25 May 2014

What Was Ahn Joong-Gun's Age at His Death?

Me at the Ahn Joong-Gun Memorial Museum
in Seoul, South Korea, in 2009.
Recently I received a question from a Taekwon-Do friend, Markus Wittebo, from the Swedish Taekwon-Do Federation in Gottenburg:

The Taekwon-Do pattern Joong-Gun has 32 movements and is named after the patriot Ahn Joong-Gun, who was born on 16 July 1879 and died by execution on March 26, 1910. That means that he was 30 years old at the time of his death. However, the description of the pattern Joong-Gun states the following: “There are 32 movements in this pattern to represent Mr. Ahn’s age when he was executed at Lui-Shung prison (1910).” How is this to be explained? 

Was General Choi Hong Hi, who composed the pattern definitions, wrong about Ahn Joong-Gun's age? In this short essay I will explain why Ahn Joong-Gun was both 30 years old and 32 years old at the time he died.

There is no question that Ahn Joong-Gun was indeed 30 years old when he was executed for the assassin of the samurai Prince Itō Hirobumi, who was the Japanese Resident-General of Korea. Ahn Joon-Gun was born in 1879 and died in 1910 over three months before his 31st birthday—making him 30 years when he died. How then can the ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia claim that the reason the pattern Joong-Gun has 32 movements is in honour of Ahn Joong-Gun's age when he was executed? The answer is that in Korea there is a different way of calculating one's age.

The first important thing to know is that Koreans count the gestation period when calculating ones age, and so according to Korean custom a baby is already considered to be one year old at birth. So during the first year of a baby's life, it is considered one sal (살) and an additional sal is counted for every extra year of life. This is different from the international way of reckoning one's age where one is only considered to be one year old after your first birthday. Keeping this in mind, then Ahn Joong-Gun was 30 years, plus one sal by 1910, when he passed away.

There is another interesting aspect of Korean culture in that all Koreans increase one year in age on “Ibchun” (입춘) the beginning of spring and the start of the Lunar Calendar, which is usually around the beginning of February. In other words, Koreans do not wait for their actual birth date to add a year to their age; instead everyone ages at the same time at the start of the lunar new year. (On a side note, Koreans do celebrate their birthdays, but it is a memorial of their date of birth, rather than a memorial of becoming one year older. Furthermore, some Korean families celebrate their birthdays according to the lunar calendar, while others apply the solar calendar when deciding when to celebrate their birthdays.)

Therefore, even though Ahn Joong-Gun was 30 years old by Western reckoning at the time of his death, by Korean reckoning he would have been 31 (because Koreans add one year at birth), and since it was already after “Ibchun” when he died, he was said to be another year older, making him 32 years old according to Korean custom. Thus, stating that Ahn Joong-Gun passed away at the age of 32 makes sense within the Korean cultural context.

Below is a video of Alexandra Kan performing Joong-Gun Teul. 

23 May 2014

Nominating General Choi Hong Hi for the Taekwondowon's (Taekwondo Park) Hall of Fame

I received the following by email and gladly re-post it here:

Absent political considerations there should be no valid reason to exclude Gen. Choi from any Martial Art Hall Of Fame. While his many accomplishments speak for themselves, many do not realize that some of what he did was unprecedented & at times unmatched in the TKD world. However because at various points in his life some of his personal political views concerning his unfairly divided homeland of Korea & certain governmental leaders back home resulted in some negativity that has unfortunately tainted his TKD record.
While Gen. Choi’s personal politics & views are his own, many feel that it should not impact what he did for TKD & how his work continues to influence millions globally in a very positive way. As a result you, as a TKD person, should take the time out to send an email to the new Taekwondowon in MuJu, South Korea respectfully requesting that Gen. Choi receive the highest honor possible for his international impact on TKD. We know 1 thing for sure, without Gen. Choi there would be no TKD. He of course named it. Now there still may have been another Korean Martial Sport that made it into the Olympics, but it would not have been TKD. So every single student of TKD, no matter his or her age, rank or location on this planet, owes some small debt of gratitude to Gen. Choi. PLEASE take a brief moment of your time to send an email to:

It is the least we can do & if not Gen. Choi, then really, who does deserve this honor?

You are not limited with your nominations. You can feel free to nominate anyone you feel is worthy. However if we don’t succeed in getting Gen. Choi honored, it probably will not be possible initially to have any of his followers acknowledged. Also please understand the Taekwondowon put out requests on their Korean language Facebook Page & website. They have also sent a request to the WTF for nominations. So if you don’t nominate Gen. Choi who will? There is no apparent visible outreach to the ITF side. Please do not allow politics to continue to get disrupt the martial art way or TKD’s “DO”! The Taekwondowon needs to hear from all of us, as they are on record saying their new TKD Park is for all. So lets please give them the opportunity to demonstrate that wonderful posture with fair & just action by honoring the man who started it all.

