The Taekwon-Do Founder, General Choi Hong Hi (dec) was born on November 9th, 1918 in the Hwa Dae, Myong Chung District. A sickly but wilful child, he was expelled from school at the age of 12 for leading a protest against the occupying Japanese.
He is regarded as the Founder of Taekwon-do and served as President of the International Taekwon-do Federation (I.T.F.) for many years. General Choi Hong Hi (dec) passed away in June 2002, after a long battle with cancer.
His father then persuaded him to study calligraphy and Chinese characters. Choi’s tutor, Master Han II Dong, was also a master of Taek Kyon, the ancient Korean art of foot fighting which Han II Dong had practised in secret throughout the Japanese occupation. Noticing Choi’s frail physique, he decided to teach him Taek Kyon too.
Choi travelled to Japan, where he studied English, mathematics, and karate. In Kyoto, he met a fellow Korean with the surname Kim, who was a karate instructor and taught Choi this martial art. Choi also learned Shotokan karate under Funakoshi Gichin.
Just before he had left Korea, Choi apparently had a disagreement with a wrestler named Hu, and the possibility of a future confrontation inspired him to train; in his own words, “I would imagine that these were the techniques I would use to defend myself against the wrestler, Mr. Hu, if he did attempt to carry out his promise to tear me limb from limb when I eventually returned to Korea” . Choi attained the rank of 1st dan in karate in 1939, and then 2nd dan soon after.
General Choi’s military career began in 1937, when he was forced, as were all Korean soldiers, to join the Japanese army as a student volunteer, during Japan’s occupancy of career.
On his return to Korea in 1942, he hid to avoid conscription into the Japanese Army, but was eventually caught, and in October 1943 began his basic training. He was soon arrested during an attempt to escape and join the underground Korean Liberation Army. Sent to Pyung Yang prison for treason, he was due to have been executed on August 18 1945, three days after Korea was liberated.
In 1945, Choi enrolled in the Koreans Military Academy, later to be commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant in 1946. By 1948, he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was a Taekyon instructor for the military troops of the R.O.K. and the American Military Police School based in Korea.
On the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Choi hurried back to Korea, where he was ordered to set up an officer training academy. In 1952 he was appointed chief of staff of the First Corps, and soon found himself briefing General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the United Nations troops, on the situation at the front line.
During the Korean War (1950-1953), Choi was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, becoming Chief of staff to the Korean Army. In 1954 Choi was promoted to the rank of Major General.
From 1946 to 1951, Choi received promotions to first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and then brigadier general. Choi was promoted to major general in 1954.
During his military career, General Choi constantly researched various martial arts, mainly Taekyon, kung fu and karate – drawing from each to create the original version of Taekwon-do.
General Choi formed the Oh Do Kwan (Gym of my way) where Korean soldiers were trained in General Choi’s new martial art to become the pioneer Taekwon-do instructors. General Choi also commanded Chung Do Kwan, which was the largest civilian gym in Korea.
In 1955 General Choi led the Korean Army’s Taekwon-do demonstration team on a tour of China and Vietnam to promote his form of unarmed combat. After breathtaking displays, both these countries adopted General Choi’s Taekwon-do as an integral part of their soldier’s military training.
In 1961, the Korean Taekwon-do Association was formed with General Choi as its President. During the next few years, he led Taekwon-do demonstration teams throughout the world. In 1965, the South Korean government gave approval to General Choi’s martial art and declared it as Korea’s National martial art.
As a Korean ambassador, and now a retired 3-star General, General Choi he led a goodwill mission on tours of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
On March 22nd, 1966, General Choi Hong Hi (dec) formed the International Taekwon-do Federation (I.T.F) in Seoul, Korea. At the time it had associations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, America, Turkey, Italy, Egypt and Korea. Taekwon-Do was taken up by several foreign armies, and was taught at West Point in America. During the Vietnam War, the Taekwon-Do training of Korean and other foreign soldiers was said to have had a demoralising effect on the Viet Cong.
In 1971, the South Korean president Park Chung Hee began to use Taekwon-Do as anti-communist political propaganda. Choi, fiercely against this, went into exile in Canada. He continued to teach Taekwon-Do throughout the world, including in North Korea, and in 1974 he organised the first Taekwon-Do world championship in Montreal.
All the while he had to endure death threats from Korean Central Intelligence, attempts to kidnap him and attempts on his life by armed assassins. On one occasion his son and daughter, who had stayed behind in South Korea, were kidnapped and their lives threatened if Choi did not return to Korea. His response was “I choose Taekwon-Do over my son”. They were freed.
By 2000, General Choi, the Founder of Taekwon-Do, was announced by Taekwon-Do Times magazine, as the most influential martial artist on the century.
General Choi died of cancer on 15 June 2002 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Choi is listed in the Taekwondo Hall of Fame with various titles: “Father of Taekwon-Do,” “Founder and First President of the International Taekwon-Do Federation,” and “Founder of Oh Do Kwan.” Choi is survived by his wife, Choi Joon Hee; his son, Choi Jung Hwa; two daughters, Sunny and Meeyun; and several grandchildren.
View our General Choi Hong Hi Photo Gallery
- exerpts from 'Taekwondo - The Korean Art of Self Defence' - General Choi Hong Hi