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Chapter 19: International Taekwondo Federation


In 1965, Choi retired from the South Korean army as a two-star general (major general) and he was appointed as the country's first ambassador to Malaysia, by President Park. NOTE: Some claim Choi was not a general because you must be a four-star general be called a general. While it is true that only a four-star has the rank of general, all generals (1, 2, 3, and 4 stars) are commonly referred to as general. When a one-star rear admiral (lower half) is introduced, he or she is referred to as admiral. The same holds true for colonel or lieutenant colonel, commander or lieutenant commander, first lieutenant or second lieutenant, etc. A military person may correctly be referred to, for the rest of their life, by the last military rank at which they honorably served.

Through Choi's efforts, taekwondo spread through Malaysia and reached national acceptance when, in 1971, the art was demonstrated in the Merdeka Stadium at the request of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rhaman. In 1965, Ambassador Choi was appointed by the Korean government to lead a goodwill mission to West Germany, Italy, Turkey, United-Arab Republic, Malaysia, and Singapore. This trip was significant in that for the first time in Korean history, it declared taekwondo as the national martial art of Korea. Although Choi briefly returned to Korea to start an international branch of the KTA, he never gained much political influence in Korea.

On March 22, 1966, Choi formed the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) in Seoul, Korea, with the consent of nine countries. The federation established associations in Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, West Germany, Turkey, Italy, Arab Republic of Egypt, Korea, and the United States. This was the first time that the headquarters of an international organization had been established in Korea. The ITF was formed as a private organization and was never the international arm of the KTA.

The next few years saw the exponential growth of taekwondo, with Choi, through the ITF, tirelessly traveling the world to teach and expand his art, especially to the youth of the world. While he was working internationally, others were establishing a stronghold in Korea, which led to his loss of influence within Korea.

ITF moves to Canada

A goodwill trip (one of many he made to numerous other countries) to North Korea (he was born in 1918 in Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District in what only became North Korea in 1953) by a taekwondo demonstration team in 1980 caused General Choi to fall in disgrace in the eyes of South Koreans. (Although there was controversy over the trip, Choi did nothing illegal or treasonous). Due to the controversy over the trip, Choi, who was 54 years of age at the time, resigned as president of the KTA and, with the unanimous consent of member countries, moved the ITF to Toronto, Canada. (It was his choice to move to Canada and not to the United States. There was nothing to prevent him from moving to the United States.) Since the ITF was a private organization, not a governmental entity, Choi could take the ITF with him to Canada.

In Canada, Choi felt that he would be wise to teach taekwondo in North Korea and trained the instructors who would do the job. Through North Korea, he felt that taekwondo could spread to other socialist and third world countries. He made up his mind to produce taekwondo instructors in North Korea who were not contaminated by eastern commercialism. In this way, he felt the true taekwondo, philosophy, and techniques could be developed. In addition, he thought that this movement would stimulate and motivate instructors in the free world.

North Korea is a member of the original International Taekwondo Federation and South Korea is a member of the World Taekwondo Federation, founded 7 years after the ITF was founded. The unification of taekwondo would motivate various groups to work for the unification of the peninsula. Taekwondo instructors in Korea do not have the same freedom of voice that the overseas instructors do. Therefore, overseas taekwondo instructors will probably play a bigger role and serve as a bridge between South and North Korea. To open the door between the two sides, overseas instructors should visit and attend seminars, demonstrations, and championships of both federations. Frequent contact between instructors of the two groups would eliminate mistrust. Creating this type of environment would be a very important step for the reunification of Korea.

WTF takes control in Korea

With Choi out of South Korea, rival martial arts academies organized an international rival to the ITF, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The WTF is discussed in the next section.

As evidence of the almost total loss of influence of Choi in Korea, the book Olympic Politics, states that, during the September 30, 1981, vote by the IOC to decide on Seoul for the 1988 Olympics, Kim Un-Yong dealt with the rumor that Choi, then living in Canada, would stage an anti-Seoul demonstration. Kim did not believe the rumor, but he put five taekwondo instructors on standby in case of trouble; however, nothing happened.

In October 1982, General Choi met with Mr. Csandi, Chairman of the Programming Committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in Budapest, Hungary, to discuss IOC recognition of the ITF. In April 1984, Choi visited Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne, to prove to him that the ITF was the only governing body of true taekwondo.

In September 1984, Choi Hong Hi invited key instructors such as Lee Su Hi, Rhee Ki Ha, Park Jung Tae and Choi Jung Hwa to Pyongyang to finalize the publication of his Encyclopedia of Taekwondo.

