General Choi talks about his fascinating life — at one point he was three days from execution — and the creation and development of Taekwon-Do. Now an octogenarian, he remains a vibrant force in the martial art community of the twentieth century and a shining example for all those taking his Art into the new millennium.
Japan, during the Meji Restoration, was the first of the three countries to embrace Western culture and science. The Emperor, having regained control over the government, encouraged his subjects to learn more about the West. As a result, Japan, with the use of Western weaponry was able to defeat China in 1894 and occupy and annex Korea in 1910. The Korean people fought bitterly for thirty-five years for indepence that was not won until the end of World War II. To this day, many Koreans still feel hatred towards the Japanese. My interview with General Choi was conducted on August 1, 1998, and from February 27 to March 1, 1999. The interviews are a part of my continuing research into the history of Korean martial arts.
General Choi: Yes, they are both true. I was born in Korea on November 9, 1918. At the time, the Korean calendar was based on the moon’s cycle, each month having 27 or 28 days. In the 1960’s, Korea switched to the Western calendar; one based on the sun’s cycle, with each month having 30 to 31 days. According to the Western calendar, my birthday is on December 22. So, though I have two birthdays, November 9, 1918, is the one I have chosen to celebrate.
As for my names, the first is Choi, Hong Hi, given to me by my father at the time of my birth in 1918. My other name is Taekwon-Do, given to me by God in 1955.
General Choi: My training was sparked by a famous incident during the Japanese occupation of Korea. In 1930, a group of Japanese students taunted and harassed a group of Korean female students on a train bound for Kwang Ju City. Upon it’s arrival in Kwang Ju, angry and outraged Korean students surrounded the Japanese students and beat them severly.
Later, the Japanese police came and ruthlessly crushed the Korean student defenders. Word of this incident spread rapidly through Korea. To protest the outrageous acts of the Japanese students and police, students staged strikes and walkouts in schools troughout our country. In the school I attended, I was one of the leaders of the protest movement, and planned and directed a student walkout at my school. For this, I was expelled from the Japanese school system. My father, strongly anti-Japanese but also concerned about my future, urged me to study Chinese characters and the art of Calligraphy. He felt that one day I could get a job making tombstones using these skills. So, I went to study with Master Han, Il Dong, a renowned calligrapher. I also learned Taek Kyun, my first martial art, from him.
General Choi: I studied Calligraphy and Chinese characters for seven years. My father became satisfied with the level of skill and proficiency I had achieved. It was during this time that I became interested in learning more about Western culture, sciences and laws. Some of my friends were studying about the West in Japan. During their vacations home, they told me of their studies and encouraged me to join them in Japan. So that’s how I decided to go to Japan. A few days before I was to depart for Japan, I lost all of my money in a card game. This was the money I was to use to live and travel in Japan. I begged Mr. Hur to return some of the money I lost to him. He refused, telling me that the purpose of playing cards was to make money, not give it away. As he stood to leave, I picked up an ink bottle that was nearby and flung it at him. The bottle struck him in the forehead and knocked him unconscious. As the ink and blood flowed down his face, I took the money from his pocket and ran home. A couple of days later I arrive in Kyoto, Japan.
I knew that I would never be able to go back to my hometown without learning some form of self-defense. I first thought about learning how to box but my friend, Kim, Hyun Soo, convinced me to watch a Karate class with him at Dong Dai Sa University. A few days afterwards I began to practice Karate.
General Choi: My original plan was to enter high school in Kyoto. For a year and a half, I ceaselessly studied English and mathematics and practiced Karate. But I failed the examination to enter the fourth grade of high school. So, I moved to Tokyo because I thought that I would have a better chance to enroll in school there. A good friend from my hometown, Lee, Jong Ryun, lived in Tokyo and helped me settle there. Again, I studied English and mathematics and Karate.
Finally, I passed the entrance examination and enrolled into the fourth grade of the Dong A Business High School. This allowed me to eventually enthe the Law School of Choong Ang University. At the university, I practiced Karate under supervision of Master Guchin Funagoshi, the founder of Shotokan. Under Master Funagoshi, I practiced at the Shotokan (Dojo) regularly and participated in special “night walking” training from Tokyo to Kamakura City. After I was promoted to second degree black belt in Karate, my friend Yoon, Byung In and I began teaching Karate on the roof of the Tokyo YMCA building. In later years, after the liberation of Korea in 1945, Master Yoon went back to Korea and created the Kwon Bub Club at the Seoul YMCA.
General Choi: By the end of 1942, I, among others, believed that Japan was going to lose the war, so it would have been very foolish to join the Japanese Army. But, by this time, most Korean students in Japan were prevented from going to school and forced into the Army. Many of us went into hiding, moving from inn to inn, in order to escape being drafted. The police finally caught up with me and forced me to join the Japanese Army on October 20, 1943.
I was sent back to Seoul to join other drafted Korean students for basic training at Seoul National University. we were then sent to the 42nd Unit of the Pyung Yang Division. There was much resistance among the ranks. Soon after our arival, I was part of a group of 30 Korean student-soldiers thad decided to try to escape to the Baek Doo Mountains located on the Manchurian-Koran Border. There we would join the Underground Korean Liberation Army and fight against the Japanese occupiers. Our plan to escape failed. We were all arrested and tried for treason. Initially, I received a seven year prison term. But later, the sentence was changed and I was to be executed on August 18, 1945. Just three days before my execution, my country was liberated from the Japanese occupation forces. On August 15, 1945, I walked out of Pyung Yang Prison.
