Choi Hong-hi

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Choi Hong-hi
Born(1918-11-09)9 November 1918
Hwadae, Myongchon County, Kankyōhoku-dō (North Hamgyong Province), Korea, Empire of Japan
Died15 June 2002(2002-06-15) (aged 83)
Pyongyang, North Korea
StyleKarate, Taekwondo
Teacher(s)Gichin Funakoshi (Karate), Kim Hyun-soo (Karate)
Rank  9th dan, Grand Master, principal founder, Tae Kwon Do (ITF)
  2nd dan, karate
Choi Hong-hi
Revised RomanizationChoe Honghui
McCune–ReischauerCh'oe Honghŭi

Choi Hong-hi (Korean최홍희; 9 November 1918 – 15 June 2002) was a South Korean Army general, and martial artist who was an important figure in the history of the Korean martial art of Taekwondo, albeit controversial due to his introduction of taekwondo to North Korea.

Choi is regarded by many as the "Founder of Taekwon-Do"—most often by organizations belonging to the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), the first international federation for Taekwondo, which he founded.[1] Others, such as World Taekwondo, portray Choi as either an unimportant or a dishonorable figure in taekwondo history because of his defection to North Korea, whether by omitting him from their versions of taekwondo history[2] or through explicit statements,[3] due to the aforementioned controversy.

Early life[edit]

Choi was born on 9 November 1918 in Hwadae, Meigawa-gun, Kankyōhoku-dō, Korea, Empire of Japan (now Myongchon County, North Hamgyong Province, North Korea).[4][page needed] Choi originally claimed that his father sent him to study calligraphy under Han Il-dong, who was also "a master of taekkyon, the ancient Korean art of foot fighting".[5] He later recanted this story and said that he never studied taekkyeon and that it had nothing to contribute to taekwondo.[6] Choi travelled to Japan, where he studied English, mathematics, and karate.[4][page needed][7] In Kyoto, he met a fellow Korean with the surname Kim, who was a karate instructor and taught Choi this martial art.[4][page needed] Choi also claimed to have learned Shotokan karate under Funakoshi Gichin.[8] Just before he had left Korea, Choi apparently had a disagreement with a wrestler named Hu, and the possibility of a future confrontation inspired him to train; in his own words, "I would imagine that these were the techniques I would use to defend myself against the wrestler, Mr. Hu, if he did attempt to carry out his promise to tear me limb from limb when I eventually returned to Korea".[9] Choi attained the rank of 1st dan in karate in 1939, and then 2nd dan soon after.[4][page needed]

Military career[edit]

Choi was forced to serve in the Japanese army during World War II, but was implicated in a rebellion and imprisoned, during which time he continued practicing martial arts.[4][page needed] Following the war, in January 1946, Choi was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Korean army.[4][page needed] From 1946 to 1951, Choi received promotions to first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, colonel, and then brigadier genera.[4][page needed] Choi was promoted to major general in 1954.[10]


Choi combined elements Oh Do Kwan Karate and Tang Soo Do to develop a style of the martial art known as "Taekwondo"; his organization spelt it Taekwon-Do, (태권도; 跆拳道), which means "foot, fist, art" or "the way of hand and foot" and it was so named on 11 April 1955.[4][page needed][12] Choi founded the Oh Do Kwan, and held an honorary 4th dan ranking in the Chung Do Kwan. Due to accusations of dishonesty, Choi was stripped of his rank and position in the Chung Do Kwan.[3] During the 1960s, Choi and Nam Tae-hi led the original masters of taekwondo in promoting their martial art around the world, though these would be only the first of many such endeavors.[citation needed]

