Our Guest Today: Michael O’Malley
Some of you may know that I’ve been a martial arts practitioner my entire life. This martial-arts-themed episode is one I’ve been eager to release to my audience. Today’s guest is Michael J. O’Malley. Mr. O’Malley has been my Taekwondo instructor and mentor for over 10 years. After receiving my first degree black belt in 2005, I continued training under Mr. O’Malley and was able to advance to 2nd degree, and most recently to 3rd degree black belt in 2014. Taekwondo has been a practice for me throughout my college and professional life, and I still look forward to training many times a week.
I feel very privileged to interview Mr. O’Malley. He was chosen for the USA Taekwondo teams from 1978 through 1982, elected US Team Captain in 1980 and US Team Coach in 1984. In 2007, Mr O’Malley was inducted into the Taekwondo Hall of Fame and eventually received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
In Part 1, we talked about the first defining competition in his career. What’s it like to train 10-12 hours per day as a 14-year old? What’s the process to be selected for the US Team? Mr. O’Malley relates his experiences in Taekwondo competitions of the highest caliber, and also shares the relationships he formed with his teammates. Taekwondo competitions helped this Mr. O’Malley fulfill his dream of traveling the world, and helped shape him into who he is today.
In the following episode, we will learn about the Taekwondo school Mr. O’Malley founded, where he continues his teaching as the Principle Instructor today.
O’Malley Tae Kwon Do Center teaches traditional martial art and practical self defense for men, women and children. The program is an individualized and comprehensive approach to helping students achieve their fitness goals. Instead of only focusing on a student’s strengths, Mr. O’Malley helps the student overcome his or her unique challenges.
Mr. O’Malley created a specialized program to teach children and adults how to be confident and powerful on the inside and out. In additional to Tae Kwon Do striking and kicking techniques, Mr. O’Malley has made self defense modules a requirement for all students. During day and summer camps at O’Malley Tae Kwon Do Center, Mr. O’Malley creates workshops for young campers to practice power poses, learn self-protection strategies, and participate in anti-bullying programs conducted by police officers.
Beyond Tae Kwon Do practice, Mr. O’Malley has introduced a line-up of extraordinary people who teach his students a variety of subjects and skills. Ralph Peterson Jr. (Jazz musician and professor at Berklee) teaches students how to play drums; Xiang Li (renowned artist from the Forbidden City of Beijing, China) has conducted a series of Art workshops for children and adults; Tracy Levesque (artist and assistant instructor) has her beautiful artworks displayed inside the school. Adam Leffert (an experienced technology consultant) who has been Mr. O’Malley’s student since the age of 14 still studies and teaches (part-time) today.
To check out the latest O’Malley Tae Kwon Do Center activities including instructional videos, photos and events, follow them on Facebook.
I hope you find opportunities to meet and learn from Mr. O’Malley.
Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave your comment below and share the podcast with your family and friends. Your support will keep me on track and bring many other unsung heroes to this podcast.
Part 1 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
- First competitions as a low rank [3:00]
- Mixed martial art competitions in 1970s [5:00]
- First defining competition [7:20]
- Training 10-12 hours days at the age of 14 [9:00]
- How were you selected for the US Team? What’s the process like? [11:00]
- National Championship at Howard University in Washington DC [13:10]
- Best Match of the Day with a fractured foot [16:00]
- Meeting US Team members for the first time [17:30]
- Dynamics among teammates then and now [21:00]
- A sense of belonging and taking his training to another level [23:30]
- Living on US Army Base to prepare for World Championship in Germany [26:30]
- A boy’s humble beginning and dream to travel around the world [27:30]
- What was it like to compete in Korea (country where Taekwondo was born)? [32:00]
- Winning the first metal for US Team in Pan American Game [35:30]
- Winning a Gold metal for the US Team in the 2nd Pan American Game [38:00]
- A surprise win after a decision to retire and receiving Ken Min Award for accomplishment and leadership [41:00]
- Influence of martial art movie [44:30]
- General Choi Hong Hi (Father of Tae Kwon Do)
- Jong Soo Park
- Jae Hun Kim (Mr. O’Malley’s instructor, Founder of the Jae H. Kim Tae Kwon Do Institute)
- Dae Sung Lee (Olympic Team Coach, also China National Team Coach. in the Guinness Book of World Records for his longevity as a U.S. Team member)
- John Holloway (US Team teammate, middle-weight national champion)
- Gerard Robbins (President, Tae Kwon Do Hall of Fame)
- John Lee (US Team, 1983)
Part 2 Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
- Mr. O’Malley tells us about his school: O’Malley Tae Kwon Do Center [3:30]
- Why Mr. O’Malley believes it’s important to open the school 7 days a week and offers over 40 classes for students at every level [5:30]
- After 40 years of teaching, Mr. O’Malley still had to reinvent himself as an instructor [9:45]
- The design of the children’s program [10:30]
- Teaching children to be resilient [13:20]
- How do you teach children to be confident? What’s the process? [14:55]
- How Mr. O’Malley prepares his students to be safe: self defense strategies and awareness [17:15]
- How can body language change the projection of your self confidence? [20:00]
- Individualized programs for students [21:40]
- Providing students with access to extraordinary people who teach his students in a variety of subjects and skills [22:30]
- Mr. O’Malley’s belief of a martial art school’s responsibility in a community [23:40]
- Preparing children to be leaders and expand their thinking [25:00]
- When a kid shout out: “Mom and dad, the school is a place of great meaning!” [27:30]
- Teamwork for children to collaborate and learn from one another [29:00]
- Frequently Asked Questions for martial art training – how to choose a school, what are the common misconceptions, etc. [30:00]
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Fei Wu 0:17
Welcome back to the Feisworld podcast. This is episode number 11. It’s a new milestone for me. And this is part two with Michael O’Malley. In part one, if you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend that you do so. In that episode, we talked about the first defining competition for Mr. O’Malley’s career as a US team member as a captain, and really going back to when he was a young boy, you know, what it’s like to train 10 to 12 hours a day. And what is the process to be selected for the US team. And Mr. O’Malley really relates his experience in taekwondo competitions of the highest caliber, and also shares the relationships he formed with his teammates. Anyway, in this episode, you will actually learn about the taekwondo school Mr. O’Malley founded where he continues his teaching as the principal instructor today. I myself, I’m still benefiting from the training and I very much look forward to my practice multiple times a week. So let me tell you a few things about O’Malley taekwondo center. It teaches traditional martial art and practical self defense for men, women and children. The program is an individualized and comprehensive approach to helping students achieve their fitness level. So in other words, instead of only focusing a on a student’s strength, Mr. O’Malley actually helps overcome his or her unique challenges. Mr. O’Malley created a unique program to teach children and adults how to be confident and powerful on the inside and out. In addition to taekwondo hand and kicking techniques, Mr. O’Malley has made self defense module a requirement for all of us during the day and summer camps. At the center, Mr. O’Malley creates workshops for young campers to practice power poses, learn extensive self protection strategy, and participate in anti bully programs conducted by police officers. I also want to mention that beyond taekwondo practice, Mr. O’Malley has introduced a line of extraordinary people who teach his students in a variety of subjects and skills. So without further ado, I’m sure you’re eager to learn all about Mr. O’Malley school. And here comes Michael O’Malley.