General Choi: As my fellow student-soldiers and I left prison, we heard an appeal to us from the Kun Joon or Preparation Committee for self-government in Seoul. Broadcast over the radio was an invitation from Mr. Yu, woon Young, the leader of the Committee, to come to Seoul and join in the effort. Under his leadership, we formed the Students’ Volunteer Group to maintain law and order because the Korean police force had not yet been created.
Later, Mr. Yu was assassinated. The Students’ Volunteer Group split into two groups, one that advocated communism and the group that I led which advocated the ideals of democracy. In this role, I had the chance to meet with a U.S. Army Major Reas, the Superintendent of the Military English School. The Military English School would later become the Korean Military Academy. It was through this meeting that I became one of the 110 founding fathers of the Korean Army.
General Choi: When I arrived at the Fourth Regimental Headquarters in Kwang Ju, I found that the local police forces were very well organized. They had already assembled a larger force and acquired more power and authority than we in the Army. Frequently, police officers arrested military personnel on minor charges and then beat them for punishment. This was intolerable and as a result, I ordered that no personnel could travel outside of the military compound alone. Furthermore, I included the practice of Tang Soo (Karate) as part of the military training regimen. But my conscience felt shame over the decision to teach Karate. As a man, I despised the Japanese, so how could I teach Karate to my Korean soldiers? This is when I began my research in martial arts. I wanted to create a new Korean martial art that was based on scientific movement and contained a mentality to fit Korean soldiers. I researched and practiced and refined this new art for nine years. In 1955, I created the Korean martial art of Taekwon-Do.
General Choi: In June of 1949, I was ordered to attend the Advanced Military Training School in the United States. At the time I received my orders, I was on my honeymoon and I really did not want to leave my new bride. But I am a soldier and I obey orders. Under the leadership of Colonel Choi, Duk Shin, four of us boarded a ship bound for the United States. One day during our voyage, as I practiced kicking on the deck of the ship, the shoe on my kicking leg flew off my foot into the air and landed in the Pacific. Well, I could not wear just one shoe, so I took off the other one and flung it into the ocean as well. And then I returned to my room. Upon our arrival in the United States, we first went to the Ground General School at Fort Riley, Kansas, and later attended the Advanced Command School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
During respites from our military training, I had the opportunity to demonstrate Tang Soo techniques for my fellow classmates. We graduated on June 23, 1950, two days before war broke out in my country. We rushed to get back to Korea. Upon my arrival, I was ordered to establish the Officer Training School. While serving as the Vice Superintendent of the School, I was visited by Master Lee, Won Kuk, the founder of Chung Do Kwan. He told me that he had to leave for Japan for “personal reasons” and asked me to take over as head of Chung Do Kwan. I accepted his request, but since I was a General in the Army, I became the honorary head and appointed Master Son, Duk Son as head of Chung Do Kwan. When our troops crossed the 38th parallel, I was assigned to the First Corp. One of my first tasks was to give a briefing to General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the United Nations Troops. He was visiting the front line and I was selected to update him on the battle situation. Many generals from U.N. forces came with him. After the thirty minute briefing, I asked him if he had any questions. To which he replied, “No questions; very clear.” And then he approached me and while shaking my hand, asked my name.
General Choi: In September of 1953, General Baek, Sun Yub, the Chief of Staff of the Korean Army, asked me to create the 28th Division. I Asked him, “Will this be the last division created during the war?” He said, “No, there will be one more division created in a few months.” So, I asked him if I could create the last division, the 29th Infantry Division, and he granted my request.
The first thing I set out to do was to create a distinctive division flag. From the number 29, the two symbolized the divided Korean peninsula. The number nine I saw as my fist. I created the division flag with my fist over the Korean peninsula. After seeing the flag, people gave the 29th the nickname, “The Fist Division” or “Ik Keu Division.” My second task was to choose the division’s military command staff. To assist me in training the troops in military drills, I enlisted the aid of Colonel Ha, Chung Kab and Lt. Colonel Kim, Hwang Mok. I also recruited Master Nam, Tae Hee and Master Han, Cha Kyo to help me train the soldiers in Tang Soo. By this time, although I still called the martial art, Tang Soo, the characteristics and quality of techniques were now far different from the Karate that I had practiced in Japan. To my officers and Tang Soo instructors, I gave very specific orders. “When the soldiers train Tang Soo, everyone has to bow to the instructors, regardless of military rank. Outside of the gym, salutations go according to military rank.” The combination of military drills and Tang Soo practice made our division unique among the others in the Korean Army. we were ready to fight with or without weapons.
General Choi: In June of 1954, the Fist Division left Cheju Island to become a part of the Second Corp, located in the Kang Won province in Eastern part of Korea. In the middle of September, a joint ceremony was held to commemorate the fourth birthday of the Second Corp and the first birthday of the 29th Division.
