General Choi Hong-Hi (November 9th, 1918 - June 15th, 2002): Founder of the Korea
n martial art of tae kwon do
Choi Hong-Hi was born in Kilju, Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District (now a region of North Korea) during the Japanese occupation.
His education began in Korea, but in 1930 he was expelled from school for his activities as a member of the Kwang Ju Students' Independence Movement, which openly criticised the occupation of his homeland (it should be noted that Choi was only twelve years old at the time). It was around this time that Choi Hong-Hi extensively studied Korean culture, learning the art of caligraphy and practicing the ancient Korean martial art of tae kyon.
In 1937, following a dispute with a professional wrestler over gambling money, Choi fled to Japan. Here he continued his education, attending the prestigious Tokai University, and studied Japanese karate, progressing to the rank of second dan (black belt, 2nd degree).
In 1942 he was unwillingly conscripted into the Japanese army. In 1945 he escaped and attempted to join the Korean Liberation Army, but was captured by the Japanese before he could locate the rebel faction. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
He spent a total of eight months in a Japanese prison camp. During this time he created a number of combat techniques based on his knowledge of tae kyon and karate and instructed his fellow prisoners in their use. Just three days before Choi Hong-Hi's execution was scheduled to occur, Korea was liberated.
Unable to return to his home due to the division of between north and south, Choi Hong-Hi joined the South Korean army, where he set up an officer training programme in 1950 with his partner Nam Tae Hi, which provided the army with officers proficient in the fighting system he had developed in the prison camp. These officers in turn instructed their own men, quickly creating an army which was proficient in hand to hand combat.
The Korean War came to a close in 1953, leaving North and South Korea as bitter neighbours.
In 1955, General Choi's fighting system was named "tae kwon do," meaning "hand and foot art" or "the art of kicking and punching." It was accepted as the national martial art of South Korea.
In 1961 General Choi supported a military coup which overthrew the government. What he did not expect was that General Park Jeong-Hui would emerge as South Korea's new ruler.
General Choi was appointed ambassador to Malaysia, where he introduced tae kwon do with great success. Later in the year, a demonstration of tae kwon do was given at the United Nations building, placing the art into the world spotlight.
In 1972, following the declaration that Park Jeong-Hui would be president for life, with no anti-government activism or opposition political parties allowed, General Choi relocated from South Korea to Toronto, Canada. Here he established the International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF). The organisation has since transformed tae kwon do into a worldwide phenomenon with more than fifty million practitioners.
In the latter years of his life, General Choi returned to his birthplace in North Korea. He began teaching tae kwon do there in an attempt to contribute to reconcilliation between the north and south. Shortly before his death he said that he thought of Korea not as two states, stuck in stuck in the mentality of the Cold War, but as one entity.
He died from cancer at the age of 83, leaving behind his wife, two daughters and a son.
General Choi's achievement in the creation of tae kwon do was truly awe inspiring. From eight months spent intensively developing his ideas in a prisoner of war camp he gave life to an effective martial art and an Olympic sport. He also succeeded in spreading the tenets of tae kwon do to tens of millions of people around the world:
Courtesy (Ye Ul)
Integrity (Yom Chi)
Perseverance (In Nae)
Self-Control (Guk Gi)
Indomitable Spirit (Baekjul Boolgool)
Sources and further information:
The Tae Kwon Do Encyclopedia
General Choi Hong-Hi's obituary in The Guardian newspaper - http://www.guardian.co.uk/korea/article/0,2763,771475,00.html