Although the sport of taekwondo has only existed for just over 60 years, it has grown into the most popular martial art in the world. Millions practice taekwondo. Even more amazing is that one of the sport’s original pioneers, Grandmaster Chang Keun Choi (or C.K. as he prefers) has quietly lived in the Vancouver area for nearly half a century actively promoting the sport and aiding its remarkable growth. When Choi rose to the highest levels of taekwondo in the early 1960s in his home country of South Korea, there were only three taekwondo nations in the world. Today, there are more than 200. Choi’s decades of selfless devotion to the noble art has ensured that taekwondo’s original spirit will live on through his many thousands of followers.

Born in Andong, South Korea, Choi first became interested in taekwondo at age 14, just a year after its creation in 1955. He began learning the sport from Korean soldiers teaching at the only civilian taekwondo school in Korea at that time located near his home. Taekwondo came naturally to him right away and he was soon training under the legendary Master Woo Jong Lim and giving demonstrations.

Friends called Choi ‘schoolmaster’ for his meek appearance and many underestimated him, but his unexpected speed, strength, power, and flexibility became legendary. In 1962, he won the sparring and patterns competitions at the first Korean taekwondo championship—the first world championship ever held in the sport. A year later, he won the first Korean Tae Soo Do full contact heavyweight championship in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th degree black belt division, as well as the Korean representative championship.

Taekwondo’s founder General Choi Hong Hi took note and named Choi one of the original 12 masters with the express purpose to promote the sport around the world. For the next two decades, Choi gave hundreds of demonstrations in over 30 countries, wowing crowds with his ability to break bricks with his bare hands and smash boards 12 feet in the air with overhead kicks.

Many nations sought him, but Choi greatly admired Canada’s natural beauty and in 1969 he settled in Vancouver. A year later he opened the first taekwondo school in western Canada and only the second in the country. In 1973, he established the UBC Taekwondo School and hosted the first international taekwondo tournament in Vancouver held annually until 1981. Of the thousands of athletes he trained in BC, many earned black belts and became leaders in their fields. Choi even created the design of the International Taekwondo Federation ‘tree’ logo in 1980, worn on every ITF uniform.

Revered today as one of the world’s most senior taekwondo Grand Masters and holding a 9th degree black belt, as a member of the Taekwondo Pioneers Council, Choi continues to work to unite all ITF groups and support the sport as a whole.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.