Interview with Gen. Choi Hong Hi President of the International Taekwon-Do Federation

This was an interview from April 1974 in his new home of Toronto, Canada.  Published later in September 1974.

Fighting Arts: Where did the forms of Taekwon-Do originate?  How did you come to call Taekwon-Do what you did? 

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Gen. Choi in his home in Toronto, Canada April 1974.

General Choi: That is a very good question.  The form came from necessity.  I was born a weakling.  So I tried to find something to strengthen myself to become a champion of freedom and justice.  So whenever you say Taekwon-Do you are speaking of a special Martial Art designed in Korea by myself.  I gave the name of Taekwon-Do officially on April 11, 1955.

Fighting Arts: Do you know whether Taekwon-Do is the most popular form in the United States and Canada right now? 

General Choi: It’s most popular in Malaysia and of course in Europe,  in some eleven countries in Europe; ;but I would say that in North America most of the people do not know what it means when they hear the name Taekwon-Do.  Now there are many fraudulent Taekwon-Do instructors, I would even say phony.  They may get their certificate of degree from their father or fathers father or brother even though these people have no knowledge of Taekwon-Do.  But North American people still try to learn under such phony instructors.  So some day I hope they realize what a real Taekwon-Do instructor is.  Fortunately today North America and Canada like in Europe and Asia before, have first caliber instructors of Taekwon-Do here.  So North America will  now know what Taekwon-Do is.

Fighting Arts: How did it come to pass that you would fond a discipline in the Martial Arts? What makes a person qualified to found a new discipline? 

General Choi: Well, as I said, in recent years there has been an upsurge in violence and loss of morality in all levels of society.  So I tired to re-introduce the human spirit to the law.  I thought these problems stemmed not only from the frustration but from the over development of the material and the scientific civilization will lead the younger to either extreme egoism or materialism or the scientifically developed civilization may see the human being with fear.  So to cure the problem I took it upon myself to develop a moral civilization to prevail over or at least keep abreast with those two civilizations.  Everybody will be helping each other and so maintain morality.  So it is my basic philosophy, why I developed that spiritual foundation. 

Fighting Arts: This particular act, this philosophy, has spread very rapidly around the world.  Why? Why this particular philosophy?

General Choi: Why did this philosophy so rapidly develop throughout the world today?  Well, that’s obvious.  In Taekwon-Do every movement has been designed scientifically so that it can be learned very easily.  Every single movement has a definite purpose behind it.  So every movement of Taekwon-Do is just like scientifically done.  That’s the reason why it spread so rapidly – because of the technique I would say.

Fighting Arts: So learning the techniques of  Taekwon-Do precedes the philosophy? 

General Choi: Well, the progressing of technique, automatically the student of Taekwon-Do has to believe in his mind that every movement will be successful.  Regardless of their age or race, they eventually become very meek, very modest, very humble.  They know how to serve their country, how to take care of their family or their parents differently from the animal society.  The women particularity are very happy maintaining their good face, good appearance.  Boys of course are happy to be strong enough to eliminate fighting and by this, Taekwon-Do discourages the stronger’s domination of the weaker.  So there is a reason why Taekwon-Do has been so popular.

Fighting Arts: Taekwon-Do is only nineteen years old.  It sprang up as an art form very rapidly.  IT’s not so much of a question as to why Taekwon-Do sprang forward as an art form but where did these things come from.  Why does any martial arts form suddenly develop like this?  Is it because one man put them down in the right place at the right time? Or what? The question is, it doesn’t happen everyday, of course.

Gen. Choi: Sure. I can say  the history of Taekwon-Do.  Initially, it was designed  by myself, since 1945., and it took more then ten years at home to train others to be superior instructors both mentally and technically.  And since 1959 I started to dispatch them overseas, where they demonstrated their superiority to the other nations.  So they saw, and said, “Why this is fantastic. They are good gentleman. Well, I should send my children , my weak wife, to them, to that school.”  So Taekwon-Do spread mainly because they devoted themselves to pave the ground, pave the road for the development of Taekwon-Do all over the world.  So all we say are there are mend who introduced  this art throughout the world.  For instance, J.C. Kim introduced this art to Malaysia and Hong Kong and J.S. Park instruct this art to Europe, particularly Germany and The Netherlands, in 1965-1966.   And Park brought this art to the Canadian people in late 1968.  Until that time nobody knew what Taekwon-Do was.  Then we really worked very hard.  Every real International Taekwon-Do instructor devoted himself, dedicated himself, to the development of this art.