What’d you do today, I think when we start talking about education, overcoming fear, you’ve started a school about over three and a half years ago here in Peabody, Massachusetts. Now this is about I don’t know exactly, but perhaps 1515 20 miles from downtown Boston. And you open up this wonderful school that you know, many of your students from 20 3040 years ago are still following you to this location, regardless of the distance to their homes. So do you mind giving us an overview of this? So I want the audience to kind of hear that from you, what the school is about, and, you know, the type of members and perhaps if, you know, some of some of them are interested in meeting you in person considering your instruction? How do they find you?
Michael O’Malley 3:52
As you said, we opened up about three and a half years ago. Of course, you know, I’ve been teaching taekwondo for over 40 years now. And I’ve trained anywhere from a four year old child, you know, to an 85 year old woman, to Olympic athletes. The type of system that I develop, and maybe, you know, somewhat surprising, because we’ve been just talking about competition stuff for a while here is I really don’t teach it in terms of competition at all. And so in effect, I’m teaching more the traditional base system the original approach that was created by General che and the original approach that we utilized in Boston during the early 70s. With emphasis on practical no nonsense techniques, and of course, you know, practical self defense, self protection skills, as we like to call it with, with this original a balanced approach which that is utilizing your your hands and your feet, as opposed to just being one dimensional, and using what’s best, with emphasis on power and speed and precision,
Fei Wu 5:14
and the school open seven days a week, I know it’s hard for most people imagine how much work that is involved. Not only that, unlike many other schools that I you know, I have, I’m not as familiar with, but knowing their names, your schedule, that you’ve implemented a very aggressive schedule. The school has over 40 classes, 3540 classes a week, targeting different levels. So why is that approach is basically an institution, it’s a center that opens all day?
Michael O’Malley 5:49
Well, there’s there’s two reasons. One is, of course, I wanted to make it convenient for people that come. And so the seven day a week routine, does just that enables members to come in and fit it into their schedule. Of course, up here, I have a lot of children as well, and parents are working up here, it’s a blue collar area. So you got very often to parents working. And so we have classes, basically from 330 until nine o’clock at night, it’s just continuous classes. And so it gives them a chance to come in when it’s convenient. And then what it also does is for people that really developed a strong passion for it much like what I did, and others that I was associated with, at the Boston School, it gave them a chance to really pursue developing their taekwondo skills in a much faster, broader fashion. As opposed to them being only able to come in a couple of days a week at prearranged times that most schools have this schedule setup. It is very labor intensive I it to run the school in that way. But I think the main thing is that I really find a lot of joy and passion in doing what I do. And it hasn’t changed. I mean, I feel as passionate today as I did when I first walked in the school as a 14 year old and started my first class. And I find a lot of joy in teaching. Even just the very simplest movements, the most rudimentary steps to a five year old white belt kid or, you know, a 40 year old executive, you know. So while that passion is still there, for me, I don’t see myself doing anything else, it’s a circle of love. And I decided that if we’re going to be open, then we should just be open to the community as as often as we can. And it’ll give people a chance to work out as frequently as they want and know the cream will rise to the top and then you’ll have those others that want to just practice, you know, two or three times a week at their pace. And that’s quite alright too. Yeah, we’re not looking to train, you know, Olympic athletes, you know, we’re just trying to improve people’s lives. And,
Fei Wu 8:20
and I completely echo that feedback as a as personally, as a practitioner of Taekwondo for nearly 14 years now. It’s, it’s time really flies. And I remember after practicing taekwondo for about five years, four or five years after getting my first degree black belt, I didn’t feel a sense of arrogance. Obviously, there are other black belts in the community as well. But I did feel part of myself slowing down. And that somehow changed very drastically when you came to the school when I was able to learn from you and then all of a sudden, all my techniques, including the very basic ones, or improving so drastically, I feel like part of me is relearning taekwondo on a on a whole new level. So I think while your passion is still here, I would highly encourage people at every age level men or women, adult or children to consider this fantastic opportunity, because I think it’s really it’s a privilege for the North Shore, Massachusetts community to have someone like you, and to be able to learn from you directly.
Michael O’Malley 9:34
And one of the things I found is, I also you may be surprised to hear too, I mean, I have that passion, but I also had to reinvent myself in some ways, as an instructor, because when I was teaching in these other locations in Boston and in Cambridge, really didn’t have a lot of children and you up here in Peabody, you know, we we have, the children’s program is doing really well. And so I had to find ways in order to engage children. And one of the strategies, I decided to someone I opened up to school. And this is one of the things I think that separates us from from other martial arts schools, is I decided not to dumb down the techniques that we teach kids and in the method in which we teach kids. And so I made a decision that I was going to teach everything similar to what we teach adults, in terms of the techniques. Now, teaching classes are a little bit different in terms of the design of the classes, because we want to make it kids want to have fun. So we do things that are fun that I wouldn’t maybe do with adults. So you make it fun and interesting. And sometimes you’re goofy, sometimes you’re serious, and you got to kind of know when to be one of the other. Young and adults are always, you know, very serious, you know, teach me learn, I know, and, you know, with kids, you know, you can teach them something, you know, you teach this five year old Greenbelt kid how to do a particular technique, and you tell him, okay, now I want you to work on that, you know, for the next 510 minutes in front of the mirror, as soon as you turn your back, they’re running down the end of the dojang, and they come flying by you doing the flying side kick, something totally different than you ask them to do. And then they’re off on their own. So that’s different. But they still need to win, they in order to progress to the ranks, they still have to perform techniques as the same as we expect the adults do. And I
Fei Wu 11:49
have a lot of respect for them. Because some of the taekwondo forms, as we all know, are quite complex, even for adults. And I’ve witnessed kids age 678 years old, really practicing with you, and then sometimes on their own. And I will be observing these tests, and I am stunned what they could do. And I’m sure their parents feel even more so that way. And I think they it’s a very, very special experience.
Michael O’Malley 12:18
Yeah, well, you know, there’s the physical component, and it just it, it does require more effort with, with children, you do get these special kids who come in who are like five, but going on, like 12, you know, 12 going on, like 18. But you know, kids are kids, and but you know, there are ways of pushing their buttons to get them to perform. And the expectation is there for them to elevate the way they think and for them to elevate their skills to a certain standard that we expect, for all ranks.
Fei Wu 12:58
I think one of the areas that you mentioned and I’ve witnessed, and parents have witness and really benefit a ton from is that you have these parts, you have a very personal approach. And you have you spend time having these heartfelt conversations, in my opinion with these children. Because in this day and age, unfortunately, we’ve raised children, a generation of children who are extremely sensitive to failure, and meaning. If they watch a Bruce Lee movie, then they cannot immediately perform something in my movie, then they start crying, they start this, they start to break down. So I’ve seen those scenarios before, but somehow you’re able to turn them around. And these kids are very young, and I’m sure the conversations are not easy to have. So how do you why do you do that? And how do you do that? Exactly. And I know parents really appreciate this, this effort. But there’s a lot to ask on your end.
Michael O’Malley 13:57
Well, as I said, the reinvention part of me, realized how much I actually enjoyed teaching young people. So I said, I spent most of my life training elite athletes and adults or focused and motivated in their own life. And we’re talking about, well, people like you, for example, but also, you know, you have professors and famous surgeons and you know, these people, you know, they show up and you tell them what to do, and you know, they’re always focused and they’ll they’ll do it. But, you know, I take an affection with these kids and I can kind of put myself in their shoes and the first thing that I want to do is is try to change the way they feel inside in terms of being confident. And so how do we reach them to do Do that. And, of course, you know, the techniques itself in the success of moving from one rank to the next lends itself to one becoming more confident whether you’re an adult or a child. But I learned that you that really needed to do more than that. Because I think a lot of schools pay lip service to this, where they say they’re training kids to be confident, but how do they actually do it? The kids come in, and they kick and punch and I go through the movements, okay. So maybe there are some kids who are just naturally confident, and they move through the ranks, and they become pretty good. But what about all these other kids, not everybody is confident. And so I wanted to try to reach out to them on the subconscious level as well. So we talk about feeling powerful. And we act it out in class by first introducing themselves looking at somebody in the eye, you know, the warmth and the firmness of their handshake. How do they face somebody’s shoulders, you know, expanded chin up how they walk, we actually practice walking in the school, in kids kind of way, we have fun with it. Some kids joke around and so forth, it kind of breaks down and it’s it gets to be pretty funny sometimes. But there’s a purpose behind it. I want them to feel powerful, even if in show power on the outside their self image. You know, bullying is a huge problem these days. And I don’t think it’s much different than when I was growing up, you know, just in the old days. So somebody bothered me in school, I punch him in the face, you know, my brothers would join in. But, you know, kids are not taught to be aggressive like this. And we don’t teach kids to be aggressive. But we also teach them that they have a right to be left alone. Yeah. They have no one to put their hands on them. And, you know, newspapers are filled of stories of teachers getting, you know, beaten and even killed up here in Danville. So young girl in her 20s Was, was killed in Danvers and, and it really hits home. Because if these kids can learn how to project this power and confidence from the outside, the chances are decreased dramatically, that somebody’s going to bother them.
Fei Wu 17:42
Yeah, I think it’s very true. It during our self defense programs and seminars, and you had mentioned that these predators will look for cues, you know, went out on the street, and they typically look for people who appear to be less confident, we’re very distracted on their phones. And I think even as an adult woman myself, you know, working in downtown, that’s something because of Taekwondo. I remind myself every day, when I leave work, when I go to work, I’m very conscious of it. You know, that’s
Michael O’Malley 18:15
good to hear. You know, that’s part of the self defense strategies that we teach specific strategies. There was just a quick story, there was a study done by some some social group done to the prison system throughout the US. And they had asked questions to guys who were in prison for, you know, robberies and assaults. And they wanted to find out how they actually chose their victims. And make a long story short, they what what ended up happening is they found out that a huge majority of people pick their victims based on how they walked by how they walked. So, you know, you walk down the street and you can just imagine the head is down, you know, you’re not paying attention. You know, you’re distracted, you got things in your hands, things that they probably want, you know, iPhones and all this versus somebody who’s walking down the street, that’s a 10 of their looks confident. And instead of choosing that confident person, they will choose the unconfident looking person. And, and that’s pretty eye opening, because, you know, when I teach, you know, these children, these are one of the things that we really stress is the body image, you know, what does your image give off? What does it tell others about you? And so we work on what we call Power Poses. I actually I ask them to stand up and show me a pose that depicts power and confidence. And you know, you get asked as some of it’s pretty funny. You know, some kid puts two of his hands on top of his head while standing there. And then the other kid, you know, he’s in a fighting stance, which is not what we want them to do. We just want them to be in a neutral posture. But you know, they get pretty creative and imaginative. But the whole point is, is, is your body language? And what does it say about you. And so we work on these power poses in taekwondo, as a as a system. And like most martial arts, the simple movements done in front of a mirror are actually power poses, whether we’re thinking about it or not. But it takes a more meaning, especially for children. So we work on that even if you’re not feeling powerful inside, you know, if we have them make a small speech in front of a small group of kids, you could be nervous as heck inside, but you project outside, that you you have power, you know, that you look confident,
Fei Wu 21:12
I think, in addition to teaching kids to be very powerful, and one of the observations I had is you also respect a lot of their individuality. Not every kid is the same physically, they’re built differently. You know, some kids are naturally very athletic, some of the other ones, not as much, but you’ve taken each one of them in, and and really teach them equally, and really, you know, create a system really tailor a program to their individual needs.
Michael O’Malley 21:45
Yeah, well, I, you know, this has always been a teaching philosophy anyways, no matter who it was, what age they were, you know, we’re not turning out assembly line robots. So you do as a teacher, I believe any teacher that’s good, probably thinks the same way I do. That, you know, you have to look at the individual themselves and look at their strengths and weaknesses, and find out what makes them tick what motivates them. So I tried to give all the kids you know, as much, you know, personal time as I can, but, you know, as the school grows, it becomes a little bit harder on the individual basis. Which is why, you know, we, we have other instructors that are trained, you know,
Fei Wu 22:28
speaking of other instructors, one of the very unique opportunity you’ve brought to the North Shore Community, is your connection through some of the world famous musicians, artists, athletes, of course, and you’ve introduced them, you’ve embedded them in your school. If I were to name a few of those, you know, Ralph Peterson, Jr, who’s an instructor and, you know, a jazz musician, and some of your very, basically, US team friends as well. And also someone like my mom, who’s an artist, and we all play a very significant, significant part at the school. And I think in turn, the children are exposed to different skills, different cultures, different ethnicities, perhaps, you know, not every every family here is connected to a family of a different culture. But I think you really build a learning experience a very unique learning experience for them.
Michael O’Malley 23:33
Yeah, well, again, that goes again with the reinvention of myself, but also the way I think about a school should be within our community. And I believe that school should teach so much more than just how to kick and punch is so much more that we could do as instructors and as martial arts schools, not just tech on both schools, that would benefit the community as a whole, I mean, majority of students within a school come fall within a one mile or one and a half mile radius. I mean, you know, three quarters of the members, right? So it’s within that basic framework that you try to create a community. And one of the things that, of course, you know, you and, and in Ralph and Adam and Ivan and the others that have been up to the school, they have known me for a long time. You bring a special very special element to these people’s lives. And you’re right, you know, it’s a chance for them to me to experience things that they haven’t I mean, in their normal public schools, there’s very little in the way of music. There’s very little in the way of developing as an individual. You know, you’re kind of expected to be that way. For example, like sport team sets. goals, whether it’s team or an individual sport, when you participate in the sports, you’re expected to be focused, you’re expected to be a leader, you’re expected to have confidence, right? Where very little as taught in terms of that aspect. But the way I look at it is, that’s why we exist as a school to provide that to the community. So there are not that many places you can really think of, that you can send a child and have them learn how to be confident, how can I make my child more focused, right. And so that’s why schools like ours would exist. And I think that helps the community at large. So providing access to someone like Ralph Peterson, who was a world famous jazz drummer and plays the trumpet. And he’s a professor at Berklee College of Music. Yeah, it’s a blessing to have him at the school. And the kids get a chance to experience learning from someone of his caliber, of course, you and your mom with God given talents of art, and ya know, Latin Chinese, like I was getting to a Chinese language, you just have a unique way of relating to the members. And we expand the way that they think you expand them, their way of thinking of Chinese language and Chinese culture, they get to see this beautiful works of art that Tracy has provided, that your mom has has, has developed for our school, and has taught the kids and this, this will last for the rest of their lives. And I’m sure it makes an impact on most of the kids. And so it’s one way for the school to be a center of learning, center of culture, and a center of community learning culture and community.
