A Glimpse into TaeKwon-Do and Geo-Political Intrigue

          Written by & Published  GWEN F. HALL  23 July 2012

 The recent flap over funds collected by one of the three [ITF’s ®] for Black Belt promotion fees finding their way into North Korea’s treasury coffers is one more example of the Geo-Political intrigue surrounding Tae Kwon-Do’s history since its inception. Such intrigue is nothing new….a sad thing to admit.  A major reason Gen. Choi, Hong Hi ended up making Canada the headquarters of the original ITF was due to Geo-Political intrigue.


Officials board, author is center left

My entry into the original ITF® was in December 1972 as a second Dan and I received my certification as an independent national association in December 1976 with the ITF® Membership/Dojang plaque number 130. I remember sitting at a promotion celebration banquet table listening to a conversation between the General and a couple of other senior instructors where the topic was how the ITF® headquarters ended up in Canada (1972-1983).

Gen.Choi_Gwen Hall_12July1981_F - Copy

Author with General Choi prior to the championships

I gleaned a valuable perspective from that conversation which can best be summed up in a very critical sentence in that dialogue.  It was something to this effect “Tae Kwon-Do Black Belt Certifications are not for any country to control ; it is for the knowledgeable masters to appoint based only on standards of knowledge, skills and contribution to the Art: any people with the ability to learn and perform the art can become masters and no single countries government should control it.”

He also commented that Tae Kwon-Do should be for every nation and people no matter their political affiliation. He felt a person should not be denied the opportunity to learn TKD just because they live under a communist regime.

Author with Mr Sabree student "Veeji" performing Step Sparring for a small crowd

Author with Mr Sabree student Vishy Dadsetan performing Step Sparring for a small crowd


The emphatic nature with which the General expressed those statements glued to my memory. I learned soon thereafter that the reason General Choi was in Canada was because he would not agree to the South Korean government controlling any part of the Art’s furtherance, belt rankings, school authorization nor in any aspect including that TKD should be learned in communist countries. These were very hot issues between him and the South Korean leadership during the formative years of the ITF, even though the ROK 29th Infantry Division was where Tae Kwon-Do was refined and brought to maturity.


The author judging (far right) performance of  Gae Beak Tul with nearly NO audience participation


The warming up the black belt competiors

The upshot was that the General became “persona non grata” for his refusal to turn ITF management in any form over to them and his belief that Tae Kwon-Do was for every nation. The result was his relocation to Canada and pressure being placed on many of the original Korean Masters of the Art to abdicate from the General under threats toward their family members in South Korea. Many of them caved to the pressure and the outcome was South Korea forming its own organization – the WTF – with different patterns and training / school requirements

I understood the General believed the temptation for a country to use Tae Kwon-Do’s advancement and Black Belt Rank Certification as a geo-political instrument to further that countries political and international interests and agenda was very real. Such a usage or even implication of usage violated all purposes of not only the Art but also its leadership principals and responsibilities. Ergo, when General Choi would not agree to any South Korean involvement in the furtherance of Tae Kwon-Do and ITF management or operations, he was ousted and basically told to “never come back or else…”


Master Hall (L) December 2012

Thus began his lifelong saga to build the ITF without relinquishing any of its management over to any geo-political entity or country. His stand to keep the original ITF untarnished by such control and to keep such intrigue at bay while working to build the ITF and the art – his Chang Hon System – required his total energy.

This stance cost him personally and nationally. Accusations of communist influence dogged the ITF, especially in the early 1980’s, due in part, to a misunderstanding of the Generals heartfelt interest in reuniting his divided country. I remember being contacted by one Tae Kwon-Do group advising me to leave the ITF because “the General is a communist and being associated with him is bad”. Because of my military duties at the time and my security clearance level, I sought clarification on this subject from certain federal investigative bodies. I was given assurances that my affiliation and participation with the ITF was okay and not to be concerned.

1981 Cover

Cover for the 1981 USA Taekwon-Do Championships

1981 Directors

In side page of tournament booklet

At times this incapacity of individuals and groups to separate the Generals desire for a united Korea from his operation of the ITF became very volatile. A case in point was the verbal assaults hurled at General Choi and the heated demonstration against his attendance at the 1981 USA Tae Kwon-Do Championships held in the Chicago region for the selection of the USA team to attend the Internationals. The demonstration nearly shut the tournament down. The entire event took place in a huge stadium all but void of spectators who were unable to get past the picketers. I remember performing Kae Baek Tul, one step sparring and self defense to almost empty grandstands. The attendance was so low that the tournament host and organizer  “lost his shirt” financially due to this geo-political intrigue. He had only taken on the task because no one else wanted it and it resulted in several lean years for his Tae Kwon-Do school while he worked to pay off the debt he incurred hosting the event.

