The Dear Reader: DPRK Observations & Musings


U.S. Filmmaker Documents North Korea’s Taekwondo Diplomacy

It’s hard to resist a goodwill tour spearheaded by someone who goes by the name of Grandmaster Woo-Jin Jung.

The U.S. citizen is responsible for the upcoming June 11th-14th east coast swing of a 17-member North Korean Taekwondo delegation through Boston, New York City, and Delaware Valley. This was more than enough to attract the attention of Dallas based filmmaker Luan Van Le, who was on hand to record previous 2007 proceedings arranged by the Grandmaster, for a documentary feature entited Tong-il: Breaking Boards, Bricks, and Borders.

More like Judo than Juche

Van Le‘s film is squarely focused on the life story of the Grandmaster, and when you start to read up on this South Korean immigrant’s rags-to-riches tale, it’s easy to understand that slant. Jung arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from South Korea in 1971 with just $35 to his name:

Working at a gas station washing car windows and filling up gas tanks was bringing in far too little money for Jung to survive and support his family who came soon after. Desperate, he asked co-workers to help him open a dojang (Korean for gym) so he could teach martial arts. Diminutive in size, his co-workers taunted him instead and offered help only if he could prove himself.

John and two others searched a creek nearby the gas station and found four red-clay bricks which they set up on the ground. “My fate, my life was on that demonstration. Stay here or go back to Korea penniless. Either my hand was going to get broken or the bricks would,” Jung recalls, knowing he had never broken anything other than wood boards. With eyes closed, Jung lets out a yell as his hand first splits air – then splits the bricks. He would soon open his first dojang. This was certainly not the end, but in fact, the beginning of many beginnings of new struggles.

The basic philosophy of Taekwondo is to forge a pathway to a more peaceful world. Perhaps, instead of the Six-Party talks, we should consider a Six-Party Taekwondo meet. In the meantime, Tong-il is scheduled to be finished by the end of summer.


Filed under: Media

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