Fei Wu 27:20
And then one example I could think of I, for some reason I could never forget this moment, is, I think, either first or second anniversary. And it was immediately after was a ceremony was held after one of the test rank tests that we had. And a little five, or perhaps six year old was carrying the chair and it was way bigger than he was. And he was helping with a cleanup enthusiastically putting things away, you know, serving cakes to members. And his parents were asking him, like, how come you never do this at home? And what is going on here, he’s like, Dad, this is a place of great meaning that I am here to do something at home. And that’s not very significant. So I think because of that behavior, they influence other kids as well. Right? When we think about it with the little kids look at me as an adult woman was saying, Okay, you do the less relatable versus another five than their six year old doing this, then I start to question, you know, some of the behaviors at home. And we talked about bullying, but and also at the school, even when bullying is not involved at school can be a tough place to be. And I hear some of the conversations when the kids come to our school, have the challenges they’ve had the things the kids will say to each other. And those are forbidden words at your school. You know, you the kids know that they’re not allowed to make fun of one another, they have to respect each other. They have to help each other. And today when I walk into the school, it’s teamwork and collaboration. We talked about individuality, but also teamwork that you are helping kids. You’re teaching kids to teach taekwondo. And the better they teach, the better they learn. And I know that at the beginning, they really they stutter a little bit. They really struggle. Okay, do this don’t do that. You actually teach imagine a seven or eight year old how to teach the taekwondo they know. I think that’s really incredible. And I can see them improve on a daily basis, you know, even without their parents being observing every every second of it, but there are different people. You know, you’re raising good citizens. In other words, that’s what we need for our community. So. So, before closing, Before closing, I don’t want people to leave this podcast with pre word misconceptions of what whether Taekwondo is for them or not. And a few very common questions. I think it’s better for you to address is for you Have our children, some of the parents who approach me and ask, my kids are not very athletic or coordinated. You know, they haven’t really done very well in school sports. Can they join? They’re a little naughty. And what’s your advice?
Michael O’Malley 30:17
Well, you when they come to the school, you find that a large percentage of kids are not the types of kids that would fit in to group sports. Whether they’re just mentally not ready. Physically, they’re maybe not capable of a particular sport. But when they come to the school, you’ll you find that it’s those kids that really tend to do really well. Because Taekwondo, you learn at your pace, you’re not competing with anyone else, you’re competing with yourself. And I think that’s a huge part of it. I think the competition aspect frightens kids. And some kids just not ready to deal with it. Whereas when they come into martial arts, what’s expected is that you’re there to do your best. And if you don’t do great today, you’ll do better tomorrow. And, and, of course, you know, that we have ways of goal setting for them. So they can move up the ranks, and then their confidence increases and their ability increases. And then maybe one day, they might see themselves as seeing the possibility of even becoming a black belt and beyond.
Fei Wu 31:48
Yeah, thank you. And then, yeah, sorry,
Michael O’Malley 31:51
go ahead. Yeah. So, you know, the first step to doing any of that is just to come by the school, and, or a school if you happen, not to be close to where I am, and you can’t really make it is to go and watch a class or two. And, of course, meet and talk to the instructors. And I think once you watch, you know, within, you know, five minutes, so that you either strike you the right way, or it won’t. But I always felt like the biggest thing is, don’t look for the place, that’s the closest to you. I realized convenience is important. But something like this, which can deeply affect a person’s life is not to be taken lightly. It’s like, you know, if your child said to you, Mom, I want to quit the fifth grade, you would sit down and talk to them about why school is important. And education is important. So when it comes to martial arts, it’s just as important to find a place that you can commit yourself to, with you, the parent realizing that this is something that would be important for their life, you know, and so you don’t want to just give up on it, it shouldn’t be a novelty. And you would want them to stay with it. You know, it’s just like, you know, a child learning how to swim. I mean, in most cases, I don’t know many parents that want to make sure that their child knows how to swim, because the inherent dangers of being in the water. And on land, you know, you want to make sure that the kids because of the inherent dangers that are out there as well. Give them a practical sense of being able to defend themselves and then make them strong, powerful, confident. kids and young adults and eventually adults. Yeah. Yeah.
Fei Wu 33:54
Great answer. One of two more common questions. The second one is whether for kids or adults, they’ve, you know, some people started taekwondo or another form of martial art, I guess that’s a little more complex. They’ve earned a green or blue belts. And they really would like to start again, perhaps us inspired by this podcast, knowing who you are. How could they consider about kind of picking it up?
Michael O’Malley 34:23
Well, we start off all new members, whether you’ve had training or not, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. We start you with private lessons. So you don’t join classes right at the start. And that gives us a chance to assess if you practice before, what your abilities are and what you’ve practice. You know, there may be some relearning of particular movements, but quite frankly, when you join a school, you’re coming in as a student and your job is to learn. So whether you have to relearn something or learn something fresh nonetheless, you know, you come in as a student, and that’s what your your parameters are. And so as long as you’re willing to be open to the learning, and again, you get a positive frame of mind, we’re going to teach you the best. We know how, and you take from that, and learn and become good.
Fei Wu 35:22
Yeah, exactly. So last question. And thanks for spending the time I know, it’s been a long interview so far. The last question is oftentimes with adults, and as an adult, I, you know, I hopefully I represent a group of people and hopefully encourage them to join in. But I do get questions a lot, you know, adults in their 30s 40s 50s, saying, you know, am I is it too late for me to start, and you know, what, I feel awkward as a dolt practicing with younger children in a class, which I love. By the way, I love practicing a teenager and even little kids in the class for diversity. So what is,
Michael O’Malley 36:08
you know, how do we address? Well, first of all, you know, there’s a myriad of classes that are specifically for adults only. And then we do offer family classes where the moms and dads in adults, if they choose to command can practice and you know, and we, sometimes I’ll have the parents practicing with their kids, which has appointed family classes, to just practicing adults and kids, because sometimes, you know, you need to arrange people by height, weight, and experience and all that stuff. So that’s all, that’s all inherent within the classes itself. But I would say that learning never stops, anytime it stops us when we die. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re 90 years old, you know, or 18 year old hockey player, you know, you have the ability to learn and if you have interest in this, we will teach you, you know, what you need to know, and you can learn at your pace and have fun and make friends and, and do something to enrich your life. You’ll develop if you’re interested in learning, self defense, we’ll work on the self protection skills and strategies so you can you know, kind of walk around, if you’re a nurse, you know, leaving the hospital, you know, at 1am, and you’re going up and walking out to the parking lot and you feel a little bit intimidated or frightened. And sometimes you have a right to be, we can alleviate some of that, by giving you the proper strategies and training you. It doesn’t take a long time to learn it, it just takes some effort. So as long as you don’t mind sweating. It’s a great workout. In some ways, you know, with adults, it’s almost like rediscovering your legs again, you know the flexibility and all the kicking. And I found that with women. leg strength is very similar to men where upper body strength might be a little bit different. And so through taekwondo we work on developing this powerful kicking techniques. And you’ll work on hitting the punching bags and pads so you can see the results of what we teach you. And on top of that, you’ll you’ll make you know and meet some very interesting people like you and Ralph and me and and others,
Fei Wu 38:29
indeed, and I realized this still my best all the best friends I have in my life are from taekwondo. Thank you so much for the interview. It was my pleasure to listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face world.com that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links to other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.
