Taekwon-Do: The Art of Hand, Foot and Political Statement
Juche versus Ko-Dang
|This paper will focus on the political nature of the Korean art of self-defence. In the process it will strive to show how the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) was linked to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea until Master Choi Jung Hwa assumed control of the legitimate organisation. One part of the ITF is now under the leadership of a North Korean official and the background of this will be explained later. This link, coupled with a similar bond between the World Taekwon-Do Federation (WTF) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea), means that any significant insight into the art dictates a critical analysis of such a background. In addressing the said topic it will be necessary to examine the significance in the change of the ITF syllabus for second degree black belt whereby pattern Ko-Dang has been replaced by pattern Juche. This section was published in Taekwon Do and Korean Martial Arts magazine and was submitted as a thesis for the writer’s promotion to 5th Dan. I have expanded many of the sections previously covered in this article and updated the entire thesis, as new and more pertinent information becomes available. At the original time of publication the general membership of the ITF were unaware of the wide political significance of pattern Juche and the few that did have knowledge choose to ignore the facts for their own reasons. Since then the entire milieu has changed and many practitioners are now aware of the bond which existed between North Korea and the ITF. Some still choose to believe otherwise however. Thus the writer feels it necessary to analyse in a critical way this relationship, and in doing so will strive to prove why Taekwon Do should be independent of any political interference from a despotic government and fanatical dictator. This paper will now extend the discussion further by making:
1. A Critique of the Juche Philosophy: This is necessary because pattern Juche is undoubtedly dedicated to the philosophy promoted by Kim IL Sung. If this philosophy is a flawed one then a very strong argument exists to have the name of the pattern removed from the ITF syllabus.
2. A Critique of the North Korean State: This is necessary to explain why ITF Taekwon Do should exist exclusive of any special connection with North Korea. The goal here is to demonstrate that any such bond is extremely damaging to Taekwon Do and goes against the philosophy of the art as propagated by General Choi.
3. An Explanation on How Taekwon Do has been used to the Benefit of the North Korean Regime: This will form part of the conclusion. This section will also explain why North Korea would want to hold such power over the ITF.
This inclusion of pattern Juche has linked the International Taekwon-Do Federation (up to the Presidency of Master Choi Jung Hwa) to the North Korean government since it is an endorsement of a particular political philosophy initiated by the leader of that country, Kim Il Sung. It must be noted however that when the ITF were relocating their headquarters in 1985 they choose Vienna, Austria, and not Pyongyang. They could thus argue that they are free from political intrusion but this paper will disprove that analysis. Indeed it was logical to relocate to this area of the world for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was an excellent location for the promotion of the art in both the Eastern and Western Bloc nations. Secondly, if the regime in the DPR Korea were to collapse they would not be affected in a major way. There were also reasons relating to tax and the law.
Relevant Historical Background:
|It was on the 11th April 1955 that a special board of masters, politicians, historians, etc. decided to accept Major General Choi Hong Hi’s idea to name Taekwon-Do as the new martial art of Korea (i.e. South Korea). Over the next number of years General Choi began to promote his vision of Taekwon-Do across Korea and internationally. He became president of the Korea Taekwon-Do Association (1959) and much of the growth of the art was undoubtedly connected to the fact that he had such a strong position in the R.O.K. (Republic of Korea) army. Choi Hong Hi was a powerful and influential man in post war Korea. This position was initially of immense benefit in the spread of his version of the art. He however plotted against the R.O.K military dictator Park Chung Hee and as a result of his exposure in the plot was ousted from his beloved military career. He was appointed as Ambassador to Malaysia in 1962 and in 1965 and then led the “goodwill mission” to countries in Western Europe and Asia. This change of furtunes actually acted to the benefit of Taekwon Do, since Choi had a greater opportunity to devote himself to developing Taekwon Do as a world-wide art. The following year saw the formation of the International Taekwon-Do Federation with Choi as president.
It is clear General Choi was still a powerful figure in South Korean politics, at least up until 1968. For example in 1967 he travelled to Taiwan to demonstrate his art upon the request of Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai Shek. This request was “channelled through General Chung Il Kwon, the Prime Minister of South Korea” (p.254). This was a very politically motivated move by the South Koreans since Chiang Kai-Shek was the previously defeated Chinese Nationalist leader who had been driven to the island of Taiwan by the Communists. While there Chiang re-established the government of Nationalist China in opposition to the mainland Chinese government. The South Korean government were interested in legitimising the anti-Communist government of Taiwan and thus this trip also had a deeper political agenda. In addition Choi’s favourable position was demonstrated by the fact that he was the chief delegate of the government at the Consul International Sports Military Symposium in Paris. In 1968 the Republic of Korea presented him with the `Sports Research Award`.
First Significant Problems:
In 1972 the headquarters of the International Taekwon-Do Federation was moved from Seoul, South Korea to Toronto, Canada. This date marked the culmination of a serious split between General Choi Hong Hi and the R.O.K. Differing reasons for the acrimonious departure of Choi and the ITF from South Korea circulate and one’s understanding of the divide depends on which side you hear them from. The General himself states the following about the period:
“Retrospectively, my troubles began soon after the formation of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Despite fierce opposition from my colleagues, I succeeded in introducing Taekwon-Do as a compulsory course in the army curriculum.
“I was repaid with jealousy, slander and finally oppression. As a result, my army career came to an abrupt end. This was merely a prelude for what was to follow. The civilian gyms practising Dang Soo-Do (Karate-Do) and Kong Soo-Do (Karate-Do) saw Taekwon-Do as a possible threat.
My obsession with Taekwon-Do further led me to stand firm against the desire of corrupt government officials who wanted to use Taekwon-Do as a political instrument to strengthen their dictatorship. My outspoken criticism of the south Korean government -both then and now- has been frequently misinterpreted, making me appear as an enemy of my own people.” (1983, p.8).
