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Taekwondo origins have been carbon dated to over 3600 years, but some believe that it closer to over 5000 years.

The modern art of Taekwondo has evolved from other Korean martial arts of Taekkyeon, Subak, and Gwonbeop, Tang So Do and Hwrang-do which were practised in secret during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1907 to 1945. 

After World War II the Korean masters started to rebuild their Martial systems and in 1952 unified under one name, Tae Soo Do. In 1955 General Choi Hong Hi suggested changing "Soo" to "Kwon" which was voted and excepted by the masters; the Taekwondo name was adopted. The name was selected for its appropriate description of the art: Tae (foot), Kwon (hand), Do (art).

Given the geographic situation of Korea the Korean people developed a strong Martial Art history as form of protection from much more powerful neighbours.

Taekwondo is not only one of the oldest Martial Arts in the world but also the single most practised Martial Art in the world. Our world body (World Taekwondo) has 212 national associations and over 90million members. There is at least one Taekwondo club in most cities worldwide.

Taekwondo hit the world by storm in 1988 Seoul Olympics with thousands of athletes preforming amazing demonstrations and sparring.  Since then the martial art has undergone unprecedented growth.

In Barcelona 1992 Taekwondo again appeared at the Olympics as a demonstration sport and since Sydney 2000 Taekwondo has enjoyed status a full Olympic sport.

Taekwondo is best known in the Martial Art community for devastating, fast and powerful kicking. However this isn't an accurate representation of the full art, but just the sport side. Taekwondo has knees, elbows and full range of hand strikes to complement its powerful kicking. The arts originals are in self defence and many of the techniques have been tried and tested through centuries of warfare so the techniques are very practical but also easy to learn.

Traditional Taekwondo also includes mediation, values and rules that date back hundreds of years. It is full and complete Martial Art that, despite the odds, has survived, and in recent times thrived to take the world by storm for a good reason.


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Lee Jung Nam, Grandmaster, 9th Dan black belt in both Taekwondo and Hapkido, and president of the New Zealand Taekwondo Federation Inc. A man who changed his life forever over 20 years ago by coming to New Zealand to establish and develop Taekwondo and Hapkido here. With 50 years involvement in Taekwondo and Hapkido, here is a brief look into his life...

GM Lee was born in Kyangju, a city situated next to Moo Doung San mountain. Beginning Taekwondo and Hapkido training at age 7, he stopped for a brief period when he was 10. At 12 he resumed his training, and earned his 1st Dan black belt at age 13. At this time most of GM Lee's training was done high on the slopes of the mountain. He received his instruction from a monk at a Bhuddist temple situated on the mountainside.

GM Lee's training was based first and foremost on self defence. The training was hard in the thin mountain air and also dangerous. This was tiger country, there were no roads, only narrow walking tracks, and the countryside was infested with snakes and wild dogs. The inherent danger of this environment served to sharpen GM Lee's senses and skills, and he became very proficient at his martial arts training. The original style GM Lee was trained in was Bong Hwa Kwan, one of the several styles that evolved into Taekwondo and Hapkido as we know it today.

GM Lee won a technical scholarship at high school and went on to study at Chosun university, majoring in physical education. After graduating he set up his own dojang in Kyangju City. At this time not many people studied the martial arts in Korea because the Japanese had occupied Korea since 1907, and had forbidden the study of Korean martial arts. When the Japanese occupation ended in 1945 the few Koreans who were experienced in their traditional martial arts by studying in secret, began the long and arduous task of re-establishing the arts in the Korean culture. GM Lee was one of these people.

Shortly afterwards, GM Lee became eligible for his stint of compulsory Army service. He signed up as an officer and began with a one year course at the Army's training academy in 1959. Graduating with the rank of first lieutenant he went on to begin another 12 month course - this time training as a commando in the special forces. Needless to say, the training involved in becoming a Special Forces Commando was extremely tough. Every week the trainees would be tested and any that did not pass were taken off the course and put back into the regular Army. Out of 800 trainees at the beginning of each course, only 12 would pass on average.

As part of the course, sometimes the trainees would have to go without food for a week, and other times living off the land - eating tree roots, catching birds, or whatever was necessary to survive. GM Lee explains that after a week without food the sense of smell becomes very acute. They would be tested on this by being placed two miles downwind from a village and told to record everything that happened during a day - such things as when the cooking was done, what was cooked, when toilets were used, if women wore perfume, and so on.

GM Lee not only passed, but excelled in his Special Forces training to the point where his superiors made him an Instructor and put him in charge of a large section of the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea. While their relationship with the North Koreans was outwardly friendly during the daytime his unit would often venture across into the North at night and occasionally be called upon to undertake covert assignments such as infiltrating North Korea to gather intelligence. Often he would have to deliver agents safely up to 30 km behind enemy lines, overcoming booby traps, mines, guards, and patrols in the process.

Sometimes GM Lee would be involved in testing the Army's skills and abilities in various ways. At one time the Army was put on alert that there was a dangerous North Korean spy in Seoul. They were given a description and photographs of the spy and told to capture or kill. The "spy" was in fact GM Lee. Only his superiors and himself knew it was an exercise. He survived the manhunt unscathed.

