Who is a name giver? Why does someone give a name? What is the significance of someone naming something? What conclusions can we draw from the acknowledged fact that General Choi named TAEKWON-DO?
WHO IS A NAME GIVER?
There are many instances of when people name things. A writer names a story that they pen. An inventor names a creation they put together through their innovative creative process. Parents name the child they conceived. People name pets that they come to love. Some fanatical car owners even give a name to their automobiles. Who of us have not given a nickname to our buddies. Even lovers sometimes refer to their significant others with what some will see as adorable or lovable modes of address.
Each one of us reading this have or had parents. These people that created us through a process of conception named us when we entered the world. We and things are obviously given names to identify who we are. Our names often have additional meanings other than just a pure labeling. Names not only identify people, places and things, but they also can give insight to what they are, via the name given to it. So naming something has a certain level of significance. Names mean things and they tell us something. When we name teams it allows us to know the members, coaches, trainers and other staff members of the team. Even the word coach when applied to name or label a person gives us information not needing additional defining.
Les Miserables has been called the greatest novel of the 19th century. The NAME of that author is Victor Hugo. Many have taken his epic story and adapted it into live plays on the stage, wonderful films for the big cinema screen and television, including great musical versions. Each director took what the author wrote, that which has become the global sensation of an epic, a timeless classic that has been enjoyed in so many venues around the world in various formats, adding something new, unique, and different in some fashion along the way.
Every actor that has played a role in the telling and retelling of that story over time, has added individual perspectives that can give additional meaning or interpretations of that great literary masterpiece. Each producer looks to assemble a cast and staff that can bring this magical wonder to more audiences. However in the end, it was Victor Hugo that wrote the story that became an epic novel loved around the world. The rise in the global popularity began with the all important NAME. The name he decided upon tells us something. It gives us some insight even before we read it or watch it come alive in front of us or on a screen. The name allows us to do so many things.
A car is a generic name for a device that moves on wheels under its own power generated internally without being pulled by a horse. Hence an early name or nickname for an automobile was “a horseless carriage.” There are many types of automobiles, like a fancy sports car or a family sedan. Today cars are built by various manufacturers all around the world. They are mostly powered by fuel products or batteries. At times they employ a hybrid of the 2 major types of power generating sources.
Since Taekwon-Do is not a human being, it did not have both a female and male parents. It did not come into existence the way a baby is conceived. Rather Taekwon-Do was an activity of physical movements and a mindset that existed previously in some form or another. Additional movements were created and refined along the developmental path. Philosophies and other non-physical attributes were also added and defined as seen fit. However at the inception of when the name was conceived and applied, there was a single person, or one parent if you will. Since General Choi Hong-Hi was a male, his so called parental role or title can appropriately be labeled Father. So like a father names a child, or an author names their story, so did General Choi name Taekwon-Do.
There are many people named Jane, Jose, Mary, Lee and Ali. But the name Les Miserables will always be associated with the genius Victor Hugo who penned that great masterpiece that has become a beloved epic novel. Likewise Choi Hong-Hi will always be remembered as the creative visionary that named Taekwon-Do. The fact that this has now been cemented in the Taekwondowon, which is destined to become a new mecca of Taekwondo, marks another dramatic changing point in the quest to correct the history of what has become the world’s most popular martial art.
We can safely assume that 207 nations around the world practice Tae Kwon Do. There remains only one nation that does not know the truth and complete history of Tae Kwon Do. Ironically that is the very place that gave humanity their great Korean gift of Taekwon-Do. This of course is The Republic of (south) Korea. There are many reasons why this is the case. But suffice it to say for this purpose that this is now changing. Given the myriad of reasons why the confusion and outright fabrication of our history exists, some like myself, view the changes coming remarkably fast, given the circumstances, but still painstakingly slow, given our passion to dispel the myths and see the many deserving individuals finally receive their long overdue credit.
In the case of General Choi, his good name needs to be restored, as it has been slandered as a result of the dirty, nasty Korean politics that sadly infected Taekwon-Do. I see the crediting of naming Taekwon-Do as an essential element of correcting the lies about Taekwon-Do’s history. Like all fathers that name their offspring, they guide, nurture and bring their child through all stages of their development, in every place they go to. So when an official government entity of south Korea takes this high profile step after a long hard fought campaign, I for one think it is a cause for celebration. Like all important struggles where the cause is just, it is rarely an easy road.
