Bok Man Kim (1934-2021), one of the founding pioneers of Taekwon-Do in the ROK (Republic of Korea) Army.

As a Master Sergeant, Bok Man Kim helped General Hong Hi Choi (also known as Gen. Choi Hong Hi) develop many of the martial techniques of Taekwon-Do and 15 of the 24 Ch’ang Hon patterns, the first Korean patterns developed for Taekwon-Do, in Malaysia from 1963-1964.

The Ch’ang Hon patterns remain the official patterns of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) more than 50 years later. Master Sergeant Bok Man Kim also served as an instructor of Taekwon-Do under General Choi’s command.

During his military service, Bok Man Kim helped General Choi, often called the “Father” of Taekwondo and certainly the Principal Founder of the art, to update the ROK Army Field Manual and to write the book Taekwon-do: The Art of Self-Defence, the first book about Taekwondo in English, although Bok Man Kim asked General Choi to remove his name from the book due to personal differences.

Born on December 3, 1934, Supreme Master Kim’s martial arts journey began, like that of all other first generation pioneers of Taekwondo, during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

The year was 1941. Korea had been brutally occupied by Japan for more than 30 years. Japan had assumed control of Korea in 1910 and renamed it Chosen. During the military occupation, Japan banned the teaching of the Korean language and history, and burned many historical Korean documents.2 Koreans young and old were oppressed and bullied at school, at work and in the street by their Japanese co-workers and neighbors.

Koreans were forced to assume Japanese names and to teach and speak in Japanese. World War II had begun in 1939, and Koreans were drafted into the Japanese army or forced to work under dangerous slavelike conditions while the Japanese military kidnapped thousands of Korean girls and women to work as comfort women for Japanese soldiers.

In 1941, when he was just seven years old, Supreme Master Kim’s grandmother arranged to have a Buddhist priest named Lee teach him to defend himself. Lee, a member of a civilian protection group, taught the young Master Kim for several hours once or twice a month. Physical conditioning was an important part of Master Kim’s training.
Lee expected him to condition his body by kicking and striking trees and jumping over large obstacles such as tree stumps every day. Lee taught Supreme Master Kim a martial art called Taekyun Moosul. Tae, Lee explained, meant jumping or flying with kicks; kyun meant fighting position; moosul meant martial arts. When World War II ended in August 1945, Lee no longer came to Master Kim’s village to teach. Master Kim, however, continued training by himself and began to develop new techniques, a habit he followed for more than 80 years, until his death in 2021.

“1955 was a lucky year,” Supreme Master Kim says. “Lucky for me, lucky for General Choi and lucky for Taekwon-Do.” In
February 1955, Grand Master Son scheduled a demonstration to celebrate the opening of a branch gym in Dae Jeon City, and Han Cha-Kyo invited Master Sergeant Kim to join the demonstration. Master Kim agreed and afterward met General Choi Hong-Hi and Grand Master Son Duk-Sung for the first time.

Master Sergeant Kim privately demonstrated his kicks and punches for General Choi and Grand Master Son, and they interviewed him about his martial arts and military experience.

They also talked about the future of the martial arts in Korea. Grand Master Son recommended to General Choi that he award a black belt to Master Sergeant Kim for the skills exhibited during the demonstrations.

Toward the end of the meeting, General Choi also asked Master Sergeant Kim if he would like to transfer to his division and help him teach martial arts to Korea’s armed forces. Master Sergeant Kim respectfully declined both offers. Just 20 years old, the future Supreme Master Kim was not interested in learning or teaching a Japanese martial art. Instead, he wanted to establish and promote a martial art for Korea.

After the meeting, Master Sergeant Kim returned to his duties at the hospital. Three days later, General Choi called Master Sergeant Kim’s commanding officer and ordered Kim to meet with him to continue their discussion.

General Choi’s request was so urgent that Master Sergeant Kim was given a car to drive to the meeting. Supreme Master Kim laughs yet today about the unusual situation of being given a car to drive alone.

Within days, Master Sergeant Kim transferred to General Choi’s division to help develop and establish the Korean martial art they both desired. Supreme Master Kim and Grand Master Son
remained lifelong friends until Grand Master Son’s death on March 29, 2011.

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