George Vitale Speaks about the Origins of TaeKwonDo

This article was originally posted on Korea and the World.

One of Korea’s most successful exports is Taekwon-Do: a martial art practiced by tens of millions around the globe and recognized as an olympic sport since the 2000 games in Sydney. Yet, far from being united, the world of Taekwon-Do has suffered various schisms. The story of its founder is as disputed as it is marred in the politics of the Korean Peninsula, and as a discipline Taekwon-Do is represented by two competing organizations on the international stage.

To learn more about the history of Taekwon-Do and the life story of its founding father, General Choi Hong Hi, we had the honor of interviewing Dr. George Vitale. He kindly offered to guide us through the complex politics of Taekwon-Do, the endeavors of General Choi, and of course the distinctive aspects of this modern martial art.

Dr. Vitale holds an 8th dan — the second highest rank — in Taekwon-Do and was inducted into the Official Taekwon-Do Hall of Fame in 2009 for his lifetime achievements, and provided assistance to Grandmaster Jung Woo-Jin in bringing a team of North Korean athletes to tour the United States. He is also the first (and only) American to have earned  an academic PhD (in Taekwon-Do) from North Korea in 2011. He previously served for over two decades in the New York State Police, which included a senior role in the security detail for two New York State governors.

As a young company commander [General Choi] started teaching the martial arts that he learned to the soldiers under his command, because quite honestly, they had nothing. He felt humiliated that he’s in the Korean army, and they really had no supplies, no real anything, they were even forced to use leftover Japanese army uniforms. So one of the things he did was start teaching them martial arts, which then further enraged him because he learned these martial arts in Japan. So now he’s teaching a Japanese-based martial art to his Korean soldiers […] It helped provide an incentive for him to […] lead the development of a Korean martial art.

The interview was recorded on February 13th in Seoul. An extended version of the interview with half an hour of additional material can be downloaded here.