Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Personal interest in North Korea?

I think it would be interesting to post why everyone signed up for this class, whether it was because of general interest or something more personal.

As for myself, I practice the Korean martial art of Taekwon-Do. I have been a student since I was seven years old, and currently I hold a III degree black belt and have traveled as far as Australia to compete. The founder of Taekwon-Do was General Choi Hong-Hi (1918-2002), a Korean who, while in the South Korean army scientifically developed the uniquely Korean art from Karate and ancient Korean fighting traditions.

I know a little bit about him and life in Korea from his autobiography. Choi was born in what is now North Korea, but like most others, considered himself to be a member of a homogenous culture undivided by politics. In late 1944, Choi was one of the leaders of a group of 3,000 conscripted student soldiers in Pyongyang who planned to desert their garrison and meet Kim Il-Sung’s opposition forces near Paektu-san. His group was caught, and as one of the ringleaders, the Japanese sentenced him to death. Luckily, Soviet forces liberated the prison where he was held literally days before his scheduled execution.

Though he was a founding member and a general in the South Korean army for decades, through a whole tangle of politics (which I will spare boring you with) he, and his organization, the International Taekwon-Do Federation, eventually affiliated themselves with North Korea. I have had the opportunity to train under him twice at seminars in Denver, and I’m probably one of a select group in the U.S. who’ve actually shaken the hand of a North Korean.

In TKD, we perform "patterns," sometimes called "forms," basically solo practice routines, and they all carry Korean names from history. Some of these include Tan’gun, Hwarang, and Juche (created to appease the DPRK). Some might find it interesting to read some of the pattern histories, which can be found at this link: http://www.itf-information.com/patterns.htm, though I am sure the spellings are not up to date.

Even though I really didn’t know that much before this class, it’s still interesting for me to read the texts and online histories and recognize certain names and places. I’ve developed a strong interest in Korean language and history that is sure to influence my course selection for the future.

Here is my reason. Why did everybody else take this class?

1 comment:

Sonia Lee said...

The history of North Korea is of interest to me because I have family ties to the country. My grandfather, whom I have never met, volunteered to work as a police during the Korean War and he was in the northern half of Korea when the country split. Since then, my grandmother has never heard from him and we do not know whether he is still alive. So I suppose there is a connection between my family and North Korea that I would like to discover.