As part of the ceremony, the 29th demonstrated Tang Soo techniques. President Rhee watched our demonstration with great interest and did not sit down once during the thiry minute performance. When Master Nam, Tae Hee broke roofing tiles with his fist, the President, pointing to his knuckles asked me, “Is this the part used to break the tile?” To which I replied, “Yes, Sir!” Then the President turned toward the other generals in the audience and said, “This is Taek Kyun. I want to see all of our soldiers train in this art.”
It is true that many of the other generals in the Korean Army did not want me to teach Tang Soo, to their soldiers. But the President’s declaration made it easier to introduce Tang Soo to the rest of the Army. In order to this, I needed to build an institute to train and produce martial arts instructors. When the 29th Division moved its Headquarters to Yong Dae Ri, west of Sulrak Mountain, I ordered a gymnasium to be built. I named it Oh Do Kwan and it was here that Master Nam, Tae Hee began to teach Tang Soo to military instructors. President Rhee’s description of our art as Taek Kyun made me think that Tang Soo needed a new name, one that was close to Taek Kyun.
The techniques I was teaching were neither Tang Soo nor Taek Kyun and I needed a new name urgently.
General Choi: As I mentioned previously, I had been researching, training and teaching Tang Soo since my assignment to the Fourth Regiment in Kwang Ju City in 1946. The art was based on Asian Philosophy and the techniques on scientific movement. Our demonstration before President Rhee was a great success. I had created the name Taekwon-Do and by 1955 felt it was time to announce the new name of the art. But rather than just proclaiming the name myself, I thought it wise to create an advisory committee for this purpose. At the time, many of the civilian dojangs were using the name Tang Soo, Kong Soo or Kwon Bub, because many generals in the Army were not happy with my activities. The committee was comprised of many prominent citizens, such as Mr. Cho, Kyung Jae, the Vice Speaker of the National Assembly, General Lee, Hyung Keun, the Commander in Chief of the Army, presidents of newspaper companies, etc. At the meeting, I explained that the name Taekwon-Do meant the Art of Kicking and Punching. While some of the members favored the names Tang Soo and Kong Soo, all agreed the name to use was Taekwon-Do. But one of the committee members suggested that we submit the name to President Rhee for his approval. The name was sent to president Rhee and he rejected it. He felt that Taek Kyun was a traditional martial art and that we should use it instead. I approached Mr. Kwak, Young Joo, the President’s Chief of Staff and Mr. Suh, Jung Hak, the Director of the President’s Protective Forces, and I explained to them that this was a new art, much different from the old art of Taek Kyun. I asked them to try to persuade the President to accept the new name. Finally, I received permission from President Rhee to use the new name of Taekwon-Do. After receiving the President’s approval, I ordered the old Tang Soo signs in front ofOh Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan to be replaced with the new Taekwon-Do signs. And I instructed Master Nam, Tae Hee that Taekwon-Do soldiers say “Tae Kwon” when they salute each other. The name Taekwon-Do gradually spread through the military ranks through Oh Do Kwan and to civilian students through Chung Do Kwan. In recollection, I think that it was possible to make the name “Taekwon-Do” because I was a two-star general, and had a powerful friend in General Lee, Hyung Keun, the Commander in Chief of the Army, and a good relationship with President Seung Man Rhee through Calligraphy and Tang Soo.
General Choi: In the midsummer of 1957, President Rhee invited President Go Din Diem to visit Korea. On the official itinerary for the visit was a demonstration of Taekwon-Do. While watching the demonstration, President Diem said, “I understand now why Korean soldiers are so strong and well-disciplined.” My friend, General Choi, Duk Shin overheard his remarks. Later, General Choi was appointed Ambassador to Vietnam. He asked President Diem to invite a Korean Taekwon-Do team to perform demonstrations in Vietnam. President Diem invited the team and we also received an invitation to visit the Republic of China. Twenty-one Taekwon-Do practitioners were selected for the demonstration team and received two weeks of special training at the Army Headquarters gymnasium.
The demonstration in Vietnam was a great success. We were invited to perform for two weeks, and in that time over 300,000 people witnessed and enjoyed our demonstration. Due to the success of our tour, President Diem asked us to extend our visit by another week. During one of our demonstrations, General Tiu, the Superintendent of the Military Academy and later President of Vietnam, remarked, ” I never imagined that the human body could produce such power.
This is a martial art we should practice in Vietnam.” The significance of the trip was two-fol. The first is that for the first time in the 5,000 years of Korean history, the culture, soul and techniques of Korea were shown in a foreign country. The second is that in 1962, the government of Vietnam officially asked Korea to send a group of instructors to Vietnam to instruct the military and civilian communities in the art of Taekwon-Do. Before going back to Korea, we made a stop in Taipei, Republic of China. In Taipei, General Yu greeted us. In his welcoming address, he said, “China and Korea have been brothers for a thousand years. Taekwon-Do might well have been introduced to korea by China during the Kija Kingdom (Kija is a lengendary Chinese man who established the Kija Kingdom in a time before the birth of Christ). In my reply to the audience, hiding my ill feelings, I said, “Yes, China and Korea have been brother nations throughout our history. But Taekwon-Do is a new martial art created by me in 1955. There was no Taekwon-Do before Christ.” We gave demonstrations in Dae Buk and in Dae Nam. Our demonstration in Dae Buk was attended by many high officials of the Chinese government, including Chiang, Kyung Kuk, the son of the President, and the second most powerful man in the Republic. When making the schedule for the demonstration, the Chinese wanted to add time for a performance of Byuk Jang Sool or Kung-Fu. We welcomed it because we had much confidence in our ability to beat the popularity of Kung-Fu. And during the demonstration, we received many standing ovations applauding our breaking, kicking and defense against weapon techniques. The Korean Ambassador to the Republic of China, General Kim, Hong Il, told me, “One year ago, I cried out of sadness because our volleyball team was defeated by the Chinese by one point. But now I am crying out of joy because I saw that the skills of Taekwon-Do are far superior to those of Kung-Fu.”