Thank you

Please feel free to use information from the below sections of sources for your email. Also it is okay to simply send an email without using the facts listed below & only state that you wish to nominate Gen. Choi Hong-Hi. That is fine & better than not sending in a nomination.

However it is respectfully requested that people do not simply cut & paste whole sections for use in their email nominations. But rather you should feel free to state your personal thoughts or reasons why he so deserves the highest induction. The below information can be used to guide you, if you find value in it.

A) (Shorter Version)

Ambassador Choi Hong-Hi
(2 Star) Major-General (Army Serial #10044)
Ambassador Choi was the “principle founder” of Taekwon-Do. As a founding member of the Republic Of Korea (ROK) Army he taught martial arts to the soldiers assigned to him from 1946. He named Taekwon-Do and promoted it endlessly as the Korean Martial Art of Self Defense. In 1955 through his unending efforts on behalf of Taekwon-Do the 1st President of South Korea, Dr. Rhee, authorized the new name. He was the Vice President of the Taekwon-Do Association of Korea in 1957. General Choi formed the Korean Taekwon-Do Association (KTA) in 1959 and served as President. Also in 1959 he wrote the first book on Taekwon-Do and led the Military Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team to Vietnam and Taiwan, marking the first time ever Taekwon-Do was performed abroad.

General Choi devised 26 Patterns or Tuls. These were the first Korean forms or Poomsae ever created. In 1962 he personally introduced Taekwon-Do to Malaysia when he was assigned there as the 1st Korean Ambassador. In 1965 he led a ROK Government sponsored Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill tour around the world. This tour formed the base in 1966 for creating International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), the 1st worldwide governing body for Taekwon-Do. The ITF would grow to have millions of members in well over a hundred countries and he would preside over 17 of their World Championships from 1974 to 2001 while he was alive. Five of those were Junior World Championships. To date the ITF has held 18 World Championships, 12 Junior World Championships (under age 18) and 5 Veterans World Championships (over age 40). Ambassador Choi traveled the world tirelessly to teach and promote the original Taekwon-Do. He authored 5 books on the subject, many of which had several editions and reprints. His written works have been translated into at least 6 languages. General Choi also oversaw the development of various sets of electronic recordings of what he created; making it the most documented Martial Art ever.

B)  (Longer Version)

Ambassador Choi Hong-Hi
(2 Star) Major-General (Army Serial #10044)
 General Choi was a “founding member” (#44 of 110 Officer Candidates) of the Republic of (south) Korea’s (ROK) Armed Forces when he graduated from their 1st Military Academy in 1946. In 1962 a year after a military coup (May 16th 1961 Revolution) took place Mr. Choi was assigned to the ROK’s Diplomatic Foreign Service Corp and sent to Malaysia as the 1st Korean Ambassador to that Southeast Asian Country. His involvement and work with personally introducing Taekwon-Do there, gave rise to Malaysia being called the “2nd Home of Taekwon-Do”. Ambassador Choi’s power he held and yielded in these high-level government capacities afforded him the opportunities to become the most significantly important and influential person in Taekwon-Do’s creation, development and global dissemination.

General Choi claimed that he had been exposed to stories and some basic Taek Kyon techniques to bolster his health and confidence when he studied Calligraphy as a frail teenager. After he went to Japan to further his academic education he reports earning a II Dan in Karate. Independent sources confirm that he did indeed teach Karate in Japan at a YMCA before returning home to Korea.

As World War II was winding down, the Japanese who were now clearly losing, resorted to forcefully conscripting Korean males into military service. Once drafted into service through no volition of his own, a young Choi Hong-Hi became involved in a plot to overthrow the Imperial Japanese Colonial Government. Traitors who were Korean collaborators reported the plans and General Choi and others were jailed. While he was imprisoned he trained in his Karate and at times even instructed the prison guards, as verified by a fellow inmate who was involved in the plot and also held in confinement as a jail mate.