It must be remembered that South Korea had been ruled by the military since the 1961 Army coup. One possible reason for the “fierce opposition” was due to the fact that as a general, Choi’s vision of Taekwon-Do was established and promoted by the Army personnel. Thus many “Taekwon-Do” practitioners drafted into military service were “requested” to join the general’s system of the art. Many instructors must have resented this development and further strains occurred when the Korea Taekwon-Do Association adopted a new series of forms (1 to 8 Jang of Taeguk) on January 30, 1967. Another reason given is that the ITF had the intention of spreading the Art to the socialist countries. This would have been impossible to achieve from the extremely anti-Communist state of the R.O.K. Either way the final result was that the ITF and General Choi Hong Hi became national “enemies” of the South Korean government. Indeed the situation was so severe that the ITF had their own “Chief of Security” (Master Cho Pyung Gyu) whose job it was to take care of the General from the threat of the “corrupt” South Korean government.
The immediate response of the R.O.K. government was to set up the World Taekwon-Do Federation. The WTF was and is funded by the government and thus has to be seen as a political tool of that country. In fact General Choi himself has said in 1995 that he sees the WTF as an international political front for the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (Taekwon-Do and Korean Combat Arts, Vol.1, No. 1). The fact that the International Taekwon-Do Federation spent much of its energies successfully spreading the art in socialist countries during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in phenomenal criticism by the WTF and the R.O.K. It was constantly said that the ITF was pro-Communist. (This turned out to be a hollow criticism since the WTF later began to search out the same communist nations after realising the potential market there. Of course the R.O.K.’s relationship to many of these countries had changed at this stage).
The fact that the ITF spent so much effort promoting the art in communist countries was related more to the existence of the huge untapped market than to the pro-Communist beliefs of the “General.” This becomes obvious when you consider that Choi fought against the North Korean invasion of the South in 1950. Also further proof that General Choi did not have communist tendencies can be found in the 1965 edition of his book ‘Taekwon Do, The Art of Self-Defence’, when it states:
“It is the earnest hope that the free world, especially the West, will be informed with the substance and spirit of Taekwon Do.”
It is thus very clear that when the International Taekwon-Do Federation introduced the art to the People’s Republic of Korea in 1980, it was out of necessity rather than an affiliation to a particular ideology. For example by 1982 there were only five Korean instructors left in the ITF, (Master J C Kim, Combat Magazine, 1982). Indeed a central tenet espoused by the ITF relates to the need to spread the art regardless of “religion, race, national and ideological boundaries” (1987,p.41). Of course this principle could also be used to excuse the introduction of Taekwon-Do to South Africa during the apartheid era. The WTF directive to its national associations up until recently not to have any contact with ITF groups was undoubtedly related to the ITF’s strong connection with the North Korean regime.
Having introduced the art to North Korea General Choi became a pawn of the North Korean regime. There were huge benefits for the ITF such as Korean instructors, the Taekwon Do Palace in North Korea, and indeed monetary benefits (e.g. the ITF offices in Vienna were paid for by North Korea and this money flow was undoubtedly very significant. Proof of which can be found in a letter from Tom McCallum to GM Charles Sheriff). Thus the ITF was monetarily in the pocket of Kim Il Sung. General Choi was suffering from lack of Korean instructors, as well as funds and could envision the world-wide growth of the ITF only with the aid of Kim Il Sung. However having become involved with one of the world’s worst dictators had unforeseen consequences as North Korea assumed greater and greater influence of the ITF as time went by.
During the ITF Congress of 2001 in Rimini, Italy the International Taekwon Do Federation held an election for the presidency which resulted in General Choi continuing as leader until 2003. Thereafter his son Master Choi Jung Hwa would assume the presidency. The vote was unanimous and the future looked secure. Shortly after this Master Choi met with North Korean officials in Slovakia and was asked if their role in the running of the ITF would continue, as was the norm under his father. Master Choi declined this offer and stated that North Korea ITF would be the same as all other member countries, with the same rights as all others. This statement was a declaration that he would not be a puppet for the North Korean regime.
Within a short period of time General Choi issued a letter stipulating that he must remain as president for the full six years and thus called “an extraordinary congress meeting,” stating that this was necessary since the WTF had contacted the ITF and wished merger talks. However this proved to be untrue since the Secretary General of the WTF issued a letter stating there were no merger talks and that the WTF had requested none. There have since been exchanges of Taekwon Do teams between North and South but this is not the same as a merger. The ‘extraordinary congress meeting’ was then held in Vienna and Master Choi Jung Hwa was removed as Secretary General. It was clear however that the ITF Constitution was ignored and the actual congress was illegal. The ITF constitution states that in order to hold a legal congress there must be a majority of the total representatives. 107 countries times two reps per country is 214 voters. So at least 108 people must be present to make a legal quorum. Many of the people present stated a total of only 55 persons at the meeting. There were other issues, which laid questions of the legality of such a congress including the ability of General Choi to call such an event. The constitution states that in order to CALL a special congress there must be a letter requesting such a meeting from at least 1/3 of the people entitled to vote. 214 voters total means at least 70 people must have requested the President call this meeting. This clearly was not the case since General Choi made the decision to call the meeting of his own accord:
“To this end I feel that it is necessary to call for an Extraordinary Congress meeting in order to explain the strategy to all the members and receive their decision about what is the bestway forward. My proposal is that there will be an Extraordinary Congress meeting held in Vienna on one of the days between 11th. to 13th. January 20,” (letter from General Choi calling for the special congress).
Consequent to this illegal action Master Choi decided along with the support of numerous countries that the original legal congress meeting of Rimini should be maintained and therefore the ITF should be established in Canada without interference from North Korea. The ITF had split, with the Vienna based group (backed by North Korea) led by General Choi whose health was declining fast. General Choi died shortly after (June, 2002, Pyong Yang) and announced his wish that his successor would be a North Korean politician named Chang Ung. At this point a Canadian politician and honouree 4th Dan called Russell McClellan was instituted as Acting President with Chang Ung waiting in the wings. The North Korean ITF then arranged a memorial service for General Choi, to be held 100 days after his death in Pyong Yang. North Korea ITF offered to pay for the travel arrangements for the heads of each country to attend the event. At this meeting, under very dubious circumstances Mr. Chang Ung was announced as the new President. Consequently another split occurred as many of the attendees declined to offer support to Chang Ung, instead insisting upon Russell McClellan as their President. At the current time it seems that the legitimate ITF under Master Choi is blossoming and growing. This is partly due to the fact that the Federation is being lead with democratic continuity for the first time in its history.