This long overdue celebration should and must begin with the Choi Family. I think proper Taekwon-Do etiquette requires it. General Choi decided many things along his path in life. At times some of those decisions caused conflict. As is the case with conflict, some often become caught up in said conflict. Such is and was the case of his Family. We can only attempt to understand and hopefully empathize with their suffering and angst over the many years, especially the most turbulent ones. His only son, Choi Jung-Hwa, a Grandmaster in his own right, along with his Family was held hostage when his Father fled for his safety in 1972. The process to gain the safe release of the immediate family members from a brutal dictatorship involved even a separation for a time from his own Mother and a sister! As the youngest child one can only try an imagine this level of suffering.
I was honored to have personally attended the official unveiling of the plaque honoring General Choi and 26 other “Greats In Taekwondo History” held just recently in MuJu Korea. It was touching for me to have been in the company of the Choi Family. I was humbled by their kind words and wonderful gestures. However it was sad for me to feel the cloud of controversy that seemed at times to follow or hover over us. I was dismayed and remain distressed over the terrible divisions that have plagued the ITF world. The consternation many of us feel, must start to dissipate. This can and should in my view, begin with the words one speaks or writes and the actions and gestures we take.
One of the latest causes or contributors for dissension began with a single word: NAMED. Who named Taekwon-Do is to me a vitally important piece of factual data in correcting the history of Taekwon-Do. Another single solitary word has been very controversial in getting people to embrace more of the truth about our Art’s historical development is the word: FOUNDER. So this latest round of what at times seems to be a never ending battle, that I see as divisive and painful, and also most counterproductive to efforts in telling the truth about our history, feels like a case of either or.
It also has been expressed by the opinion of some as an impediment, (my word), that may actually hurt, further contribute or even block more of the truth from becoming known, (again my words). A theme that I surmise seems to derive from this is, it is now or never. That somehow using the word named versus founder now may preclude and or can even prevent what others may see as a higher form of recognition.
Words do mean things and action certainly have consequences. We also need to have a deeper understanding that takes in a greater context. Many people have only written accounts of the history that are at best one sided. Because of the many controversies that have enveloped Tae Kwon Do from even before it’s very inception, most accounts leave out far too much critical data that needs to be examined from an analytical point of view, rather than a bitter partisan one.
If one grasps these basic concepts, has an open mind and uses objective criteria, with a critical eye, I believe a fair minded individual we realize a few basic points that cannot be ignored or torn down. This begins with the notion that without General Choi there would be no Taekwon-Do. This is not meant to say that Korea would not have developed their own Martial Art and National Sport, because it is clear to me they would have. I also am confident to assert that this Art or Martial Sport would have entered the Olympics.
The other main concept is that there is more the one Tae Kwon Do. Since it is obvious that we have many ways to do Tae Kwon Do, logic dictates that there must be more than a single person who was responsible for the different ways that we do Tae Kwon Do today. I like to look at it as 3 basic groups. For simplicity purposes I will lost them as ITF, WTF and Independent. Since there are many independents, I leave that to another time and place to discuss or elaborate further.
Continuing this discourse I focus in the ITF which began in the ROK Army under the leadership of a 2-Star Major-General and former Ambassador Choi Hong-Hi. What began as Military Taekwon-Do was the first or original Korean Martial Art to be labeled Taekwon-Do. This took place in and under the auspices of the Oh Do Kwan, the “Cradle Of Taekwon-Do.” It’s leaders, again under the creative vision of General Choi, would go onto form the ITF with General Choi as the driving force and founding president in Seoul Korea on March 22, 1966.
It was also General Choi that began the global dissemination of Taekwon-Do in 1959, when he led the 1st TAIKWON DO demonstration team abroad, formed the 1st Korean Taekwon-Do Association and authored the 1st book on Taekwon-Do. (That is a lot of varied and important firsts!)
What would become the WTF (Kukki) Taekwondo, began as Tae Soo Do on the civilian side with a focus on the new, rather unique set of sports sparring rules that came primarily from the Jidokwan. They did not apply General Choi’s Tae Kwon Do name until his lobbying pressure was successful in 1965, some 10 years after General Choi used the label of Taekwon-Do continuously from its inception in 1955.
The two sides seemed to always be in conflict with one another. The civilian side resisted General Choi’s attempts to control Tae Kwon Do’s destiny. The struggles continued and the divide became cemented when General Choi fled for his personal safety to live a life of exile in Canada. General Choi’s outspoken criticism of dictatorships in the south and his outreach to the north, marked him as a communist traitor that committed treason!