ITF taekwondo organizations credit Choi with starting the spread of taekwondo internationally by stationing Korean taekwondo instructors around the world,[4][page needed] and have consistently claimed that ITF-style taekwondo is the only authentic style of taekwondo, most notably in early sections of its textbooks.[13] He was also the author of the first English taekwondo syllabus book, Taekwon-Do, published by Daeha Publication Company in 1965. In 1972, Choi went into exile in Canada after the South Korean government objected to his introduction of the sport into North Korea, and the South Korea government formed the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) in 1973[7] (renamed to WT in 2018). In 1979 he traveled and defected to North Korea where he was welcomed by the government and supported in his project of spreading Taekwondo to the world.[14]


Choi died of cancer on 15 June 2002 in Pyongyang, North Korea,[7] where he received a state funeral in the Patriotic Martyrs' Cemetery.[15] On his funeral committee were:[16]

Choi is listed in the Taekwondo Hall of Fame with various titles: "Father of Taekwon-Do," "Founder and First President of the International Taekwon-Do Federation," and "Founder of Oh Do Kwan."[17] Choi is survived by his wife, Choi Joon-hee; his son, Choi Jung-hwa; two daughters, Sunny and Meeyun; and several grandchildren.[7]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

a. ^ The spelling of "taekwondo" varies widely in English usage. The WT and affiliated organizations typically use "taekwondo," while the ITF and affiliated organizations typically use "taekwon-do" (as Choi used this spelling). In Wikipedia, the default spelling is "taekwondo." This article follows this standard, but uses "taekwon-do" when referring specifically to the ITF or affiliated organizations' names.

b. ^ In Park's (1993) article, the note on Choi's promotion to 2nd dan in karate is followed by a note about the outbreak of World War II, which would suggest that Choi's 2nd dan promotion occurred no later than the early stages of that conflict (c. 1939–1940).


  1. ^ "General Choi Hong Hi". Retrieved 25 September 2023.
  2. ^ Present Day Taekwondo (WT) Retrieved on 29 January 2008.
  3. ^ a b Son, Duk Sung (15 June 1959). "Letter in Seoul Shinmoon newspaper". Seoul Shinmun.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Choi 1993.
  5. ^ Choi 1993, p. 241.
  6. ^ Capener, Steven D. (Spring 2016). "The Making of a Modern Myth: Inventing a Tradition for Taekwondo" (PDF). Korea Journal. 56 (1): 61–92. doi:10.25024/kj.2016.56.1.61.
  7. ^ a b c d Goldman, Ari L. (29 June 2002). "Choi Hong Hi, 83, Korean General Who Created Tae Kwon Do". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2024.
  8. ^ "태권도신문". Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  9. ^ Choi 1993, p. 242.
  10. ^ Moenig, Udo; Choi, Hyun Min; Kim, Minho (22 November 2021). "The Founder of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) Choi Hong Hi: An Exploration of Fiction and Fact". The International Journal of the History of Sport. 38 (17): 1832–1855. doi:10.1080/09523367.2021.1984232. ISSN 0952-3367.
  11. ^ Kitching, Gavin (2015). "The Origins of Football: History, Ideology and the Making of The People's Gamee". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2897953. ISSN 1556-5068.
  12. ^ Kim, S. J. (2007): History of Taekwondo Archived 3 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 18 September 2007.
  13. ^ Franks, A. (1993): Taekwon-Do and imitators. In H. H. Choi: Taekwon-Do: The Korean art of self-defence, 3rd ed. (Vol. 1, pp. 10–11). Mississauga: International Taekwon-Do Federation.
  14. ^ The Difficult Dialogue: Communism, Nationalism, and Political Propaganda in North Korean Sport, Jung Woo Lee and Alan Bairner, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 2009, 33: 390
  15. ^ Gillis, Alex (2016). A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do, Updated and Revised. Toronto: ECW Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-77090-695-2.
  16. ^ 고 최홍희선생의 장의위원회 구성 (in Korean). KCNA. 16 June 2002. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  17. ^ Taekwondo Hall of Fame Retrieved on 12 January 2008.


  • Choi, H. H. (1993). Taekwon-Do: The Korean art of self-defence. Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Mississauga: International Tae Kwon Do Federation. pp. 241–274.

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