Fei Wu 0:17
Welcome back to the Feisworld podcast. Some of you may know that I’ve been a martial art practitioner my entire life. And this is one episode I’ve been eager to release to all of my audience. My next guest is very special. His name is Michael O’Malley. He’s my martial art instructor and mentor for over 10 years. After receiving my first degree black belt in 2005. I continued my training under Mr. O’Malley and was able to advance to second and most recently a third degree black belt in 2014. Taekwondo has been a practice for me throughout my college and professional life, and I still look forward to training multiple times a week. I feel very privileged to interview Mr. O’Malley he was chosen for the USA taekwondo team from 1978 through 1982, then elected us team captain in 1980. US team coach in 1984 and 2007, Mr. O’Malley was inducted into the taekwondo Hall of Fame and eventually received this lifetime achievement award in 2011. In part one, we talked about the first defining competition in his career, what it’s like to train 10 to 12 hours a day as a 14 year old. What is the process to be selected for the US team? Mr. O’Malley does not only speak to the taekwondo competition at its highest caliber, but also the relationships he formed among his teammates. As a young boy with a very humble beginning, and dreams to travel around the world. These competitions helped fulfill his dream, and furthermore shaped him into who he is today. In the following episode, we’ll learn about the taekwondo school Mr. O’Malley founded where he continues his teaching as the principal instructor today. I hope you find opportunities to meet and learn from him. Without further ado, please welcome Michael O’Malley.
How did you start Taekwondo in a sense of competition? So you had been training for a little while? And what do you still remember? When was the first competition? What was your recollection of that?
Michael O’Malley 2:48
Okay. So I experienced competition for the first time. And you know, I can remember the first time I went out and competed, I was Hello rank, but you had to start somewhere. And I started in sparring and didn’t win and I then I did forms and I didn’t win, went to the next one I didn’t win. And that went on for probably about six months.
Fei Wu 3:16
short period of time.
Michael O’Malley 3:18
So yeah, so I was still waiting to win, like my first trophy ever. And, but gradually, I got better at it, because for some reason I always possessed. Well, I was always very competitive to begin with. And didn’t matter what it was, I grew up with four other brothers and we would fight over what was left on the dinner table to, you know, play Monopoly to competing and street hockey and football and basketball. So we’re all very competitive. So working hard was never an issue for me. So but I was always smart enough to realize, I may not be good right now, but I am definitely going to get better because I believed in whatever was being taught to me. And I could see some of the older guys within my group, my peers. were competing and winning all styles at that time. Right.
Fei Wu 4:21
Some of the competitions were they at the time local at the state, Massachusetts state level, or, you know what, how are they organized? I think some of the audience may not be expert in your martial art competition in general.
Michael O’Malley 4:37
At that time, there was a hodgepodge of competitions you could go and it just really one style of competition. Whether it was a tournament that was just for shoulder con, guys, but as long as you follow their rules, they would let you compete. So very often we would go there and If they hadn’t seen the type of kicking techniques that were unique to taekwondo that you’d take Canberra to Boston, and we found very quickly that our techniques worked, even though they might not let us win, because we’d end up, you know, kicking and then kicking, you know, kicking him in the head basically, were to us, there were legitimate points. And to them, you know, there was, you know, rules for disqualification. So we get disqualified half the time. And but nonetheless, you know, we would go from tournament to tournament, and most of it was usually local, sort of up and down the East Coast. Because there was enough schools at that time, and the area to support whatever competitions that they wanted to hold. But again, it wasn’t the one that many taekwondo schools, so there weren’t a lot of Taekwondo competitions at the time. So they’re also scattered throughout the throughout the country. And normally, you’d have to go to New York or down to DC, somewhere like that, where they would have a lot more frequent taekwondo tournaments. Of course, today, it’s different because Taekwondo is in the Olympic sport. And, you know, the rules have standardized. They, they train professional referees. And the competitions run pretty smoothly, you know, there’s a whole support.
Fei Wu 6:29
I think it’s really interesting that there were a mix styles of martial arts back then that, you know, people with different training, coming from different styles actually compete in the same arena. I think it’s, it’s really fascinating. I think many people can imagine that now, because right now, it’s very, very exclusive to a certain style. And now there are multiple taekwondo competitions all over the country. And I do want to kind of jump in and what I think the audience is pretty anxious to find out that, what is that defining a competition,
Michael O’Malley 7:08
there was a competition that my first time that I won, I was a Blue Star, right blue stripe rank. And that one was held in Canada, at the North American Open Championship, and it was, at that time, the most prestigious taekwondo tournament in the country, in North America. And so that was run by Grandmaster Park Chun Soo. And so I went up there and competed in forms, not sparring. And as a blue stripe, I happen to win the I guess you’d call it the grand championship of all the belted race. And, and at the end of the night, I get to perform in front of all of the grandmasters, and general che the founder of Taekwondo, and at the end, General, che presented me with the cup. Okay, let’s
Fei Wu 8:05
talk about that competition real quick. Because I think I know some backstory, it sounds all very easy that you were there, and you’ve won. But remember, the true story behind all that is that you practice for months and months, and sometimes, you know, 1014 hour days on that one particular form, you know, as a possible 1415 year old? And could you tell us something about that? I don’t think that’s an experience. Most people can even imagine we’re close to imagining for any effort,
Michael O’Malley 8:35
I would put my heart and soul into it, I found that I really had a passion for it. You know, at the time, I had left home. And I was 14. And J. Kim had taken me in, and I was actually living with him and his wife. So I’d received extra instruction at night when we go home after dinner. And then there were times when I would stay at the dojang. And I would actually sleep where people change their shoes I would sleep on on that cushion. And so there are times when I would be working out, you know, nobody else seven 810 hours a day. Yeah. And of course the school was situated is set up on top of a bar called copper fields where a lot of people that go to Fenway Park know what I’m talking about. And at two o’clock when the bar got out, you know, Brookline Avenue was packed with people yelling and screaming and traffic’s all backed up. And I remember being up on the third floor of the dojang I could hear the outside noise. And I was still practicing, you know, at that time. You know, so it was six to 810 hours a day of just pure training and at that time, I was able to prepare for this particular competition and and I decided to do things a little bit differently because I hadn’t done so well at the other ones previously. And so I dedicated myself to working pretty diligently on this particular form that I would perform at the competition. And and I want Yeah, yeah.
Fei Wu 10:20
So, so when was, I don’t know what the discovery process is like for the US team at the time? I’m sure. Maybe it’s perhaps a little different nowadays. But how were you discovered and you know, who approached you what was that process like, and maybe it’s a process of elimination after you’ve competed at a certain level and have won certain titles and you know, you go from amature to a level higher than that. So maybe give us a sense for
Michael O’Malley 10:53
what happened was in around 1977, Taekwondo had its third world championship, and that’s when the rules became more standardized. There were more taekwondo schools opening throughout the country, and therefore, more of the instructors are having their guys compete. So it was really catching on. And in 1978, in order to make the US team, you would compete on a local level where you had to compete in Massachusetts, and you would win for a second or third in your division, which enabled you to move on to the regional competition, which is primarily in New England, then you go to the New England trials, you went for a second and third, then you were eligible to compete at the national championships. So that’s the process that we went through initially. And so I won first in Massachusetts, and then first and the regional competition, but I was still a neophyte out there at the rules. I didn’t quite understand all of it completely. And I really had other than those two competitions, really no real experience in an Olympic style taekwondo competition, what was your division,
Fei Wu 12:20
the weight division, I think that’s what you meant.