General Choi: By 1959, I was working at Army Headquarters in Seoul and I had more time to devote to Taekwon-Do. I created the Department of Mu Do (martial arts) in the Army and was appointed its first director. In Seoul, one of my goals was to unify the major Taekwon-Do groups and form the Korea Taekwon-Do Association. Originally, I had planned to create the Korea Martial Arts Association. In contrast to the Korea Sports Union, which emphasized competition, I wanted the korea Martial Arts Association to concentrate on Asian philosophy. But the leaders of Judo and Kumdo had already joined the Korea Sports Union. I had no choice but join the Union as well. In order to join the Union, we had to have a single name for the arts of kicking and punching. While Taekwon-Do was widely used in the Army, Oh Do Kwan, Chung Do Kwan and many civilian schools still used names like Tang Soo, Kong Soo or Kwon Bub. In the late autumn of 1959, I invited the leaders of four major Kwans to my home. No, Byung Jik represented Song Moo Kwan; Yoon, Kwe Byung, Ji Do Kwan; Lee; Nam Suk, Chang Moo Kwan; and Hwang, Ki represented Moo Duk Kwan. I represented Oh Do Kwan and Chung Do Kwan. I told them that we needed to unify under a single name in order to apply for membership to the Korea Sports Union. I explained to them that Ta kwon-Do was already well known in the Army, and that we had given demonstrations in Vietnam and the Republic of China under the name of Taekwon-Do. No, Byung Jik and Lee, Nam Suk persisted in using the name Tang Soo, and Hwang, Ki wanted to use Tang Soo. I told them, “I cannot understand why you insist using the names of Japanese Karate. My full purpose for this meeting was to get away from the Korean variations in pronunciation for Japanese Karate, kong Soo and Tang Soo.” Raising my voice, I said, “Now we have our own philosophy and techniques of a Korean identity, so let’s unify under the name of Taekwon-Do.” Finally, the masters agreed and the Korea Taekwon-Do Association was formed. I was elected as president of the Association, No, Byung Jik and Yoon, Kwe Byung were elected vice-presidents and Hwang, Ki was appointed as the chairman of the Board of Governors. It was the first time that the heads of the six major Kwans agreed to use the name Taekwon-Do, While processing our application, the Student Uprising of April 19, 1960, overthrew the government of President Rhee and we lost our chance for admittance. It took two more years for our application to be accepted.
General Choi: First, let me explain the relationship between General Park and me. I was a member of the 110 founding fathers of the Korean Army. General Park was my junior and had always addressed me as “Sir”. The reason I joined the coup d’etat was that one of my staff told me that General Chang, Do Young, the Chief of Staff of the Army, was leading this movement. Later I found out that General Park only used the name of General Chang to convince others to join the coup. After the coup d’etat was succesful, General Park accused General Chang of being a counter-revolutionary and expelled him to the United States. Initially, General Park had promised the Korean people that he would return to the Army once the coup was completed. In actuality, General Park and his staff were busy preparing to take over the presidency. I advised General Park to keep this promise to the people and return to the Army as soon as possible — then the people will respect you forever. Rather than taking my advice, he forced me to retire and appointed me Ambassador to Malaysia.
General Choi: With my appointment as Ambassador to Malaysia in 1962, I revived the attempt to register the Korea Taekwon-Do Association with the Korea Sports Union. By this time, a new generation of masters had ascended to leadership roles within the respective Kwans. I invited Um, Eung Kyu, President of Chung Do Kwan, Lee, Jong Woo, Head Instructor of Ji Do Kwan and Lee, Nam Suk, President of Chang Moo Kwan to my home. During the meeting, discussions centered on what name should be used. I told them that Taekwon-Do had already been chosen as the name and if they wanted to discuss a new name, go ahead. And then I left the meeting. A few days later, newspapers began reporting that the name Taekwon-Do had been changed to Tae Soo Do and that I had been elected President of the korea Tae Soo Do Association. I refused to accept the position because I did not approve of the name change.
Anyway, I had to leave for Malaysia and would not be back in Korea for many years. I recommended General Chae, Myung Shin for the position. He received a fifth dan black belt in Taekwon-Do from me. To prepare for the future of Taekwon-Do, I ordered Um, Eung Kyu, President of Chung Do Kwan, Nam, Tae Hee, President of Oh Do Kwan, and Hyun, Jong Myung, President of the Students Taekwon-Do Association to form the Korea Taekwon-Do Association. And then I left for Malaysia.
