Taking the Wheel: Grandmaster Linda Park ~ Interview by Wee Sun Ngiaw

“In the great scheme of things, what matters is not how long you live, but why you live, what you stand for, and what you are willing to die for.” – Paul Watson

April 11, 2008 marked the sixth anniversary of the passing of Grandmaster Park Jung Tae, the Founder of Global Taekwon-Do Federation (GTF). The demise of this legendary Tae Kwon Do exponent had left a profound indelible mark in the lives of his close disciples spread out across the GTF member countries worldwide.

Unanimously elected by the Executive Board to take over the helm as President, Grandmaster Linda Park is poised to perpetuate the legacy that her late husband had left behind. Ably supported by her core group of masters, Mrs. Park lays out strategies in revamping the organizational structure of the GTF World Body to ensure that its members near and far, continue to receive the best training techniques and methods as originally taught by the late Grandmaster Park Jung Tae.

In this up close and personal interview, Mrs. Park shares and recalls those endearing moments in the life history of her late husband, as well as her aspirations on the future development of GTF

TKDT: Can you briefly describe your first encounter with the late Grandmaster Park Jung Tae, how your relationship blossomed and the events that followed?

Linda Park: I met Grandmaster Park in March of 1970 in Toronto, Canada. At the time I was training at the Tae Kwon Do club where he came to teach the class as a guest instructor. The chemistry of that first encounter lead to a romance, marriage, children and a lifetime commitment until his death on April 11, 2002. From the beginning, our daily life was intertwined with Tae Kwon Do (TKD) promotion and development. Grandmaster Park was very disciplined and serious about training and always did his utmost to nurture, develop, promote and boost the standards of TKD worldwide. It was natural that I would become well informed about TKD related issues and get to know the senior instructors and officials as we traveled together to many countries for seminars, examinations and meetings. After Grandmaster Park passed away, his loyal students and I continued to honor his name through our commitment to promote his legacy. Today, I think the GTF represents that legacy and TKD well.

TKDT: During the span of 12 years since the GTF was established in 1990, Grandmaster Park created six original GTF hyungs (patterns). What is the rationale for the patterns in addition to the International Taekwon-do Federation’s (ITF) 24 patterns? Would not this place too much pressure on the practicing students, especially when these GTF patterns contain so many movements, multiple leg and jumping techniques, which older students may find difficult to perform?

LP: Patterns created by Grandmaster Park gave the GTF its own distinct identity. Besides fundamental movements, he wanted to incorporate many difficult jumping and slow motion kicking techniques into the patterns because he believed that the true value of TKD can only be realized through disciplined training and consistently pushing beyond one’s limitations. He wanted the GTF hyungs to reflect this philosophy and raise the levels of TKD.

In the beginning, there were some instructors  who did not want Grandmaster Park to create new patterns, but now today the instructors are eager for the challenge and are teaching them with pride, knowing they are unique to the GTF.  Grandmaster Park, himself a senior, was able to perform these difficult patterns and set an example for the GTF instructors and students, that with disciplined training anything is possible.

TKDT: When GTF was formed in 1990, many member countries disassociated themselves from the ITF and joined the GTF under the leadership of Grandmaster Park, in the wake of stiff challenges posed by the two well-established world bodies of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the ITF. As the closest confidante to your late husband, could you share with us his plans to maintain and promote GTF as an alternative world body?

LP: The GTF emerged out of a need for peace and harmony within the TKD community. The formation of the GTF might have been new but the experience, skill and foresight of the founder was exactly what was needed to combat all the havoc surrounding TKD at that time. I don’t think any other TKD Grandmaster could have been successful at doing this. In fact, Grandmaster Park’s inner wisdom and superior technical skills were crucial to the way Tae Kwon Do’s global image sustained credibility as a strong, traditional martial art. When we decided on the nonpolitical status of GTF, this appealed to many instructors who were tired of the TKD political arena. They welcomed this positive change.

We immediately focused on setting up seminars around the world with the support of the instructors who remained loyal to Grandmaster Park; thus, creating a global network of enthusiastic instructors. GTF rapidly grew. As evidenced by its popularity today, it has become a federation that truly represents TKD in its truest form. GTF was accepted as a Tae Kwon Do world body when recognized by the WTF in August 1990 through a document agreeing to support each other

TKDT: Grandmaster Park’s passing on April 11, 2002, must have posed greater challenges for the future growth of the GTF organization. With you now at the helm, what steps have you taken to preserve the integrity of the organization? How are you going to ensure that the late Grandmaster Park’s legacy of technical excellence and competency continue to be the hallmark of the GTF?