This empowered his opponents with tremendous amounts of potent ammunition to use against him. He was slandered and the KCIA looked to destroy his ITF, as it would in turn weaken his opposition and severely limit his ability to speak out globally against the brutality of the dictatorial regimes. As they mounted pressure, General Choi fought back, by regime in the north of Korea to fight against WTF TKD being included in the Olympics. For many others this was simply unforgivable, no matter their political leanings or how they felt about the former Ambassador Choi’s political criticisms.
When the Soviet Union dissolved and the Iron Curtain long separating Europe down the middle along ideological lines, and communism became a relic tossed in the pile of historical has beens, the WTF gained official sport status with the IOC.
So given this history, it is no wonder many do not consider General Choi “THE Founder” of Tae Kwon Do. I for one think it is strategically much more beneficial to refer to him as the principle founder of the Original Taekwon-Do. This phrase is virtually air tight and tamper proof. It has withstood any assaults, as it is based upon the historical timeline of Taekwon-Do’s development. I respectfully suggest that others consider General Choi’s invaluable and irreplaceable historic unprecedented achievements and great contributions. I implore others to read more broad based accounts of our Art’s history, especially those that are not from the ITF side or viewpoint. This also will allow the many other deserving figures to receive their long overdue credit as well.
I have been taught by my older brother a tactic employed in the 12 Step rooms of recovery. They teach that doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results is a definition of insanity! He also shared a wise tactic to use when angry. Never reply when angry. Take the time to think. Let things settle down. He had me print out the work THINK in bright, bold black letters and follow it with an exclamation point (!). He then instructed me to hang it upside down in my house to remind me to take the time to settle down, THINK and sort things out before responding in anger. I followed this sage advice and placed the paper upside down on the inside back of my door leaving my house. So every time I left, I saw it.
Many people have sent me messages, called me or asked me in person for my views on this latest controversy. Since I was traveling I did not have ample time to craft an appropriate response. When I travel for Taekwon-Do, my schedule is often packed with events and meetings all designed to help move forward the different laudable projects I believe strongly in. Naturally at the top of that list is helping to correct the history of Taekwon-Do.
So now that I am back home in my New York City, battling fatigue, jet lag and 3 time zones from actually circling the entire globe, I have worked on this narrative piece by piece. My first inclination is to state up front and emphatically that when looking to impart change, to impact things in a positive way, I feel in my heart of hearts that one must tread carefully. They must also think, think deeply and engage in thoughtful contemplation. Since we have the sad reality of a bitterly divided Taekwon-Do world, due diligence must be employed so as to avoid adding more fuel to the fires that already have haunted is for far too long. As students of Taekwon-Do we must always look to adhere to the Tenets of Taekwon-Do.
With that being stated upfront, the next logical step needs to be to engage in careful examination and thorough analysis of the record. In this case I do not think many did this. In fact most were not even aware of the totality of what the Taekwondowon did. For instance the maximum amount of text any of the 27 Greats honored was 3 simple lines. Some had only 2 lines of text honoring them. So tell me how do you encapsulate the entire life of a person in 3 little bullet points on a plaque? The answer is you don’t.
Therefore prudence dictates that one considered the totality of what the Taekwondowon has done. At least that is how I see it and the light that I view what they have had the courage to do. Yes that is right, the courage. The staff of this government entity is well aware of the controversy surrounding the most important man in the history of Taekwon-Do. The man I might add, that without, there simply would be no Taekwon-Do! (No Gen. Choi = No TKD).
So I encourage others to open their minds and use both eyes to critically review the text for the other 26 honorees. Then when you process that information, compare it to how they described General Choi. If I was asked to write the text for his plaque, and I was, I would look to highlight the start, then fill in the rest, up until his passing. I believe the text adapted by the Taekwondowon captures the very essence of General Choi’s lifetime of achievements and contributions in those 3 bullet points.
1) Named Taekwon-Do in 1955
(Which debunks the myth that Taekwon-Do is 2,000 years old. It also clearly affirms who the Father of Taekwon-Do by virtue of being the one who conceived the name, without using that word).