Fighting Arts: Can you tell us a little about what you were thinking in the very early formative years of your idea about Taekwon-Do?  Form 1945 until the founding of it.

Gen. Choi: As I say, Korea was under Japanese rule for 36 years.  In ancient times, karate was like a whole other country.  Other nations had primitive movements, called by different names.  There are many different kind of names some are special, some for different techniques.  But since 1945, the Korean Armed Forces were formed and many young officers tried to improve this art to the present form.

Fighting Arts: And in the beginning the idea was building a better military for the protection of Korea?

Gen. Choi: Right. When I was commissioned to Second Lieutenant in January, 1946, first of all my aim was to strengthen the Korean soldiers.  That’s why I taught my company, my soldiers, as a company.  Eventually my aim was to strengthen them as leaders and to try to nationalize them.  Since 1960, I’ve been trying to make Taekwon-Do an international art.  So, I’m traveling around the world talking to and teaching my students wherever they are.

Fighting Arts: In the early years when you were teaching your own company and your own military – that was in 1946 – did you try a lot of forms, did you experiment to scientifically test movements?

Gen. Choi: No.  Every movement called Taekwon-Do has been designed by myself, as I say, since 1945.  And in 1955 I gave the name to these particular movements.  “Taekwon-Do.”  So nobody can dispute the name or use it without my permission.  Many people are just misusing the name.  We are teaching the real technique.

Fighting Arts: But the forms that you had, say in 1946, these forms stayed basically the same? 

Gen. Choi: No…we did a primitive form until it came to its present form in 1955.  I mean there I gave the name Taekwon-Do.

Fighting Arts: So there were some changes in that period of time before it was named.

Gen. Choi: Yes, that’s right, before the name was given.  You know, finalizing the movements of this technique took me until 1955.

Fighting Arts: How many people would you say that you’ve taught between 1946 an 1955? 

Gen. Choi: Numerous.  Today there are more then 15 million Taekwon-Do students in 62 countries.  But mainly I teach only international instructors, 4th degree or above.  I cannot teach everybody.  There are too many people.

Fighting Arts: In 1955 when you named the discipline Taekwon-Do, did you have the vision then of making it an international art? 

Gen. Choi: Of course, yes, surely.

Fighting Arts: Why an international organization?  Why try to spread the art? 

Gen. Choi: By exchanging cultures between nations they can understand more and put their countries on a better relationship.  By introducing this art, by making everybody strong in mind and body, I expect them to be champions of freedom and justice so they can make a more peaceful world.  So I say today Taekwon-Do is an international martial art, not the Korean Martial Art.  The International Taekwon-Do Federation has been moved to Toronto, Canada, today.  So how could you say that is a Korean Martial Art?  Not Korean martial art, international martial art.  Everyone can enjoy, everyone can teach other nations.  Anyone who is 4th degree or higher can have the opportunity to go to another country to teach.  How can you that that is Korean? 

Fighting Arts: How many instructors started out that first year, 1955?

Gen. Choi: Well, I don’t even know.  I taught my soldiers in my company first.  From 1959 I started to dispatch international instructors,  So it took me about ten yes to produce instructors.

Fighting Arts: Where were they sent?  Where were the first instructors sent? 

Gen. Choi: Taiwan, Formosa. Since 1967.  There are more Kung Fu practitioners in Taiwan or in Asia than anywhere else; that is the home of Kung Fu.  Kung Fu is a very nice marital art but in Asia right now, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, most Kung Fu black belts become Taekwon-Do leaders.  They’ve been turning to Taekwon-Do since 1962.  Today I see much Kung Fu in North America, but actually  there’s more Kung Fu in Taiwan and Asia.

Fighting Arts: Formosa, 1967.  Canada 19683  And when in the United States? 

Gen. Choi: The United States, I think 1967.