General Choi: When I arrived in Malaysia, the people did not know too much about Korea. I decided the best way to get them to know about Korea was through my Calligraphy and Taekwon-Do. So, I sponsored an exhibition of my Calligraphy and displayed pictures of Taekwon-Do as well. The reporters covering the opening were very interested in Taekwon-Do and asked me to demonstrate some Taekwon-Do techniques. I stripped down to my T-shirt and performed some Taekwon-Do techniques for them. The next day, articles and pictures of my demonstration appeared in many newspapers. This was not viewed favorably in Seoul.
Demonstrating in only my T-shirt was thought to be undignified for an Ambassador by members of the Korean government. But the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dung Ku Rama, praised my exhibition of Taekwon-Do and asked me to arrange a Taekwon-Do demonstration for the commemoration of the Malay Independence Day in 1963. The Taekwon-Do demonstration was broadcast over television and seen throughout the country of Malaysia as well as by viewers in neighboring countries.
Soon these countries requested that Taekwon-Do instructors be sent to teach their citizens the martial art. Taekwon-Do was now spreading throughout Southeast Asia and in each country a national Taekwon-Do association was formed. In February of 1964, I flew to saigon, Vietnam, to meet with Major Baek, joon Ki, the head of Korean Taekwon-Do instructors in Vietnam. The Major was a fine military officer and a good Taekwon-Do instructor. He gathered all of the Taekwon-Do instructors in Vietnam for a seminar where I introduced the Tul that I had created. Because the seminar was organized at the last minute, the only place we could practice was the rooftop of a hotel. It was terribly hot and very humid. The Korean Ambassador to Vietnam, General Shin, Sang Chul, came to the seminar and later worried about my health in such conditions. At the seminar, all of the instructors learned the new Tul and then began to teach it in Vietnam. I later sent a manuscript of the new Tul to Lt. Colonel Woo, Jong Lim, Head of Oh Do Kwan in korea, and ordered him to teach it to the Oh Do Kwan, Chung Do Kwan and to the Korean Army. By the summer of 1964, I had finished 20 of the 24 Tul and had established a firm foundation of techniques and forms for the upcoming English Taekwon-Do textbook. It was during this time that the new Tul began to become popular in Southeast Asia and Korea.
General Choi: When I returned to Korea, the Korea Tae Soo Do Association was a member of the Korea Sports Union. The rules of Tae Soo Do competitions were not too much different from those of Japanese Karate. I knew that I had to make a change, and remembered an old Korean saying, “In order to catch a bay tiger, you have to go into the tiger’s lair.” So I became president of the association. Soon afterwards, I called for a meeting of the General Assembly and proposed to change the name from Tae Soo Do to Taekwon-Do. The vote to change the name was won by one vote, and I remember one delegate crying out, lamenting the changing of the name. The reason I could change the name is although President Park and I did not agree in political affairs, I still had the reputation and power as a retired two-star general and ambassador.
General Choi: In 1965, while serving as the President of the Korea Taekwon-Do Association, the Korean Ambassador to West Germany, my friend, General Choi, Duk Shin, told me that there was interest in having a Taekwon-Do demonstration team tour Europe. He aranged for official invitations to be sent for the tour through six European and Asian countries. I submitted the proper paperwork for travel expenses to the President’s Cabinet. The name for the tour was “Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill Demonstration Team.” This was the first time I used the term Kukki Taekwon-Do (National Taekwon-Do) in an official document. The members of the team were Han, Cha Kyo, Park, Joong Soo, Kwon, Jae Hwa, and Kim, Joong Keun. I was the team leader. We toured Germany, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and Singapore. The demonstration was a great success and eventually led to the creation of Taekwon-Do associations in the tour countries. On March 22, 1966, representatives from nine countries gathered in Seoul to form the International Taekwon-Do Federation. Mr. Kim, Jong Phil, the Chairman of the ruling Kong Hwa Dang party, was elected as honorary President and I was elected as President. Lee, Han Ra, the Malaysian Secretary of Commerce and Industry, was elected as Vice President, Um, Eung Kyu as Secretary-General, and Lee, Jong Woo as Chairman of the Technical Committee. The establishment of the I.T.F. was the first time in Korean history that an international organization was created with headquarters in Korea and with a Korean serving as President. The charter countries of the I.T.F. were Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, the United States of America, Turkey, Italy, and Egypt. The organization grew very rapidly to thirty member countries in just two years.
General Choi: Vietnam was the first foreign country where Taekwon-Do was taught on such a large scale. As I had previously mentioned, President Go Din Diem was greatly impressed with our Taekwon-Do exhibition in 1959 and requested instructors to teach the Vietnamese military. The first group of Taekwon-Do instructors was led by Major Nam, Tae Hee and arrived in Vietnam in 1962. These instructors taught Taekwon-Do to the Vietnamese military and citizenry, and to Korean and other foreign soldiers stationed in Vietnam. As the war escalated, the number of instructors sent to Vietnam grew. By 1973, 647 Taekwon-Do instructors had been sent to Vietnam. With them they took the advances in techniques and new Tul that had been developed. The strength of Taekwon-Do training in Korean soldiers had a psychological affect on the Viet Cong. Through Taekwon-Do training, Korean soldiers had developed excellent physical conditioning, a strong mentuality and superior combat techniques. The leaders of the Viet Cong advised their troops to retreat, rather than fight, if they came into contact with Korean soldiers. Ironically, Taekwon-Do experienced great growth because of the war. Many foreign soldiers who learned Taekwon-Do in Vietnam, later invited their instructors to visit them in their native country. Through Vietnam, many instructors gained the opportunity to teach Taekwon-Do throughout the world.