2) Identifies him as “THE Founder” of the Oh Do Kwan and credits him with contributing to the “vitalization” of Taekwon-Do in the ROK Military
(Vitalization = to endow with life; invigorate; to make vital, living or alive; to give life to; to give life or energy to something) (endow = give or bequeath; establish; provide)
(So most informed people will know that Taekwon-Do was first named and developed in the ROK Army, further evidence of of who was the principle founder of our Art. As I have been saying the Oh Do Kwan is the “Cradle Of Taekwon-Do,” so this speaks volumes!)
3) Cites him as both the president of Tae Soo Do, as well as the creator of the ITF, going on to state he spread TKD around the world
(Most accounts limit him to creating the ITF and not crediting him with doing anything with his organization. This can be seen to imply that the ITF ended, fell apart, was absorbed or became the WTF. More importantly NOT a single other person is mentioned with world wide dissemination.)
I conclude this essay by stating that I am very pleased with how the Taekwondowon has honored General Choi. I am not sure I could have whittled down my 11 bullet points better. Yes some people will want and have complained for more. I however am not sure given the reality of history and the nature of the current political climate, that more is possible now. Some others say if not now, then it will never happen. To this I vehemently disagree!
What I ask readers to consider is the changing attitude towards General Choi. Korean Pioneers, even those that did not follow him, hear about how the brutal dictatorship, which many of them witnessed first hand, held his Family hostage and he chose Taekwon-Do, they bow down to that. They deeply respect him, as they are coming to know how much he loved Taekwon-Do. So many Pioneers told me don’t worry, the Taekwondowon will eventually honor him. It is a matter of time.
People need to understand that there is now unanimous agreement among scholars that Taekwon-Do is not 2,000 years old. Researchers have documented that Taekwon-Do is a mid 20th Century innovation. Academics understand the timeline of Taekwon-Do’s development and are crediting those who played the major roles. Of course this includes General Choi. So this iconic figure, whom without, there would be no Taekwon-Do, has no entered the mainstream in the south Korean world of Tae Kwon Do.
Since academicians doing scholarly research are leading the way, students enrolled in the many Taekwondo programs of study at major south Korean Universities are now teaching about General Choi. He is moving front and center as the political climate changes and the dictatorial control of the regimes who attacked and blacklisted General Choi are long gone. Even the Kukkiwon teaches about General Choi in their Instructor Courses.
As the political reality of Korea continues to change, General Choi will increase in notoriety. I believe this is inevitable. Therefore I am confident that history will eventually get it right. For now, we are where we need to be, while at the same time we want more and will push for more. But these things take time. What we do now, will impact future change and the speed of that change. So for the naysayers who complain, I say, the all or nothing approach has gotten us nowhere in the past. It is steady, reasoned and incremental change that has gotten us to where we are now. For this I am grateful.
So I end with this final thought, Victor Hugo and Choi Hong- Hi. Victor Hugo began his work on Les Miserables in France. However he completed in political exile. Contemporary reviews at the time were mixed, including some negative ones. But it has grown to become loved worldwide, with many translations of title as well as how it is performed in various formats by different people. This I believe is the destiny of the Father who maned Taekwon-Do and the work he first began back in the mid 1950s.
Respectfully submitted during Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, as I am thankful for Korean Taekwon-Do and the Little Giant, Korean Patriot and Ambassador General Choi Hong-Hi.
Excellent Essay. With just a rudimentary knowledge of Korean Politics — It seems to me a Truly Formidable task..
For Gen. Choi Hong – Hi to be a Major influence on the R.O.K. Army and yet follow his love for his craft across hostile political borders . For him to suffer the ” Slings and Arrows ” of Visceral Discourse and yet stay true to his vision , seems a True act of Courage. It redeems faith in the human desire for justice. Truth outlives the politics of Division – of any time. Well done George
Fantastic article, thank you Sir.
George, congratulations, I for one know your behind the scene efforts have “made” a difference. Your tireless travels and influence has made much possible. I can confirm that General Choi is now mentioned in the Kukkiwon Masters course having attended it twice this year 2016 (Korea at kukkiwon and in Chicago) and 8 years ago when it was not included. When you and I walked thru the museum in Taekwondowon, Muju and participated in the MBC documentary, there was no mention of him. Today, he is in the Museum. That has to warm your heart, it does mine. Much is owed to you for your efforts. Congratulations my Taekwondo brother and to the Choi family can now sigh a breath of relief… proud of you.
Thank you Dr. Vitale for all the work you do for TKD and for sharing your knowledge. Great article.