Fighting Arts: Is there any place in the world now that doesn’t have Taekwon-Do? 

Gen. Choi: Some parts of Africa, in the north, and the Communist block.  Eventually we will introduce it there.

Fighting Arts: There are many in South America?

Gen. Choi: Oh yes.  Most of the South America countries have Taekwon-Do.

Fighting Arts: Are then any publications of the International Taekwon-Do Federation? 

Gen. Choi: Well, a magazine like this.

Fighting Arts: You do have a magazine?

Gen. Choi: Well, of course.

Fighting Arts: And it is printed in Korea? 

Gen. Choi: No, in Denver Colorado.

Fighting Arts : The language is…

Gen. Choi: English.

Fighting Arts: Do the instructors who have gone to the various countries teach Taekwon-Do just as it was originally taught in Korea, or are there adjustments made for the type of society that you’re going into? 

Gen. Choi: As far as teaching it is concerned, they just teach what they learned from me.  Same theory, same movements, same philosophy.

Fighting Arts: What about the number of hours of discipline that are invovled.  I have talked to people who have gone to Japan or have studied martial arts in Mexico or in South America, and they say that their regimentation, their conditioning is very, very hard.  It’s not a matter of just working out an hour a day, but it’s two hours or three hours.  They look a little sideways at North Americans because most of the schools go in for maybe an hour a day, maybe two or three times a week.

Gen. Choi: It all depends.  For instance, the armed forces or the police forces do require that the student can run for four hours, five hours.  But the ordinary student attends three days per week, or four or five days, one hour and a half hours.

Fighting Arts: So would you say that the discipline, the conditioning, all depends on how fast you want to learn, whether or not you go twice a week?

Gen. Choi: It depends on your students and instructors, on how they can show the students what discipline is.. They just demonstrate and correct the student’s mistakes.

Fighting Arts: There are no weapon forms in Taekwon-Do Is that right? 

Gen. Choi: Weapon forms, what do you mean weapons? 

Fighting Arts: Nunchakus, the Oriental hand weapons.

Gen. Choi: Well, every time you say Martial Arts, particularly Taekwon-Do, we mean just punch, kick, block.  We use just hand and foot.  That’s the definition. whenever, wherever necessities arise.  Under any situation.  So whenever you use, depend on , weapons, that isn’t Taekwon-Do anymore.  We teach student how to defend himself against an armed opponent or sudden attack.  But we never, you see, have student demonstrators who use weapons.  That is not Taekwon-Do.  If they start to use a knife, they can use a cannon same day, or atomic weapons.  So we don’t consider that as martial arts.  That is not Taekwon-Do.  That’s why we like to produce power on the body of the weak person, and to make the stronger person more strong, with a strong mental foundation.  Mental education is our weapon.

Fighting Arts: Why did you choose Canada? 

Gen. Choi: Why did I select Canada for the home of the International Taekwon-Do Federation?  That is also a good question.  Personally, I believe that Canada is the most prosperous country and the General Assembly delegates felt that Canada would locate the Martial Arts centrally between Europe and Latin America.  Better mailing service meant more correspondence between countries, meant it would be wast to spread this art to every nation.  That’s why they decided to move to Toronto, Canada.  So their idea just coincided with my personal opinion.

Fighting Arts: How many international instructors are there in Taekwon-Do today?  In other words, fourth degree or higher.

Gen. Choi: Not all fourth degrees are necessarily international instructors.  There are many thousands, hundreds of thousands of fourth degrees in black belt.  They, in general, are qualified to be instructional instructors.  That means to become an international Taekwon-Do instructor they must come to the international center of Taekwon-Do to ratify, to pass, the examination.  They must pass the exam to get the identification of international instructors.  So far, I have some 600 qualified international instructors, distributed all over the world.

Fighting Arts: What are the immediate plans as far as setting up the home of the International Taekwon-Do Federation here?  Are you going to set up offices? 

Gen. Choi: Of course.  We have offices right here in Toronto.  there is my private library.  Ans this is the center of international Taekwon-Do training.  We have 61 directors from 61 countries .

Fighting Arts: What is the purpose of the program that is coming up at the end of the summer in Montreal for the International Taekwon-Do Federation? 

