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Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man, Legendary Pioneer & Technical Founder of Taekwon-do, Passes Peacefully at 87

Supreme Master KIm Bok-Man (1934-2021)

Memorial Video of Supreme Master Bok Man Kim by Master Deborah Henckle, a long-time student of Supreme Master Kim in Firestone, Colorado. This video features rare footage of Supreme Master Kim’s demonstration for Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in August, 1970; footage from one of Supreme Master Kim’s films; and photos of Supreme Master Kim teaching Taekwondo and with students and masters from around the world.

Supreme Grandmaster Kim Bok-Man, legendary pioneer of Taekwon-do, passed away on the afternoon of August 14, 2021. After a brief battle with cancer, Supreme Master Kim succumbed quietly only moments after his last scheduled seminar concluded. He had devoted his life to developing and teaching Taekwondo, a period of 80 years, during which he saw it spread across the globe and become an Olympic sport. He was a man of indomitable spirit and will and embodied the Five Tenets of Taekwon-do. He was a giant among men, and his efforts and influence over Taekwondo and martial artists around the world will never be forgotten.

Supreme Master Kim was born in December 1934 in Chun Nam, South Korea during the Japanese occupation of his country. He began his martial arts training at seven years old in an art he knew as simply To-San, which through Supreme Master Kim’s efforts may be said to have influenced his development of Taekwondo. He was taught by a traveling monk named Mr. Lee until World War II ended. His training was bartered by Supreme Master Kim’s grandmother so that he could defend himself against the gangs of Japanese youth who often attacked young Koreans like Supreme Master Kim. Master Kim shared the story that one of his friends was beaten very badly once by a group of Japanese boys. Though Mr. Lee no longer returned to teach Master Kim, Master Kim continued his training and began to experiment and create his own techniques, studying the body and its movements.

Master Kim joined the ROK Army in 1950 and fought in the Korean War which would eventually divide Korea into north and south. He honed his fighting skills in the service of his country, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major, and began teaching armed and unarmed combat techniques to other servicemen until he was injured by shrapnel. He was told by doctors that he might never walk again, much less practice martial arts. Doctors, however, underestimated Supreme Master Kim’s indomitable will and physical abilities.

Supreme Master Kim met his good friend Han Cha-Kyo while recuperating from his injury in hospital, and through his friend was invited to participate in a martial arts demonstration to celebrate the opening of an Oh Do Kwan gym near the hospital. It was at this time that Master Kim met General Choi and became involved with what would become the new national martial art of Korea. The Oh Do Kwan was the official gym of the ROK Army, led by General Choi, Grandmaster Son Duk-Sung, and Captain Nam Tae-Hi. After Master Kim’s public demonstration, General Choi and Grandmaster Son began to ask questions of the young Sergeant Major. They offered Supreme Master Kim a black belt, but Master Kim declined the honor, wanting nothing to do with Japanese karate, which was the martial art taught in the ROK Army at the time due to the long occupation of Korea and the experiences of Choi Hong-Hi, Nam Tae-Hi and others.

General Choi was intrigued by his first meeting with the young Sergeant Major and called to have Sergeant Major Kim meet with him on several occasions over the next few weeks. Supreme Master Kim during these meetings expressed to General Choi his desire to create a new martial art for Korea, more powerful than karate, and to distribute it around the world via demonstrations, training manuals and an international organization. General Choi recognized Supreme Master Kim’s spirit and ideas and respected that his martial art did not originate with karate. Sergeant Major Kim immediately transferred to General Choi’s division, and was present when the name Taekwon-do was coined by General Choi and Captain Nam Tae-Hi. General Choi explained the strange new name to Supreme Master Kim, who liked it so well he told General Choi that if Army did not want it or use it, he would use it. The rest is history. General Choi dates the christening of Taekwon-do to April 11, 1955 (this date is open to debate, though Supreme Master Kim agrees it was about this time).

