GrandMaster Park Jong Soo, Legend of ITF Taekwon-Do

By Manuel Adrogué (VII Dan) and Hernán Cisternas (VII Dan)

There are so many things that may be said about GrandMaster Park Jong Soo. He was born in 1941, and he diligently worked on his physical and psychological talents to become one of the most accomplished Taekwon-Do exponents of all time.

He started training in 1957 under Nam Tae Hi (co-founder of the Oh Do Kwan with Gen. Choi) and Woo Jong Lim. These two were among the toughest and most talented military instructors, and made sure Park would learn how to fight.

Park later became a military instructor himself, in charge of the famous Tiger Division that served in Vietnam.

He was the first national heavyweight champion in 1963 under the Korean Taekwondo Association.  He became well-known among Korean masters of all schools in those early competition days. As the particularly humble and well-mannered individual he was, during the 1990s and beyond whenever the “old-school” seniors were involved, he became a natural, trustworthy bridge between the ITF and the WT worlds.

He helped General Choi to explore and develop kicking techniques, particularly the reverse turning kick. The fact that Park was tall and well built never prevented him from performing incredible jumps and athletic feats.

Park was one of the main models for showing techniques in Gen. Choi’s 1965 first Taekwon-Do manual.

Starting on that same year, he joined General Choi’s famous Demo team travelling around the world together with Nam, Han Cha Kyo, Rhee Ki Ha, Choi Chang Keun, Kim Jong Chan, Kong Young Il and many others. It was a generation of highly trained young masters who did not see a substantial gap between training for sparring competition or facing an enemy in a true life-or-death encounter.

Park briefly settled in Europe residing in Germany and the Netherlands being one of the first Taekwon-Do experts. He later established himself in Toronto, were he hosted General Choi when he left Korea during the first days of January, 1972. Park’s advice and counsel to consider Canada proved so sound that Gen. Choi decided that the ITF would be based in that country, and such situation lasted for many years.

At a certain point Gen. Choi asked Park to travel with him to North Korea to present Taekwon-Do to the government.  If Park accepted, he and his family would be subject to a very difficult legal situation with the South Korean legislation. Park did not want to enter the political dimension and remain the Taekwon-Do master he had become, so he declined Gen. Choi’s invitation. Consequently, his exit from the ITF followed.

Park always kept his deep admiration towards General Choi, and did not allow a political event to get between them. He continued teaching and spreading the ITF perspective of Taekwon-Do and travelled to South Korea as a goodwill ambassador among senior masters.

In May 2001, Park had an emotional meeting with General Choi, who was moved by the unyielding commitment of his old disciple to the ITF legacy. As a result, Park became one of the only seven people who were awarded IX Dan by General Choi Hong Hi himself, who had been the sole “Grandmaster” of ITF Taekwon-Do for more than four decades until 1997.

Park accompanied Gen. Choi in his own deathbed in Pyong Yang, North Korea, in June 2002.

Since then Grandmaster Park continued teaching all around the world, travelling to Western and Central Europe, the Americas, Korea and China spreading the Taekwondo gospel.

Those are the hard facts. The writers of this article are witnesses to the personal quality of GrandMaster Park Jong Soo at a much deeper level.

Anyone who was lucky to meet Grandmaster Park will talk about his demeanor, his joyful, friendly smile, how attentive he was to the needs of others, how uncompromising he was when it came to ethical matters.  He lead by example, and we saw how in his seminars, being in his mid-seventies, he would show sparring combinations, explain self defense concepts, or even perform a full split.  He was a true martial arts master who never forgot that its essence is on practice, and its root in actual fighting capability.

He once said “Taekwon-Do is a Korean martial art; neither South Korean nor North Korean. 
A way must be found so that its Olympic form adequately reflects its characteristics."

Master Cisternas recalls that on June 2006 GM Park was particularly active in connection with the events around the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the International Taekwon-Do Federation. The first stage was the “General Choi Memorial Cup” which GM Park hosted annually. On that occasion the event drew around 1,000 competitors, and GM Park offered a seminar. Some days later another seminar took place in New York, with GM Rhee Ki Ha flying from Great Britain. Both Grandmasters along with other masters such as the late Benny Rivera gave memorable classes to 500 Taekwondo black belts (Cisternas himself was also a guest instructor sharing his sparring insight) in a festive environment, with limousines and black-tie galas. A few days later Park flew to Dominica to give a seminar to a similar number of people. His luggage was lost for two days, so during that time he went around wearing one of Cisternas’ T-shirts, and travelling to the hotel in a worn-down car with instructors sitting on the laps of others. Wearing a tuxedo and riding a limo or being in an opposite situation never changed Park’s attitude. They later flew to Guatemala, and again he gave a 2-day seminar with 10-hours of activity per day. The display of energy, positive thinking and simplicity of GM Park, who at that time was Vice President of the ITF with GM Rhee, never ceased to impress Cisternas even after sharing many more events in the following years. In October 2015 GM Park traveled to Korea with an international contingent to pay tribute to General Choi in Korea. Adrogué joined the group, which visited Taekwondo Won where several pictures of Grandmaster Park are displayed, and then flew to Jeju Island, where the 29th Army Division was based and is considered the place where Taekwon-Do was developed. Adrogué holds a vivid remembrance on how GM Park and the group patiently rode a tour bus around the island the whole day (for those who have ever watched the 1970s “Fantasy Island” TV series, that is exactly how Jeju is). Just before the sunset, the bus arrived to the “Fist” monument where the group performed Hwarang Tul, and symbolically bowed to General Choi. Grandmaster Park was deeply moved, and the feeling of achievement was evident in his face. Later in that unforgettable day he awarded Adrogué the rank of VII Dan in Jeju Island. 

Grandmaster Park’s life was rich in events, notable circumstances, accomplishments, 
and people with whom he shared Taekwon-Do and most importantly, his joy of life.

A true Taekwon-Do man, he is an example of someone who lived under the principle of building a more peaceful world.As disciples of Grandmaster Park, we will be forever grateful for his teachings. 

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