A desire to establish a strong location for spreading taekwondo throughout the world, especially in socialist, Third World countries, and politically disadvantaged countries, led the ITF to consider leaving Canada. In December 1984, the Fifth ITF Congress meeting in Vienna unanimously decided to relocate the ITF to Vienna, the capital city of Austria. In 1985, the ITF moved to Vienna and Choi published the Encyclopedia of Taekwondo, which documented all taekwondo techniques.

On September 20, 1985, during the administration of Kim Il Sung (North Korea) and General Chun Doo Hwan (South Korea) visitors and art performers of South and North Korea were exchanged simultaneously between the two countries. It was the first time in 40 years since the division of the country that separated families in two Koreas had an opportunity to meet their lost families. An art performance was held at Pyongyang Grand Theatre by South, and at Seoul National Theater by the North on September 21 and 22.

On June 11, 1986, Choi took the DPRK taekwondo demonstration team to the People's Republic of China. The members of the Korean taekwondo team made a wonderful performance and created a stir in the capital of Beijing, and in the cities of Xian and Jinam. It was taekwondo's first appearance in China and the performance made a deep impression on the people. This visit eventually became the motivation for the Chinese people to adopt taekwondo as a martial art.

Geral Choi dies

General Choi Hong Hi died of stomach cancer on June 15, 2002.

General Choi promoted only four masters to 9th-degree black belt. He promoted the Korean Rhee Ki Ha to the 9th-degree black belt on July 1, 1997; Rhee was one of the most important masters of original ITF and a close friend of Choi. On December 8, 1997, Choi promoted the Korean Wnag Kwang Sung to a 9th degree black belt. On May 01, 2001, Choi promoted the Korean Park Jong Soo to a 9th degree black belt. All these Koreans had been in taekwondo for over 45 years. On December 9, 1997, Choi promoted an American, Chuck Sereff to 9th-degree black belt.

Choi Jung Hwa, General Choi's son, was born on Cheju Island, and he received his first training at 5 years of age from General Choi himself. From 7 years old, Choi Jung Hwa was trained by the top military taekwondo masters, for example, the legendary Han Cha Kyo and also by Master Kong Yon Il. Hwa was promoted to the 8th-degree black belt by General Choi on May 11, 1996, in the original ITF.

General Choi may have over exaggerated his part in "founding" taekwondo, but his work through the ITF certainly did much to make taekwondo a Korean martial art that is freely practiced around the world, while the WTF made it a Korean martial art that is permitted to be used around the world but only under the strict control of Koreans in Korea. Those who criticize General Choi's political views and his battle with the KTA during the 1960s tend to overlook all the controversy and shame the leadership of the KTA and WTF has bought to taekwondo worldwide in the 2000s.

Choi's last statement

I am the man who has the most followers in the world. I am the happiest man who has done everything to do in my life. It is fortunate you have come. 
Is Mr. Chang Ung here?
Mr. Rhe Ki Ha, it is good tha
t you have come. I am glad that my son and daughters like you most. You probably might know Mr. Chang Ung well. 
It is time to introduce Mr. Chang Ung proudly in public. Please carry on propaganda that Mr. Chang Ung is the tallest and in the highest position in the ITF. If only I had been as tall as Mr. Chang Ung I could have had fewer opponents. However, as my body was so tiny that there were many opponents. Thus, all alone I could not but fight against them for so long. But I have never been worn out for the justice was on my side. I have always worried about a successor to the president. However, my mind is set at ease for there is Mr. Chang Ung.
Mr. Hwang Kwnag Sung, your duty is very big and important as a spokesman, and chairman of the Merger Committee. It was my wish to merge the taekwondo into one. Please get on your own duty responsibly. 
Mr. Park Jong Soo had immigrated into Canada in 1967. Before that, he educated taekwondo in Europe. In 1972 went to Canada where Mr. Park Jong Soo resided leaving my children behind without informing them. In those days taekwondo was not widely spread so that I used to say to crave the words of taekwondo on my coffin. Now taekwondo has developed on a large scale. 
Mr. Leong Wai Meng is a man of conscience indeed, He has given great contribution to educating the taekwondo. As I thought his finance is in good condition I drew his name out on the stockholders list of the Chang Hun Foundation. 
Mr. Hwang Jin is doing well on the way of Mr. Chon Jin Sik. So I appointed him as a member of the Consultative Committee. Please enlarge the Consultative Committee into 9 members. Here I appoint Mr. Jong Hae Hun. 
My followers. taekwondo never exists without the DPR of Korea. You should know this. The ITF is an international organization and does it need to argue about ideology? Does the United Nations belong to the Africans because the Secretary General a black man? Please give up this kind of idea. taekwondo must be Korean-centered. 
Choi Jung Hwa lied to me at the airport. I was again deceived. You ought to tell the public throughout the internet that I did not forgive Jung Hwa. I forgave him as a father but the taekwondoists would never forgive him Before Jung Hwa apologizes to taekwondoists the world over, he will never be forgiven. While I am still alive you should send the message to the internet the soonest as possible. 
On 11th June 2002 in Pyongyang (16, 30-17,10h), DPR Korea. 
Witnessed by 
Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha, 9th dan- Vice President
Grand Master Hwang Kwang Sung, 9th dan-Spokesman and special aide
Grand Master Park Jong Soo, 9th dan-Member of Consultative Council
Master Leong Wai Meng-Chairman of Consultative Committee
Master Hwang Jin-Member of Consultative Council
Mr. Hwang Bong Yong-Chairman of the Korean Taekwondo Committee
Mr. Jong Jae Hun-Secretary General of the International Martial Art Games Committee
Mr. Ra Bong Man-Secretary of the Korean Taekwondo Committee.

