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#404638 - 08/13/08 01:24 PM Korean Soldiers train for confrontation...
TeK9 Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 12/22/05
Posts: 2257
Loc: Northern California, USA
Korean soldiers train for confrontation, black-belt style
By Eric Talmadge (AP)
Posted Tuesday, April 29, 2008 12:50 PM ET

CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea(AP) The enemy is just up the road.

A few hundred yards away, on the other half of the Demilitarized Zone, he stands watch in his drab green uniform, a pair of beaten-up black binoculars in his hands, a pistol holstered on his hip.

There is a surreal tension in the air. Everyone - and no one - is itching for a fight.

Land mines pepper the forests on either side of the demarcation line, machine guns are hidden in the shadows. Years ago, an attempt to trim a tree escalated into a grisly ax murder.

Take all the weapons away, and these soldiers are still heavily armed.

Cho Tae-sang, who belongs to the elite unit of about 600 South Koreans responsible for patrolling the stretch of the border known as the Joint Security Area, has been kicking and punching almost since he could walk. He's a fourth-degree black belt.

And he's only a Pfc.

"We must be ready to defeat the enemy,'' Cho said during an off-duty workout, sweat running down his forehead. ``If that means using our hands and feet, we are ready.''
South Korean soldiers  assigned to the Joint Security Area unit must test for black belt if in taekwondo if they don't already have one by the time they get there.
Getty Images
South Korean soldiers assigned to the Joint Security Area unit must test for black belt if in taekwondo if they don't already have one by the time they get there.

Along with being one of the world's longest-simmering hotspots, this is taekwondo country.


There has been something of a detente at the DMZ in recent years.

No longer does the North blast propaganda at the South, and the South has stopped blasting rock music back. Psy-ops leaflets no longer waft in the wind, and the contingent of U.S. Army soldiers deployed to supervise the peace at the U.N.-run JSA has shrunk from hundreds to fewer than 40.

"There's contact daily, but we haven't had an incident in several months,'' said Lt. Col. Michael Anastasia, the American commanding officer.

To the South Koreans, that is no excuse for complacency.

In Patriot's Hall, a small carpeted training room on this border outpost, Pfc. Choi Sung-wook and his fellow soldiers put away the shiny black helmets and aviator sunglasses they wear for guard duty and don their other uniforms, the white ones, and face off.

They jump, spin and kick each other silly.

Choi said all soldiers assigned to the JSA unit must test for black belt if they don't already have one by the time they get here. Training is done on duty and off, with many soldiers putting in several hours a day.

Their motto: ``Let's Be Patriots in Front of Them All.''

Taekwondo is more than just a way to train troops, however.

North and South, it is the pride of Korea.

Just as the Japanese did with judo, the Koreans successfully embedded their martial art in the Olympic Games' roster. It became a part of the Games at Sydney in 2000, after making its exhibition debut at - where else? - Seoul in 1988. It will be making its third Olympic appearance in Beijing in August.

Its punches and kicks have been diverted to diplomacy as well.

In 2006, South Korean-born taekwondo grandmasters from the United States held a demonstration at the Taekwondo Palace in Pyongyang, the North's capital, in what they hoped would kick off taekwondo's version of the ``pingpong diplomacy'' that helped thaw relations between Beijing and Washington.

Under the banner of reunification, many a board was broken.


But, like the nation that created it, taekwondo is a sport divided.

Even seemingly simple questions - such as who was taekwondo's modern founder - are steeped in Cold War intrigue.

Case in point: the colorful General Choi.

Born in 1918, Choi Hong Hi was a fragile child and his father hired a tutor to teach him traditional style kick-fighting and build up his physique.

During the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, Choi went to Japan, where he studied karate. He returned to Korea in 1942 and was drafted into the Japanese military. He tried to join the Korean resistance, but was caught and sentenced to die. Japan's empire collapsed before that order could be carried out.

After his release, Choi became one of the founding fathers of the South Korean military, rising to the rank of general and training those under his command in his karate-like martial art, which, in 1955, he named taekwondo - the way of punching and kicking.

It spread rapidly, and in 1966 he created the International Taekwon-do Federation.

But Choi was soon to become a persona non grata in the South.

After being freed of Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II, Korea was divided into the communist North and pro-U.S. South.

Having disseminated taekwondo around the world, Choi wanted to take it to the North, where he was born. But South Korea's government feared it would be used by North Korean troops and in 1971 refused to allow him to lead a delegation there. Choi packed up and emigrated to Canada.

He went to the North in 1980, and, suffering terminal stomach cancer, again in 2002. He was buried in Pyongyang, and is considered a North Korean national hero.

To this day, all South Korean troops are required to train in taekwondo. It is mandatory in many schools as well.

But Choi's ties to the North have never sat well with the South.

A rival to Choi's ITF - the World Taekwondo Federation - was created in Seoul in 1973 and is now the body that governs the sport worldwide.

Its official history makes no mention of Choi.

Taekwondo, it says, has no single founder.


Not far from the DMZ, Kim Sang-geon coaches the high school taekwondo club at Daebul University.

The school, on a hill surrounded by rice paddies and budding urban sprawl, is about a 15-minute ride from the border.

All is calm.

But then again, it isn't.

As the afternoon sun begins to set, shrieks pierce the air. There is cracking, and the sound of feet stomping in unison.

For a small group of visiting dignitaries, about 50 students go through a 30-minute routine in the gymnasium. As pop music echoes throughout the gym, they do back flips and howl and slice through boards and roofing tiles like they were so much hot butter.

Kim, a member of the South Korean national team long before it was part of the Olympics, has trained his students well.

After their demonstration, they sit absolutely still until told to relax. Then they laugh and cheer and hold up baseball bats that they have just turned into timber with their bare feet.

The 53-year-old Kim has seen the sport of taekwondo evolve and blossom much more than the never-ending rivalry and bickering between the two Koreas.

Still, though his town is just a mortar round away from the world's most unpredictable communist dynasty, he tries not to be pessimistic.

"This is an Olympic year,'' he said. "Taekwondo is good for the spirit. It's good for the kids. My only hope is that the competition will motivate them to try harder.''
Copyright 2008 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
"Poor is the pupil who
does not surpass his
master" - Leonardo Da

#404639 - 08/14/08 06:52 AM Re: Korean Soldiers train for confrontation... [Re: TeK9]
Supremor Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/22/04
Posts: 2510
Loc: UK

Did you see this bit?


Copyright 2008 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

#404640 - 08/14/08 09:35 PM Re: Korean Soldiers train for confrontation... [Re: Supremor]
TKD_X Offline

Registered: 01/24/08
Posts: 786
Are you ok!?!? It was an accident! No really! I promise!


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