Gen. Choi: That’s the First World Taekwon-Do Championship.  It’s there since the chairman of the technical committee.  J.C. Kim is located in Montreal.  Also, in 1976 there will be Olympic games played at Montreal, so we decided to have the First World Taekwon-Do Championships in Montreal.  So that many people can understand what is happening.

Fighting Arts: Who will be invited to this tournament?  This is strictly for International Taekwon-Do Federation members, right? 

Gen. Choi:  Right. For whomever shows the certificate issued by the International Taekwon-Do Federation.  And every participating country will select their national teams.  There are some fifty countries with Taekwon-Do associations duly formed under the leadership of the International Taekwon-Do Federation.

Fighting Arts:  You mentioned the Olympics.  This sis a question that we’ve been asking just about everyone.  Judo is now an Olympic event.  Do you think that a martial art combat that specializes in hand and foot techniques might become an Olympic event?  Do you hope that would happen? 

Gen. Choi: I don’t have any doubts.  Sooner or later Taekwon-Do will be part of the Olympic games.  I hope the people in Montreal will push for it in 1976 Olympics, so that Canada becomes the home of Taekwon-Do.  This I would be proud of, to introduce this art to the Olympics.

Fighting Arts: I believe that Judo was recently introduced to the Olympics….

Gen. Choi:  Exactly, in Japan, because Japan was the host country.  Now Canada  will be the hosting country in 1976 and they  must have some right to introduce this art to the Olympics.  That is one of my hopes.

Fighting Arts: Is this one of the reasons that you’r holding this tournament at this time? 

Gen. Choi: Yes, one of the reasons.

Fighting Arts:  Beyond what we’ve been talking about as the philosophy of Taekwon-Do, what are the future plans  of the Federation?  Obviously it’s more instructors, more countries, tighter communication among them, but what do you hope to achieve with this system? 

Gen. Choi: Why , to teach.  To teach every black belt, even taught by a fraudulent Taekwon-Do instructor, to awake them from their long sleep, hibernation, to teach  them the real way of Taekwon-Do.  And to have built a Taekwon-Do university, maybe in Montreal or in Toronto.

Fighting Arts: What do you feel about the people who are teaching under a banner that says Taekwon-Do but they have either little training in it or no training in it; they are teaching a false form under the name Taekwon-Do.  Has there even  been any attempt to point this out to them or take some sort of legal action? 

Gen. Choi: Well, until today, I was just eager to spread this name of Taekwon-Do to everybody.  But since too many  people are now misusing the name of Taekwon-Do, someday the International Taekwon-Do Federation will take some legal action to prevent the real, orthodox Taekwon-Do from being misused.  I hope every student, every public person will help this; otherwise, many innocent people will just waste their time and money without learning anything.  Today I saw a couple of Koreans saying they are teaching Taekwon-Do.  Not-so…that either Kung Fu or Karate.

Fighting Arts: That’s not even to say that these people who are teaching under the banner  of Taekwon-Do aren’t teaching a very legitimate marital arts system, but it’s just not Taekwon-Do.

Gen. Choi: It’s not Taekwon-Do.  I don’t know if it’s legitimate.  Don’t try to sell the lamb under the sign of the cow.  That means don’t say Taekwon-Do teaches some fraud, some phony  movement.  We don’t consider that as Oriental martial arts.  I don’t know what they teach.  People pay money and enjoy wasting their time.

Fighting Arts: If someone is just starting out in the martial arts, and they have an idea they could like to study Taekwon-Do, what can they do when they walk into a school that says Taekwon-Do to know if it is legitimate? 

Gen. Choi: Well, if I were them, I would first of all ask that they show you their identification of whether or not they are an instructor.  If they are an instruction they will show their ID, their identification, and you will also see the recognition plaque at the center of the school gym.  And then further, ask what their technique is.   The student should ask question, I think this is the proper procedure for the beginner of Taekwon-Do.  If they hedge your question and act peaceful and say “Well, I don’t have it now.” what do you do?  You should ask, “Do you have identification or not.  Show me the ID Card.”  But I don’t know all people who are my students of Taekwon-Do.  If they are a real instructor, they will have some authority from the organization.

