8th August 1970 was the day Grandmaster Cho Sang Min arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He went pn to introduce the people of that football loving
South American nation to the Korean martial art of TaeKwon-Do and subsequently became known as the ‘Father of Brazilian TaeKwon-Do’. I recently had the opportunity of meeting Grandmaster Cho, whom I found to be both polite and courteous, with a truly respectful manner. Now in his 60’s, he resides in Los Angeles USA, where he is a successful businessman. During the course of the interview he spoke both about his past and his hopes for the future of TaeKwon-Do.
G randmaster Cho’s own TaeKwon-Do career began in the Korean city of Kwang-Ju, which is located in the south of the country. His first Instructor was Master Kim Yu Sun. Not long after his training began he had the opportunity to train under Master Ko Jae Chun, who was attached to the
Korean military (Master Ko Jae Chun was a member of 1959 TaeKwon-Do military demonstration team sent to Vietnam). Grandmaster Cho says that
Master Ko Jae Chun was an excellent Instructor -prior to studying TaeKwon-Do Grandmaster Cho had trained in Western Boxing with a friend but later decided that it was not for him. Grandmaster Cho readily admits that in retrospect the training he received, whilst under Master Ko Jae
Chun, was somewhat Karate based. All students trained extensively on the Makiwara, conditioning with both their hands and feet, together with the continual practising of the basic and fundamental movements. When questioned about which Patterns they practised, Grandmaster Cho says that he recalls practising the first three TaeKwon-Do patterns devised: Ul-Ji, Hwa- Rang and Choong Moo, alongside the older Karate Patterns (Katas), which where still practised extensively throughout Korea at this time. When the time came for Grandmaster Cho to enlist in the Korean military he was assigned to a Division in which he served for the next two and a half years. Whilst in the military he continued to train, mostly by himself. However, he also taught some of his fellow soldiers who had expressed an interest in TaeKwon-Do.
After his military service was complete, he headed back to Kwang -Ju, where he was appointed Chief Instructor of a Kwan founded by Grandmaster
Ko Jae Chun. After some time teaching in his hometown he was asked if he would move to the Korean capital, Seoul, to open an affiliated Dojang which he agreed to do. Upon his arrival in Seoul he was asked to perform a Demonstration before the American 8th Army. It just so happened that General Choi Hong Hi was in attendance. After the Demonstration was over General Choi approached Grandmaster Cho and asked him if he would be interested in training directly under his tutelage. Grandmaster Cho was only too happy to accept, as he was already familiar with the
Ch’ang- Hon system (Chon-Ji Dan-Gun etc). It was also around this time that Grandmaster Cho met Grandmaster Nam Tae Hi (who was a Captain in the R.O.K. Army at this time).
Grandmaster Cho, like many others, was afforded the opportunity of training at General Choi’s residence in Hamman Dong Seoul. Whilst there,
Grandmaster Cho perfected his existing techniques, learned new one’s and improved his understanding of General Choi’s TaeKwon-Do philosophy. At this time, Grandmaster Cho trained alongside Master J. C. Kim (who would go on to become the first Instructor on the 1st and 2nd ITF training course’s held in Seoul in 1968, prior to his leaving and taking up a teaching post in Malaysia). After his departure Grandmaster Cho was selected by General Choi and the
ITF to teach the subsequent course.
Grandmaster Cho kindly explained to me the criteria and structure of the ITF course he instructed. He explained that the course was run for three months and consisted of four hours training in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Each course trained 30 students to be qualified ITF International Instructors. The students came from all over Korea to train on the ITF course, although only the best were permitted to attend. They had to be a minimum of 4th degree and have a letter of recommendation from their Kwan’s Chief Instructor. At this time in Korea nearly everyone wanted to learn the ITF syllabus, so competition for places on the course was fierce.
Grandmaster Cho taught the entire ITF syllabus, which covered: Patterns (only 20 were taught on the this course – as printed in the 1965 edition of General Choi’s book) Sparring
Fundamental movements Theory; and Teaching skills Also, an English teacher was employed to teach all participants English. All of the students wore the traditional ITF Dobok with the black piping around the bottom part of the jacket (which represents the Korean royal family). Many Masters on this course went on to spread TaeKwon- Do around the world I.e. Park Jung Tae (Canada) Kim Hong Sup (Chicago) Yi Bong Choi (New York) Kum Jun Kwon (Brazil). Only the best were selected and sent to the coveted overseas teaching posts. Grandmaster Cho’s teaching on this course was entirely voluntary. After teaching all day he would then report directly to General Choi before heading to his own Dojang to teach civilians in the evening. Grandmaster Cho emphasised that many people were inspired to be part of the ITF and that the ITF was by far the dominant force in Korea at that time.
In 1970 General Choi’s situation in Korea, with regards to his relationship with the then South Korean President Park Jung Hee, was worsening.