For the next seven years, Sergeant Major Kim was assigned to travel to other divisions and teach Taekwon-do to the instructors who would then teach their soldiers. Supreme Master Kim was also a pivotal member of the first team to demonstrate Taekwon-do outside of Korea, specifically to Vietnam and Taiwan. These nations and others were inspired by the early demonstrations of Taekwon-do and immediately began to request instructors for the new martial art, who were dispatched as promptly as possible and began to spread Taekwon-do around the world. Forty years later, Taekwon-do became a demonstration sport on the Olympic stage, and a full medal event at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Supreme Master Kim retired from the ROK Army in 1962, and soon devoted the remainder of his life to the young Korean martial art. Gen. Choi called him to Malaysia soon after his retirement, which would be another pivotal moment in the history of Taekwon-do. At Master Kim’s request, his good friend Woo Jae-Lim was also called to Malaysia where they would help develop 15 of the patterns which would become known as the Ch’ang Hon tuls and develop, name and organize the techniques, exercises and content for Gen. Choi’s first English Taekwon-do textbook. Supreme Master Kim required his patterns to train both the left and right sides of the body equally. This balance became Supreme Master Kim’s fingerprint on the Taekwon-do tuls. Supreme Master Kim also required that the names for the techniques make logical sense by using names of the parts of the body and words which described the motion and movement of the body, instead of names of animals or other vague descriptions.

Supreme Master Kim and Master Woo Jae-Lim also performed demonstrations throughout the Malaysian peninsula, including command performances for the King and Prime Minister. Master Kim organized the first Malaysian Tae Kwon Do Association and traveled to Singapore where he, along with six other hand-selected black belts, gave public demonstrations of Taekwon-do which led to the the birth of the Singapore Tae Kwon Do Association. Taekwondoin in Malaysia and Singapore to this day honor Supreme Master Kim for the gift of Taekwon-do those many years ago.

When he returned to Korea in 1964, Supreme Master Kim recommended one of his advanced students, Rhee Ki-Ha, as one of two instructors to be dispatched to Singapore. Rhee Ki-Ha later became the first person to be promoted to Grandmaster by General Choi in 1997. Thus, Rhee is known as First Grandmaster and fondly refers to Supreme Master Kim as his “teacher” in private conversation and names him as his instructor in his book, This is Taekwon-Do, published in 2012.

Back in Korea, Supreme Master Kim revamped the entire structure of Taekwon-do. In 1965 & 1966, his work in Malaysia with General Choi and Master Woo Jae-Lim provided the foundation for Taekwon-do: The Korean Art of Self-Defense and the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF). Master Kim not only helped found the ITF in Korea in March 1966 but also helped provide the heart of its curriculum: the majority of the Ch’ang Hon tuls and many other techniques and exercises adopted by the Federation were developed during those productive years in Malaysia.

Kim based himself in Hong Kong from 1966-1969 and traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe. During this time he organized the International Tae Kwon Do Association, the Hong Kong Tae Kwon Do Association and the Brunei Tae Kwon Do Association. He also helped the infant Thai Association in Bangkok get off the ground. Outside of Asia, Bok Man Kim established Tae Kwon Do Associations in the United Kingdom, France, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Uganda, Kenya and Australia. Supreme Master Kim and General Choi had a falling out in the latter days of 1968 and Kim soon separated from the ITF.

It was during these early years in Hong Kong that Supreme Master Kim developed the first Korean weapons patterns and two advanced empty-hand patterns for Taekwon-do, independent of the ITF and General Choi. Master Kim developed the Silla Pole pattern first, since it was the most popular weapon in Asia at the time, followed by the Silla Knife, another popular weapon and a weapon familiar to Master Kim from his combat experience in the Korean War. While the Silla weapons patterns are powerfully simple, the Silla 1 and Silla 2 empty-hand patterns are noticeably difficult, featuring both standing and jumping double and triple kicks. All four of the Silla patterns appear in Supreme Master Kim’s first book, Practical Taekwon-Do, published in 1979, and are reprinted in his third book, Taekwondo: Defense Against Weapons, published in 2012.

