Former soldier buries past tragedy teaching taekwondo

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Former soldier buries past tragedy teaching taekwondo

DANANG, Vietnam ― When Jeong Yong-san first came to Vietnam in 1975, he was a soldier in the Blue Dragon unit dispatched from South Korea as an ally of the United States.
The Vietnam War was coming to an end, but large and small battles kept breaking out in this city in central Vietnam. Civilians as well as soldiers were being killed or wounded, and Mr. Jeong was in the middle of the bloodbath. Locals shunned any kind of contact with Koreans like him.
The war ended, and Mr. Jeong came back home. Danang, however, had already become a part of his life by then. Decades later, in 2001, he returned there, this time as a coach of taekwondo, the Korean traditional martial art.
Mr. Jeong, now 50, has been a good taekwondo athlete since his youth, and he thought the sport could contribute to healing the scars of the past among Danang residents.
So he went back to Danang in September 2001, only to find a cold reception. He offered to teach and train a taekwondo team for the city, which was curtly turned down, with athletes saying they’d never accept a Korean coach. Locals even took turns keeping an eye on Mr. Jeong. An old man in his 70s came up to him and spoke threateningly, saying, “If you don’t leave right now, you’ll regret it.” But leaving Danang was the last thing Mr. Jeong wanted to do.
From then on, Mr. Jeong made efforts to make friends and win over the locals. He invited them to his house to try traditional Korean food. He appeared on a local TV show, performing taekwondo feats such as smashing bricks. He even treated locals with traditional Korean medical remedies.
The deep-rooted hatred began to melt away with these efforts. In June 2003, Mr. Jeong finally was offered the job of coach for the city’s team. He also taught the Korean language and traditional music, as well as taekwando, for free.
But it didn’t take long for him to find that he had a lot to do. The team was in bad shape, with poor performances producing low morale. No athlete made it through the tryouts for the national contest that year, so Mr. Jeong began to drill them the Korean way.
He first taught the athletes basic Korean to have them feel the true spirit of the sport. He also had them practice for one hour before taking a five-minute break; they used to take rests practically every five minutes.
After about a year, Mr. Jeong’s efforts started to pay off. Danang took third place in the national taekwondo competition for the first time since the launch of the team. The ceremony in which the team received medals was aired live on television, and Mr. Jeong is now a beloved star of Danang, with his class of more than 20 athletes.
Mr. Jeong said, “For a long time I had been carrying this big burden in my mind, but I feel relief now, which I owe completely to taekwondo.”


by Jeong Gang-hyun
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