A hands-on job

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A hands-on job

In June 1979, a young soldier demonstrated a new martial art for President Park Chung Hee at the Blue House. After carefully observing the exhibition, President Park nodded, heralding the arrival of a new form of martial arts, called teuk gong mu sul. Within a year, teuk gong mu sul had become the standard martial art of the presidential security service, and troops in the army's special forces were training in it as well.

The creator of teuk gong mu sul and the man who introduced it to Mr. Park is Jang Soo-ok. Now 55, Mr. Jang entered the presidential security service in September 1980, after Mr. Park was assassinated and Chun Doo-hwan took over the office. Mr. Jang worked in the service for 22 years, protecting four presidents. But in March this year he decided it was time to move on, and he left the service to become president of the Teuk Gong Mu Sul Federation.

Mr. Jang still remembers the strange way how 33 years ago the head of the presidential security service, Cha Ji-chul, introduced him to the president: Mr. Cha described Mr. Jang as someone who could use a magic method of contracting space, called chukjibeop, which was thought to have existed in ancient times. Mr. Cha also said that Mr. Jang could do a magical martial art, jangpung, in which fighters were supposed to be able to deliver blows to opponents from a distance, using something like "the force" mentioned in the "Star Wars" movies.

Despite the billing, Mr. Jang says that he doesn't know chukjibeop, but wishes he did. "I guess Mr. Cha exaggerated a little bit to make sure that I would get an audition with the president," he says. "I don't have any jangpung, but my method of hitting an opponent with the palms of my hand can easily break his ribs and possibly kill him."

The birth of this lethal martial art dates to the end of Park Chung Hee's reign, and just after a North Korean soldier was captured. The North Korean was trained in the arts of the North's martial art gyeok sul, which was stronger than other martial arts taught to the South's soldiers, such as taekwondo or judo. Mr. Park put out an order to create a martial art that could defeat gyeok sul. In the army at the time, Mr. Jang created teuk gong mu sul by consolidating the most lethal moves of existing martial arts.

Speaking of his time in the security service, Mr. Jang says he remembers Chun Doo-hwan as the president who always knew the names of everybody in the service, and someone who was particularly impressed with the new martial art. "One day Chun's son, Chun Jae-man, was knocked down during a practice match, and the president asked me immediately to arrange another match for his son," Mr. Jang says.

Working so close to powerful presidents like Mr. Park and Mr. Chun made Mr. Jang a target of people seeking influence by dishonest means. But as a public servant for more than 20 years, Mr. Jang says he was never involved in any kind of scandal.

"Because I worked at the Blue House, so many people asked me for favors," Mr. Jang says. "But I, and my wife when she was sought out, always gave the same answer." Well aware of the current scandals that are rattling the government, he pointed out that more people in positions of power are honest than those who are corrupt.

Mr. Jang was born in Gimje, a small town in Jeolla province, and started to learn taekwondo after some local kids robbed him when he was in middle school. Soon after, he wanted to learn something more powerful and studied hapkido, an art of self-defense. "On the street I would meet troublemakers, but within three moves I always taught them a lesson," he says. In a small corner of his uncle's ironworks shop, he created a gym, which formed the roots of the facility he now runs, the Teuk Gong Mu Sul gymnasium in downtown Seoul, in Sinyeong-dong, Jongno district.

Mr. Jang says his ultimate dream is to open a general martial arts school; one not only teaching teuk gong mu sul but also all other kinds of fighting techniques. Curiously, though, while his wife Kim Dan-hwa is vice president of his martial arts association, Mr. Jang never taught their two sons and a daughter, all in their 20s and college-educated, any martial arts.

"There is no money and glory in being a master in martial arts," he explains. "What kind of parent would want to teach their children this?"

Checking the numbers, the answer would be "plenty." About 500,000 people know Mr. Jang's martial art.

by Lee Sang-guk

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