Supreme Master Kim spent the next twenty years in like manner: demonstrating, promoting and developing new advanced patterns and techniques for Taekwon-do. In 1970, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines invited him to demonstrate the Korean martial art at the Presidential Palace, after which Master Kim founded the Philippines Tae Kwon Do Association. In 1971 Master Kim returned to Hong Kong, where he organized and hosted the First Hong Kong Tae Kwon Do Tournament and Demonstration in 1972. Master Kim went to Sarawak the following year at the invitation of the Sarawak government and after successful demonstrations organized the Sarawak Tae Kwon Do Association. Master Kim returned to Sarawak in 1975 by invitation of the Governor for the Sarawak Open Tae Kwon Do Championships. In 1977, Supreme Master Kim was invited to the Third World Tae Kwon Do Championships in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. In 1979, Master Kim was invited to the Fourth World Tae Kwon Do Championships in Munich.

Supreme Master Kim settled in the United States in 1990, opening his first American dojang (training hall) in St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he opened schools in Denver and Federal Heights, Colorado. In 2008, he relocated to New Jersey to open Complete Martial Arts with his long-time student Grandmaster Brad Shipp. Supreme Master Kim and Grandmaster Shipp have since traveled throughout the USA and to countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, England, Russia, Netherlands, Austria and the Czech Republic teaching seminars about Supreme Master Kim’s methods for Taekwondo — called Chun Kuhn Taekwondo or Chun Kuhn Do — and officiating at black belt gradings.

Supreme Grandmaster Kim Bok-Man had published four books about Taekwondo prior to his passing, with a fifth — Chun Kuhn Taekwondo (Volume 2) — shipped from the publisher only days before his death. Supreme Master Kim had planned to publish as many as 17 more books to encompass all his techniques, exercises and patterns for Taekwondo practitioners around the world. Supreme Master Kim had recently aligned the World Chun Kuhn Taekwondo Federation with the United Taekwondo Alliance (UTA) based in Texas, which had adopted his weapons curriculum in 2018 and began to teach them throughout the organization.

Supreme Grandmaster Kim was in the hospital on 14 August 2021, the day he had scheduled and planned to attend a seminar for black belts, Masters, and Grandmasters to coincide with the release of Chun Kuhn Taekwondo (Vol 2) of his instructional book series, for which he had recently seen and corrected proofs. Despite Supreme Master Kim’s absence, the seminar and celebration took place as scheduled. Grandmaster Shipp, Master Kim’s chosen protégé, presided over the event, which was streamed to Supreme Master Kim’s hospital room. Amazingly, in the spirit of a true warrior, Supreme Master Kim held death at bay until his last scheduled seminar was complete. His spirit departed this earth precisely one minute after Grandmaster Shipp closed the video stream to his hospital room.

Supreme Master Kim Bok-Man’s students have the utmost respect for him as an instructor, and as a person. While Supreme Master Kim’s voice may have been stern, it was always paired with a big, ready smile when he was pleased. Master Kim expected no less of others than he expected of himself: always give one’s best to be better than the day before. In this way, Supreme Master Kim developed precision, control and power in his own movements during a lifetime of martial arts study and practice. Supreme Master Kim’s “tough love” approach built a lasting relationship with his pupils, forging lifelong friendships with students from around the world. As a result, Master Kim’s students have the utmost admiration and respect for him and his legacy, and continue to teach Master Kim’s techniques and principles in his honor.

Taekwondo is one of the world’s most popular martial arts, practiced by millions of people each and every day, due in large part to the tireless efforts of Supreme Master Bok Man Kim. He taught soldiers and civilians for more than 60 years, taught and performed for presidents and royalty in Southeast Asia and Europe in the years following World War II and during the height of the Cold War. His death is a great loss for Taekwondo and his students around the world, but his legacy lives on through his worldwide network of instructors and martial artists. Under the guidance of his chosen successor, Grand Master Brad Shipp, volumes 3 and 4 of Master Kim’s curriculum will be published at a later date to continue to promote his art to a larger audience and advance his legacy. As one of General Choi Hong-Hi’s closest associates during the late 1950s and pivotal 1960s, Supreme Grandmaster Kim Bok-Man is perhaps Taekwondo’s most influential pioneer. For this, Black Belt magazine once called him the “father” of Taekwondo.


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