Taekwon-do Legend Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man
Supreme Master Kim began his journey in the martial arts in 1941 when he was just 7 years old and has devoted his life ever since to advance the techniques he began to develop in his homeland during the brutal Japanese occupation (22 Aug 1910 – 2 Sept 1945), the atrocities of World War II (1 Sept 1939 – 2 Sept 1945), and, finally, the divisive Korean War (25 Jun 1950 – 27 Jul 1953), which not only separated families but split the Korean Peninsula along the 38th Parallel. Despite many obstacles, Supreme Master Kim helped Taekwon-do emerge from those dark hours and propagate around the world.
Kim Bok-Man: Legendary Taekwon-do Pioneer
Chun Kuhn Taekwondo was developed by Supreme Master Bok Man Kim (1934-2021), one of the founding pioneers of Taekwon-Do1 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. Chun Kuhn Taekwondo represents Supreme Master Kim’s continuous efforts to perfect the martial art he helped create and introduce to nations throughout southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Sarawak, the Philippines and Hong Kong, during the 1950s, 60s and early 1970s.
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.
Supreme Master Kim for many years was renowned for his jumping and flying techniques, feats captured in many of the photographs in his book Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art: Bok Man Kim’s Historic Photospective (1955-2015). For Taekwon-Do pioneers in the Korean armed forces – including General Choi, Colonel Nam Tae-Hi, Master Sergeant Kim Bok-Man and others – the Japanese occupation proved to be a powerful catalyst to develop, teach, demonstrate and distribute Taekwon-Do.
On September 15, 1950, Supreme Master Kim made the pivotal decision to join the ROK Army 8th Division to fight in the Korean War. He was only 16 (the legal age to enlist was 17, but the recruiter liked Supreme Master Kim’s spirit and enthusiasm). After six weeks of training, Supreme Master Kim marched into combat and, by 1951, was teaching martial arts to soldiers in his unit. A short time later, Supreme Master Kim began to formally teach martial arts to larger groups of soldiers. Supreme Master Kim taught hand-to-hand combat, as well as guerilla warfare with knife, bayonet and baton. Supreme Master Kim has always believed that weapons were a natural part of the martial arts and has taught weapons techniques throughout his life, even when doing so opposed General Choi’s vision for Taekwon-Do. Supreme Master Kim fought in the Korean War for two and a half years, until he was critically wounded by shrapnel in his left hip in February 1953, just five months before the war ended in a cease-fire. He was sent to the Army hospital in Dae Jeon City for treatment. Although doctors feared he would never walk again, much less do anything as demanding as a martial art, Supreme Master Kim recovered, and in March 1954 he was re-assigned to the Dae Jeon City Army Hospital for his ability to keep order among and lead the more than 3000 patients who were sometimes unruly. Despite his injury, Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man would later astound audiences with his extraordinary skill, particularly with jumping and flying kicks. For sixty-seven years, the wound never slowed him down.
While stationed in Dae Jeon City, Master Sergeant Kim Bok-Man met Sergeant First Class Han Cha-Kyo, a martial arts instructor for the ROK Army under the command of General Choi, and they became loyal friends. At the time, Han Cha-Kyo was also an outstanding student at the Chung Do Kwan under Grand Master Son Duk-Sung and Colonel Nam Tae-Hi, who was then a young Captain and General Choi’s chief assistant.
“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.
The kicking and punching arts taught at the kwans in Korea, including the Chung Do Kwan, were Japanese karate, the Japanese name simply translated into Korean depending on lineage: tang soo do or kong soo do. General Choi himself had earned a black belt in karate while studying in Japan. Supreme Master Kim, on the other hand, had no formal training in Japanese karate, only in Taekyun Moosul, a martial art native to the region of his village. In this, Supreme Master Kim was unique among the pioneers of Taekwon-Do in the Korean military. General Choi and Colonel Nam respected Supreme Master Kim for this aspect of his martial art.