General Choi: General Park, Chung Hee’s power in Korea was solidified after he was elected for his second term as President of Korea. The political climate in Korea led me to believe that if I stayed and did not support his policies, I would either be placed under house arrest or thrown into jail. I had seen what he did to his political opponents. Under those circumstances, I would not have the freedom to promote Taekwon-Do or run rhe International Taekwon-Do Federation. And Taekwon-Do was my life. After the elction, President Park sent Kim, Un Young, the Deputy Director of the Presidential Protective Force, to take over the Korea Taekwon-Do Association. Shortly thereafter, the Korea Taekwon-Do Association began to interfere in the affairs of the International Taekwon-Do Federation. In August of 1971, I presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the International TYaekwon-Do Federation. In this meeting I said, “My dear members, the International Taekwon-Do Federation’s President is a Korean, but this does not mean that the ITF should be controlled or directed by the Korean government. It is an international organization that can let no country influence our decisions through undue pressure.” Afterwards, I began to make plans to leave Korea in secret.
General Choi: Yes. First, Canada can be considered to be a Western Bloc Country, but she maintains a neutral position in international affairs. Through Canada, I felt that I would be able to freely travel to Western and Eastern Bloc and Third World nations to spread the art of Taekwon-Do. Second, geographically, Canada is centrally located between Europe and South America, so it is easy to travel to these continents. The third reason is that my dear student, Par, Jong Soo had already established a strong Taekwon-Do foundation in Canada and was operating a very successful school. This made it easier to move the Headquarters of The International Taekwon-Do Federation to Canada. Finally, I knew that the Olympic Games were to be held in Montreal, Canada, in 1976. With a base in Canada, I felt it would be a good opportunity to promote Taekwon-Do as an Olympic event.
General Choi: President Park sent many prominent members of the National Assembly to try to persuade me to return to Korea. They told me that the President had promised me a cabinet post, such as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs or an ambassadorship to the country of my choosing. After I rebuffed these initial attempts, he sent many close friends to try to persuade me to return. When taht failed, the President kidnapped my son and daughter and threatened their lives if I did not return. My response to them was, “I choose Taekwon-Do over my son.” President Park, knowing of my character and determination, ordered Kim, Un Young to establish the World Taekwon-Do Federation to fight against the International Taekwon-Do Federation.
General Choi: No one can know how lonely the life is of an exiled man. I don’t have money or the type of friends who I can laugh and joke with. But I never regret my decision to leave Korea because I have had the opportunity to spread Taekwon-Do throughout the world. And I thaught Taekwon-Do without regard to race, religion, nationality, or ideology. In this respect, I am the happiest man in the world, and am proud to have left my footprint in this world. Spreading Taekwon-Do throughout the world is a very challenging job. I travel constantly giving seminars, leading demonstrations and presiding over championships. And I have done this despite the threats on my life form Korean Central Intelligence Officers and Korean Diplomatic Personnel. Agents of the Korean government have told airport officials that I was the head of a terrorist organization which was trying to kill the Korean President, and should be denied entry into the country. They pressured owners of gymnasiums into denying us facilities for seminars. There were many times when we had to give seminars in public parks. They have sent some of my old students to try to kidnap me on many occasions. And there have been attempts on my life by armed assassins. KCIA officers would threaten the parents of ITF instructors teaching overseas if the instructors continued to associate with me. These officers also told the expatriate ITF instructors that their pass ports would not be renewed if they continued to associate with me. So, gradually over time, most of my overseas instructors left me. The pressure I received from the Korean government made me stronger than ever and I put all of my energy into developing new Taekwon-Do techniques. I teach the same system of Taekwon-Do throughout the world.
General Choi: Yes, in September of 1999, the 11th Championship will be held in Argentina. By 1969, the International Taekwon-Do Federation had thirty member countries. I had planned for the first world championship to be held in Korea, but it never materialized. By the time I arrived in Canada, I found that I had more freedom to plan and organize a championship. The first one was held in Canada, followed by championships held in the United States, Argentina, Scotland, Greece, Hungary, Canada again, North korea, Malaysia, Russia, and Argentina again this year. We have sparring, pattern and breaking competitions in the World Championships.