Cho Man-Sik and Pattern Ko-Dang:
|General Choi had completed Tong Il, the final pattern of the original 24 tul, by 1963. According to Grandmaster Choi these patterns were derived from “the most illustrious people to have been produced by nearly five thousand years of Korean history” and each movement in a pattern must express the personality and spiritual character of the person it is named after” (1987, p.42-43). One of these tul were dedicated to a patriot by the name of Cho Man Sik. The name of the pattern was Ko Dang.
KO-DANG (39): IS THE PSEUDONYM OF THE PATRIOT CHO MAN SIK WHO DEDICATED HIS LIFE TO THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT AND EDUCATION OF HIS PEOPLE. THE 39 MOVEMENTS REFER TO HIS TIMES OF IMPRISONMENT AND HIS BIRTHPLACE ON THE 39 DEGREES PARALLEL.
(Choi Hong Hi)
The significance of a pattern, which is dedicated to the Christian Nationalist Cho Man Sik, is of vital importance in the context of this paper. To South Koreans he was and still is seen to be a famous politician and revolutionary. Cho Man-Sik was born in Gangseo-gun, Pyeongnam Province on February 1, 1883. He contributed much to society, education, culture, and industry through his leadership in the Sanjeonghyeon Church in Pyeongyang, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and in schools such as Osan, Sungin, and Sungsil, and through work at the Gwanseo Athletic Association and the Chosun Daily Newspaper. He was also head of the Chosun Democratic Party. Ko-Dang is regarded as a martyr by South Koreans and was awarded the Order of Merit for National Foundation in 1970 (a Republic of Korea Medal, by the South Korea Government).
Like General Choi, Cho Man Sik travelled to Japan to further his education during the time of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Upon graduating in law from Meiji University, Ko-Dang (who was also influenced by Ahn Chang Ho/Do San) returned to his homeland and immediately became involved in the campaign for independence. When the Second World War ended he organised the Chosun Democratic Party and became an important leader in North Korea (Cho, 1984, p. 143). At this stage however Soviet troops had moved south to the 38th degree parallel in the Kaesong area and were occupying the northern part of the country. Tragically the division has remained ever since.
Following the defeat of the Japanese, the Soviets had decided to use Korean organisations to govern north Korea indirectly. They firstly formed a number of provisional committees which were consolidated on the 8th of October, 1945 into the ‘Temporary Five Provinces People’s Committee.’ Initially this was lead by Cho Man Sik. He claimed a unique legitimacy because the Japanese governor of South Pyongan province had handed power to him soon after August 15th 1945 (Rees, 1988, p.86). This was a coalition of nationalists, communists, and Christian leaders. It was later changed to the ‘Five Province Administration Bureau’ (Odo haengjongguk). The Communists were represented by Kim Il Sung who had just been appointed Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Communist Party and Chairman of the North Korean Interim People’s Committee. The coalition collapsed over the issue of the trusteeship of the country at the end of the year.
Trusteeship and Cho Man-Sik:
The Moscow Conference proposed a four-power trusteeship of Korea involving China, Britain, the U.S.S.R. and the United States that would last for a period of no more than five years. A Joint Soviet-American Commission consisting of the two occupational administrations was created to “make recommendations in consultation with democratic parties and social organisations for the establishment of a provisional Korean democratic government.” When word of the Moscow Agreement reached Korea in the latter part of December, 1945, it was met by a tempest of protest from all sectors of the Korean community. Massive demonstrations denouncing the four-power trusteeship spread like wildfire throughout Korea. Anxious to quickly realise the dream of Korean independence, the vast majority of Koreans were unable to accept the idea of foreign power trusteeship. A non-partisan “Committee for Total National Mobilisation Against Trusteeship” was created to voice opposition to the Moscow Agreement; it had support from the extreme right, the communists and everyone else in between. In the eyes of most Koreans, the trusteeship proposal was viewed as a mechanism to establish a permanent great-power protectorate of Korea. Anything short of immediate Korean independence was deemed as unacceptable to most Koreans. Cho Man-Sik was the key leader in opposition to the Trusteeship.
The Korean Communists also initially opposed the Trusteeship but changed their position to support shortly after, (it is generally thought that this was due to instructions from Moscow). This position, together with the conflict of ideologies, further accelerated the national division. As the political debate between Koreans who favoured the multi-power trusteeship plan and those that opposed the plan came to a head, the U.S-Soviet Joint Commission met in March of 1946 to discuss the implementation of the Moscow Agreement. The Soviet delegation took the position that only those Korean parties who approved of the Moscow Agreement should meet with the Joint Commission. It was clear that this Soviet proposal would exclude all the political groups within Korea who had objected to the trusteeship plan, namely everyone except the communists. The Soviet proposal if accepted would lead to an interim Korean government headed solely by communists. Not surprisingly, the American delegation rejected the Soviet proposal on grounds that acceptance of the proposal would be a violation of democratic principles. The Americans insisted that the Joint Commission consult both those approving of the trusteeship plan and those opposed to it. On May, 1946, the Joint Commission acknowledged the impasse and adjourned. non-communist nationalists began fleeing to the South. Unlike many of the other Nationalist leaders, Cho declined the opportunity to flee south. The opposition by Ko-Dang to the Trusteeship allowed the Soviets the opportunity to eliminate him from the picture and to promote their own man, Kim Il Sung. Kim would later consolidate his power and would lead the country with an iron hand until his death in 1994. In the Soviet-occupied area, the opposition to the trusteeship was suppressed, and Cho Man-Sik was purged from the ruling coalition (1946). Cho had specifically singled out the Korean Communist about face for special criticism. His goal was for national independence and this did not tie in with the Soviet position ( i.e. the imposition of its own system on the area under its jurisdiction). The two halves of Korea lurched inexorably towards permanent division. Within three years, separate governments would be set up in Seoul and Pyongyang. Cho Man-Sik was later executed before the outbreak of the Korean War. Kim Il Sung was by this stage in control of North Korea and he was reputed to be behind a previous murder attempt of Ko-Dang in September 28th 1945 (Ibid, p.70). At that time Ko-Dang realised the danger that he was placing himself under but was willing to put his life on the line in order to achieve his ideals. Thus Cho Man Sik was a true Korean Nationalist who demonstrated indomitable spirit by dedicating his life to achieving his noble goal of national re-unification.
