes, I've seen some demonstrations and I've seen some things, championships and things like this, but to be honest I have to say General Choi's seminars. I used to go into General Choi's seminars learning something all the time. There are not many people who will get the chance to meet a great man in their life time. And General Choi was that kind of person and he impressed me very much.
JJ: Can you say something about your family?
TMC; I have a wife, she is Scottish also, and we live together in Vienna. I have two sons, aged 20 and 18 years. The elder is a third degree in Taekwon-Do and will probably take his fourth degree next year. He is studying to be a print engineer and has a talent for highly detailed drawings. The younger is a first degree but unfortunately gave up a few years ago. He .has just passed his final exams in school and is taking a gap year before deciding whether to go to university or not. He is interested in philosophy and psychology, is learning to play the guitar and likes - bowling!
JJ: We've heard that your wife is interesting in painting?
TMC: She studied History of Art at Edinburgh University and has always painted, both in oils and water colour. Over the years I've often coerced her into designing posters and various advertising for Taekwon-Do! One of her great interests is mural painting, and she recently completed a commission for a fourteen metre long trompe l'oeil decoration in a private swimming pool. She also enjoys writing.
JJ: What do you think is the main task for the ITF?
TMC: I believe people, I mean the members, are now happy with us. They've seen that things are happening and we are in fact working. I believe the main goal is to make the technical side always as important as it was because that is a main item. We do need another thing, we need especially to make people aware of the 'do'. Some people have been working on that. In fact, Master Tran gave a preliminary paper on teaching the 'do' this weekend, so eventually there will be a course on the teaching of the 'do' because I feel we have all these problems of today because General Choi was too busy teaching technical things and the 'do' certainly was missing. We need to make sure we strengthen things like courtesy by making sure that people are courteous, that they bow when they should bow, certainly to the senior ranks, We must look forward to a technical future but also first a spiritual future.

There are also many other projects on the go for our Taekwon-Do. For instance, the Chairman of the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee, Professor Gauthier, has given very good papers on the regulations of the Disciplinary Committee and they will be studied and implemented. There are also the sort of projects which we need to make sure that we teach our instructors professionally. One of the things we have done is to make regulations for promotions from seventh to ninth degree. Now it is much more difficult to get these. Not only do you have to do a physical grading, but you have to write papers and answer questions and so you have to be very involved in Taekwon-Do, especially in doing something for the ITF.

JJ: What are your nearest plans for the future?
TMC: I regret to tell you that my plans in Taekwon-Do are tapering off. I think I will be involved in the ITF as an officer for the next two years. By the end of that time I will be sixty four and a half and will probably move back to Scotland. As regards the role as Secretary General, at this moment in time I feel - this is only personal - that a younger person should be involved, because younger people still have ambition. I still have ideas but it is time to move on. So therefore as I see it my own personal ambition would be to continue helping the ITF as it's possible. If it's not possible in a direct way to be involved in helping the ITF, then perhaps indirectly in a general way. I will continue to be involved, in that I believe you should keep training and that it should be for your whole life. So I train now, I would continue with my training and I may just help by instructing somewhere - I know many people in Great Britain. Whether I will start another school myself I don't know. It may be too late for me to do that. If I have something to offer, I may consider it. But I rather think there will be more of a general help unless the ITF had something which I could do which can help them. So therefore, for me, I'm not planning those things for the future.
JJ: Last question. How do evaluate the fact that the AETF headquarters were moved to Poland?
TMC: That was great news. The AETF has been in existence for many years, however in the past few years it was only making little progress. There was still a lot which was not being done which needed to be done. The point is that the AETF needs to be together as an organisation in order to help each other. We saw that when General Choi died some people knew they were not going to join us but I think some are not with us because there was a lack of communication.

The fact that it is now in Poland gives me great faith for the future because I've always been impressed by you gentlemen and all you do. You've always been very professional, you've always made sure that everything is done properly. In fact, in terms of meeting protocol, I learned from you about what should be done. So I believe that it is a great move.

JJ: Thank you very much!