General Choi: People need to understand the difference between anti-government and anti-dictator. I fought against the dictator Park, Chung Hee and his followers. I knew Park, Chung Hee better than anyone else. I did not believe that Park was qualified to be president and I never thought Park was a legitimate president. He graduated from the Japanese Military Academy and fought against the Korean Revolutionary Army during the occupation. After the liberation of korea from Japan, he joined the Korean Army and then staged an insurrection against the Korean Government. During his court martial, I was one of the judges who sentenced him to death. I participated in the coup d’etat with him because I believed the movement was led by General Chang, Do Young, the Commander in Chief of the Army. But Park had merely used the General’s name and deceived many of the generals who participated in the coup d’etat. Genral Chang and I were among the judges who had earlier participated in Park’s court martial. Faced with opposition to his Presidential candidacy from many generals, including myself, Park forced us to retire from the Army and sent General Chang into exile in the United States. After Park became president, he changed the Korean Constitution so many times, he virtually became “President for Life.” And using the KCIA, he strictly controlled the freedoms of the Korean people. Eventually the political climate forced me into exile in Canada. In Canada, I tried to inform the world of what was happening in Korea. And through the media, I urged the Korean military to overthrow the dictator Park and restore democracy in Korea. Park’s dictatorship lasted for 18 years from 1961 to 1979. But what happened? Park lost his life by trusting his KCIA director, General Kim, Jae Kyu. The death of Park did not end the totalitarian government. General Chun, Doo Hwan and General Ro, Tae Woo took power and continued the military government until the beginning of 1990. Under these conditions, I continued to fight against dictatorship, not against the Korea people.
General Choi: One of the reasons I went into exile in Canada was to spread Taekwon-Do throughout the world without regard to ideology, race, religion, or nationality. In Canada, I felt that it would be wise to teach Taekwon-Do in North Korea and trained the instructors who would do the job. Through North Korea, I felt that Taekwon-Do could be spread to other Communist and Third Wolrd countries. In Capitalist countries, I saw many unqualified Taekwon-Do instructors open schools just to make money. I made up my mind to produce Taekwon-Do instructors in North korea who were not contaminated by Western commercialism. In this way, I felt the true Taekwon-Do philosphy and techniques could be developed. And I thought that this movement would stimulate and motivate instructors in the free world.
Most of the Taekwon-Do instructors trained by me and teaching overseas began to leave me when the World Taekwon-Do Federation was created. By 1980, there were only ten Korean instructors who were still with me. When my devoted students left me, I felt pain in my heart. But these incidents gave me the opportunity to develop new techniques and look for new sources of instructors. In 1982, I was invited to bring a Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team to North Korea by Mr. Kim, Yoo Soon, the Chairman of the Sports Union of Democrate People’s Republic of korea. The Vice Prime Minister Chung, Joon Ki and many other high ranking government officials met the fifteen member demonstration team at Pyongyang Airport. Our two week tour took us through many cities and the demonstrations were a great success. So successful, in fact, that before we departed, Minister Chung told me, “We have decided to teach Taekwon-Do in our country, so please send us Taekwon-Do instructors.” After my return from Pyongyang, I trained Master Park, Jung Tae for six months in the basement of my home and eliminated the habits of Karate movements. Master Park went to North Korea and began teaching Taekwon-Do in February of 1982. He received a salary of $ 2,000.00 a month and taught for seven months. In September of 1982, I returned to North Korea and conducted a two day seminar where I taught the finer details of the Tul and techniques.
Forty-four students were tested. Nineteen students passed the fourth degree black belt test and the rest passed the third degree black belt test. After the test, Master Rhee, Ki Ha was very happy and asked me how they learned so many Tul and techniques in such a short period of time? This was a miracle of Taekwon-Do. I was very excited myself and told Master Rhee and Master Park, “Now I have enough Taekwon-Do instructors to spread Taekwon-Do throughout the world!” With the newly promoted instructors, we gave demon-strations in Pyongyang, Nam Pho and Chung Jin City. They were received with great enthusiasm. I praised Master Park for his excellent teaching in North Korea and promoted him to the eight dan black belt. Today in North Korea, Taekwon-Do training occurs in elementary school gyms to college gyms. The level of Taekwon-Do training in North Korea have traveled overseas to teach Taekwon- Do.
General Choi: As you know, Korea and China are very close to each other geographically. China, as a big country, treated Korea as an older brother would his younger brother. This mentality was reversed by Taekwon-Do. The government of the Republic of China invited the Korean Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team to perform in Thaipei in 1959 after a three week tour of Vietnam. We gave demonstrations in Dae Buk and in Dae Nam. Our demonstration in Dae Buk was attended by many high officials of the Chinese government, including Chiang, Kyung Kuk, the son of the President, and the second most powerful man in the Republic. In 1967, during a state visit to the Republic of China, Prime Minister Jung, Il Kwon was asked by President Chiang, Kai Sek to send Taekwon-Do instructors to teach the Chinese military. I selected five prominent Taekwon-Do instructors and sent them to China under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Hong, Sung In. When I visited Taipei a year later, Lt. Colonel Hong told me, “Now, Korea has become the nation of teachers and China has become the nation of students.” Taekwon-Do changed the relationship from older-younger brother to sudent and teacher. Introducing Taekwon-Do to The People’s Republic of China was no easy task. The mainland Chinese believed that all Asian martial arts originated in China. They did wish to learn martial arts from other countries. By 1982, I had amassed a large number of instructors and asked Mr. Deuk Joon, Vice Chairman of The Sports Federation of DPRK, to contact the mainland Chinese on our behalf. Eventually, both countries agreed to exchange martial arts programs and in 1986, I led a group of 30 North Korean instructors on a goodwill tour of Beijing. We were warmly received by Mr. Suh Jae, the Chairman of the Chinese Wu Shu Federation. Demonstrations were held in Beijing and Sian City. The arena was packed with spectators and its success led China to accept the teaching of Taekwon-Do with silent unofficial approval. The next year, Professor Choi, Bong Ki of Yun Byun University invited me to teach Taekwon-Do to 70 students. Gradually Taekwon-Do began to be taught throughout China.