LP: 2002 was a year that left a void in Tae Kwon Do worldwide as the two TKD icons, Grandmaster Park Jung Tae and General Choi Hong Hi both passed away within a few months of each other. This sudden reality did cause a sense of urgency in the TKD community. As human nature is, a few instructors scrambled between the TKD federations, some became independent or just sat on the fence waiting to see what was going to happen. As president, with almost forty years experience in Tae Kwon Do, my focus is primarily on promoting the philosophy of martial arts. Without protocol
and respect the true martial artist will disappear and we just have to look at the attitude and behavior of many instructors to see this is happening today.

GTF masters and senior instructors have the honor of being the next generation of great instructors. They were taught by Grandmaster Park and now carry on the technical standards and traditions implemented by him. It is through our combined efforts that the integrity of the GTF will be preserved and the hallmark of the GTF will symbolize technical excellence for decades to come.

TKDT: The ITF and WTF have been vigorously involved in the discussion on unification of TKD to ensure its rightful place as an Olympic sport item. What is GTF’s stand on this issue? What role will the GTF play in the TKD fraternity?

LP: I don’t believe TKD as an Olympic sport represents the true martial art Tae Kwon Do and to place such focus on the sport aspect is not in the best interests of traditional TKD. Of course, GTF promotes competition in tournaments, but the handful of techniques permitted only represents a minute fraction of TKD per se. To survive as a true martial art, all elements of TKD training must be practiced equally; fundamentals, forging, patterns, sparring, self-defense and philosophy to complete Tae Kwon Do training.

As a traditional TKD martial arts federation, we are not willing to compromise our high standards but we have always been committed to work for the best interests of all TKD practitioners. Many leaders today have lost sight of the values and standards of Tae Kwon Do but if we can go back to the basics of this Korean art of self-defense, we can find that pivotal point where we can work in harmony to preserve traditional Tae Kwon Do and make the Olympic status reflect that true image. Without addressing those deep rooted factors embedded in Korean culture, unification of TKD in the truest sense is far away from being realized. I think the real question for the leaders of Tae Kwon Do today is; “What importance should be placed on this one sport aspect of our art?”

TKDT: Given the wide range of choices available in the martial art market, what are the advantages and features that GTF has to offer in order to attract more members?

LP: GTF is focused on maintaining a global traditional martial arts organization, providing the best detailed technical training, global competition, innovative marketing ideas and strategies and a nonpolitical forum for our members. If a person wants to achieve personal excellence in training, be certified and recognized for their achievements, have international fellowship and belong to an organization that promotes peace and harmony, then, GTF is the right  federation for them.

TKDT: Most of the Taekwon-Do and other martial art world bodies have their Presidents who are actual practitioners in the dojang after having gone through many years of endurance in training and mastering the art. As a President, how would you strategize to take the GTF to the next higher level of performance, given the constraints that you may face?

LP: From my perspective, every leader is faced with constraints of some kind and even though I am  not a physical practitioner anymore I have almost 40 years Taekwon-Do experience.  As President I am very dedicated to GTF development and promotion and will not be deterred from continuing in this direction. I work closely with the GTF Secretary-General Master Chris Gantner and the Executive Committee to review key objectives and strategize to improve our performance on all levels.

There is already a plan of action in place, ready to be implemented which will take the GTF to the next level of greatness.   We are currently working on administrative changes that will help us become more socially responsible by addressing our concerns about environmental sustainability.  Check our website regularly for updates about our new initiatives, GTF events and more.  2008 is going to be a year of innovation and prosperity for the Global Taekwon-Do Federation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Master Ngiaw Wee Sun who holds an 8th Degree Black Belt  serves in the GTF Executive Board as Chairman of GTF Public Relations Committee.  He also sits as co-President of Jook Am Taekwon-Do Association USA, established by Master Christ  Gantner. Currently based in New York, Master Ngiaw has his regular training and teaching in New York and New Jersey.


Editor’s Note: This article appeared on the Taekwon-Do Times Magazine, March 2009 issue.

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