ITF since Choi's death

During an International Taekwondo Instructors Course (Seminar) in Budapest-Hungary on March 9-11, 2001, General Choi unofficially announced the appointment of his son Master Choi Jung Hwa as the future head of the organization. Later General Choi confirmed his decision at a Congress held in Rimini, Italy in July 2001 and at a Special Congress in Austria in January 2002. A group of Europeans, led by a Vietnamese did not accept Master Choi Jung Hwa as a new president, so there was speculation as to whether Master Choi would inherit the top ITF post from his father.

During an interview with taekwondo Times correspondent Susan Richards in Budapest, she asked Master Choi if there would be any changes in the ITF when he took over the reins. He responded: "I want to reinforce the technical standard we have always stood for and I want a more friendly organization. One cannot help but feel that our (the ITF's) lofty ideals have deviated somewhat. We must remember that the International Taekwondo Federation is comprised of its members and it is the organization's duty to serve them. I also want to promote a fairer and more unbiased organization. There will be no room for taekwondo Geishas's in the future. Also, it is a lifelong dream of our Founder to see more varieties of taekwondo techniques implemented in free sparring. I have assigned Master Nestor Gallarraga, Chairman of the Tournament Committee to form a Committee to study and train members regarding this. We will talk more when a report is submitted to the executive board. Realistically speaking, it will be a demo at the ITF Worlds in Italy."

Ms. Richards also questioned Master Choi about his first order of business as the new president of the ITF. "General Choi will definitely retire in 2003. As a democratic institute, the next president will be elected through a democratic process. This is my wish. Whoever takes over (the ITF) will have delicately balance the tradition of the martial arts with a realistic, modern way of running an organization of this magnitude. If I am the new leader. I will first access taekwondo activities worldwide in a scientific and objective way. With fairness and compassion, I will open avenues for those who have left the International Taekwondo Federation to return to their rightful home."

Change of command

On September 22, 2002, 70 representatives from 46 countries attended a memorial service for General Cho. The solemn and memorable service was held in Pyongyang, North Korea, the birthplace of General Choi. A special Congress of the ITF was also held on September 22, 2002, to uphold the General's last wish to elect Mr. Chang Ung as the new president of the International Taekwondo Federation. In his last words, and before nine officials of the ITF, General Choi named Mr. Chang Ung as the new president of the International Taekwondo Federation

In his acceptance speech, Chang Ung stated goals for his presidency:
  • Establish unity and harmony among ITF members throughout the world.
  • Restructure the constitution of the ITF to make continental and national organizations stronger.
  • Gain recognition from the International Olympic Committee for the ITF.
  • United ITF and WTF taekwondo.
  • Establish strong financial resources for the ITF according to international law, ITF regulations and the taekwondo ethic.
  • Help national governing bodies by securing sponsorships and financial aid.
  • Activate the Chan Hun Taekwondo Foundation to help the ITF financially. 
  • Work hard to carry out General Choi Hong Hi's traditional taekwondo philosophy and practice.
There was conflict within the ITF before Choi's death and it escalated after his death. There are now 3 main ITF groups who claim to be the "real" ITF:
  • ITF Vienna: led by Trân Triêu Quâ, who was elected as the new president. ITF Vienna's goal seems to be to make the ITF more family orientated and emphasizing the ‘do’ part of taekwondo. Trân was killed during the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti.
  • ITF North Korea: led by Chang Ung, who was named by Choi to be his successor. ITF North Korea's goal seems to merge the ITF with the WTF or at least to allow ITF competitors to compete in the Olympics.
  • ITF Canada: led by Choi Jung Hwa, who is Choi's son. ITF Canada's goal seems to be to bring taekwondo into less privileged countries and in putting kiups into tuls.
The other world power in taekwondo is the World Taekwondo Federation.

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