The life and travels of Master Kim Bok Man

I greatly admire General Choi Hong Hi for his devotion to Taekwondo. Also I admire Master Han Cha Kyo. He was crazy for Taekwondo! And Master Kim Bok Man was wonderful!’ The above was taken from an interview with Lee Kwon Yung, founder of Taekwondo in France. (Taekwondo and Korean Martial Arts, May 2004). I used to get many of the Hong Kong martial arts magazines back in the I970’s, and 1 know Kim Bok Man from these. The magazines would often include photos of his impressive demonstrations. Occasionally he’d appear in the Hong Kong movie magazines, because he’d appeared in a couple of martial art films that were so popular at the time. He was known in Hong Kong as ‘The Tiger’ and as ‘the Father of Taekwondo in South East Asia’. Around 1974 I met a Goju Ryu karate student from Hong Kong. I remember he told me that Kim was the I top expert in Taekwondo in that part of the world! So even though I had never seen Kim Bok Man, he stuck in my mind as a kind of benchmark of Taekwondo j excellence.

Master Kim is now the head of his own style, which he calls Chun Kuhn Do. When I heard he was coming over to England to teach I contacted him for an interview. He kindly agreed and we met up in Rothcrham, where he was due to teach the next day. Kim Bok Man was born in South Korea on

December 1934. That means he was 70-years-old when we met. He was a fit and energetic 70-year-old who was still as lean as in his younger days.

He’d flown in from the States only that morning, and after a 3-hour drive and a couple of hours rest, he was kind enough to meet me. He was friendly, talk-alive and straightforward. I’m an army man! he said. Throughout our talk he was always ready to explain and demonstrate a technique.

He began his training as a boy, while Korea was still under Japanese occupation. His grandmother introduced him to a Buddhist priest who had taught him martial arts. Actually, it was quite a good system! he said. There was no gym in which to train. Training had to be carried out in the mountains or forests so as to avoid the Japanese authorities. The young Kim Bok Man was a good athlete and a promising footballer but he began to devote all his energies to martial arts practice when he joined the army in 1950. He taught self-defence to his fellow soldiers. This was at the time of the Korean War so there was a hard edge to his training! Military training was very practical! he recalled. In 1955 he did a demonstration before Choi Hong Hi and Choi’s right hand man – Nam Tae Hi.

The demonstration showed various techniques – jumping kicks. Breaking, and a couple of sparring matches. From this he was taken on as one of the senior instructors of Taekwondo in the military. His biography reads. ‘In February 1966. with the support of Nam Tae Hi. Kim became involved with the Special Board formed by leading military and political figures to officially recognise Taekwondo as the self defence system of the Korean armed forces.

Modern Taekwondo developed in the 195()’s and the Korean military was a real driving force in its early history. Kim Bok Man was constantly developing his technique in those days. His philosophy, he said. Was ‘Always advance, advance!’ He incessantly discussed technique with his fellow instructors and he developed defensive techniques by having people attack him with knife, bayonet and baton. He also trained with yudo (judo) experts, studying their throwing techniques and then working out defences against them. ‘After a while, he reminisced, ‘The yudo men became wary of me because I could neutralise their throws and use my kicks and punches in counterattacks.’ He also developed falling techniques on surfaces such as cement floors because you don’t have a mat in a real fight! He recalled how, in those same early days, he would go round the different training halls – the kwans – and spar with their lop fighters.

Sometimes he was accompanied by his great friend, the late Han Cha Kyo. By this time their technique had advanced well beyond that of the old kwans and Kim found it easy to dominate the other fighters. That was a source of annoyance to Choi Hong Hi who was trying to bring all the schools together. Secretly though. Kim thought. Choi may have been rather pleased! Nam Tae Hi, on the other hand, was overtly happy that ‘his students were easily defeating these other top fighters.

In Kim’s books there are photos of him in 1956 with the members of the Taekwondo Training School of the ROK (Republic of Korea) Armed Forces.

There’s also a photo of him. Taken in 1957. as part of a group identified by the caption as The Directors and Chief Instructors from the

National Armed Forces after Taekwondo training. As one of the leading instructors of the art Kim was part of the first international demonstration team that visited Vietnam and Taiwan during 1959. As an aside, he made a stop-over in Okinawa as he returned from Taiwan. He wanted to see their karate but was rather disappointed because he regarded the style as old-fashioned and technically limited.

Kim left the Army in 1962 to devote his energies to the spread of Taekwondo. He and Woo Kae Lim became the fust international instructors when they went to Singapore in 1963 to give a demonstration at the Gae stadium. That generated a lot of interest and led to various teaching engagements. Kim was actually engaged to teach the Malaysian army.

In 1965 he was back in Korea helping to review the teaching and structure of Taekwondo and to lay the foundations of the International

Taekwondo Federation. Then he set off again and first stop was a visit to Hong Kong, where he held a major press conference and demonstration to introduce the art. Then he formed part of a 6-man team of Taekwondo experts on a tour of through Indonesia. Singapore. Malaysia. Thailand.

Brunei. Sarawak and The Philippines. At that time the South Korean government seemed to regard Taekwondo as an important cultural export.

Certainly these were high-profile tours judging from the people Kim Bok Man met and did demonstrations for. They included such important personages as Tunku Abdul Raman (Prime Minster of Malaysia). Lee Kuan Yew (Prime Minster of Singapore). President Marcos of the Philippines, and the Sultan of Brunei. I well remember these names from the world news of the 1960’s and 7()’s.

