Nov 29, 2005
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Interview with American Sabunims at the Korean Academy of Taekwondo
¡°Our dojang is called the ¡°Korean Academy of Taekwondo,¡± because that is what our founder named it. Occasionally, a Korean person will come in and upon seeing that there are no Koreans running it, leave hastily.¡±

That is what the current owner and head instructor of the Korean Academy of Taekwondo, Master Bill Pottle, said in response to the question of what it is like to teach a Korean martial art as a non-Korean.

The Korean Academy of Taekwondo, of Aurora, Colorado, is one of the oldest and most respected martial arts schools in the state. K.A.T., as most people call the school, was originally founded in 1980 by Grandmaster Jae Kyu Chung, 9th Dan. While at KAT, Grandmaster Chung was also the coach of the U.S. National Taekwondo Team. However, in the mid nineties he returned to Korea, eventually becoming the head of security for Kim Dae Jung, former president of South Korea. Grandmaster Chung transferred control of the school to his highest ranking student - Master Ghassan Timani, 6th Dan.

Master Ghassan has been in Taekwondo for over 25 years and is a past president of Colorado¡¯s state Taekwondo association. He is known nationally and internationally for his own accomplishments and those of his competitors, and in 2000, he served as a U.S. delegate to the Sydney Olympics, at which Taekwondo officially became a medal sport.

In 2004, Master Ghassan continued what seems to be KAT tradition and transferred the school to the next generation of highest ranking students, Master Bill Pottle, 4th Dan. Master Bill has been a serious martial artist for the past 15 years and has written several works on Taekwondo, from the point of view of an international-level competitor, a teacher, and a scientist.

Master Ghassan and Master Bill are both accomplished, well known martial artists, neither of whom is Korean. Taekwondo, however, has deep roots in Korea; Olympic Taekwondo (WTF) is headquartered in South Korea, classes and competitions are full of Korean culture and terminology, and Korean athletes and masters have been the dominant force in Taekwondo since the beginning of the martial art. This has resulted in a stereotype that Koreans are the best at Taekwondo and that non-Asians are not able to be as good.

Though that might have once seemed true, based on Koreans¡¯ achievements within the martial art, it is now becoming apparent that Taekwondo is a sport for the world, with talented players from every region. This is breaking down the stereotypes, but just 15 years ago they were still firmly in place.

¡°It is both an obstacle and a benefit, if one is strong enough,¡± said Master Bill concerning being a non-Asian in Taekwondo. He shared a story from when he started Taekwondo, ¡°When I began there was a group of other students that would make fun of me for being not Asian and Korean students would bully me and say that I couldn¡¯t compete in ¡®their¡¯ sport. They would assume that they could beat me simply because they were Korean.¡± For Master Bill, this helped to motivate him to succeed; he will tell you with a smile that he has gone further in Taekwondo than any of those who tried to bully him just because he was not Korean.

Master Ghassan also looks on his early encounters with this stereotype as a source of motivation. ¡°Early on in my career as a master instructor, it was difficult to enroll students since I wasn¡¯t Asian, but I believe it made me a better instructor since my skills had to be very strong in order to prove myself.¡± When he began teaching, Master Ghassan remembers that Asians were on top of the Taekwondo world – winning tournaments and operating the most successful and prestigious schools.

Since then, a lot has changed. Taekwondo is now one of the most widely practiced sports in the world, found at the smallest, local level and at the Olympic level in hundred of countries, and it is no longer totally dominated by Koreans. Though Korean masters remain the core of Taekwondo, Master Bill related that ¡°many of the top [Colorado] schools are run by non-Koreans¡± and masters of all races run the Colorado State Taekwondo Association.

Some aspects of the old stereotypes are slow to die, however. Master Ghassan commented that there are still some feelings that Koreans ¡°are better qualified to run TKD on a national level,¡± due to their connections to the home and headquarters of the sport. Regardless, both masters agree that Koreans respond to performance. Recent competitions have demonstrated that old stereotypes do not make sense in the new, wide world of Taekwondo.

¡°There is no one in the world who can deny the dominance of the Lopez family lately. At the same time, you see people from places like Iran, Turkey, Europe, Africa, etc. all doing very well in Taekwondo,¡± said Master Bill. Steven Lopez won the gold medal in his weight class in 2000 and 2004. Additionally, his older brother Jean Lopez is the U.S. Olympic Coach, and his two younger siblings are both World Champions.

¡°When a particular sport becomes an international sport, it¡¯s a matter of time before the rest of the world closes the gap between themselves and the origin country,¡± said Master Ghassan. Still, Korea remains a tremendous force in Taekwondo, at all levels of competition and culture. Master Bill predicts Koreans will continue to dominate for some time, but ¡°Taekwondo now belongs to the entire world.¡± According to Masters Bill and Ghassan, people worry more about what the scoreboards say then what outdated stereotypes do.

By Evan B. Delahanty

Special Thanks to: Master Bill Pottle, Master Ghassan Timani

¡ã Taekwondo – a Modern Martial Art
¡á Interview with American Sabunims at the Korean Academy of Taekwondo
¡å Build Your Children¡¯s Mental Muscles Through Taekwondo