Michael O’Malley 12:23
Well, at that time, there were eight weight divisions, similar to boxing, from fin weight all the way up to well to two heavyweight Excuse me. But there were eight people on the team. And so I was one of the middle weights. And designation was a welterweight. And so those are the two competitions that I won the state and regional before they will go on to the national championship. And so I competed in Washington, DC. And that was in 1978, at Howard University. And I can remember the place was packed with people. And it’s the first time I really experienced that type of quality in competition, and I felt that was a little, I was confident, but I was a little over my head at the first couple of fights just trying to get used to the atmosphere. And the actual equipment that we had aware was a little intrusive, and I just wasn’t comfortable. But just to tell you a quick story, because if this didn’t happen to me, I may not have actually went on and actually ever competed for US team. But my second match I was pitted against a particular gentleman who was a little shorter member very stocky, and he was older than I was. And I wasn’t doing all that well. He was kind of pounding me inside and I was frustrated trying to fight this gentleman. Anyways, at the end, the match ended up as a tie and I didn’t really know the rules but the rule was once you had a tie match, which didn’t happen all that often you went back into the weight room and the person that weighed the least one the match quirky role. So I went back and and they have the scale there. And you know, these two gentlemen just tied in and so they need to find out what the weight is. So the person I fought he takes off his uniform top. And you know, he’s totally jacked. It looked like something out of out of one of these weightlifting movies. So he stands on the scale. And then when I took off my top, the guy who was in charge of the way and started laughing because I was pretty thin. I was I was tall, lanky and pretty skinny. So because of that I was actually able to win that match. If you prefer just there was, so it actually paid off for me. And then for some reason after that, as the competition got stiffer, I actually got better. And so I found myself in the finals. And I was competing against the gentleman who was currently on the US team. And six months earlier, he had competed in the Third World Championships, which was held in Chicago, and he had won the bronze medal in the world championships. And he also was the captain of the US National Team. In the semi finals, I had fractured my foot. And so I walked out into the final match versus this gentleman, Captain world champion, current US team member. And there I am, the skinny kid from from Boston with uh, with again, before walking out into the finals, everybody thought I was gonna get destroyed. And for some reason, that was the best match of the day for me. Even though you know, we’re all kind of beat up because you would fight six, seven times in one day. And these were rounds similar to boxing where there were three minutes in length, one minute rest in between, and you would do three rounds, three minutes.
Unknown Speaker 16:22
It’s a long time.
Fei Wu 16:23
He says we get exhausted after one minute. Crazy.
Michael O’Malley 16:32
So at the end of that match there raise my hand, and I had I had one.
Fei Wu 16:39
This was 7778. This was 1978.
Michael O’Malley 16:41
Fei Wu 16:42
yeah. And that opens the door to a whole new set of opportunities. And do you remember how did they approach you to be on the US team was It
Michael O’Malley 16:53
was no, they didn’t approach me at that time, if you the national championship was the championship for US team trials. So the last person standing in each weight division, became an official member of the US national team. So basically, as long as you kept winning, you will you’re on the team, if you lost one match that weekend, you were out. That’s the way it was, it was one and done is the way the matches was set up. So at the end, they got a chance to meet up with my seven other teammates. And I mean, most of them I didn’t know but some of them were a storied competitors in the US, that I used to just be in are of just reading about them in the magazines. Now here I am sitting down at a dinner table with them and talking to them. And one of them
Fei Wu 17:51
Yeah. Would you like the name of you? I think some of the names will echo as we continue the this part of the story as well. Well, it
Michael O’Malley 17:57
kind of goes back. I mean, unless you’re a little bit older into the martial arts scene. You may not know any of these guys, but you you had de sung Lee, who was the finway national champion. He eventually went on to coach as an as an Olympic team coach, in the late 80s, early 90s. He was also the Chinese national team coach at one point, and they son was in the Guinness Book of World Records for winning, being on the US team for some crazy, like eight years in a row or something like that. But not to take away anything from de Sung, but you know, he was a finway Couldn’t be more than 115 pounds. And I mean, how many men in the country? Wait, yeah, I mean, 115 pounds, and many, and then have them sort of do what he does, you know, to compete. Yeah. And then you had John Holloway, who was the middleweight national champion. He was also on the US team prior. And he was one of the more famous taekwondo competitors. He was the first to win the into two primary taekwondo organizations, the IETF. And WTF. There wasn’t a lot of you know, it was a US team, you know, you might have a change over of three out of the eight guys at any given year. So some guys may retire or some guys get feet in competition, but there wasn’t a lot of turnover. So some of the guys around halfway, probably two thirds of the guys on the team on the team prior to me showing up there that already had experience.
Fei Wu 19:47
I think it’s fascinating because starting that day, we’re in that month that you’ve been spending a ton of time with these guys and traveling on the road. I mean, truly spending time time that people, you know, like myself can’t quite imagine, right? It’s spending eight hours at work with my coworkers seems like a long time already. But what is the friendship like with people at this caliber, you know, training and representing your country. So what was that the friendship like then and perhaps now,
Unknown Speaker 20:22
I’m going to give him a quick window into what that dynamic is like. And then
Michael O’Malley 20:27
well, we’re a group of men, young men, between the ages of 17 to 25, basically, that were thrown together, you know, my teammates, we came from all over the country. A couple of them are from Hawaii, DC, New York, Ohio, Boston. And we were thrown together and told that we were a team that would represent the United States in the world championships, Pan American Games, and other world events. And it was, unlike other countries, the support that the US gives its national teams is actually quite trivial. And you would think, as powerful a country with all its resources, you would give it more support, but it was actually the opposite. And so a lot of the other countries, they they national teams were supported by the government. And these teams would get together, about a year before the World Championships and actually train and become a serious team. For us, we would get together in training camps. Sometimes as little as two weeks before a major competition. Sometimes we had a month or two perhaps to get ready. The World Championships. That year, they had a World Games in Korea, that was the first competition international competition that I competed in. We had about a month worth of training before, you know, we sort of bonded as a team. And I learned pretty quickly when I showed up at training camp, that these guys were pretty serious about what they did. And it really actually gave me some relief. Because I was always very serious about what I had done. And you know, being in the school in Boston, among people that are my brothers and sisters in taekwondo, and but they all had jobs. And there were college professors, they already had goals, other goals in life, they love to do taekwondo, but it wasn’t the level that I was doing that. But when I showed up at the competition at the, at the training camp, excuse me, I really found that’s, that’s where I belong. And I think my, I took my training, I took my knowledge to another level. And these guys, these are guys really pushed me along. As I push them,
Fei Wu 23:36
you share the same vision, same goal, and, and also really, there’s a bonding effect. I feel like to a certain degree, it’s, it’s teamwork, even though when you competed, it’s a very much of a solo act. But your seven eight brothers, you know, you’re really competing at every weight level, every division together, you’re representing the US team. And while I was wondering, I just don’t know the answer to this question that all eight of you compete in a division, but to determine if a country has, you know, has won the competition? Is it a collective overview of how each one of you performed or is it based on individual?
