Today is September, 11th. In Three Rivers, Michigan, a banquet is being held in honor of my instructor Grand Master James Sun Hwan Chung. Earlier this year in May he celebrated his 40th year of teaching Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do in the United States.
His story is an inspiration for many reasons. He was born in Hiroshima. During World War two, hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to either join the Japanese Army or work in Japanese factories in Japan. Also many women were forced into becoming comfort women for Japanese soldiers.
Part of the reasoning behind the choice of Hiroshima as a city for the atomic bomb was the fact that it was an industrial center with many foreign workers. Kyoto, the imperial capital was also on the list for bombing, but was decided against because a high ranking American general thought to place too beautiful to destroy. It's estimated that of the 80,000 people who evaporated in the initial blast of the atomic bomb, 30,000 of them were Korean, Taiwanese, or Chinese.
The Hiroshima memorial caries a placard that says, "We're sorry, it will never happen again" This apology is to the foreign nationals who were forced against their will to work for the Japanese during the war.
Like millions of other Koreans who emigrated back to Korea after World War 2. Grand Master Chung's family faced the hardships of poverty.
He told me a story one time about how when he was ten, during the Korean war, his family's house was in the middle of a battle between North Korean and American forces. His brother, a baby at the time, was still in the house, and Grand Master Chung fled the house with his brother on his back and bullets flying all around. Afterward the house was destroyed by mortar fire.
He also told me about how he attended one of the roughest high schools in Seoul. His family didn't have the money to send him to a good school so he went to a place where twenty to thirty year old war veterans went to school along side high school aged kids. The school was filled with gang members who would attack teachers, and beat up weak kids in the bathroom.
One story he told me about his time in high school was when a teacher was angry with the class. In Korea it is quite common -even to this day- for Korean teachers to beat students for reasons, ranging from smoking in the bathroom to having the wrong haircut. On this particular day his English teacher decided to line the students up and just slap them in the face and kick the kids in the legs because the students were being unruly. When it was Grand Master Chung's turn, the teacher found that he couldn't hit him because Grand Master Chung dodged every attack. The teacher told him to stand still and take his beating, but Grand Master Chung said, "Why are you trying to hit me, I didn't do anything to you."
Later in the day the other students in class plotted to jump the teacher as he was coming out of the school. Grand Master Chung found out about this plot. When the teacher came out of the school the other students laid in wait. Before they could attack the teacher Grand Master Chung came between the teacher and the other students and protected the teacher.
As you can see, life in Korea wasn't easy, but Grand Master Chung took the only thing he knew how to do and made it work for him.
In 1970 he came to Detroit, Michigan. He participated in demonstration fights. His sponsor told him that if he lost a match he would send him back to Korea. After staying a while in Detroit, he moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan where he has made his home and established his martial arts academy called the I.A.M.A. (International academy of martial arts A.K.A. Chung's Black Belt Academy.)
In 1985 he published "Oriental Martial Arts II," the text book that is used by I.A.M.A. students. Now think about this. He came to the United States in 1970, didn't speak any English, but with in 15 years he opened his own business and published a book in English. People like this are what make America great. America truly takes the best people from other countries and allows them to flourish.
Sometime in the 1990s (1991 I think) he returned to Korea and tested for his 9th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. At that time there were only 31 9th degree black belts in the world. In 2003 he tested for his 9th degree black belt in Hap Ki Do. He has achieved the highest rank in two major world Martial Arts.
From 2007 to 2009, he published Oriental Martial Arts III, which is a four part series of text books that include the I.A.M.A.'s testing requirements for color belts and black belts for both children and adults. The books also provides illustrations of forms, one step sparring, and self defense techniques.
I've been lucky to know him and learn things from him. I earned my 4th degree black belt from him, but besides Tae Kwon Do, I think the most important lessons from that people can learn come from his life's example. For demonstrations he used to do things like squat on broken glass with a 200 pound dumb bell in his mouth. He also used to run needles through parts of his skin and hang buckets of water from the needles. One time, he had a car drive over his chest. All of those things pale in comparison to the fact that he was able to come out of poverty from war torn Korea to America, and establish himself as a businessman.
So today on the day of Grand Master Chung's 40th anniversary party, I salute him. I salute him for being the type of man who you don't bet against. I salute him for viciously living life and being a part of the history of Martial Arts in America.
Other facts about Grand Master Chung:
-He has the "Keys to the city Miami"
- He met Elvis and had a slow dance with Priscilla Presley. He revealed this one time during a class. He used to have a picture of himself with the king, but a student who really liked Elvis, broke into his office and stole it.
- He is a first class international referee.
- He was recognized for his life time achievement by the American Grandmaster's Society. There is a Korean language newspaper article about the event.
- He was on a testing panel once to promote Chuck Norris.
-He has branches of his school that reach from Kalamazoo, to Detroit, to Bermuda. (I'm writing this post from Korea - though I don't have a school, nor do I teach anyone taekwondo anymore)
This is an open invitation to his other students to leave more of his achievements in the comments section of this post.