The strange saga taekwondo and politics

When I was much younger, I began martial arts training in taekwondo (TKD) and Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ).  Eventually I gave up taekwondo for kickboxing, and eventually just decided to specialize in BJJ. 

Although I was part of the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), I really had no idea about its origins, or its part in the history and development of taekwondo.  So today I was surprised to read about the history of this organization and its relationship to the DPRK and even an assassination attempt on South Korean President Chun Doo hwan!

The beginning…

The ITF was founded in 1955 by General Choi Hong-hi, who is considered by the group to be the father of TKD.  Choi moved to Canada (from South Korea) in 1972, complaining that the Park government, among other things, allegedly forbade him from teaching TDK in the DPRK.  Shortly after he left, the South Korean government formed the World Taekwondo Federation (now recognized by the IOC).   

Choi’s final years were marked by his efforts to return to North Korea. He introduced taekwondo there in 1980, and won further favour with the government by changing the name of one solo practice form from kodang (after a North Korean democratic Christian moderate, presumed slain by the Red Army in 1946) to juche (after the isolationist policy of “self-reliance” advocated by North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung). Though Choi’s intention had been reconciliatory, unfortunately South Korea saw it as treasonous. (Guardian)

General Choi died and was buried in Pyongyang in 2002.  His death gave the DPRK the opportunity to name its IOC member, Jang Ung, as ITF leader, prompting Choi’s son, Choi Jung hwa, to resign as secretary-general and move back to Canada to set up a separate governing body there.  The ITF leadership is now claimed by three groups in the DPRK, Austria, and Canada who each purport to be successors to General Choi.

Choi Jr…

It seems that Choi Jr. moved to North Korea (from Canada) in 1981 after Canadian police discovered his role in plotting the assassination of then South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan, who was scheduled to visit Canada the following year.

In 1991, however, he surrendered to Canadian authorities and was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released after one year for good behavior. (AP)

“I was unintentionally involved” in the assassination attempt case, Choi told a news conference Monday. “I think that’s because of my political naivety or spirit of adventure. I made such a mistake due to this combination of factors.” (AP)

Now Choi Jr., after 34 years, has returned to South Korea to undergo questioning about the incident. Choi Jr. maintans that North Korea infiltrated the ITF, using it as a front to send out spies and plot the killing of a South Korean president who ruled for much of the 1980s:

“After taking control of the ITF, the North trained spies and sent them overseas, disguising them as taekwondo masters,” (Reuters)

Choi Jung-hwa, however, was expected to be cleared of most of the allegations against him because he voluntarily returned and the statue of limitations on many of them have expired.(AP)


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