Michael O’Malley 24:18
Yeah, it’s an individual competition huge compete in your weight division. You go representing your country, but you really go in there to compete in your division. And the way that the team competition is established in terms of what team wins for a second and third is established by how many points you get for for winning service for example, gold medal would be worth X number of points, silver medals worth X number of points in bronze medal. And that’s how they determined the team competition even though you win as an individual you know, that gets to the team total Um, you know, quite frankly, at that time, for reasons that I just mentioned in terms of the ability and the resources and support that one got from representing the United States, and other reasons, the US team was sort of in maybe in the top third of the countries, but it definitely wasn’t. Within the top three of the top five, in the world, Korea was the powerhouse. You had teams like Mexico, and, and some others, Taiwan, had a great team. And so, you know, they spent many, many, many months together with all the support to get ready, whereas, you know, we were kind of left on our own. There were times when we had to travel, to meet at training camps, and we had to pay for our own way, just to get to the training camp. And when we got there, they supported us. So it wasn’t anything fancy, I could tell you like in 1979, I had my first world championship in Germany, Stuttgart, Germany, they didn’t even have a hotel for us, for the US team, we ended up actually living on the US Army base for a month. And how is remembered our beds were two sticks, that were attached to this, you know, really rough wall that all the other soldiers slept on. And we had our own barracks. And a lot of ways, it was one of the most interesting times in my life, living on the on the army base, and just getting up and all we had to do was train and we go eat a mess hall with all the soldiers. And then they came and supported us, you know, at the World Championships.
Fei Wu 26:56
It sounds like, you know, because of competition Taekwondo is, is an opportunity has taken you taking you to, you know, many various parts of the United States and beyond that, to the world. You’ve mentioned to me that you like traveling a lot. And then this case is a little bit of a traveling for work situation, but perhaps a little different. Do you mind highlighting a few countries or experiences that, you know, you still have very strong memories for and share some stories there?
Michael O’Malley 27:32
Sure. You know, this is just a backdrop, but I, you know, I grew up in a pretty poor area of Boston, Roxbury and Dorchester you know, my mother raised five boys alone. We lived on welfare at the time, we were even homeless for a couple of times and lived at a shelter. And the two things that I sort of found, for myself, I’ll always remember this was I had a love for sports. And I used to love reading. And so I was involved in many sports. And I found that I was fairly good at it, I was I was naturally quick and good reflexes, I was I think I was intelligent enough to absorb whatever people trying to coach me with. And in reading, I love comic books. And at least I love match National Grid geographic. I would dream about all these faraway places, and the cultures and the language and the history. And to Taekwondo, I was able to, to live out a big part of my imagination as a child, you know, I got to perform a sport at a very high level, at a world class level. And because of that, I was able to travel throughout the world, because long as I kept winning, you know, you get the chance to travel. But I get to see these other cultures and experience how other people live than what they thought. And it was eye opening, it was meaningful. And I think it you know, it definitely affected me and changed me as a person, I had more of a worldview of things rather than the view or just growing up in Dorchester.
Fei Wu 29:36
And in some of the countries that you have mentioned, including very far away, you know, for instance, Korea, Taiwan and Germany.
Michael O’Malley 29:43
So when I went to first time I was on an aeroplane was when I was 14, I went to Mr. Kim, my instructor actually taken me to Disney World places. I forget why we went but we went to Disney World. And that was the first time I had been on a plane
Fei Wu 29:59
la Disney World,
Michael O’Malley 30:00
Florida. Yeah. But the second time I was on an aeroplane because even when we traveled all these competitions, we always drove, pack the car and we’d all get just go. But the second time was when I became a member of the US team in seven EA, and we attended the World Games in Korea. And so there I am flying, you know, whatever. And then it took a little bit longer to get there 2024 hours to get to Korea, with my teammates. And I remember I still have this image in my head just flying over Korea at the time. And it’s not like the Korea you know, today the Cosmopolitan, modern, you know, world class city that it is now. And I was flying over what appeared to me to be rice paddies. And I just sat there thinking I was just so on our I couldn’t believe that this is what’s happening to me. It’s it’s I couldn’t believe that it was true. Here I am. Traveling, and here I am in Korea, the one place I always wanted to go to.
Fei Wu 31:12
That’s really, that’s really insane. That’s it’s a beautiful story. But I wonder when you when you land in Korea, and there you are, you need to join a competition. And not only that you’re competing at a country where taekwondo was born. So perhaps you’ve competed there multiple times. So what is it a situation when you win? How do local people forget to that this 11 US team actually beat us in our own sport?
Michael O’Malley 31:39
Well, that particular competition, they didn’t have to worry about it, because we really didn’t do that.
It was pretty tough. You know, I mean, to be Korea, you know, in our backyard, nevermind, you know, going to Korea and fighting in the World Taekwondo headquarters called the Pookie one, which was the stadium, indoor stadium built on top of our, our hill. And you would drive up and you could see the stadium and that was the mecca for taekwondo. And that’s where they held the competition. And you know, it was it was televised, and as luck would have it. You know, all the pressure of me traveling my first actual competition. My very first fight was with Korea. And as luck would have it, my fight started off the whole competition. And it was televised the same time. And I felt when I walked out. So I’m warming up and I’m bouncing around. And there was this assistant coach, and I can’t remember his name was a Korean gentleman, very nice person. And he and he says, Oh, you’re fighting Korea. Thank you. So I said, Yeah, piece of cake. He said, Yeah, but big piece of cake. And he was right, it was a big piece of cake. And I felt completely. If felt like an unnatural spot to be in for me. There was so much pressure at that time. And the quality of competition, I realized, then, unfortunately, I realized like a couple of minutes before I was supposed to fight that everybody else in that gym was probably working out 610 hours a day, our entire life, you know. And so it was really an eye opening, you know, learning experience for me that first time. Yeah, I really didn’t do that well, and but most of the other guys didn’t do that great. Either. A couple of us made it to the win bronze medal, I can’t really remember what everybody else won at that time. But when I came back, I learned so much about the international method of competing, it was different than competing in the US. Rules were although they were very similar up there were some nuances to it. And learning how to engage the referees and the subtleties of using them and using the rules to your advantage. I gained a lot of insight to so you know, I didn’t win. But in, in the in the long run. I did win because I just gained so much experience from it.
Fei Wu 34:40
Yeah. So I think so far we’ve sounded very humble all along. I think maybe we can fast forward to the pan America game real quick and talk about what it is and how significant of an experience
Michael O’Malley 34:54
Well, that was my second international competition that was held in Mexico City. Mexico was a powerhouse in the taekwondo community, just as they were in boxing and still are in boxing. And that was, that was a little bit different in that the venue was in indoor stadium. But it was packed standing room only. And the crowd was so close to the ring on top of it. And of course, you know, we were there gringos from from up north. And so, and this was the very first Pan American Games. So as an historical international event, and it was important event too, because you had to have an a number of Pan American Games, as a as an international sport to eventually be recognized as an Olympic sport. You know, we competed there. And I remember the first match, one of my teammates goes out, and within 10 seconds, it gets knocked out. So that was the that was the great start. But things improve for us. pretty dramatically. We had a number of guys in the finals, including me. And at that time, I ended up winning the bronze medal. And so even though it’s not what I wanted, I did become the first American in my weight division to metal. I mean, mainly because it was the first Pan American Games anyways. But nonetheless, it was the first one to medal. And, you know, that was quite an experience as well.