It is in this context that General Choi Hong Hi dedicated one of his second-degree patterns to this beloved South Korean patriot. Indeed up until this point the two men had many characteristics in common, (i.e. both had studied in Japan, both had rebelled against their Japanese oppressors and both had become prominent figures in post war Korea). Eight years after the International Taekwon-Do Federation relocated their base in Toronto Canada, General Choi and 15 other instructors (including Grand-Master Park Jung Tae and Master Choi Joong Hwa, the General’s son) returned to the People’s Republic Of Korea, the land of his birth. Sadly to do so, the memory of Ko-Dang had to be laid to rest. Instead Ko-Dang was replaced by pattern Juche, which is the philosophy of the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung.
Juche and Kim Il Sung:
|General Choi Hong Hi defines pattern Juche in the following way -
“JUCHE: IS A PHILOSOPHICAL IDEA THAT MAN IS MASTER OF EVERYTHING AND DECIDES EVERYTHING, IN OTHER WORDS THAT MAN IS THE MASTER OF THE WORLD AND HIS OWN DESTINY. IT IS SAID THAT THIS IDEA WAS ROOTED IN BAEKDU MOUNTAIN, WHICH SYMBOLISES THE SPIRIT OF THE KOREAN PEOPLE. THE DIAGRAM REPRESENTS BAEKDU MOUNTAIN.”
At the time of the trip to North Korea the ITF were loosing the majority of their Korean Masters mainly due to two reasons. The first reason was as a result of extreme pressure placed upon them by the South Korean Government. Secondly many of the Masters have explained that they have left the ITF due to the “dictatorship” of Grandmaster Choi (i.e. a lack of democracy). For example Master J.C. Kim said the following when asked about why many of the Korean Masters had left: “General Choi is giving too many political statements due to pressure from the WTF and the Korean (R.O.K.) Government. They all left due to the political situation.” Thus the ITF was in dire need of new Korean instructors in order to continue to spread the art to every area of the world. The only way to do this was to introduce ITF Taekwon-Do to North Korea. However, due to historical reasons discussed above, the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung would never accept a symbol dedicated to Cho Man Sik. Thus the ITF had to endorse Kim’s central ideology, that of Juche.
The Development of Juche:
In order to emphasise that Kim was free from both Chinese and Soviet domination he creatively developed and adapted Marxism-Leninism to Korean conditions through the idea of Juche (sometimes written Chuch’e and often called Kimilsungism). It consists of two words; chu means lord, ruler etc. and ch’e refers to the basis of action or the basic object. It is often used with the suffix song – i.e., chuch’esong, meaning to act in accordance with one’s own judgement (Suh, 1988, p.301). This was part of the tools which Kim Il Sung, and more recently his son Kim Jong Il, used to rule the people. It symbolised Kim as an independent leader on the world stage and he used the philosophy to promote himself as a world thinker and leader of the non-aligned nations. Kim claimed that Juche was the creative application of Marxism and Leninism to the unique and particular circumstances of an individual country. Suh explains Juche in the following way:
“The basis of Chuch’e is man. Man is the master, and he decides all matters. The master of socialist construction is the masses, and the power to affect revolution and construction rests with the people. The master of one’s fate is oneself, and the power to control one’s fate rests with oneself. In carrying out revolution and construction, the Korean people should creatively apply the general truth of Marxism and Leninism to the historical and practical situations, their own capacity and tradition, and their level of consciousness” (1988, p302).
This philosophy of self-reliance was necessary to explain the principles of military “self-defence,” economic self-reliance, and political independence. Another area, which is central to the idea of Juche, is the role of the supreme leader (suryong). According to Kim each country should have its own supreme leader and that the people should be armed with the thoughts of their leader, thus creating a unity of thought and actions. In this way Kim indoctrinated the North Korean people to his way of thinking. It was central in the creation of the personality cult which claims him as the genius of revolution, a world class ideologist on the level of Mao, Lenin and Marx, and the beloved and respected leader. “The ideology of the state is written on every hill, carved in stone on every mountain, over every road and every little village, it is written on billboards, and in every city centre it is documented. North Koreans cant escape it.” (Neudeck, November 1997). The hereditary succession of Kim Jong Il resulted in him becoming the definitive interpreter of his father’s writings.
Pattern Juche has most definitely been born out of the writings of Kim Il Sung. The creation of this tul is undoubtedly the `pay off` or method of appeasing the ‘Great Leader.’ The International Taekwon-Do Federation had claimed that changes in Taekwon-Do are due to the fact that the art is constantly changing because of their desire to improve techniques. Thus if you are not practising with the ITF then you are learning an outdated or “bastardised imitation” of the Korean art. For example in the Encyclopaedia of Taekwon-Do (1983) General Choi saidthe following:
“Only after exhaustive research and proof of improvement and effectiveness is a change to the original approved and incorporated within the overall art of Taekwon-Do.”
However this paper has striven to show that one of the most significant changes to the art since its creation is due more to political necessity than to its part in the overall improvement of Taekwon-Do. To say otherwise appears to me to be a gross miss-representation of reality. It is no coincidence that the introduction of this new pattern correlates with the introduction of ITF Taekwon-Do to North Korea.
Critique of Juche Philosophy:
As stated previously, it is of vital importance to examine the philosophy of Juche as espoused by the North Korean state system in order to demonstrate that it is a flawed tool used for the repression of the North Korean people. If this is clearly shown then a very strong argument exists to have the name of the pattern removed from the ITF syllabus.
The so called philosophy known as Juche is hailed in North Korea as Kim Il Sung´s original, brilliant and revolutionary vital contribution to national and international thought. It is now well known that Hwang Jang Yop was the main architect behind many of the writings. Kim himself had little formal education and could never really be called an intellectual. Hwang later defected to the South. The concept of “man is the master of all things” has humanistic overtones and can seem quite a positive precept at first. However the imposition of this philosophy of ‘self reliance’ has instead been taken to an obscure extreme. It has resulted in a subjection of the North Korean consciousness (through a sort of brainwashing of the masses). It has also caused the decimation of the economy (by practically shutting out any contact with the developed world) and is a critical tool in the legitimisation of the Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il dictatorship (through the Juche concept of the Great Leader/Suryong).
In reality Kim’s Juche philosophy did not really draw from Korean history, nor did it dwell on past cultural achievements, and in fact resulted in the serious study of traditional Korean culture to cease in the DPRK. Thus the North Korean mind became bombarded with Juche propaganda and the serious study of anything outside the Korean sphere is minimal. In this environment the only reality is what happens in Korea. North Koreans offer an extreme example of existence in a narrow band of experience (Breen, p.18). This is especially due to Juche thought control. North Koreans are thus taught that Kim Jong Il is the most famous political figure in the world today. In this way Juche philosophy has resulted in the control and decimation of information. For example, North Korea as a state had been saved during the war by China and rebuilt with Soviet aid. It just did not let its people know. Ordinary North Koreans believe that Kim Il Sung defeated the US and the Southern puppets on his own not to mention liberating Korea from Japanese rule. (Breen, p.129) The creed of ‘self reliance’ stands above historical fact and is the central tool in propagandising the people. This also results in the creation of one harmonious whole (in the NK consciousness), thereby appealing to the traditional sense that lack of opposition indicated that Kim Il Sung had a mandate of heaven. Indeed many comparisons can be made with the Chinese period of the Cultural Revolution under Mao. The great-unanswered question is how many north Koreans have their own private doubts, never to be spoken in public.
Kim Il Sung used the Juche ideal from the very beginning in order to cement his power in the DPPR. By 1995/1996 the ideological framework for the ‘self reliance’ ideal had began to become developed. At this time he had not yet complete unadulterated control and the Soviet-Korean technocrats were still a thorn in his side. He accused them (opponents such as Pak Ch’ang-ok) of ignorance and neglect of Korean history and traditions, and of mechanical borrowing from other socialist countries’ experiences (Buzo, p.25). This was indeed ironic since much of the Juche idea was borrowed directly from Stalinist thought (see below). This resulted not only in his consolidation of power but led him on the path to total domination of the state.
Kim Il Sung has used the Juche philosophy to justify the enforcement of enormous sacrifices on the population. Thus grandiose projects of transformation, such as canals, dams, remaking nature in general, transforming the face of Pyongyang via skyscrapers etc have been carried out under the ideological framework of Juche. The human and economic costs of such projects have been enormous and unquantifiable. In the end this path or vision led to a complete decimation of the economy and to horrible famine. (the NK economy was stronger than the S Korean one after WW 2). Buzo (1999, p.42) has analysed the Kim Il Sung ideology and has demonstrated that Stalinist influences on the Juche philosophy are considerable. Such an analysis clearly rubishes the claims that Juche is the creative application of Marxist-Leninist thought to Korean circumstances as developed by the great mind of Kim Il Sung (all references to Marxism-Leninism were removed from the constitution in 1992). For example the emphasis placed on remoulding human nature and creating ‘a new type of man’; the hallmarks of the ‘Juche-type man’ are virtually indistinguishable from those of the ‘new Soviet Man.’ Buzo cites the strongly voluntaristic ‘man is the master’ position as being taken from Stalinist thinking. He also makes three features of comparison in relation to the position of leader. The position of Suryong, central to the Juche ideal, is of a specifically Stalinist nature in;
A. The heavy use of kinship metaphors (e.g. ‘Fatherly Leader’) to reinforce political hierarchical relationships.
B. The expropriating of the revolutionary past to diminish or delete altogether the contribution of people and groups other than the Leader.
C. The practice of attributing the basis for all policies and actions of the party and government to the works of the Great Leader, introducing and supporting them with relevant quotations.
Kim’s inspiration was Stalin rather than Korean history (about which he knew little and cared less). Likewise Kim Jong Il is steeped in North Korean Stalinism. Having ruled alongside his father in his latter years, he has embraced the policies of Kim Il Sung as his own. He can not abandon Juche without disowning his father. This would call his legitimacy into question because his claim to power is his unique understanding of the ideas his father embodied. With this in mind the recent economic openings are minimal and are likely to remain so. Kim Il Sung and his son the ‘Dear Leader’ took the Stalinist system of organisation and the cult of personality to new heights in North Korea. The purges of Kim Il Sung decimated the communist oligarchy in NK and as a result the country found itself led totally by an man whose mindset was militaristic, Spartan, ruthless, conspiratorial, anti intellectual, anti bureaucratic, and insular. As a result of his unchallenged power NK did not have the chance to go trough the deStalinisation process which was initiated in the USSR after Stalin`s death in 1953. The end effect is that the N Korean people have endured hardship beyond belief ever since.
‘Self Reliance’ has also been used to explain and justify the massive military build up by the DPRK. The premise here is that military self-defence is a vital component in independence from regional and world powers. As a result North Korea has allocated massive resources in their military build up. These are resources that could and should have been used in developing the economic well being of its people. The huge money allocated to the military arena contributed in a significant way to the high foreign debt. It has been draining civilian wealth since the 1960s (according to Hwang Jang Yop). For one of the world’s poorest countries maintaining the world’s fifth largest army is an unbelievably expensive business. The military budget is around $5.4 billion a year, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. The armed forces run a parallel economy with their own mines, farms and factories. DPRK only remaining strength is its ability to wage war.
One of the most obvious negative impacts of the Juche philosophy of ‘self reliance’ was the devastation reaped upon the economy (though it would be an exaggeration to say that they were completely isolated) and the ensuing widespread famine. According to the Economist (July 10th, 1999) economic planning in North Korea is guided by ideology, and any economists and technocrats who argue for a more pragmatic approach, are disparaged by the leadership as “empiricists.” Self-enforced scientific, cultural, and educational isolation did result in a prolonged economic crisis beginning in the early 1980s. An additional problem was the alienation of world capital through the debt delinquency (while at the same time the leadership was hailing the virtues and glory of self-sufficiency). The effect of such a policy was to be seen in low levels of technological input and very little capacity to produce value-added exports. Thus the vast majority of the DPRK’s exports were either raw or semi-finished products, low quality and all but un-saleable except in the captive Third World economies. The isolation also resulted in few students or technicians with foreign training or experience, rapidly ageing and inefficient plant, machinery and infrastructure, and an obsolete and highly centralised command system of economic management. The Times correspondent Michael Sheridan wrote in November 1997:
“On the outskirts of Kaesong, the second most important industrial city, now crippled with no electricity, desperate citizens were out scavenging the hillsides for firewood last week. Kaesong’s grey apartment blocks were frigid and dark. Its shabby factories stood silent. Its railway station was a graveyard of rusting wagons and stationary locomotives. Today the only significant industry in North Korea is the secret arms sector. Every other endeavour is bankrupt and ruined.”
In recent years the most obvious effect of the North Korean economic devastation can be found in the huge numbers of people who have died of starvation or who are suffering from malnutrition. Nobody knows how many have starved to death since the mid 1990s. Some reports estimate anything up to two million while others in the hundreds of thousands. A kilo of rice costs twice the average monthly wage (The Economist, vol. 352, no. 8172, 1999, The Koreas Survey, p.11.). In the DPRK the farm sector is part of the industrial economy. It relies on fertiliser, tractors, spare parts and seeds. Even if the rural population had enough to eat, people in the towns would still go hungry. The famine is an agricultural dimension of a general economic collapse and the philosophy of Juche has been critical in this development.
Critique of North Korean System:
|“Pompous buildings and unused stadiums line Pyongyang’s boulevards, all built in a Ceausescu-like orgy of triumphal construction” Michael Sheridan.
The ‘Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea’ is a sick state. It is for this reason that the International Taekwon Do Federation should be free from interference, influence and coercion from it and its leadership. This section will give further details of the sufferings of the North Korean civilian population and the atrocities committed by this dictatorial regime. It will also criticise the insane cult of personality. Some of these details may in turn overlap with Section Four.
The Kim cult in North Korea has reached a level that makes Mao or Stalin seem like affable grandparents. Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung are everywhere. Their photographs are on the wall of every, home, office and shop. Every Korean wore a badge of the Great Leader and referred to him as suryong (great leader). This adulation is now passed on to the son. The build up in this cult of personality really took precedence from the 1960s onwards. During the travels and everyday meetings of the ‘Great Leader’, an aide followed behind him writing down his every observation, many of which were published in several languages and considered holy writ by North Koreans (Oberdorfer, p.20). No dissent or criticism of the two Kims, their tenets or decisions is permitted. Dae-Sook Suh wrote that Kim Il Sung became “a ruler who wields more power than the notorious monarchs of the old Korean Kingdom,” building a state that practices “a peculiar brand of oriental despotism” rather than communism. Kim Il Sung left school at 14 yet his collected works fill over 40 volumes. In a classic own goal, one work was published in Arabic as Kim Il-sung Is God – to the fury of devout Muslims, with whose anti-US sentiments Pyongyang has sought to make common cause in its criticisms of the United States. According to North Korean propaganda, brilliance runs in the family. Kim Jong Il’s biographer’s state that in his youth he wrote six operas, each of them better than any in the history of music. The first time he turned his hand to golf he scored five holes in one and beat the world record for a single round by 25 strokes. The corollary of the Kim’s self-proclaimed genius is infallibility. A system designed by two perfect leaders cannot be challenged without undermining them. In any case the regime can call on a propaganda machine of which Göbels would have been proud of. The only television and radio stations on air are government run. North Koreans learn that the food shortage is a global problem and that they are comparatively well off. According to the biography of the Great Leader Kim Jong Il (1):
“Kim Jong Il is a theoretician and great master of practice in every area. His extensive learning and versatility are universally acknowledged. ….Public praise and adoration go to kim Jong Il as popular intelligence incarnate and miracle performer, who has accomplished vast and brilliant achievements in so short a time.”
The technique of the big lie is regularly practised on foreign delegations. State control is absolute and pitiless. Every year about 100,000 people are thought to move in and out of Pyongyang, as the regime rewards some and forcibly demotes others. Nobody is safe at home, because a party loyalist in every block has the keys to every family’s flat and every individual’s room (Sheridan, 1997). After a trip to the DPRK in 1997 Michael Sheridan said the following;
“I saw whole battalions of children being led out alongside the adults to work. They were carrying small shovels and hoes. Compulsory child labour is now the order of the day in the people’s paradise of North Korea, for a grim Darwinian selection operates: workers and students get more food rations than do the very young or the very old.”
State control is greatly helped by an extensive network of Gulags across the country. Citizens are arrested and sent to the Gulags even for inadvertently defacing or sitting on a newspaper photo of the two kims. According to some escapees the conditions within these prison camps include torture, starvation, rape and slave labour.
Over the years North Korea has a long history of state sponsored international terrorism, kidnapping and the illegal sale of weapons of mass destruction. One of the most famous acts of mass murder was the bombing of Korean Air Lines flight 858, exploded in 1987, killing 115 passengers. In 1983 in Rangoon a DPRK attack on ROK President Chun Doo-hwan resulted in the death of 4 cabinet members and 13 officials. After an official investigation the Burmese government pronounced the DPRK as responsible and duly expelled its Rangoon mission. Even China made it clear that it accepted their guilt by publicising the Burmese findings (Buzo, p. 125). Kim Il Sung had previously committed to a similar policy by attacking the Blue House in Seoul in 1968 with a commando raid. He continued to glorify the guerrilla tradition with its modes of irregular warfare and terrorism (it is in this context that the position taken by Master Choi Jung Hwa must be viewed. The repeated involvement of North Korean diplomats in “smuggling and other nefarious activities” underlined the primitive expediency that drove DPRK foreign policy (Buzo, p. 130). North Korean also persistently kidnapped Japanese citizens throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Recently to the amazement of the world Kim Jong Il admitted that his regime had carried out such kidnappings, some of them straight from Japan (he however claimed that this was carried out without his knowledge). The purpose of these kidnappings was to teach Japanese language and customs to North Korean spies. One of these was used to train Kim Hyun Hee, one of the terrorists captured after the bombing of flight 858. She subsequently wrote a book about her brain washing by DPRK secret espionage school. The youngest Japanese to be kidnapped was only 13 years old. Many died in mysterious circumstances during their captivity leading to massive outcry from the Japanese public.
North Korea has also come under increased criticism over the last decade over the persecution of Christians and lack of free religious expression. Upon coming to power Kim Il Sung immediately smeared Christians as agents of imperialism and initiated a vicious suppression of them. Many fled south while the opportunity still existed. By the 1950s all churches and temples were closed, and would remain so for three decades. More recently the state propaganda apparatus has heralded the more relaxed changes and attitudes towards free religious expression. However as with other North Korean “openings”, the true state is far from what is publicised. Critics claim Pyongyang’s trio of churches is purely cosmetic and mainly for external consumption (Asia Times). Their arrival coincided with Kim Il-sung University quietly starting a department of religion – mainly to deal with the outside world, and said to be very popular due to the travel opportunities its graduates enjoy. As one observer put it: the worshippers seemed to be not so much actors, as believers who had proved their loyalty to the regime, much as, by the 1940s, Korean Christians had to acknowledge the divinity of the Japanese emperor if they wanted to stay in business (Asia Times). The same can be stated for any North Koreans given the opportunity to travel abroad and this has added significance for the many Korean instructors who have left their homeland.
|We have to ask the critical question: Why would North Korea be interested in controlling the International Taekwon Do Federation? Communist regimes have always used sport to demonstrate the superiority of their system (and by any means necessary, see the East German drug scandal as a prime example). Thus “ITF” Taekwon Do (that is the north Korean organisation pretending to be the ITF) is very important to the dictatorship of Kim Jong Il. As we have seen the propaganda machine is a vital ingredient in the oppression of the North Korean people. In such a context ITF Taekwon Do with its emphasis (in NK eyes) on Juche is indeed a valuable tool. The DPRK regime gains immense prestige from its involvement in ITF Taekwon Do. This is especially so with the staging of such events as the Junior and Senior World Championships, and the Asian Games in Pyongyang.
It is in the context of propaganda that the Juche issue must be examined. Over the years the DPRK tried to espouse the Juche philosophy as a way of progress to the non aligned countries (who really had no interest). Kim Il Sung in his dillusions of grandeur was stating that his system was responsible for a workers paradise. When the real situation became common knowledge they could not seriously tell other developing countries to follow the juche philosophy. By the mid-1990s they had very few positive images to project onto the outside world and the situation has become progressively worse since. It is in this milieu that “ITF” Taekwon Do could be seen as an important tool in which to demonstrate how great the motherland is. Thus there is a deep significance in the shouting of ‘Juche,’ at the end of the performance of that pattern. Each shout is a crutch to Kim Jong Il and his cronies. It is a valuable propaganda tool for the despotic regime. The vast majority of the world’s Taekwon Do practitioners are however unaware of this significance. Even the diagram of Pattern Juche has a deeper significance. According to the Encyclopaedia of Taekwon Do the idea behind Pattern Juche:
“WAS ROOTED IN BAEKDU MOUNTAIN, WHICH SYMBOLISES THE SPIRIT OF THE KOREAN PEOPLE. THE DIAGRAM REPRESENTS BAEKDU MOUNTAIN.”
The importance of Mount Baekdu in DPRK propaganda cannot be emphasised enough and it is not a coincidence that it is a critical part of the explanation of Juche Tul. In the North Korean biography of kim Jong Il by Tak et al, Section 1of Chapter 1 is entitled “Dawn at Mount Paekdu.” According to this biography Kim Jong Il was born on its mountain top, the highest in Korea, where his father had defeated the Japanese. Its symbolism is explained (p.8) in the following way:
“Mt. Paekdu is the holy place of the Korean revolution where the young General Kim Il Sung created the anti-Japanese guerrillas, raising aloft the banner of Juche idea, and fought the Japanese aggressors. It is the home of the great cause of juche. The Korean people faithfully inherit the patriotic spirit and the spirit of revolution which Mt. Paekdu symbolises, and which are correctly carried on by Kim Jong Il at the head of the people.”
There have also been accusations that many of the North Korean instructors who had the opportunity to teach abroad were in fact special agents. When one examines the circumstances and history of the DPRK then this seems more of a likely hood than a possibility. What is certainly true is that only the most loyal practitioners would have the opportunity to leave the ‘Workers Paradise.’ It is also true that all special agents were trained in Taekwon Do and this was confirmed in the writings of Kim Hyun Hee.
As stated previously the WTF and the Republic of Korea are also like yin and yang. For example Un Yong Kim, the President of the WTF and member of the Olympic Committee, was a high ranking member of the South Korean delegation in the South-North Summit (June 2000)and is thus deeply rooted in the politics of the ROK. It is the author’s opinion that this area deserves future examination and it would be a valuable aid in the searching for the true history of Taekwon Do. The theme of this paper is to strongly criticism of the sacrifice, which the ITF had to make in order to gain entry into the North. However there were immediate gains for the organisation as a result of this move. For example the North Korean Government erected the fantastic “Taekwon-Do Palace” and hosted and partly funded the 8th ITF World Championships in Pyongyang. In addition new international instructors and masters from the North have been produced at an amazing speed and have been sent to various parts of the world. One such example is in Tanzania where a Mr. Sin Sae Sob, 6th Dan was contracted by the ITF to spread the art in that country. I was able to get in contact with him through the North Korean Embassy, where he lived, and his main area of instruction was through the Tanzanian army. Without the move by the ITF into DPR Korea in 1980 they would not have had the resources or the man power to move into such countries. With the passage the influence of the North Korean State became overwhelming and resulted in the position taken by Master Choi in Slovenia. This stance was indeed courageous especially when one considers the nature of the DPRK.
It has been established that form the position of the ITF in the late 1970s that it was necessary to introduce ITF Taekwon-Do into North Korea. However Taekwon-Do should be apolitical. It should not reflect the philosophy of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, or any other political leader! In doing so it is making the International Taekwon-Do Federation a political animal and this is morally wrong. In addition it also partly places the possibility of unification of the WTF and the ITF into the hands of politicians (this sentence was written in 1997 and it has proven to be prophetic). These politicians are invariably interested more in using the art as a political tool and have very little interest in what is best for Taekwon-Do. The move into North Korea has been very productive. It has also helped to promote the art in the socialist countries. For example Taekwon-Do was introduced to China in 1986 and to the USSR in 1988. 1988 also saw Hungary host the 6th World Championships in Budapest. These were all good things for Taekwon-Do and are not in question.
It is sad that Ko-Dang was not a part of this movement. In 1977 General Choi criticised the then South Korean President, Park Jung Hee, saying he had “been using Taekwon-Do for his political ends.” The truth is that as a result of the adoption of a new pattern dedicated to the philosophy of Juche, the ITF had become a political tool of the North Korean Government. The amazing part is that 99% of practitioners outside of Korea have no knowledge of this situation. Many of the new ITF black belts will never have heard of Ko-Dang and Cho Man Sik. In relation to Juche ITF practitioner William Meyers said the following on the ITF Bulletin Board:
“Some of you maintain that just because Juche is used in such a manner by the N.Korean regime, it doesn’t mean that it’s tainted for the rest of us.. Well, I beg to differ and please let me explain why. The swastika is a symbol that is one of the oldest known to man. It is at least three thousand years old and some sources say it’s older than the Egyptian ankh..The swastika has been known to symbolise many things such as Sun, Power, Strength, and good luck, throughout history. All of those concepts sound good, don’t they? Well, that symbol is now tainted to the world because of the Nazi party of the mid-twentieth century and it’s known now as an abomination. What once was good is now considered evil. My point? Juche is tainted in much the same way as the swastika. I, for one, find this to be sad. But it is a fact. Can you imagine the outrage if a martial art were to have a Swastika pattern? It’s the same contempt one should have when they see a pattern called Juche.”
I feel that this statement serves to explain the symbolism of Pattern Juche and justifies its exclusion from the ITF syllabus. Its techniques may be beautiful, but techniques can always be improved and developed further. Change can be a good thing.
General Choi must be given the respect he deserves as the creator of ITF Taekwon-Do and as the man responsible for one of the most beautiful martial arts of the world. However this does not mean that he is infallible. It would be a lack of integrity and cowardice not to criticise something which one believes to be wrong but many are afraid to speak out. It is my hope that this paper will initiate further discussion and analysis about this taboo subject.
The meaning of the 24 patterns are the heart and soul of Taekwon Do.
The meaning of the 24 patterns are what separate fundamental movements from the true spirit of the art.
The meaning of the 24 patterns is the blueprint for developing a strong and moral people.
The meaning of the 24 patterns are the guidelines and inspiration for the promotion of a just society.
Has the Kim Il Sung philosophy of Juche a part to play in the positive development of Taekwon Do and Society? This question should be pondered and scrutinised by every Taekwon Do practitioner. It is the author’s opinion that Pattern Juche is the weakest link in the otherwise wonderful and beautiful art of Taekwon Do.
Song of Taekwon-Do (words by Choi Hong Hi)
We are learning Taekwon-Do with the
purpose of building a better and more
peaceful world. So let us develop a noble
character with fantastic technique to keep
fighting for the weaker as a missionary of
humanity and justice.
Taekwon-Do has blossomed again after
long hibernation and it has been fast
spreading everywhere regardless of
religion, race and ism under the ideal of
courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-
control and indomitable spirit.
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Buzo, Adrian, The Guerrilla Dynasty, 1999, London.
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Choi, Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do, the Art of Self-Defence, 1965, Seoul.
Choi, Hong Hi, The Encyclopaedia Of Taekwon-Do, 1987, Ontario, Canada.
Choi, Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do, 1972.
Choi, Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do (The Korean Art of Self Defence), 1988, USSR.
Choi, Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do And I.
Eberstadt, Nicholas, in “Foreign Affairs,” March,April 1997.
The Economist, September 21st-27th, 2002, and July 10th-16th, 1999.
Kim, Hyun Hee, “The Tears of my Soul,” 1993, New York:
Neudeck, Rupert, “Rettung in letzter Minute,” in Die Zeit, 28 November, ’97.
Oberdorfer, Don, The Two Koreas, 1997, New York.
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Sheridan, Michael, North Korea Chokes On Its big Lie, in The Sunday Times, November 23rd, 1997.
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Tak, Jin et al, The Great Leader, Kim Jong Il, 1985, Tokyo.