Other aspects of the Art and organization were also plagued with such intrigue. Jockeying for recognition and leadership supremacy among some IOC’s and the ITF was an ongoing exercise among various senior instructors. The efforts to maintain organizational integrity amid this morass was constant and electric.

The perpetual struggle eventually ended for the General with his death his never having seen his country united. He managed to keep the ITF organization from under any countries influence up until he allowed the removal of Ko Dang Tul from the requirements to be replaced by Juche in order to gain financial support for the ITF from North Korea. The North Korean government required the change. The reason was because Ko Dang commemorated the heroic patriot Cho, Man-Sik who opposed communism as a governmental approach. He did not believe it was good for his people. For his stand Ko Dang was executed at the behest of North Korean Dictator Kim Il Sung.

1981 Gen. Choi

General Choi bio and endorsement page

Kim, Il Sung approved of and was somewhat involved in the making of Juche which epitomizes the state sponsored ideology of North Korea; ie, human self determination – a principle that man is in charge of his destiny  – namely what was Kim, Il Sungs idea of his destiny. Kim, Il Sung did not want Cho, Man-Sik to be remembered or recognized as the patriot he was. If General Choi wanted North Koreas’ financial and governmental support, the sacrifice required by Kim was Ko Dang; ie, geo-political intrigue. In essence the General sadly and finally succumbed to passion before principle.

1981 Sabree

This was the championship that Master Hall (author) and then Mr. Sallah Sabree (4th degree) met and became life long friends.

That pattern change is still causing tides of intrigue. The removal of Ko Dang Tul for Juche Tul has now morphed into renaming the Juche Tul calling it Ko Dang in order to keep the original pattern name in the sequence of 24. This error is as bad as the first from the historical validity stand point. The philosophical meanings in the two Tul are very different as are the technique sequences.  Such meanings are a significant component of patterns. In one aspect it is those philosophical and historical meanings in patterns that help set Martial Arts apart from boxing and wrestling.

The confusion now being created by re-naming Juche calling it Ko Dang means the truth behind the two patterns meanings in diagram and history will be lost sooner than later.

If a school instructor desires to remain honest and uphold the tenet of integrity, then Ko Dang must be taught as Ko Dang with its true pattern diagram and historical significance being honored. The same goes for Juche – teach each one as it is – don’t mix them up and hodgepodge history and significance.

Master Hall (then a 4th degree) page inside the tournament booklet

Master Hall (then a 4th degree) page inside the tournament booklet.  And personally signed by Gen. Choi!

With all this being said, during the Generals tenure masters emerged from all nationalities and the ITF increased worldwide. The organization and art grew for decades until his death and the unexpected death of Grand Master Park, Jung Tae the Generals appointed successor – an appointment itself fraught with intrigue and family disunity.

The following fracture of the ITF resulting in at least three separate groups all claiming to be the legitimate “ITF” would cause to General to “turn over in his grave” if it were possible.  That fracture exemplifies misguided personal agenda and political intrigue. The failure to put their personal considerations and agendas aside in order to rebuild what had been the premier Tae Kwon-Do organization, contributed to my affiliation with another Chang Hon Tae Kwon-Do organization that exhibits the spirit and principles of the original ITF tenets. This organization meets my personal Martial Art principles and the spirit of “Pil Sung”  I learned from my first Korean instructor Master Eun, Sang Ki back in 1967. I will keep hoping the current [ITF’s®] will one day end their “Mexican Standoff” and rebuild the ITF. It’s not that hard if they really want to do it.


Tournament Official ID Badge

Geo-political intrigue, personal political ambitions and financial chicanery lace some Martial Art organizations. To receive any Black Belt rank in them is as simple as paying X amount of money for X rank Black Belt.

The Martial Art organizations working to remain disentangled from these cancers are the ones Martial Artists will seek to join in order to further their technical growth and mental / spiritual development. These organizations are identifiable by their technical skill, spiritual development, Art knowledge and ancestral standards firmly rooted in the principles that all rank advancement, not just Black Belt ranking, must not be bought; rather must be attained and recognized by technical skill, understanding / knowledge and Art Maturity / spiritual attainment presentation and documentation.  Exorbitant fees are not charged no matter the rank being sought for promotion. They hold equally expected standards for all their affiliate members and monitor those affiliates goals and actions to maintain irreproachability.

Instructors, Masters, Kwan leaders and Hoc Sang can all strive to prevent political intrigue – personal or geo, financial misuse, lack of integrity and lack of equity in their own personal venue of influence. If they all pursue those objectives, then Martial Art schools and organizations can be places of sanctuary for personal integrity development, Martial Art skill, knowledge attainment and their overall chosen Martial Arts advancement both personally and organizationally.

Pil Sung

Gwen F. Hall, Sah Hyung

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