Fighting Arts: The thing that is that I’ve heard many cases now in North America were anyone can walk into any print shop and have a diploma made.  If there something distinctive about the diploma, the certificate, that the federation awards?

Gen. Choi: Well, of course, surely.

Fighting Arts: We should tell our readers what it is.

Gen. Choi: Well, then you can ask them ask.  “Where  are you from, what organization are you fro, where’s your immediate instructor?” You can say General Choi.

Fighting Arts: Of course you know each of your legitimate schools in North America , you must have a list.  Say someone had gone into a school and wanted to check it out.  Could they check it out through the office, the central office of the International Taekwon-Do Federation? Is that possible? 

Gen. Choi: When you say “international ” Taekwon-Do instructor, they got this thought this headquarters.  But the International Taekwon-Do Federation has no authority to check everybody.  Even Nixon or Trudeau have no authority to check in America or Canada.  We have no jurisdiction like that.

Fighting Arts: No, no… you know all your legitimate …

Gen. Choi: Wait a minute.  Just International instructors got their certificates through this office.

Fighting Arts: Say if some were to write and ask if this particular person at this address…

Gen. Choi: Surely. At the moment we don’t have a computer but we know…

Fighting Arts: Can you tell us just a little bit more about what you see as far as the university goes.  That’s a fascinating idea.

Gen. Choi: We discuss the university a lot. Someday we will ask your government to help build a university.  We have lots of students and someday they can donate $15 million, if they donate one dollar a piece, we can make $15 million dollars or something like that.  It would be worthwhile for the government to help because it would make good history for Canada.  So you can write that down, and you can ask the government for help.  

Fighting Arts: What do you think is the optimum age to start learning Taekwon-Do? 

Gen. Choi: Well, from age eight on.  But for peewee or lady I still prohibit  them from the power test.  Maybe from 17 on it’s OK.  Ladies should have have to break with their fist.  They have speed, balance and power as men have but it is not necessary for them to break.

Fighting Arts: When did your son start to take Taekwon-Do? 

Gen. Choi: Since the age of seven.

Fighting Arts: What is the competition going to be like in Montreal this summer?  Will there be free fighting, free sparring, the form competitions?

Gen. Choi: Yes, pattern competition, sparring competition… karate says free fighting but we say sparring, free sparring, we don’t avtually intend to fight so we say free sparring.  We’ll have power tests, by breaking something.  And special techniques like high jumping and kicking and so on; acrobatics.

Fighting Arts: This summer there will be representatives from Korea at the program too.

Gen. Choi: I don’t know , they are welcome.

Fighting Arts: How many hours a day do you still work out? I assume you do.

Gen. Choi: I never forget, 24 hours a day I am thinking of Taekwon-Do.  Taekwon-Do is my life, more than myself.

Fighting Arts: Do your instructors ever bring you a new idea, a new form? 

Gen. Choi: Not a new form, but some new theory, some movement.  Form means pattern or the sequence of the movements.

Fighting Arts: But they do bring you new idea? 

Gen. Choi: Yes. Taekwon-Do techniques are constantly developing.

Fighting Arts: And how does a new movement become recognized? Is it tried out? 

Gen. Choi: Well, if the movement has a special theory, they can prove it  by the technical quality and the technical quality and the technique they use.

Fighting Arts: How are the techniques then spread? 

Gen. Choi: They are spread through books, by writing , through personal contact.

Fighting Arts:  Do you like the idea of tournament competition? 

Gen. Choi: If they are real tournaments.  But most of the time, until recently, they are just trying to make money out of the tournament.  They were trying to make Taekwon-Do commercialized.  That I strictly prohibit.

Fighting Arts: Tournaments should be to demonstrate karate, Taekwon-Do whatever discipline it is?

Gen. Choi: The tournament takes place in the arena for the introduction of new techniques and to teach the spectators a new idea.  And to make close the relationship between instructor and student.  But somehow, they just try to make money out of it.  That’s not right.  Under the leadership of the ITF, every real tournament gets permission from the ITF head office right here for the tournament.  That’s tournament for real techniques, not magic.  Some martial art demonstration are magician’s tricks.  The International Taekwon-Do instructor never does this.

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