The end of WWII spared General Choi and he was released from captivity in Pyongyang. He went to Seoul and became instrumental in helping to set up the South Korean government, advocating for democratic national control and against communism. As a young 2nd Lieutenant he started to teach his soldiers Karate under the Tang Su Do label. As this Junior Officer moved up the ranks, he continued to spread through not only his personal teaching efforts, but also later recruited Korean Martial Artists to become instructors to teach the growing number of soldiers under his command. Even when he traveled to the USA for military training as early as 1949, he took the opportunity to display his martial art (most likely 1st Korean to do so).
A prime example of this initiative to teach the martial arts to his soldiers was when as a General he was tasked to form a new Division on JeJu Island. This 29th Infantry would become known as the “Fist Division”. It was here that he had Lt. Nam Tae Hi and Sgt. Han Cha Kyo, members of the Chung Do Kwan transferred under his command and assigned to teach the Martial Arts to the soldiers of this new Infantry Division. The use of General Choi’s fist on the Division Flag and emblem was symbolic of the Martial fighting spirit the young General wanted to instill in his Troops. A monument was erected on JeJu Island to commemorate the historic “Fist Division” inauguration. This monument contains the Calligraphy of Gen. Choi, labeling and teaching about that Martial Spirit. JeJu Island has come to be known as the “Womb of Taekwon-Do”.

When this famous Division completed their training they moved to mainland Korea. General Choi arranged for a martial art demonstration for the Korean President Dr. SeungMan Rhee. The performance was in honor of the President’s birthday and the 1-year anniversary celebration of the “Fist Division’s” formation. Their exhibition was so successful that the President stated that this should be taught to all the Troops! President Rhee had also called what they showed Taek Kyon, an indigenous Korean martial folk game that predated the Japanese occupation. General Choi however knew that is was more correctly called Tang Soo Do. This event provided motivation to find a new name for what would become a Korean Martial Art of self-defense.

Later in the fall of that year (1954) General Choi, utilizing both his advanced education and Calligraphy skills that involved extensive knowledge of Chinese characters and language searched for and later conceived of the new term Tae Kwon Do. This label more accurately reflected the shifting emphasis on the use of the legs for kicking. It of course had a word for fist, but like the “Fist Division”, a hand formed into a fist signified strength. So Kwon was joined with Tae to describe the physical parts of their Martial Art.

After General Choi created the new name of Taekwon-Do, he then engaged in several attempts to unify the civilian Martial Art Kwans as he had obtained the Korean President’s approval. In 1957 he became the Vice President of a short-lived Taekwon-Do Association of Korea. The president of the Association at that time was a non-martial artist and politician. Then Master Son Duk-Sung the instructor of the Chung Do Kwan served as the Secretary General. General Choi also served as the honorary Kwan Jang Nim of the Chung Do Kwan, after their founder Grandmaster Lee Won-Kuk moved to Japan in 1950. The Chung Do Kwan was one of the 1st Korean Martial Art Kwans to open post WWII in Korea. It was a very influential Kwan and many of their Members staffed General Choi’s military training programs as instructors.

In 1959 he led the 1st Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team abroad when he took the team to Vietnam and Taiwan in March. That same year he established and became the 1st Director of the Martial Art Department in the Army. On September 3rd, 1959 he formed the 1st Korean Taekwon-Do Association and served as their President. A couple of months later he authored the 1st book ever on Taekwon-Do, written in Korean HanGul and Chinese HanJa. This book documented the first five Korean Patterns he created and is currently on display in the Taekwondowon.

General Choi would go onto authored several other books, including the 1972 textbook that became known as the “bible of Taekwon-Do”, the unprecedented 15 Volume Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do in 1983, several condensed versions of that work, his 3 Volume Set of Memoirs, as well as a Guidebook on Moral Culture. His written texts have been translated into Korean, English, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. He has received numerous awards and honors for his global work on Taekwon-Do including the Korean (ROK) Government Sports Award in 1968.

While still Ambassador to Malaysia he flew to Vietnam in 1964 to introduce his new Tuls to the Korean Military Instructors for further dissemination. He also sent the manuscripts back to Korea where they were instituted there as well. After completing his diplomatic assignment he returned to Korea and in January of 1965 was elected the 3rd President of the Korean TAE SOO DO Association. He was successful in getting them to change the name to Tae Kwon Do by August of 1965. He then led the ROK Government sponsored Kukki Taekwon-Do Goodwill Tour around the world later in the fall of 1965.

Ambassador Choi moved the ITF Headquarters to Toronto Canada, a city that is a very diverse major metropolitan area in North America. This new location afforded him a geographically advantaged position half way between Asia and Europe, as well as due north from South America and the Caribbean.

