General Choi Hong Hi
9th Degree - Founder of Taekwon-Do
General Choi Hong Hi has given so much devotion to his art that the man, his life and his work are one. If Taekwon-Do today has gained international status, it is because of his tireless effort and dedication to the art. General Choi was born in 1918 in the harsh and rugged area of Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District of what is now North Korea. He was a frail and sickly child and a constant source of worry to his parents. At the age of twelve he was expelled from school for organising a student protest against the Japanese occupation of Korea.
After his expulsion his father sent him to study calligraphy. His calligraphy teacher Mr. Han Il Dong was also a master in the ancient Korean foot fighting art of Taek kyon. Han decided to teach his new student Taek kyon as a means to build up his weak body. In 1937 Choi had to travel to Japan to further his education. Shortly before he left he became engaged in an argument with a professional wrestler who threatened to tear him limb from limb at their next encounter. The young Choi had a new impetus to learn martial arts. In Japan, he studied Karate and with two years of concentrated training he reached black belt. These techniques together with Tae Kyon (foot techniques) were the forerunners of modern Taekwon-Do. Choi went on to attain his second degree before the outbreak of World War II when he was conscripted into the Japanese army. He was later arrested for his part in the Korean Independence Movement. To alleviate the boredom and to keep fit, Choi began practising his new martial art in his cell. Before long, his cell mate and in turn his jailer became his students and eventually the whole prison courtyard became one gigantic gymnasium.
1945 saw the liberation of Korea and with it, Choi’s freedom. Five months after his release he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the new Korean army. This was to become the launching pad for Taekwon-Do. Choi rose quickly through the ranks to become a general. The progress of his new martial art followed the success of his military career. General Choi was in an ideal position to develop his martial art.
In 1953 he organised the crack 29th Infantry Division, which eventually became the spearhead of Taekwon-Do in the military. He succeeded not only in training the cadre instructors for the entire military but also developing the Tae Kyon and Karate techniques into a modern system of Taekwon-Do in 1954. Technically,1955 signalled the beginning of Taekwon-Do as a formally recognised art in Korea. A special board of leading masters, historians, and prominent social leaders was formed to select a name for this new martial art. The name ‘Taekwon-Do’ was submitted by Gen. Choi and unanimously agreed upon by all the members of the board. During that year, the energetic general spread Taekwon-Do to the universities and military posts throughout Korea. In 1959 Taekwon-Do spread beyond the boundaries of Korea. The father of Taekwon-Do and nineteen of his top black belt holders toured the Far East. The tour was a major success and the excellence of Taekwon-Do techniques astounded spectators. Many of these black belts went on to spread the art around the world. The same year saw the General elected president of the newly formed Korean Taekwon-Do Association.
General Choi was appointed Ambassador to Malaysia in 1962 and as a dedicated missionary of Taekwon-Do he succeeded in establishing Taekwon-Do in that country. Gen. Choi’s drive and love of Taekwon-Do saw the art spread across the world. In 1966 the International Taekwon-Do Federation (I.T.F.) was formed, and the first World Taekwon-Do Championships were held in Montreal in 1974.
The general has dedicated his life to the promotion of Taekwon-Do and has travelled all over the world including several trips to Ireland. General Choi Passed away on the 11th June 2002 in Pyongyang North Korea.