General Choi: One of the biggest reasons why I created Taekwon-Do was to distinguish it from Japanese Karate. I wanted to show the superiority of Taekwon-Do over Karate in techniques and philosophy. Since 1960, I had dreamed of opening a Taekwon-Do school in Tokyo, but I had to wait patiently for twenty years. In 1981, I was invited to perform a Taekwon-Do demonstration at the Korean Unification Conference in Tokyo. Masters Park, Jung Tae, Kim, Suk Joon and Jong, Young Suk gave a brilliant demonstration of Taekwon-Do. Later, one of the spectators, Mr. Jun, Jin Shik approached me to urge the building of a Taekwon-Do school in Tokyo. He was a prominent Korean business man in Japan and offered to handle all of the finances. In September of 1982 we opend a school in Tokyo. I am very thankful to Mr. Jun, who passed away a few years ago. With his help, thousands of Japanese are learning Taekwon-Do every day. When I see Japanese students bow to the Korean Flag and to Korean instructors, my mind travels back to the days of the Japanese occupation of Korea. I pay tribute to those who were sacrificed trying to regain the independence of Korea.
General Choi: In 1966, returning from a visit to the United States, I stopped in Tokyo. A friend of mine told me that Mas Oyama was in the process of becoming a Japanese citizen. As you know, Mas Oyama was born in Korea. He left his home at an early age and spent most of his life in Japan as a Korean National.
I decided to see him to try to stop him from becoming a Japanese citizen. First, I praised his achievements in Karate and then told of the life of his brother in Korea. I told him that Korea needed men like him and that he should come back to Korea. We should work together to promote Taekwon-Do. And that if he did so, his name would be known Korean history. Master Oyama told me he understood what I had told him and then he went home, promising to see me tomorrow.
The next morning, I heard from Mr. Lee, Sung Woo, a good friend of Master Oyama. Master Oyama had visited Mr. Lee after we had talked the previous evening. And he told Mr. Lee, “I was born in Korea, but came to Japan at an early age. And with the help of Prime Minister Sato, I achieved the success I have today. The Prime Minister has encouraged me to become a Japanese citizen.” After speaking with Mr. Lee, I thought that Master Oyama was wavering about his decision to become a Japanese citizen. So, I invited Master Oyama to Korea. We visited Seoul and the DMZ. I arranged for a Taekwon-Do demonstration for him. Later we went to his hometown where he was reunited with his brothers and relatives. I also arranged for him to be interviewed on KBS TV. Before returning to Japan, he told me at the Kimpo Airport, “As a simpleminded man, I don’t think that I can survive in this kind of environment.” And then he left Korea. Even though we went our separate ways, we vowed to become blood brothers. I am the elder brother and Mas Oyama is my younger brother.
General Choi: First of all, I give credit to the transportation revolution. Since 1959, I have traveld thousands and thousands of miles to give demonstrations, conduct seminars and championships. Without the jet airplane, it would have been impossible to travel the world. Second, I also give credit to the printing and electronic industries. Millions of Taekwon-Do instructors and students have learned Taekwon-Do from my books, videos and CD-ROM. A third reason is that Taekwon-Do contains far superior techniques of a quality above other martial arts. The pilosophy is based on my own personal experiences and Asian wisdom. The techniques are based on scientific movement. Finally, I give credit to all of the Taekwon-Do instructors teaching all over the world.
General Choi: Yes. North Korea is a member of the International Taekwon-Do Federation and South Korea is a member of the World Taekwon-Do Federation. The unification of Taekwon-Do would motivate various groups, including politicians, to work for the unification of Korea. Taekwon-Do instructors in Korea do not have the same freedom of voice that the overseas instructors do. So, overseas Taekwon-Do instructors should play a bigger role and serve as a bridge between South and North Korea. In order to open the door between the two sides, overseas instructors should visit and attend seminars, demonstrations and championships of both federations. Frequent contact between instructors of the two groups would eliminate mistrust. Creating this type of environment would be a very important step for the unification of Korea.
General Choi: The first thing that I would do is visit the tomb of my mother and pay respect to her. Throughout my life, I owed her much, but I could not see her last day in this world because I was in Malaysia. Secondly, I would like to visit some of my old friends. We would reminisce about the good old days when we were in the Army. And finally, I would like to visit my Taekwon-Do students to see how they are living today.
General Choi: Yes, I am over 80 years old, but I have super health now. But who knows what will happen tomorrow? I do not want to be buried in North Korea, even though I was born there. I also do not think I can be buried in South Korea, even though I spent most of my youth there. The alternative left to me is to be buried in Canada, my third home country.
General Choi: You are welcome.