Strategically this would help to further the internationalization of Taekwon-Do as a global martial art. In 1985 he again relocated the ITF Headquarters to Vienna Austria. Vienna is located in Central Europe and Austria maintains a long-standing neutral posture that allows equal access politically. This was especially important during the “Cold War” era and the days of the “Iron Curtain” divide of Europe and the global political polarization that resulted from competing political ideologies. This brilliant move helped Ambassador Choi to further his dream of spreading his Taekwon-Do all around the world, without regard for political ideology, national boundaries, race, religion or creed. A vision that he lived to see come true! Today there are numerous international chapters, secretariat offices, national headquarters and allied associations of the ITF all around the planet. This is living proof of the fact that his dream was indeed realized, which is evidence of his earning a place of honor in the Taekwondowon’s Hall Of Fame. If not him, at the top of the field, then who? If General Choi Hong Hi is not inducted then no one else should be either. As without him there is no Taekwon-Do. To not place the highest honor upon him would not only be a tragedy, but make the new entity’s attempt to honor great Taekwondo leaders a real farce!

C) (List Version)

1) As a founding member of the ROK Army he taught Korean Martial Arts to soldiers under his command since 1946
2) 1949 He traveled to the USA for military training and  took the opportunity to display his martial art there (most likely 1st Korean to do so)
3) 1953 formed the 29th Infantry “Fist” Division on JeJu Island using Korean Martial Arts to build character, strength, fighting skills and instill esprit de corps
4) 1955 (April 11) he named Taekwon-Do & obtained authorization from the Korean President Rhee Syngman
5) 1955 created the 1st two Korean Poomsae or forms, Hwa Rang Tul & Chung Mu Tul, he would go onto to create 26 in total, all named after great Korean Patriots or significant events & themes in Korean history & culture
6) 1957 Vice President of the short lived Taekwon-Do Association of Korea
7) 1959 (March) Led the Military Taekwon-Do Demonstration Team to Vietnam & Taiwan; the 1st time ever Taekwon-Do was exhibited abroad
8) 1959 (September 3) Formed the Korea Taekwon-Do Association & was electerd 1st President
9) 1959 (October) Wrote the 1st book ever on Taekwon-Do
10) 1959 Established and became the 1st Director of the Martial Art Department in the Army
11) 1962 Personally introduced Taekwon-Do to Malaysia when assigned there as the 1st Korean Ambassador
12) 1963 (July) Formed the Malaysian Taekwon-Do Federation
13) 1965 (January) Elected as the 3rd President of the Korean Tae Soo Do Association
14) 1965 (August) Was successfully in lobby for changing the name to Tae Kwon Do
15) 1965 Wrote the 1st English language book on Taekwon-Do
16) 1965 Led a ROK Government sponsored Kukki Taekwon-Do GoodWill Tour around the world
17) 1966 (March 22) Formed the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) in Seoul, Korea
18) 1968 Introduced Taekwon-Do to C.I.S.M. at their meeting in Paris, France
19) 1972 Wrote a Textbook that was commonly referred to as the “bible of Taekwon-Do”
20) 1974 Hosted the 1st ITF World Championships in Montreal Canada, which was the 1st ever World Championships outside of Korea which demonstrated that Taekwon-Do was truly an international sport & there they introduced 4 categories of competition, as well as team events, to insure the Overall World Champion was a complete martial artist
21) 1978 The ITF World championships were held in Oklahoma City, USA & expanded to female competitors for the 1st time
22) 1981 The ITF World Championships were held in Argentina; the 1st time ever a world championship was hosted in South America
23) 1983 Completed the 15 Volume Set of Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, a written work truly unprecedented in the martial arts world
24) 1984 The ITF World Championships were held in Scotland; the 1st time ever a Taekwon-Do world championship was hosted in a United Kingdom Commonwealth Nation
25) 1985 Relocated the ITF Headquarters to Vienna Austria, as Vienna is located in Central Europe and Austria maintains a long-standing neutral political posture
26) 1987 The ITF World Championships were held in Athens, Greece; the 1st time ever a Taekwon-Do world championship was hosted in Greece
27) 1988 The ITF World Championships were held in Budapest Hungary; the 1st time ever a Taekwon-Do world championship was hosted in Eastern Europe
28) 1993 The ITF Junior (under 18) World Championships were held in Moscow, Russia the 1st time ever a Taekwon-Do world championship was opened to junior competitors
29) 2004 The ITF World Championships were expanded to seniors (over 40), the 1st time ever a Taekwon-Do world championship ever had a Veteran competition, envisioning Gen. Choi’s idea that Taekwon-Do was for all ages
30) Received numerous awards and honors for his global work on Taekwon-Do including the Korean (ROK) Government Sports Award in 1968, honorary doctorates from some of the world’s most prestigious Universities & was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to build a more peaceful world by teaching Taekwon-Do globally for decades to everyone, regardless of political ideology, national boundaries, race, religion or creed