Because of his skill and diligence in training others GM Lee earned a great deal of respect from people of all ranks within the South Korean army. When the Vietnam War broke out South Korea assisted South Vietnam and ultimately GM Lee was sent to Vietnam in 1966 to train their commandos. He held the positions of Director of Education and Technical Director of the Vietnam Taekwondo Federation. During the Vietnam war many Taekwondo and Hapkido instructors were sent to Vietnam from Korea and it was compulsory that they passed a one month training course with GM Lee before they could begin teaching the Vietnamese.

Because of GM Lee's importance to the Vietnamese he was assigned two bodyguards and two drivers and had at least three places to stay - a house on the base, another in the city, and a selection of hotels. Not until the end of each day would he select a driver and bodyguard and select where he would stay that evening.

During his time in Vietnam GM Lee became well known for his martial arts skills and received an invitation from Thailand to send a team to compete against a team of Thai kickboxers. GM Lee trained his team 10 hours a day, every day, for two months for the event. On their way to Thailand they put on a demonstration in Kuala Lumpar and upon arriving in Thailand they were asked to perform a similar demonstration. The evening before the competition they performed their demonstration in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. They broke boards and tiles, and showed unarmed combat and fighting techniques with such ferocity and determination that later that evening the organisers of the competition cancelled the fights due the next day.

During his time in Vietnam GM Lee was awarded the Education Medal from the South Vietnamese government for his services and later was awarded the In Han Medal and Bronze Star Medal in recognition of his services to Korea.

GM Lee left the Korean army in 1971 with the rank of captain (special forces) and took up the position of Director of the Bong Hwa Hapkido and Taekwondo Gymnasium in Seoul, Korea. The Bong Hwa Gymnasium is affiliated to the Korea Hapkido Association. As one of the many people involved in establishing the World Taekwondo Federation internationally he would travel to many countries for this purpose, staying sometimes for several months at a time. From his time in the army GM Lee developed quite a reputation for himself, particularly among many of the Americans who had been stationed in Vietnam. When he left the army the American Taekwondo Association invited GM Lee to the USA and provided a work visa so that he could teach martial arts. However, at the time, GM Lee personally knew the New Zealand ambassador in South Korea and had heard a lot about New Zealand from knowing several kiwis in Vietnam.

GM Lee considered the opportunities both in New Zealand and in the USA and ultimately decided to move to New Zealand. There were many reasons: many of GM Lee's former American students in Vietnam had set up Taekwondo and Hapkido schools in America, and Lee did not feel it was appropriate for him to set up schools in competition to students who were diligently promoting Taekwondo and Hapkido. In addition, New Zealand represented a great opportunity to establish and develop Taekwondo and Hapkido in a new country. This "challenge" and the prospect of raising his family in a country with a clean healthy reputation far outweighed the greater financial rewards available in the USA.

With his decision made GM Lee arrived in New Zealand in 1975 and began teaching Taekwondo and Hapkido. He started at the YMCA in Wellington with seven people and soon expanded by running special courses for the police, traffic officers, army, airforce, prison officers, and women's groups. For the first two years GM Lee devoted all his time to establishing Taekwondo and Hapkido while his wife and three children stayed in Korea with relatives.

GM Lee founded the New Zealand Taekwondo Federation and it did not take long for him to establish new clubs by helping his senior students to become instructors. GM Lee spent the first five years concentrating his efforts and establishing Taekwondo and Hapkido clubs around Wellington and the lower North Island before expanding to the Taranaki area. He founded the New Plymouth Taekwondo club in 1981 and soon established other clubs in the area.

In 1983 came the first club in Auckland at the Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT) and it was not long before there were federation clubs throughout NZ. GM Lee would travel extensively, sometimes driving for five hours, teaching at one club from 5.30 to 7, another from 7.30 to 9, and then driving another five hours home. In 1991 GM Lee moved from Wellington to Auckland to concentrate his efforts in promoting Taekwondo and Hapkido to a larger population base.

During his time in NZ GM Lee has also worked on extending his own qualifications, going from 6th Dan black belt when he arrived, to 9th Dan and the title of Grandmaster which he graded for in 1991. He explains that the higher dan gradings are not just physical tests but involve a great deal of written work - similar to a university degree. His last grading, for 9th Dan, involved what amounted to a thesis on various counter attack techniques against other martial art styles such as kung-fu and karate, training techniques, and training equipment that maximise performance and remove the risk of injury.

Grandmaster Lee's goals are to continue developing Taekwondo (the NZ Taekwondo Federation) and Hapkido (Kukjae Hapkido) over the next few years, and then to select trustworthy people within the federation that he can pass all his knowledge and skill to, so that he can step back and take more of an advisory role. GM Lee says that the NZ Taekwondo Federation, like the World Taekwondo Federation, has always had its doors open to other Taekwondo, Hapkido, and martial art groups, and he looks forward to the day when all such groups can be united in their promotion and development of Taekwondo and Hapkido.


Est. 1975

New Zealand's longest running Taekwondo organisation

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