Blood, Sweat, & Bad Kimchi: On Tour with General Choi


The early days of Tae Kwon-Do were anything but glamorous.

In the 1960’s, General Choi, widely considered the father of Tae Kwon-Do, took a team of 8-12 of his best men around the world to spread the word about the martial art. That team included great fighters like Ricky Ha and my mentor, the late Grand Master Park.

Our style of Tae Kwon-Do was developed on Jeju Island in South Korea, when General Choi led the 29th Infantry. It was very much a complete military martial art, Tae Kwon-Do was accepted as the best form of hand-to-hand combat and self-defense.

It is no surprise, then, that on these tours, General Choi’s team focused their visits on military bases and police academies. It was there that they believed their teachings would be well-received and resonate the most.

The team didn’t have much money, and hardly any sponsorship. So these tours were grueling, and the days were extremely long and intense. A typical day on tour usually began around 4:00 or 5:00 AM. The men would get up and go for a quick jog, then do a little bit of training. After, they would eat whatever breakfast they could afford.

It usually wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t healthy.

After breakfast, they would spend the day visiting bases and academies in the areas in which they were staying. Some of this time was spent simply developing relationships and bonding with military and police leaders. Tae Kwon-Do’s military roots were a common ground between them and those they were visiting, so these relationships took hold and grew strong quickly. 

The other time consisted of doing patterns and hand-to-hand things, physical fitness, and just showing off the overall prowess of their team. Later, they would have lunch, then the team would train by themselves. Evenings on tour were for demonstrations and sparring with their new comrades.

One story Grand Master Park told me was of a time in Japan. It was one of their first visits, and he was squaring off against one of the Japanese champions. Their style was so different from Tae Kwon-Do, so rigid, that when his opponent charged at him, Grand Master Park was able to tag him with a jump spinning hook kick. The guy never even knew he got hit, let alone what he got hit with

“It was at this moment,” Grand Master Park told me, “I knew they could not see my foot or defend against it. I knew I would be safe and that I could do what I had to do.”

All of this happened day in, day out, all over the world. 

Resources were slight. Grand Master Park used to tell me that they were so desperate to eat Kimchi that when they were in Germany – where traditional Kimchi was almost impossible to come by – they would get sauerkraut and just put hot sauce and pepper sauce all over it. He said it was terrible, but the closest they could come with what they had.

It wasn’t fun and games. There weren’t warm and fuzzy feelings. General Choi was a taskmaster, to say the least. Tensions among the men would rise. The team was under an amount of pressure that none of us could ever imagine.

Grand Master Park wasn’t immune to the rigors of touring. His body hurt. He said that he would often find it difficult to break even a few boards. His hands were so sore and he was so weak from the regimen they were putting themselves through. Many nights, he would get so sick that he would be throwing up blood.

One of my friends, Francois Balet (who later became one of Grand Master Park’s best friends) was living in Switzerland when one of General Choi’s demo teams was in the country. He said that when the men showed up to the demonstration, they were visibly beat up from the long, grueling schedule.

Despite being physically and mentally exhausted, they showed up and performed during that Switzerland trip. One fighter stood out to him, though, and that fighter was Grand Master Park. By the time it came to do the breaking part of the demonstration, all of the other fighters had backed out. So, it was up to Grand Master Park to step up and finish the show.

“There is no way that I can lose,” he told me. “Because if I lose, Tae Kwon-Do can no longer say it is the best.”

On these tours, Grand Master Park likely fought hundreds of fights against opponents from a wide variety of martial arts backgrounds – Karate, Isshin-Ryu, etc.

He never lost a single fight.

Nor did he hurt a single opponent. He would say that another part of his job was to be able to win many fights by defeating the opponent without hurting them. He didn’t want the Tae Kwon-Do fighters to look like a bunch of bad guys, or for Tae Kwon-Do itself to come off as a brutal martial art.

Again, the purpose of these tours was to demonstrate and bring Tae Kwon-Do to the rest of the world. So, no matter how sick he got, no matter how hard his muscles or bones ached, Grand Master Park knew he had to find a way to perform.

That is the embodiment of our dojang’s mantra, “Pil Sung.” Certain victory through indomitable spirit and courage.

Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, visit the Contact Us page or call  (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!


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