Fei Wu 36:42
I think it’s very significant. You know, even if it’s one of the few games out there, panning games still has its, it’s still considered to be one of the most competitive when one of the most recognized the games. Until today, I believe. So
Michael O’Malley 37:00
yeah, well, what happened later was you fast forward. A couple of years later, I was again, a member of the US team. And we had the second Pan American Games in in Houston, Texas. And so was on our home soil, and we ended up that was the first time America had ever won the team gold medal in an international competition. And my fight, it was ironic that we we had tied in the Gold Medal Match Mexico versus us, three to three, one other South American country won a gold medal. And my fight ended up being the last fight of the event. And I’m fighting Mexico, and at the same time, it was for the team championship. And so I had won that. And so winning the gold medal was gratifying, not because it was just for me, but because we wanted for the first time, you know, as a team in international competition. And so the US became more recognized for its competitors. You know, from that point on,
Fei Wu 38:16
I remember looking at the record, this was from years ago, and I want to make sure I quote this correctly. But there was a, I guess, what you call it a roster and so posted of competition for Taekwondo, and at every weight range, and your name appeared, I believe, four to five times in a row. And I was thinking to myself at the time, you know, as a gold medalist, that there’s a little bit of a Lance Armstrong effect going on there. And I could barely see another name even repeating twice on the same list, you know, over a course of, you know, any given amount of years. So,
Michael O’Malley 38:53
yeah, well, I think at the time, I don’t think I was the only one. In fact, I know, it wasn’t because my close friend jumped ship che, who was the bantamweight national champion had won about four years in a row. And I think was one of the first, if not the first to win consecutively for four years in a row. It was a pretty tough thing to do. What’s funny is I had competed for two years in a row. And what they make you do is you don’t have to go through the regional or state qualifiers. But when you show up at the US team trials, you have to go through the elimination just like everybody else. So for two years in a row, you know, I had one and you just can’t you just can’t do this even once. Third year in Berkeley, California at the university, UC Berkeley, and I was actually not going to compete I decided to retire because Well, part of the reason was I was going to visit My instructor Jay Kim, who was now living in Korea, he left the US in 1979. Do his time, obligated time in the in the Air Force in Korea. You know, he was one of the principal reasons why I was competing, you know, and, and so when he was gone, I really didn’t work out at all. After the second year, I decided I wasn’t going to compete and just concentrate on building up the school in Boston, because J Chem was no longer there. And I was the primary instructor even though it was only 20 years old. And that’s a story for another time, perhaps. But so I traveled out to Berkeley, and I’m on my way to see J. Kim and Korea, and I thought I would just stop over in California. And so all my buddies are, you know, trying out again for US team, and I get there, and then they start to bug me about just trying it one more time. One more time. I didn’t even bring my uniform with me. And I hadn’t worked out in, you know, six or eight months. But for some reason, foolishly I decided to do it. And at the end of the weekend, there I am in the finals again. And for some reason, that whole weekend, I felt like I was invincible. I hadn’t trained for six, eight months. But yet still I am doing things with my body that I really didn’t think I had another gear. And I did, I brought it up to another level. And at the end of that competition, I was presented not only with metal, and again on the US team, but I was given the ken min Award, which is I was only second person to be given this award. My friend John Holloway was the first for my accomplishments and leadership in taekwondo competition. You know that that’s what ended up happening. And I ended up on US team again and flying over and competing in international competitions again, in the following year. I decided I would do it one more time, and I won then. So basically, within that five year period, at least within the United States, I didn’t lose one match that timeframe. So and I retired, you know, having been undefeated in North America. Not that many people have that was
Fei Wu 42:42
a great track record. I think one of the bildu we didn’t really mention early on is, you know, obviously that I’ve been training under you for quite some time. But even before I met you, you know, I started Taekwondo and at the Boston School, and that you had mentioned then you build up. And, you know, you’re, you’re absolutely a legend with very, very legendary stories behind you. And even before you’re working in the school on a more full time basis. And, you know, I heard stories from I remember from my days, some of the toughest guys and you know, some of the more way more experienced older than I am to tell me about these stories, how invincible you were even way before at the national international level. So I think some of the descriptions are things like your lightning fast, like without, like, without exaggeration, which I found that to be to be really interesting. So
Michael O’Malley 43:46
yeah, well, two things happened back then. You know, at that time, as I mentioned earlier, we have Jake Kim had us going out to compete initially to clinic put the school on the map, what was what else what was going on was you also had the influx and popularity of these martial art movies. And of course, everybody knows Bruce Lee. And it was about that time that those movies, you know, came online, and we’re all going to see them getting excited. You know, he was quite a character. And, you know, the premise of most of those movies is, you know, some martial art villain would come in and he would go in and go into town and he would look for the martial arts school and go in and challenge you know, the Grandmaster and their students. Right. So that was a popular message within the movies. And so for some reason, in Boston, a lot of these guys from other styles, thought that, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. So they would come up to the Boston School, and they would check challenge us. So J Kim, you know, was there and, you know, and, you know, he would give us, you know, a shot at this particular person, you know, sometimes a lot of times and later was always me. But there were other guys, it wasn’t just me, there was Tom Lavelle, and and John Lee, who eventually was actually on the US team as well from the same school and took a bronze medal and World Championships in 1983. And we would have a go at this particular person. And some of it was pretty hilarious, you know, I can, we had this, we had this system that were when they came up, and they wanted to spy with us, we would give them, we would tell them that they had to wear you know, a uniform, so of course, you know, they’d go in the background when we bring this uniform man, and the uniform hadn’t been washed, and, you know, ever. And sometimes you have those flat all over the front of it. That was probably either too small or too big for them. And they’ll give them something to think about while they’re in the locker room row, like picking straws. Like who was going to fight this guy, because we all couldn’t wait. And very often, their notion of sparring was totally foreign to us because their version of sparring was pretending to spar, like mimicking kicking and punching. We’re supposed to actually hit each other. Yeah, you know, where? To us? It was like we were defending our honor. And, you know, we’re all gonna leave your teeth on the floor.
Fei Wu 46:40
Back in the old days, I think when people watch the taekwondo competition these days, you have headgear, chest protector, all that back in the old days, either inside the dojang for you, or even at the international stage. Right. There’s barely any protective gears, which is very difficult for me to imagine. Yeah.
Michael O’Malley 47:01
And those those days, unlike today, you’re right. I mean, and I think it’s, it’s better for the athletes today anyways, because, you know, with all these head injuries that can occur, and I wonder if anybody dying in taekwondo competitions, but you know, I mean, it’s, it was kind of heading that way. Back when I did it, there was no headgear. For one thing. You were very little equipment, except for a chest protector, and, of course, your work cup. But then maybe a foot pad, but that was about it. These days, you know, they’re pretty well protected. And they’re actually adding there’s plans now that there’ll be wearing a face cage, and other equipment. But it’s really for the safety of the of these kids. So we’re competing now, you know, they’re becoming bigger and faster, and it’s a matter of time for somebody really, really gets seriously hurt. Nobody wants that. So, but interestingly enough, though, even competing on world class level, you would think there’d be a lot of people getting hurt and knocked out. I mean, yeah, you get hurt in terms of clashing your legs together and getting pounded off your chest, you know, with feet and fist but nobody really got hurt all that often on the face level. Because at that, at that level, the guys are all trained and not going to stand there and let you hit them. We didn’t have any ropes keeping us in a ring where we were trapped. So you had a lot more freedom to move around. There were no barriers to backing up. You can only backup so far there was a ring. But nobody really got hurt. Because I think just the skill level, the world class level that reaction, they don’t just wait around for you to hit them.
Fei Wu 48:55
So that concluded part one with Mr. O’Malley. In the following episode, you will learn about the taekwondo school Mr. O’Malley founded where he continues his teaching as a principal instructor today. I hope you find opportunities to meet and learn from him.
Unknown Speaker 49:16
To listen to more episodes
Fei Wu 49:17
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai