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Grand-master Nam, Tae-hi 남태희 (南太熙)

August 26th, 2010

Nam, Tae-hi was not involved with Taekwon-Do in any capacity from about 1977 until after the death of General Choi.  He still is not active, although does lend his names to some organizations certificates and moved to the Los Angeles area from Chicago, Il. in early 2000.

Nam Tae Hi is a name well known in Korea as well as in the United States and to students of Tae Kwon-Do throughout the world. He is currently the President of the American TaeKwon-Do Federation and the holder of a ninth degree black belt, one of the highest awards achievable in this martial art. His teaching career alone has spanned three decades and virtually every continent on earth. President Nam has been a diplomat, a world traveler, a military officer, and always a teacher. He began teaching Taekwon-Do during the 1940’s. The Korean War interrupted his career, and he was called to military service. He fought bravely, served his country well, and retired with the rank of Army Colonel.

After the war President Nam dedicated his life to the teaching and refinement of the art of

Nam, Tae-hi 1973

Nam, Tae-hi 1973

TaeKwon-Do. The style and techniques of this art that are currently practiced are principally a result of his efforts. He is also responsible for much of the rapid growth that TaeKwon-Do has experienced all over the globe. While he was in the United States to study military courses in 1952, he gave a demonstration of TaeKwon-Do techniques. This demonstration served to vitalize interest in this martial art which as at the time only on the threshold of its popularity. When he returned to Korea in 1953 President Nam formed the Oh Do Kwan, a TaeKwon-Do gymnasium for the 29th Infantry Division. By 1961 there were many such schools all unified under his direction and organized to further the growth of this native Korean art.

GM Nam, Tae-hi 1975

GM Nam, Tae-hi 1975

In 1955 he was appointed chief instructor for the Third Military Division Corps in Chun-Nam, Korea, and erected a special TaeKwon-Do training center there for the 60,000 men in the unit. Three years later he was named chief instructor for the Second Army Headquarters. In 1962 the Government of Korea decided to extend aid to South Vietnam as repayment for help that country had given them in the Korean War. This aid was in the form of President Nam and three other TaeKwon-Do instructors who undertook to teach the Vietnamese military in TaeKwon-Do. As a result of his work there, the Vietnamese people named him the “Father of TaeKwon-Do in Vietnam.”


Author (left) with GM Nam and Chris Nam (GM Nam’s son) “reissuing” GM Nam the 29th Infantry Patch after 50 years!  July 2011

In 1965 President Nam went to Malaysia as a member of the Korean Diplomatic Corps. Here, he was chief TaeKwon-Do instructor. He was elected as President of the Asia TaeKwon-Do Federation while in Hong Kong for the first meeting of the Asian TaeKwon-Do Chief Instructors in 1968. And on a subsequent visit to more then 120 gymnasiums all over the world, he introduced new techniques, and theories and solidified the ancient tenets to TaeKwon-Do. in short, President Nam has acted as a life time ambassador for TaeKwon-Do, spreading the enthusiasm and interest in this art wherever he went.


GM Nam with the 29th Infantry Patch which is where Taekwon-Do was first “organized/systematized” in Korea from Tang Soo Do, Kong Soo Do, TaeSoo Do

In February, 1973, President Nam founded his own TaeKwon-Do school in Chicago. And there too, is the headquarters of the American TaeKwon-Do Federation. Mr. Nam continues to teach TaeKwon-Do in the only he knows how: as an art. And while the discipline of the art can be supremely demanding, calling for a considerable degree of both physical and mental concentration, Mr. Nam remains encouraging to students of all ranks and all capabilities. He makes no promises about the easy achievement of rank of first degree black belt, or any other rank, but he makes clear that through serious study and training , TaeKwon-Do is an art that can be mastered by anyone who is sufficiently interested and dedicated. He inseminates the philosophy that TaeKwon-Do is much more than an art of self defense. It is also a way of life with its influence reaching out past the walls of the dojang. A positive force in the lives of its practitioners, TaeKwon-Do is truly an “art.”

Here is another article written about Nam Tae Hi in the September 2000 Issue of TaeKwonDo Times written by Master Earl Weiss

Nam Tae Hi

Chung Do Kwan’s Quiet Man


GM Nam presenting Master Rick Balkin (Texas) his 7th Degree Certificate

In 1946 a young Korean named Nam Tae Hi began his martial arts training. He would leave school at 3:30 p.m. and go to the Dojang and train, not returning home until midnight. This was a 5 day a week regimen. Tang Soo Do training continued under Won Kuk lee at the Chung Do Kwan, and classmates included, Sun Duk Son, and Uhm Woon Kyu (the current head of the Chung Do Kwan in South Korea.)

In those days the only belt colors were White, Brown, and Black. There were eight levels or “Gups” of colored belt before reaching Black Belt. Promotion tests were held every six months and students usually tested and were promoted two gup levels at a time. It therefore took him about two and one half years to reach first degree Black Belt. His junior students then included the late Grandmaster Han Cha Kyo, and Jhoon Rhee.


GM Nam personally signing his photos in the 1965 book Taekwon-Do The Korean Art of Self Defense.

In 1954 there was a military demonstration before the President of South Korea, Syng Man Rhee. This demonstration included Artillery, other weaponry and martial arts. Nam Tae Hi, then a second degree Black Belt Broke 13 roofing tiles with a downward punch. President Rhee was so impressed by the demonstration that he asked for it to continue after the planned program was over. Since nothing was planned, Nam Tae Hi and Han Cha Kyo assembled materials and did a variety of breaks. President Rhee even examined Nam Tae Hi’s hands to see how he was able to perform the breaks.

After the demonstration which so impressed President Rhee, he ordered all military personnel to receive this martial arts’ training. General Choi recruited instructors from the different Kwans to train people. This was the impetus for creating the new military gym, the Oh Do Kwan.

I asked Grandmaster Nam the meaning of the term Oh Do Kwan (widely translated as “The Gym of My Way”) and why this name was chosen. His answer was very interesting. He told me that since there were instructors from various established Kwans, if an established name was used an instructor may have been reluctant to train or teach at another Kwan and their could be some confusion. (For instance, a Chung Do Kwan instructor may not want to teach his art at a Moo Do Kwan gym.) So the name Oh Do Kwan meant our gym, or the gym for all of us. (Books on Korean translation substantiate this meaning. ) Or perhaps, it reflects someone speaking in the first person whereby each person could consider it the gym of their way. (My idea.)

Although somewhat inactive from teaching Taekwon-Do for the last few years, Grandmaster Nam accepted my invitation to teach a class, (April 6, 1998) during which he reflected on the days of his training preceding the formation of Taekwon-Do, and the early days of Taekwon-Do. These reflections included the introduction of the Blue Belt by General Choi (later leading to the current 10 Gup Color Belt system), and how he performed the physical part of the new patterns as General Choi was mapping them out. He made an analogy saying that it was as if General Choi wrote the script and was the director, and he was the actor. Perhaps that is why he is referred to as “General Choi’s right hand man” in the General’s books.

I could not help but think that a certain amount of credit goes to Grandmaster Nam for the art we practice today. Had he and the others performing the demonstration for President Rhee been unimpressive, the president would not have ordered instructing the troops in martial arts, Taekwon-Do would never have been formed and the Korean government would not have been so supportive of Taekwon-Do spreading throughout the world. All of us practicing Taekwon-Do might very will be doing another Martial Art (or none at all) right now.

Students from the International Taekwon-Do Federation, Universal Taekwon-Do Federation (Founded by the late Han Cha Kyo) and students with no large organizational affiliations took advantage of an opportunity to hear some history of Taekwon-Do from someone who lived it. It is not often that many people can listen to someone whose martial arts’ experience spans over 50 years.

(Articles used with permission from authors and publishers)


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