Grand Master Kim Bok Man defends against a sword attack by Sung Kang Yong during a Taekwon-Do demonstration at a stadium in Semarang, Indonesia, January 1968.For the next 13 years, General Choi often asked for Supreme Master Kim’s opinion and advice on many matters regarding Taekwon-Do, and as a result Supreme Master Kim became a primary influence on the art’s technical development and growth. General Choi shared the name Tae Kwon Do with Supreme Master Kim, although he was not a member of the Naming Committee, and asked his opinion. After General Choi explained the strange, unfamiliar name, as he would later explain it to the Naming Committee (a scene which General Choi describes at length in his memoirs), Supreme Master Kim agreed that Taekwon-Do was a good name for the new Korean martial art. Master Sergeant Kim Bok-Man and Sergeant First Class Han Cha-Kyo for the next few months drove General Choi and Colonel Nam to the meetings of the Naming Committee and waited outside with the car, smoking.
It is generally accepted that Taekwon-Do was born on April 11, 1955, but few living today know why. Some believe that this is the date that General Choi, with the assistance of Colonel Nam Tae-Hi and a Chinese dictionary, came up with the name Tae Kwon Do. Others believe that this is the date that General Choi proposed the name to the Tae Kwon Do Naming Committee he had convened with Grand Master Son Duk-Sung. Some believe that is the day President Rhee Syng-Man first wrote Tae Kwon Do in Chinese hanja on a scroll for General Choi. Supreme Master Kim chuckles when this date is mentioned. “That is the date that we began to use the name Taekwon-Do,” he says, “even before it was proposed or approved.” If that is the case, it was a Monday. According to Supreme Master Kim, President Rhee would write 跆拳道for General Choi four months later, thereby approving the name in August, 1955.
Supreme Master Kim believes that General Choi liked him not only for his native martial arts and advanced skill but also because Supreme Master Kim always gave him his proper opinion and advice, despite his junior military rank. Many blindly agreed with General Choi due to his rank and authority, so they could avoid trouble. Supreme Master Kim and General Choi, however, had many disagreements and arguments during the 13 years they worked together for the benefit of Taekwon-Do. There was much raising of voices and slamming of doors. “General Choi worked very hard,” Supreme Master Kim acknowledges. “I respected him very much. He had a sharp mind, and he was not corrupt. He was very straight forward. Without General Choi, there would be no Taekwon-Do, no Korean national martial art. He was in proper position to get things done. He thought and worked like that.”
Despite their differences, General Choi continued to ask for Supreme Master Kim’s ideas and opinions. Supreme Master Kim provided input on many of the patterns that General Choi designed for Taekwon-Do between 1956 and 1964 to replace the karate patterns being taught to civilians and soldiers alike, for virtue of being the only patterns available. Supreme Master Kim also recommended to General Choi that the tuls or patterns be named for and symbolize prominent Korean historical figures and events to preserve the best of Korean history within the new national martial art. Supreme Master Kim helped develop and provided input on more Ch’ang Hon patterns than any other individual save General Choi himself. More than half the tuls – 15 to be exact – were developed for the most part in Malaysia between 1963 and 1964, when General Choi chose Master Kim Bok-Man and Master Woo Jae-Lim, both 4th Dan, from among thousands to come to Malaysia and assist him. Supreme Master Kim is said to have provided various degrees of input for as many as four additional tuls, bringing the total patterns with his involvement to 19. Twenty Ch’ang Hon tuls in total would be finalized for publication in General Choi’s 1965 Taekwon-Do textbook, Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defence. Balance is perhaps Supreme Master Kim’s most important contribution to most of the patterns he helped develop, treating the left and right sides of the pattern and body equally. This signature characteristic appears in all of Supreme Master Kim’s future patterns, including those for weapons. When asked why some of the patterns he helped develop for General Choi are not balanced left and right, Supreme Master Kim simply replies, “I get tired arguing and fighting with General Choi.”
Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man also helped General Choi develop, organize and prepare the first Taekwon-Do textbook in English, a pivotal instrument in the international and global promotion of Taekwon-Do. While General Choi’s first book, published in Korean in 1959, may be considered half karate, half Taekwon-Do, the new book made greater efforts to leave karate behind. Supreme Master Kim had formalized Taekwon-Do techniques and methods while working on the tuls. When work on the new book began in 1963, he proposed and argued with General Choi to use Korean names for most if not all techniques in the book, to further distance Taekwon-Do from karate. Supreme Master Kim, however, was not satisfied with the book despite his contributions and asked that his name and photo not appear. (Despite Supreme Master Kim’s request, at least one photo was overlooked.) General Choi’s Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defence, published in 1965, served as the original master text for the new national martial art and the foundation for the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), which General Choi would establish in 1966. Copies of the book were given as gifts before Taekwon-Do demonstrations (as photos published in Supreme Master Kim’s Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art reveal). General Choi’s Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defence would eventually lead to the publication of General Choi’s momentous 15-volume Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do in 1985.
The early demonstrations of Taekwon-Do were thrilling, dangerous events, as Supreme Master Kim’s photos clearly establish in his book Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art. Colin Wee, Chief Instructor of Joong Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do in Perth, Australia, has aptly noted that the early demonstrations showcased in Supreme Master Kim’s latest book were “Taekwondo out to prove itself.” Taekwon-Do, the new national martial art developed by the Korean military, could not disappoint. There were no mats and no protective gear. The swords, poles, batons, bayonets and knives were real. The kicks and strikes were as real as possible for demonstration purposes. The bruises are evident. There are bandages and dark glasses in the group photographs which commemorate the demonstrations. Supreme Master Kim described bleeding, swollen hands and broken bones, particularly during the historic 1959 demonstrations in Vietnam and Taiwan. Later demonstrations were no less dangerous, as one can see from the photos. The first large-scale demonstration in Malaysia was made at the request of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in September 1963 to celebrate Malaysia’s Independence during an international soccer tournament at Merdeka Stadium (also known in English as Independence Stadium) in Kuala Lumpur before an audience of 30,000 people. Was Supreme Master Kim ever injured during these demonstrations? “Only twice,” he says. His first injury occurred when he was pierced in the side with a bayonet. Fortunately, the blade damaged his dobok more than himself. For the second injury, he slipped on damp grass and was hit hard on the forehead with a baton. He awoke dazed and confused.
Supreme Master Kim retired from the ROK Army on February 28, 1962, after nearly twelve years of service, but he never retired from martial arts. He was the first to list “Taekwon-Do Instructor” as an occupation officially recognized by the Korean government in 1963 when he became the first Korean to teach Taekwon-Do in Singapore. He developed the first two weapons patterns for Taekwon-Do, the Silla Pole and Silla Knife patterns, in 1966 while living and teaching in Hong Kong. In 1972, he organized the first Hong Kong Taekwon-Do Tournament. He was instrumental in establishing the first Taekwon-Do Associations in nearly a dozen countries, including Malaysia, Hong Kong, Brunei, Singapore and the Philippines. He was the first to demonstrate Taekwon-Do in Uganda and Kenya. In 1973, he starred in two films, Only the Brave Stands and The Big Show Down, shot in Hong Kong. By 1977, he had become interested in the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), which honored him with 8th Dan, and in 1978 he sponsored the 3rd Asian Taekwon-Do Championships in Hong Kong at the request of Kim Un Yong, President of the WTF. He published his first book, Practical Taekwon-Do: Defenses Against Weapons, in 1979, culled from nearly 3000 pages of material and more than 20 patterns. The World Chun Kuhn Do Federation, which he founded in the United States in 2002, published his second book, Chun Kuhn Do: The Complete Wellness Art (Volume 1), which features 15 new patterns developed for Chun Kuhn Taekwondo. In 2007, the Official Taekwondo Hall of Fame® inducted Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man, recognizing his lifelong contributions. Supreme Master Kim was further honored by the Official Taekwondo Hall of Fame® at the Second Induction Banquet in 2009. His third book, Taekwondo: Defense Against Weapons, was published in 2012 by YMAA Publication Center and selected as a Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. Chun Kuhn Taekwondo: The Complete Wellness Art (Vol 2), his fourth book, was published by the World Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Federation in August 2021 just days before his death.
Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man continued to develop, teach and promote Taekwon-Do around the world until just days before his death. Taekwon-Do is practiced in more than 200 countries by an estimated 90 million people due to the contributions Supreme Master Kim and other talented and dedicated pioneers. At his seminars, Supreme Master Kim taught principles of the art he helped found and develop, and he shared his historical firsthand experiences. Those fortunate to spend time with Supreme Master Kim before or after training were also sure to hear about his more personal experiences during Taekwon-Do’s formative years. Supreme Grandmaster Kim Bok-Man continued to teach seminars and preside over advanced testings around the world, in countries such as the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Malaysia, to name only a few, until his death in August 2021.
Prior to his death, Supreme Master Kim Bok Man personally selected Grandmaster Brad Shipp to continue his life’s work and lead the World Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Federation. Grandmaster Shipp will be assisted in this calling by board members and other leaders personally selected by Supreme Master Kim.
Master Mike Swope
General Secretary of the World Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Federation
President of the Kansas Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Association
Portions of this article are excerpted from Master Mike Swope’s Introduction to Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man’s Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art: Bok Man Kim’s Historic Photospective (1955-2015).
Supreme Master Kim’s Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art: Bok Man Kim’s Historic Photospective (1955-2015) may be purchased directly from the World Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Federation, Moosul Publishing, LLC and Amazon in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. It is available worldwide through Ingram, the world’s largest book distributor. Taekwon-Do: Origins of the Art is published by Moosul Publishing, LLC in the United States.
1 The term Taekwondo can be confusing as it can be spelled three different ways. Tae Kwon Do was coined by General Choi Hong-Hi and Captain Nam Tae-Hi with the help of a Chinese dictionary. Gen. Choi, in his memoirs, describes the new phrase and how he explained it to the other members of the now-famous Naming Committee. The phrase appears to have been written as three separate words in the ROK Army when it was created in 1955, but it appears in hyphenated form as Taekwon-Do in Gen. Choi’s first English book about the art, Taekwon-Do: The Art of Self-Defence, published in 1965. The phrase appears as three separate English words as Tae Kwon Do on the backs of doboks as early as 1968 during demonstrations by the historic First International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) Demonstration Team, lead by Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man. Tae Kwon Do appeared on the backs of doboks to help identify the art with audiences during this period, according to Grandmaster Kim Jong-Chan (better known as J.C. Kim) in related Facebook posts in May 2015. By 1972, the art became a single word in the name of the new World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). Today, the three spellings generally indicate heritage and political affiliations. Tae Kwon Do is often used by independent schools and organizations, descended from the original kwans in Korea, such as the popular Moo Duk Kwan, Ji Do Kwan, Chung Do Kwan, etc, which practice patterns borrowed from Japanese Karate. Taekwon-Do is used by schools and organizations generally affiliated or descended from military Taekwon-Do and the ITF, and practice the Ch’ang Hon patterns. Taekwondo is associated with schools and organizations which subscribe to the World Taekwondo Federation and the Kukkiwon in South Korea, and practice the Taegeuk color belt and Yudanja black belt patterns. These are, of course, broad generalizations, and some schools and organizations may practice more than one set of patterns, such as the kata of Japanese Karate as well as the Ch’ang Hon patterns. The history associated with the phrases Taekwondo, Taekwon-Do and Tae Kwon Do is nonetheless interesting.
2 Supreme Master Bok Man Kim noted during a conversation with the author that it was with greatest difficulty to research Korean martial arts due to the Japanese efforts to erase the culture and history of Korea during the long Occupation. Bok Man Kim has said that many books documenting the history of Korea were not found in Korea but were instead fortunately preserved in foreign libraries.
Kim, Bok Man. Personal interviews with Master Mike Swope. September 2013 – Present.
“Japanese Colonialism in Korea 1910-1945.” KoreaSociety.org. Accessed 3 Aug 2014.
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