In May of 2006 Woo Jin Jung, publisher of TaeKwonDo Times, was in Pyongyang North Korea breaking boards. His hope was to break borders and end 53 years of division between North and South Korea. Just as the US and China grew closer through “pingpong diplomacy” in the 1970’s, Grand Master Jung hoped to resolve the stalemate between the 2 Koreas with “TaeKwonDo diplomacy”.
Historic events over the weekend have given GM Jung a reason to believe that the dialogue he hoped to start is coming to fruition.
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — With a smile and strong hands, Korean-American taekwondo grandmaster Woo Jin Jung shatters bricks and pine boards in hopes of breaking another solid barrier — the 53 years of division between North and South on the Korean peninsula.
No one is immune to his unusual charms.
In this normally tightly regimented city, Jung even convinced the prim North Korean announcer, wearing a bright green hanbok dress, to chop a board in two for the crowd watching his demonstration. “Female or male, old people and young, black or white, it doesn’t matter — we’re just all wishing for unification,” Jung, 64, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told the audience.
Just as the U.S. and China drew closer together through “pingpong diplomacy” in the 1970s, Jung and his delegation of martial arts practitioners hope their “taekwondo diplomacy” can help resolve the Koreas’ equally intransigent stalemate.
“Pingpong helped the USA and China have a relationship. Taekwondo will do the same to reconcile North and South,” said Jun Lee, 45, another Korean-American taekwondo grandmaster, who traveled to North Korea from Raleigh, N.C.
Even taekwondo itself has fallen victim to the hostility between the communist North and capitalist South. Rival factions in the two Koreas pledge allegiance to different sports bodies that disagree about the sport’s origins.
Jung’s trip to the North was part of a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the International Taekwondo Federation, or ITF, which was founded in Seoul, South Korea, in 1966 by South Korean Gen. Choi Hong-hi.
But Choi’s differences with South Korea’s military regime caused him to emigrate to Canada. Then, in 1980, he brought the sport to North Korea as part of the ITF. After his death in 2002, Choi was buried in a North Korean cemetery for national heroes.
South Korea founded a new taekwondo association in 1973 — the World Taekwondo Federation, or WTF — which is now recognized by the International Olympic Committee as the sport’s official body.
Taekwondo coalesced centuries of Korean martial arts into a system in the mid-20th century. The ITF insists it was Choi who gave the sport its name, but the WTF claims the origin is unclear.
Over the years, ITF adherents were branded as pro-communists and spies. Some who followed Choi’s teachings were forced to leave South Korea.