Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007, 210-212.
Trafford Publishing (Victoria, BC, Canada). November, 2006. ISBN: 1412085144 (paperback), $22.50. 308 pages.
Reviewed by Marcia R. Rudin
Whenever I spoke about cults for more than twenty years throughout the United States and in Canada and Poland, someone in the audience would ask, “What is a cult?” Foreseeing this question, early on in my presentations I defined the term. Cults don’t have to be religious or philosophical in nature, I always pointed out. The definition has nothing to do with ideas and everything to do with methods of high control over members, the manipulation and deception and frequent resulting abuse. This scenario can happen in any group or small collection of people, regardless of the ideas that draw them together.
My point is again proven in an interesting book, Herding the Moo: Exploits of a Martial Arts Cult. Although the martial arts are considered by most people to be harmless and physically beneficial, the author, an ex-member, describes the careful process by which “students” were systematically hooked into and kept in a martial arts group and how all of the elements of mind manipulation were present in the group’s method of operation.
Promising a better life and self, and access to powerful mind and body secrets from “Master Kim,” touted as “Champion of All Asia,” the men (mostly men, few women, because they are not capable of this kind of achievement, according to the doctrine) donated all past, present, and future income to the expensive classes—all of the money, of course, going to support the “Master’s” luxurious life style. They donated their time and energy until, physically and psychologically exhausted, they had totally given their lives over to the group. All romances were discouraged or forbidden. Few leaders or “students” had family lives. Every new job, friendship, activity—even the purchase of clothing, transportation vehicle had to pass muster with the leaders. The leaders created their own bizarre language, which followers had to speak at all times (one example of the language: “Be all right to ask if yourself is all right?”). The members also continuously had to follow painstakingly spelled-out, prescribed rituals. The leaders “dispensed existence” by arbitrarily promoting “students” to a higher martial arts rank or by stripping them of rank. They narrowed the men’s world so that they lived only to serve the group and its “Master.” Physical violence or threats of violence against members and meddling outsiders helped to keep doubters in line.
And, of course, intense friendship bonded the group’s vulnerable members, many of whom lived together. As the author describes it,
After that first campout, many of us felt we were in a unique club, a strange sort of extended family with its own odd little secrets nobody talked much about, and [we] went along with the program. We began to accept things as facts; the cult had filled a void in many of our lives.
The author writes elsewhere,
This is what it was all about, eating boxed pizza while sitting on the floor of the next fabricated champion of Asia cash collection facility and patting each other on the back for being true, right and correct. The feeling of camaraderie was the greatest hook, nearly as great as the demanding workouts.
“The Moo” is a derogatory term coined by detractors from 1979 to 1990 and still used today for the martial arts group known at various times as Chung Moo Quan, Chung Moon Doe, or Oom Yung Doe, the name the group currently uses. “Mooing” refers to practicing the martial arts regime and also to all activities related to the group: cleaning, cooking, waiting on “The Master” and his family, running errands, operating the various “schools” (at the group’s height, more than fifty in the United States), building new facilities, going on camping trips at the whim of the leaders, snaring new “students”, and so on.
An expose of the group by CBS News in Chicago in 1989 entitled “The Cult and the Con” precipitated its temporary downfall. “Master Kim,” or John C. Kim, whose real name apparently is Park, and top followers were convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to commit massive tax fraud for nearly twenty years because they destroyed records of the all-cash transactions. Many disillusioned former “students” testified against the group. Park received a sentence of up to sixty months in prison; six top leaders went to prison also. Park was paroled in April of 2001. The group still operates, albeit at a reduced level, now with about ten locations.
Herding the Moo is far too long and repetitive. The author makes his points many times over, and does not need to tell every story available. The narrative voice of the book is often confusing, and the author changes tenses frequently. The tone and style is overly familiar and the writer glib—for example, sometimes addressing the reader directly using terms such as “dude.”
Conversely, the book contributes to the cultic studies field. It is fascinating in its presentation of obviously ridiculous (and ever-changing) doctrine that the “students” swallowed. With the leaders’ promises of attaining secret miraculous knowledge if they’d just hang in there a little longer, followers fell for it, dazzled by the promise of becoming one of the elite, and finally probably just wanting to recoup their extensive time and financial investment.
Ex-members of this group or other exploitative martial arts groups will certainly want to read this carefully researched book. Those readers interested generally in cults will again be amazed at how intelligent people can be so skillfully manipulated.