Interview with Master Bob McKenna

Colorado Martial Arts News sat down with Master Robert (Bob) McKenna, one of the pioneers of martial arts in Colorado. Master Bob is a 7th Degree Black Belt and current President of the Colorado State Taekwondo Association (COSTA). We asked him to share insight from his 40+ years of martial arts training and give us a preview of what COSTA has in store for 2013.

COMANews: When did you first start training? What do you remember about the school back then?

Master McKenna: My first training was haphazard.  I boxed in college (1963-5).  Several years later i was in the army stationed in Korea.  I knew very little about Asian martial arts at the time, but was fascinated by the Korean art of Taekwondo (which every Korean schoolchild was immersed in).  My military position (I was a prosecutor) kept me from training in Korea.  On returning to the states, I studied initially (1973-5) with a first dan who hosted an (obviously) small program.  Surprisingly, on reflection, he was a good instructor.  Upon leaving the army, i joined up with “Kwan Ro Korean Karate” in 1975.  It was an excellent program, and its successor, “Mountain Kim Taekwondo” remains my “home” school to this day.

What do i remember most?  Sparring.  “Protective equipment” consisted of a mouth guard (optional).

COMANews: What do you enjoy most about martial arts?

Master McKenna: That’s changed over the years.  For some time I enjoyed sparring over everything else.  Now it’s the “spirit” of martial arts that I like most–essentially, I like the people.  Also, not to sound too corny, but I enjoy the fact that I am continuing in traditions that date back thousands of years.

COMANews: How has your training changed as you’ve gotten older?

Master McKenna: Obviously as you get older your body won’t do some of the things it used to.  In addition, you don’t recover as quickly from injuries.  But with proper thought (in advance) and awareness, you can train at pretty much any age with good results.  As you train in older years, you have to be careful to know your limitations.  However, with a good instructor, you can actually accomplish quite a bit more than you would have anticipated.

COMANews; What kind of things can we look forward to from COSTA in 2013?

Master McKenna: We plan five formal events–our annual state championships, our poomsae tournament, our team trials and two seminars (one referee and one poomsae). We also provide training for our poomsae and kyorogi teams, and financial support for athletes and others representing Colorado at national and international events.  We also try to work with all interested schools in staging and staffing their own events.  We are looking into more activities, and all suggestions are welcome.

COMANews: Can you provide one or two classic stories from Colorado martial arts history?

Master McKenna: Yes, but i don’t want to make anyone mad.

At a more general level, Colorado is a remarkable place for martial arts study, offering excellent instruction in a wide variety of martial arts.  Historically, Ralph Krause, one of the true pioneers of sport karate, lived and taught in Denver.  His annual tournament was one of the very first national karate tournaments.   Larry McGill pioneered Taekwondo in Colorado, developing the first “for credit” collegiate Taekwondo program in the country.  Our former senator, Ben Campbell, is a member of the black belt hall of fame and a gold medal winner at the pan-American games in judo.  Colorado is a great place for martial arts.

COMANews: What advice do you have for new students starting out?

Master McKenna: This obviously depends on the age of the student.  Speaking to adults (I started Taekwondo training at age 28), be patient.  You won’t be able to do everything the kids do.  But remember, you are smarter than the kids.  Take advantage of that opportunity.  For example, on tests, you are smart enough to know that you should really spend more time on forms than you might like to, a realization that will give you an advantage on a test.  Speaking to everyone, make sure that you find a program that you actually enjoy.  Martial arts training is for a lifetime, and it’s for everyone.  If you are not enjoying your training, you probably won’t keep it up.  Obviously this advice has to be taken with a grain of common sense in dealing with children, who often (usually?) don’t know what’s best for them, but overall it’s true.

COMANews: What advice do you have for instructors?

Master McKenna: Obviously every instructor has his or her own teaching style, and I don’t presume to intrude in that area.  However, something to keep in mind as instructors.  An instructor can form a powerful bond with his or her students.  Be careful to be aware of bonds as they form and be very careful that you do not accidentally compromise yourself or your students.  Also, in line with the previous question, an instructor whose training is “fun” for participants (by “fun” I do not mean “frivolous,” but enjoyable) will have the best shot at running a successful program.  By the way, I have visited a large number of schools in the Denver area, and I can say that this aspect of training is in evidence in every one I visited.


Check back later for more interviews from pioneers of Colorado martial arts. Know someone who would make a good subject? Email !

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