Nam Tae-Hi & Alex Gillis talk about Gillis’ book, A Killing Art of Tae Kwon Do [Updated May 5, 2014 ]


In 2011, in Dallas, USA, I spoke to one of Tae Kwon Do’s creators from the 1950s, Nam Tae-Hi, and his son, Chris Nam, who interpreted. I was taking notes for a revision of my book, A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do. Grandmaster Nam helped to create TKD and was later a leader in both the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) and World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), but his contribution pre-dated both of those and he worked on the ITF much more.

Nam Tae Hi with Alex Gillis,TaeKwon-Do Named In1955


Tae Kwon Do came from Korean Karate (also known as “Shotokan Karate,” “Tang Soo Do” and “Kong Soo Do”). In 2011, TKD Grandmaster Nam Tae-Hi and I spoke about my book and who created and announced the name “Tae Kwon Do.” Using dictionaries, he and General Choi Hong-Hi had made up the name in 1955 to hide the fact that they and their soldiers were training in Karate, Japan’s martial art, which, back then, was almost the same as saying you were training to be a terrorist. At a martial arts meeting in a geisha house (the “Kugilgwan”) in 1955, Choi presented a fictional argument connecting TKD to Taekkyon, an old martial art. The truth is that TKD was Korean Karate, not Taekkyon, at that time. In this video, Nam (in the white suit) talks about some of the issues. Chris Nam, his son, translates.

Grandmaster Nam Tae-Hi’s Spearhand Story In A Killing Art (with his son, Chris Nam, interpreting)


Grandmaster Nam Tae-Hi came as close to being superhuman as was possible. A lot has been written about his martial arts power, fighting abilities and leadership in Taekwon-Do and Taekwondo — in all styles. The last time that I interviewed him (July 2011 in Dallas, USA), I asked about a controversial technique, the “straight-fingertip strike” or “spearhand,” which was supposed to puncture a person’s skin and which he’d used during a battle in the Korean War (in 1951).

I’d written about the horrific scene and technique in chapter 4 of my book, A Killing Art, and a couple of readers laughed at the notion that fingers could puncture skin. In this video, from two years ago, I asked Nam if his hand actually pierced someone, and he cried as he told me about the scene and technique. I’ll never forget this interview or the one in 2001, when I asked him if such a technique were possible, and he replied in a calm voice: “You cannot stay in the opponent’s stomach. You have another opponent, maybe. And though you made a hole in the first man’s body, it does not mean your opponent will stay still; he will still punch and kick. Pull back and prepare the next action.” It was then that I realized the difference between training now and sixty years ago, between the part-time hobby of learning a martial art and his full-time job of teaching a killing art in the 1950s and 1960s. His 1951 battle was traumatic, and I mention it only to show his power. GM Nam, rest in peace.

Nam, Tae Hi : The Silent Founder Of Tae Kwon Do By Lyndsey Reynolds
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