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'Long-term vision planning needed for taekwondo's longevity'

2012/04/07 | 211 views |  | Permalink | Source

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Min Kyung-ho, master of Korean martial art plants seed in US

This is the seventh in a series of interviews that feature individuals who help promote Korean culture overseas. - ED.

By Jane Han

NEW YORK - For most people, taekwondo is a great hobby but not for Min Kyung-ho.

"It's a way of life", says Min, a taekwondo master who has spent more than 50 years practicing and teaching the sport.

Credited as the taekwondo pioneer in the United States, the 77-year-old has dedicated more than half of his life to promoting the Korean martial art, eventually to see it an official Olympic sport.

In an interview with The Korea Times, Min recalled his journey and lifelong efforts in bringing the once little-known sport to the international stage.

"Taekwondo had a lot of potential without proper direction and organization", said Min of the days when he first came to the United States in 1963.

Born in Onchun, North Korea, Min came to the United States for graduate studies in physical education administration at the University of Georgia. He taught at a few colleges and universities before beginning his 40-year-long career at the University of California, Berkeley in 1969.

Today, taekwondo ― a fast, kick-centered, defense-oriented style ― is easily recognized and accepted, but not when Min first started teaching.

"It was a stiff rock climbing experience due to the lack of general perception of Korean martial arts compared to those of Japan and China", said Min, whose first task was to convince people to use the term taekwondo instead of "Korean karate".

Over the years, he organized dozens of national associations and tournaments that brought together hundreds of contestants from around the country and overseas.

Taekwondo started gaining recognition but Min wanted more.

So he led a move to get the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) to recognize the sport in 1974, the first milestone that set the sport apart from other martial arts, such as karate and judo.

Karate had been accepted into the AAU in 1972 and judo in 1962.

"The AAU's recognition paved the road for taekwondo to become an Olympic medal sport", says Min, who now believes that it has established its place as a true "international sport".

In the United States, it isn't hard to spot a taekwondo studio even in the suburbs. However, the rapid growth isn't without side effects.

"I suspect that there are more than 100,000 taekwondo schools and studios throughout the U.S. and I also suspect that there are more than 100 taekwondo competitions held on any given weekend for one reason or another", says Min. "It is my opinion that taekwondo has grown too fast in quantity without quality control".

Its popularity has been abused by extensive commercialization as a business even though there are genuine masters that carry action philosophy as part of a valued education, he said.

The National Governing Body of the United States Olympic Committee of Taekwondo and other affiliated organizations have pursued standardizing the teaching curriculum and methods, but their efforts have not succeeded.

He said active promotion of the sport is important, but keeping in mind taekwondo's true values is more essential.

"I believe that taekwondo leaders overseas, especially in the U.S., must provide a harmonious leadership to eliminate confusion and frustration", he said. "A long-term vision planning is an absolute necessity for the longevity of taekwondo's popularity".

After retiring from Berkeley in 2006, Min continues to look over key tournaments, but is no longer able to train.

"My old injuries and aging process have slowed me down drastically in recent years", says the master, a 9th Dan Black Belt in taekwondo, judo and youngmudo.

But his passion for the sport still lives on.

"I spent all my life digging in one well", he said. "Imagine spending more than 50 years in one field. Wouldn't you consider this to be the way of life?"

'태권도 장수 위해 장기 비전 계획 필요'

뉴욕 ― 대부분 사람들에게는 태권도가 훌륭한 취미인데 민 경호씨에게는 그렇지 않다.

미국에서 태권도 선구자로 여기고 있는 민(77)씨는 반평생 넘게 한국의 무술을 홍보해 결국 올림픽 공식 종목으로 채택되게 했다.

민씨는 본지와의 인터뷰에서 한 때 거의 알려지지 않은 이 종목을 국제 무대로 끌어올리는데 평생의 노력을 바친 자신의 여정을 뒤돌아보았다.

1963년 미국에 처음 건너온 민씨는 "태권도가 적절한 나아갈 방향과 조직이 없었지만 잠재력이 많았다"고 말했다.

북한 온춘에서 태어난 민씨는 조지아대에서 체육행정학 대학원 코스를 위해 미국에 왔다. 민씨는 1969년 캘리포니아대 버클리 캠퍼스에서 40년간의 교직 생활을 시작하기 전 몇몇 단과대학과 종합대 강단에 섰었다.

오늘날 빠른 발차기와 방어 지향적인 스타일인 태권도는 쉽게 알려지고 받아들여지고 있으나 민씨가 처음 가르칠 때는 그렇지 않았다.

첫 번째 작업이 사람들에게 "한국의 가라데" 대신에 태권도란 용어를 쓰게 하는 것이었던 민씨는 " 일본 및 중국의 무술에 비해 한국 무술에 대한 일반적인 개념 부족 때문에 절벽타기와 같은 경험이었다"고 말했다.

jhan@koreatimes.co.kr

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