Why I wrote a book about the untold history of Tae Kwon Do ~ Alex Gillis

A renowned grandmaster called this month to say that he liked A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do, ( refer to the book review on this blog: https://1martialart.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/%e2%80%9ca-killing-art-%e2%80%93-the-untold-history-of-taekwon-do%e2%80%9d-by-alex-gillis/) but he wished that I’d interviewed him, and, more than that, he wished that he’d written his own tell-all book. He could write a book beyond anything I’d written, he said.

“Why don’t you do it?” I asked.

“No, no, no,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked. His “no” was disappointing but not surprising; many other martial arts leaders had said “no” to writing books.

He listed six reasons why he and older Koreans involved in the martial art can’t or won’t write the truths about Tae Kwon Do’s history:

1) Not everyone can write well. You need skills in interviewing, research, writing and editing.

2) You need a publisher to put up the money. The vast majority of books about Tae Kwon Do are self-published, which means the writer pays for publication of the book.

3) There isn’t much support from leaders in martial arts communities around the world.

4) Not many people know how to obtain and corroborate the facts. One man’s story (Kim Un-young’s, for example, or Choi Hong-Hi’s) isn’t enough. You need many stories for the entire history.

5) Some elderly men are overly “modest” and “humble,” and, so, won’t write about others.

6) Tae Kwon Do is still political.

As I spoke to him, I realized how lucky I was to be able to write A Killing Art:

– I’m a professional writer – an investigative journalist — who loves Tae Kwon Do and have been training in it for 25 years. Tracking down difficult-to-find information, such as U.S. Congressional hearings, comes easy.

– I found a publisher, ECW Press, in Canada and the U.S.

– Enough Tae Kwon Do leaders went on the record to tell their stories. This can’t be understated. Men such as Grandmaster Nam Tae-Hi are recounting more and more parts of the real stories. Grandmaster C. K. Choi published a book in 2008. You’ll probably see more books from pioneers in the future.

– I was in the right place at the right time to get the story started. For a number of reasons, my hometown (Toronto, Canada) was one of Tae Kwon Do’s hot spots.

– I’m a courteous and respectful man. Also, in my culture and profession, “humble” doesn’t mean “hide,” and “modest” isn’t “secret.” I believe that people who practise Tae Kwon Do deserve to know its real history, including its true Olympic history.

– I wrote this book to show that difficult stories about Tae Kwon Do could be transparent, balanced and fair. Tae Kwon Do is still political – it is still caught in a Cold War between North and South Korea, and its dozen factions in both the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) are still battling between themselves (in spite of merger talks). My book provides a couple of explanations for the secrets, politics and mayhem.

While writing the book, I kept telling myself that it had to be readable. It couldn’t be yet another boring history book full of names and dates. I wanted to capture the drama of the martial art, because Tae Kwon Do is dramatic, and the techniques – for combat or competition – are sensational, as are the men who created the art. Each one of the Korean pioneers – Uhm Woon-Kyu, Lee Chong-Woo, Nam Tae-Hi, Lee Won-Kuk, and many, many others — deserve a book. A Killing Art shows why.

Alex Gillis

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