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Digital Archive International History Declassified


Choe Hong-hui

James E. Hoare

Choe Hong-hui was a South Korean ambassador for taekwondo and sought to use the sport to promote reconciliation with North Korea.


CHOE HONG-HUI (1918-2002). Choe Hong-hui was born in what is now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) during the Japanese colonial period. He spent some time in Japan, where he became acquainted with the martial art of karate. In 1942, he was drafted into the Japanese army, but in 1945, he was imprisoned for attempted desertion. After Japan’s defeat, he went to South Korea and was later commissioned in the newly formed Republic of Korea (ROK) army. He fought in the Korean War (1950–53), and during that time, he developed and named the martial art of taekwondo, which combined elements of both Japanese and Korean hand-fighting traditions. As a major general, he supported the 1961 ROK military coup, but was forced to resign when Park Chung Hee became president, since he had been one of the panels that had condemned Park to death in 1948 for his alleged part in the Yeosu-Suncheon rebellion. After leaving the military, Choe became ROK ambassador to Malaysia from 1962 to 1965, and then concentrated on the development of taekwondo, founding the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) in 1965. Choe saw taekwondo as something for all Koreans and tried unsuccessfully to visit the DPRK in 1966 to promote the sport there. In 1972, he left the ROK and settled in Canada, taking the ITF with him. The ROK government then established the rival World Taekwondo Federation. In 1980, Choe visited the DPRK and introduced taekwondo. He saw his attempts to work with the DPRK as furthering reconciliation, but the ROK government saw them as treasonous. Choe died in Pyongyang on 15 June 2002.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).