[FOUNTAIN]The legend of a martial arts master

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[FOUNTAIN]The legend of a martial arts master

“Justice without power is incompetence and power without justice is violence.” Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Japanese newspaper, ran a column in May 1999 which quoted the words of legendary karate master Masutatsu Oyama. The writer used the quotation to emphasize the argument that the government should be stricter with the North Korean spy boats violating Japanese territorial waters.
The Japanese karate hero was Choi Yeong-il born in Korea in 1923. To Koreans, he is better known as Choi Bae-dal. It is ironic that he was quoted by a conservative newspaper, but Sankei’s column shows how he is widely accepted by Japanese society.
Today, Korean actor Bae Yong-jun is beloved in Japan and goes by a nickname, “Yon-sama.” But in Mr. Choi’s time, Koreans were objects of contempt. In this hostile atmosphere, he did his best to maintain his dignity as a Korean while becoming a respectable citizen in Japanese society. The keys to his success were humbleness and talent.
Behaving humbly yet continuously pursuing a higher goal, he named his karate “Kyokushin,” meaning the ultimate truth. He said there is no such thing as perfecting a martial art, and therefore a martial arts student must pursue the ultimate truth and continue training.
Mr. Choi is also famous for his legendary winning streak against masters of various martial arts. He virtually created the sport of full-contact martial arts, which is hugely popular today. The comic series “Fighter of the Wind” is a dramatized biography of Mr. Choi.
Since the martial art master was only human, he had flaws. During his youth, he became estranged with Yeokdosan, a Korean professional wrestler. The hot-tempered master rushed into the Latin Quarter, a favorite bar of Yeokdosan, and demanded a showdown. In his autobiography, Mr. Choi later recalled that he was sure he could defeat Yeokdosan in three minutes. Because Yeokdosan refused to fight, the historical showdown never took place.
Even after Mr. Choi’s death in 1994, Kyokushin karate has established itself as the most effective karate used in actual fights. To mark the 10th anniversary of his death, his biography is to be published in Japan and a movie based on his life is waiting to be released in Korea. The hero is gone, but his legend lives on.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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