Thursday, March 12, 2009
Master Tae Hong Choi Has Passed Away
My Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Tae Hong Choi has passed away. I spent years with this man, who provided me with the strong martial foundation I have tried to carry with me for life. There are many, many stories I have about training, working, and yes, even drinking with Mr. Choi. But now is the time to reflect on the strong organization Mr. Choi built and the comradery of his many, many students.
From Oregon Live:
Portland-area tae kwon do grandmaster pioneered sport in U.S. Tae Hong Choi, who established schools and taught thousands of students, dies at 73
Grandmaster - Tae Hong Choi, who ran schools in the Portland area, dies at 73
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Oregonian Staff
For years, Gordon Graaff had been sparring with -- and losing to -- his internationally heralded tae kwon do instructor, Tae Hong Choi.
Finally, Graaff thought he was about to topple the master, he recalled, thinking back to the episode some 20 years ago. "I was feeling pretty cocky. . . . I'm 25 or something, I'm young and strong, and he's got to be like 45 and an old man."
Next thing he knew, Graaff was flat on his back.
"(Choi) pumped me on the chest with his fist, and he just goes 'heh heh heh heh,' " Graaff said. Choi had a good sense of humor, he said, but the master still earned respect.
Choi, a grandmaster in tae kwon do, winner of multiple martial arts titles and a teacher of thousands of students, died Sunday at Providence Portland Medical Center. He was 73.
The eventual Korean national champion was initially shooed away by the martial artists he watched as a young boy delivering newspapers in Korea, according to a 2004video by NW Documentary that featured Choi and other Northwest Koreans.
After seven days of his pestering, the men seemed to relent -- but put him to work instead. After 20 days, they rewarded his work ethic and started teaching him. He earned his black belt after two years. He soon started winning titles and eventually earned a ninth-degree black belt, the sport's highest designation.
While in the Korean army, he fought in the Vietnam War and taught hand-to-hand combat skills to Korean and U.S. special forces. That got him his next job of instructing hand-to-hand combat for top-level U.S. security agents, his family said, and he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1971. He brought his family over to Oregon where a distant cousin lived, said his second son, Sung Choi.
After rejoining his family in 1972, Choi started teaching tae kwon do at the YMCA and later opened a studio in Northeast Portland.
He also helped establish tae kwon do nationally, serving in the sport's governing body in the United States.
Choi so impressed one young student, Leon Preston, that he decided to study under Choi, even though it meant making frequent trips down to Portland from his Seattle home.
"He represented what a true martial artist is," said Preston, who now is a master instructor himself and was a tae kwon do referee in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "His teachings included self-discipline, a broader worldview of how we fit into society, and . . . dedicating yourself to making a change for the betterment of the community."
Choi eventually opened two more schools for students in Beaverton and North Portland, his son said, and at times, let students slide on tuition.
Choi's honors included traveling to Seoul with one of his students who competed in the 1988 Olympic Games; recognition from the Korean Minister of Culture; and a 2007 lifetime achievement award from the United States Taekwondo Grandmasters Society.
"Mr. Choi was one of the pioneers for tae kwon do in this country," said Joon Pyo Choi, co-chairman of USA Taekwondo's martial arts commission. "When the word 'tae kwon do' didn't even exist in this country, he was already teaching."
Survivors include his wife, Man Soon Choi of Portland; daughters, Ilsun Kim and Minsun Min, both of Seattle; sons, Hung Choi of Beaverton and Sung Choi of New York City; and five grandchildren.
Services will be held 3 p.m. Thursday in the Korean Mission Church, 9100 S.W. Wilshire St., Portland. Burial will follow in Skyline Memorial Gardens, 4101 N.W. Skyline Blvd., Portland.
Helen Jung: 503-294-7621;helenjung@ news.oregonian.com