our name


Our style name is an amalgamation of four Korean hanja characters that literally translate: “the way of a heaven lake.”  This designation highlights an analogy frequently taught by the late Sensei Larry Beal (1944-2010) concerning the health and vitality of a martial artist. The health of a heaven lake (i.e. mountain lake) is dependent upon its ability to feed while being fed. In other words, a vibrant mountain lake not only receives nourishment from precipitation, snow melt, springs, run-off, etc., it likewise provides nourishment via streams and tributaries that water the land below.  A mountain lake that only receives sustenance inevitably becomes brackish, stagnant, or highly acidic, thus less able to support life. A perfect example of this is Mono Lake in Mono County, California. On the other hand, a mountain lake that only provides sustenance inevitably dries up. The desert expanse of America’s Great Basin is dotted with dried-up lake beds that once discharged without receiving nourishment. In the same way, a martial artist retains vitality and health by constantly feeding and being fed. Such necessitates a spirit of integration, unbound by the walls of impractical tradition and unhinged from self-aggrandizing titles that breed dead egoism. A martial arts student who constantly learns without opportunity to teach what he has learned inevitably overtrains and becomes burned out or undertrains and falls into stagnancy. A martial arts instructor who teaches without being taught becomes self-absorbed and eventually dries up. Therefore, Cheonjikido, as implied by our name, is a full-range martial art that is necessarily eclectic (i.e. drawing from a variety of traditional styles), pragmatic, and evolving – teaching and being taught. It follows, therefore, that there are no superior martial arts, only superior martial artists. Moreover, all Cheonjikido students are instructors, and all Cheonjikido instructors are perpetual students. Such conforms to the spirit of integration and eclecticism introduced by the original instructors in our black belt lineage, Korean Grandmasters In Yoon Byung and Nam Suk Lee (hence the Korean hanja in our style name).

In Yoon Byung (1920-1983) was the first Korean national to study Chinese Chuan-fa. He then took that knowledge to Nihon University in Tokyo, Japan where he studied and assimilated Shudokan Karate under the teaching of Kanken Toyama. Upon returning to Korea, Byung synthesized Northern Chinese Chuan-fa with Korean & Japanese martial arts, and produced an eclectic style that became known as Chang Moo Kwan (i.e. Korean for “building a martial arts house”). Until his death, thought to be in a North Korean forced-labor factory around 1983 after he went missing in the North during the Korean War, Sensei Byung embodied the spirit of cheonjikdo (i.e. the way of a heaven lake) in his approach to the martial arts.  The same can be said of his protege, Nam Suk Lee (1925-2000), who took over Byung’s schools in Seoul after the Korean Conflict and preserved eclectic principles through a body of kata known as The Twelve that he revived during the last days of his life in San Pedro, California.

Traces of this same spirit endured in Chang Moo Kwan and migrated to Salisbury, North Carolina in the 1960’s.  Eventually, in direct descent, it re-blossomed and ripened under the watch-care of Sensei Larry Beal who taught in Catawba County, North Carolina for more than two decades within the framework of a biblical worldview, introducing key martial arts principles into the art from extensive training he had received in Tomiki Aikido.  Over the years, the traditional arts of Isshin-Ryu, Kyoshu-Jitsu, Tuite, and Small-Circle Jujitsu have also left a distinct mark on the style now known as Cheonjikido.

CheonjiLakeInterestingly, a mountain lake by the name of “Cheonji” (i.e. heaven lake) actually exists. It lies in the caldera of Baekdu Mountain at 7,182 ft. above sea level, literally straddling the borders of Korea (the land of Sensei Byung’s birth and the place where he taught martial arts in the 1940’s) and the region of Manchuria in Northeast China (the land where Sensei Byung first learned martial arts under a Mongolian Chuan Fa grandmaster). This lake is fed by precipitation and snow-melt from the surrounding peaks and feeds the land below via a vibrant 70-meter waterfall near the north outlet. Cheonji Lake is one of the highest and most beautiful crater lakes in all of the world.

Of additional interest is evidence suggesting that Sensei Byung actually died in the North Korean city of “Cheonjin,” nomenclature also linguistically related to our style name.

Thus, the name Cheonjikido boasts historic and philosophical meaning, invariably tied to principal figures in the black belt lineage that eventually fashioned this art.