Therefore he requested that Grandmaster Cho go and introduce TaeKwon-Do to the people of Brazil. At first Grandmaster Cho stated that he wished to stay and support General Choi in Korea. However, he eventually accepted General Choi’s request and departed for Sao Paulo Brazil arriving on
August 8th 1970. Like many pioneers, he was in a country where he was unaccustomed with both its language (Portuguese) and its culture. Brazil, however, was a country in celebratory mood, as Pele, Carlos Alberto, Rivelino, Tostao, Jairzinho and the rest of that glorious football team had just won the World cup for the third time.
Wr artialArts February 06 13 Brazil itself had a large Korean population. Grandmaster Cho therefore began to teach his fellow Koreans (who resided in Brazil) TaeKwon-Do. In exchange for teaching technique to some of the younger Brazilian students Grandmaster Cho would receive language lessons.
However, he concedes that at first he was not entirely happy and had problems set-tling in. He therefore requested that General Choi send him to another coun-try. However, he received a letter back from General Choi, who was still in Korea, stating that he should stay in Brazil and continue to spread TaeKwon-Do in that region of the world.
After this, Grandmaster Cho began earnestly promoting TaeKwon-Do by way of many demonstrations, which were soon picked up by television, radio, and all the local and national newspapers. He soon became known as the ‘flying man’ because of his jumping ability. He was also advised at this time to call his art Korean Karate, but he declined this advice and advertised and promoted only TaeKwon-Do. Within one year he could not believe the popularity of TaeKwon-Do. He found himself teaching in colleges, schools and gyms as well as being asked to instruct the Sao Paulo police force. Such was TaeKwon-Do’s popularity that in no time at all there were literally thousands training.
Grandmaster Cho requested that further Instructors be sent from Korea to help him teach. In 1971 Master Kum Joon Kwon arrived. Another 30
Korean Instructors followed throughout the 1970’s, many being sponsored by Grandmaster Cho. Many still teach in Brazil to this day, such as
Grandmasters Kim Sang In and Kim Sang Eun. There are now many full-time TaeKwon-Do Academies in Brazil and literally tens of thousands of students who can all trace there lineage directly back to Grandmaster Cho, who is rightly recognised as the Father of Brazilian TaeKwon-Do.
The late 1970’s was a hard time for Grandmaster Cho, as he had supported General Choi and the ITF loyally for many years. However, he told General Choi that he could not support his decision to go to North Korea and therefore felt that he had no choice but to leave the ITF and with-draw his support (as did many of his fel-low pioneering Masters).
Grandmaster Cho says that he was extremely unhappy at this time, and states: I believe that General Choi’s decision greatly weakened the ITF at this time, as many Instructors would have stayed loyal to General Choi if he had not gone to North Korea. Also, in South America in the late 1970’s the WTF was weak (however, it grew in strength from 1980 onwards).
Once the military government in South Korea had been replaced (in the late 1980’s) the ITF could have regrouped and possibly have returned to South Korea. But for myself and many others the ITF is the only true TaeKwon-Do, 1988 saw Grandmaster Cho leave Brazil for America. He had always dreamed of living and teaching TaeKwon-Do there. Prior to this he was due to go back to Kwang-Ju, South Korea to carry the Olympic torch on its journey to the 1988 Olympics, which were held in Seoul. However, whilst having a medical checkup in Chicago he was told that he needed an urgent operation or he could possibly die. He therefore missed the opportunity to carry the Olympic torch. His wife also asked him to stop teaching TaeKwon-Do at this time. Grandmaster Cho respected his wife’s wishes but did continue to train himself. He continues to travel regularly to Brazil to conduct Gradings. He also attends the Annual National Championships,
at the invitation of the Brazilian TaeKwon-Do Federation.
In March 2005 Grandmaster Cho, along with other prominent and pioneer-ing TaeKwon-Do Grandmasters from both ITF and WTF, visited Seoul to express their desire to have the true TaeKwon-Do returned to its country of origin. Grandmaster Cho told the Grandmasters he met that they were all in a position to do the correct thing for TaeKwon-Do. He emphasised that the true TaeKwon-Do Pioneers had travelled all over the world to spread
TaeKwon-Do and that this was prior to the WTF being formed (1973). Grandmaster Cho therefore challenged the Grandmasters to correct the mistakes of the past.
Grandmaster Cho is hopeful of change, as the political climate in Korea is conducive to change at present. He believes that the Korean people should both know and be proud of their TaeKwon-Do heritage. One project that Grandmaster Cho is actively pursuing at present is the possibility of building a TaeKwon-Do museum (in California) to house TaeKwon-Do historical memorabilia. He hopes this could be built alongside a Korean style village.
Grandmaster Cho presently runs a successful property business from his home in Los Angeles.