In each of the countries visited. Kim Bok Man set up national Taekwondo associations and often established links with the military and police forces. Since the I950’s. I imagine he has done countless demonstrations and I wondered whether, in all those years, had he ever been hurt? ‘Only twice’, he replied. On both occasions it seems he slipped. The first was when he was pierced in the side by a bayonet. Fortunately. Though, the penetration was only shallow and he wasn’t seriously hurt. The second time he slipped on damp grass and was hit hard on the forehead with a baton.

For reasons that aren’t clear, in 1968 General Choi revoked the visas of Kim Bok Man and his demonstration team. However. Kim seemed to regard that as no more than a temporary setback and he carried on leaching and travelling. He did, however, break with the ITF and set up the World

Practical Taekwondo Association to spread his style of Taekwondo. He continued his travels into the I970’s but now extended his teaching to the

USA. His technique at this time can be seen in his textbook ‘Practical Taekwondo. He intended to put out three volumes, totalling about a thousand pages in all. But that didn’t work out. Even as it is, ‘Practical Taekwondo’ contains page after page of defences against knife, baton, bayonet and pistol; releases from a grab, throwing techniques, defences against throwing, falling techniques, free sparring, patterns, and how to kick the bag. It also includes a section on body mechanics and how to generate power through what Kim calls ‘the trunkai twist’.

This book shows how Taekwondo is used to deal with attacks of all kinds.

Although Kim naturally shows a lot of kick ing techniques he also demonstrates the use of the fist, elbow, knee, and throwing and joint-locking. This is important and shows how Kim was separating himself, in a way, from the contemporary movement towards

Taekwondo as a pure sport, with restrictive rules and dependency on a limited range of scoring techniques. Kim himself had been involved in establishing Taekwondo tourna ments but he disliked the way this trend cut

Taekwondo off from its martial roots.

Master Kim remembered how, back in the early 1950’s, Taekwondo technique was lim ited and still more or less based on karate. It – was that which motivat- ed him to systematise and develop the an. In fact he claims that he is the real technical founder of Taekwondo.

When I asked Kim whether he had a favourite technique, he replied that he didn’t have one because he didn’t think in thai way. He didn’t favour punches or kicks, right or left side. Instead he believed that you should train to be good at everything, otherwise you couldn’t call yourself a master. ‘If there’s something I’m trying to devise, or I’m working on’, he once told Mark lies, his student. ‘Then I’ll stick to it until I’ve got it right!

I asked Kim about the jumping kicks you see in Taekwondo demonstrations and he took time to explain in detail how you use the spring in the body and the best posi-tion oi’ the legs. He became animated as he explained this or that move, demonstrating. For example, how he discussed and categorised the various stances with General Choi. How just a slight change in foot position could affect the power of your technique; how to move when defending against weapons; how he would occasionally work out with boxers,
and which techniques to use against boxing punches.

He was very strong on correct instruction and in mastering the basics before moving onto the more advanced movements. ‘I hate it’, he told me with real feeling. ‘When ;e students with bail technique!’ He explained body mechanics and the correct way to generate speed and power. He demonstrated an arm lock defence against a lapel grab and explained the best way to gain leverage so as to get the best effect from the technique. He explained how all this was about understanding principles and then being able to apply them in practice. ‘Without this understanding, said Kim. ‘It may look the same – but it’s not! So it’s important that a master shows techniques. Explains them, and answers any questions. If he can’t do this, then you can’t call him a master. Kim related how he often used to argue with his fellow instructors. Saying they had a duty to explain – to help people – and not just take their money.

Now he is teaching his art of Chun Kuhn Do, which he has developed after many years of practice. The name translates as ‘The Art of Complete

Wellness’ and it stresses the need for technique that is practical, realistic, healthy and capable of being practised for the long term. In response to my mentioning boxing he commented that though he wouldn’t criticise other fighting arts, he did say that you couldn’t do boxing past a certain age, and after age fifty, you began to feel its effects on your health. He mentioned a similar thing with judo, where constant throws and all the impacts of landing hard on the mat could wear your body down and lead to problems in middle age. That’s why one of the objectives of Kim’s Chun Kuhn Do is to foster long-term practice and to promote health.

Another distinctive feature of Kims style is training with weapons. Kim always had an interest in weapons but this wasn’t shared by General

Choi and other senior instructors. None of the old kwans taught weapons either, though a couple may have taught the use of the knife (but not to a high level!). By comparison. Kim always worked with weapons and his system includes the sword, cane, baton, pole (staff), knife, fan.

Linked baton (nunchaku), bayonet, kama, and spear. He devised patterns for each of these weapons, and defences to use against them.

Interestingly. Kim teaches the usage of the weapon first before teaching defences against it because he has found that knowing how to use the weapon gives you important insights into how to defend against it! He also said that the way you attack with the knife depends on the position your opponent takes. You must adjust your technique to attack his weakest point.

His opinion was that once upon a time people used weapons in warfare, or to fight wild animals. That meant the level of technique was high. Over the centuries, of course, the use of weapons had declined and technique deteriorated. So now he wanted to rehabilitate weapons practice, and not just for self-defence but for discipline and to promote health. Kim explained how wielding a weapon such as the pole or the spear calls for vigorous movement of the upper body. This is valuable for exercising the muscles and improving the circulation.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make Master Kim’s seminar held the next day but it was good to have met him. I want to thank him for his time and to wish him all the luck in the world with his promotion of Chun Kuhn Do.

I also want to thank Lenny Ludlam, and Kim Bok Man students Mark lies and Scott Cocillie for arranging the meeting with him. Contact the World

Chun Kuhn Do Federation, 1713 101st Avenue, Thornton, Colorado 80260, USA or email

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest