Born in Teagu, Korea, Grandmaster Park is the product of two completely different cultures in two distinctly different lands. With the examples set by his grandmother and his father in devotion to God and the Roman Catholic Church, he had an unique upbringing. His father sold his home and gave the proceeds to the church, to help establish the local parish. The Park family did not have their own house for more than ten years.
Throughout his childhood, Grandmaster Park attended traditional chinese confucian school at the dawn before hurrying off for a full day of regular school. (This is one of his poems in traditional oriental style) The early morning classes instilled in him many ancient Eastern philosophies that strengthened the compassion and patience taught by Christian upbringing.
In addition to his already strong work ethic, was the martial arts instruction taught by Dae Yong Ha, now in his 80’s and still living in South Korea. Grandmaster Ha was also his middle school tearcher of ethics. Master Park was a credit to his instructor. He went on to teach Tae Kwon Do to Korean and American Air Force pilots.
Grandmaster Park came to the United States in 1972 to attend DePauw University in Greencastle under a full-scholarship and as part of an exhange program. Upon completion of studied at DePauw, he entered the Butler University MBA program, and upon graduation worked years as a comptroller for Stokley Van Camp,Inc, a fortune 500 company.
Grandmaster Park was the first to teach credit classes in Tae Kwon Do at both DePauw University and Indiana University. In addition, he belongs to an elite group of nationally recognized instructors who have been certified by the the World Tae Kwon Do Federation.
How does this Eastern-born Grandmaster rationalize his totally non-violent beliefs as a Christian and scholar in the context of martial arts?
by Carroll of TKD times
There’s no denying that the martial arts has a violent image. Hollywood would have it no other way. The makers of megabuck theatre and home-video hits are churning out hugely popular pictures that all seem to emphasize it’s a Godless world, one that requires vicious reactions to injustice. In fairness, there’s also no denying that those movies can be entertaining. The action is intense and justice always prevails. Lost in this tidal wave of contusion is the image of a true martial artist, on who seeks inner-peace through self-fulfillment, not violence against others. Were it not for real-life masters and instructors whom has resisted the urge to commercialize their schools, the martial arts world would be Godless… and probably dangerous. Park’s operational world is LOVE. To the misinformed or uninformed, professions of deep Christianity and love of mankind could be perceived as great contradictions when he who is professing is a martial artist. After all, one may ask, aren’t the martial arts steeped in violent, antisocial, anti-Christian behavior? The uninformed skeptic might also propose a stereotype of the martial artist as person who practices Easter mysticism. How could a man raised in the East, who still adheres to many Eastern customs, be a true Christian? Park addressed these questions and many more during a recent series of interviews. Undaunted, the explained how he applies his Christian values to his work with youngsters and adults in his Tae Kwon Do school. He stressed his pacifistic beliefs. He also explained how he maintains respect for ancient Eastern scholars and philosophers while placing none ahead of his savior, Jesus Christ. Before recounting excerpts of those interviews, it is important to give a brief summary of Master Park’s background. Two distinctly different cultures in two distinctly different lands have influenced his life. Although the contrasts were constants-love of God and the practice of martial arts-were more important. Sung Jae Park, now a nationally recognized nine dan master in Tae Kwon Do, was born in1945 in Taegu, South Korea. His grandmother and begun the family’s Roman Catholic following and Master Park’s father, Peter Park, built upon it-literally. Peter Park helped organize the Catholic church in the family’s hometown in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Shortly after the Korean War, with congregation membering more than 200 members, the church was awarded its first priest. The expanding parish needed a new building but funds were not abundant. Peter Park stepped forward with a gift of ultimate self-sacrifice; One Sung Jae Park will never forget. Peter Park sold his own home to finance the church’s construction. The family did not own its own home again for more than 10 years. It was an example of generosity that helped shape Sung Jae Park’s beliefs. What also shaped his beliefs was a rigorous educational upbringing. Throughout his childhood, Sung Jae Park attended traditional Korean school from 5:30a.m to 7:30 a.m. before hurrying off for a full day of regular school. The early morning classes instilled in him many ancient Eastern philosophies that strengthened the compassion and patience taught by his Christian upbringing.
The long days that followed at the traditional school implanted the work so apparent in Master Park today. What also shaped his beliefs was a rigorous educational upbringing. Throughout his childhood, Sung Jae Park attended traditional Korean school from 5:30a.m to 7:30 a.m. before hurrying off for a full day of regular school. The early morning classes instilled in him many ancient Eastern philosophies that strengthened the compassion and patience taught by his Christian upbringing. The long days that followed at the traditional school implanted the work so apparent in Master Park today. Yet another important factor in Park’s upbringing was the martial arts instruction that would both guide him into manhood and eventually become a career. He credit his superb skills to Grandmaster Dae-Young Ha, now in his mid-70’s and still living in South Korea, also was Park’s middle school teacher of ethics.
Park came to the United States in 1972 to attend DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, as part of an exchange program. The 27 year-old soon would call this country home. He approached the American educational system with the same intensity he had always applied to the martial arts. After completing studies at DePauw, he entered the Butler University MBA program, and upon graduation worked years as a comptroller for a fortune 500 company. Almost immediately upon arriving in the United States, Park began teaching Tae Kwon Do. His advanced skills and ability to share them with others enabled him to become the first teacher of credit courses in Tae Kwon Do at both DePauw and Indiana University. Sometimes over the years, he taught as many as 18 hours of credit courses a week. Today, Park teaches at his own Tae Kwon Do school in northern Indianapolis. He has operated the school full-time for more than two years but still operates an import-export business on the side. His other full-time job is that of devoted husband and father. with a daughter in high school and two sons in a Catholic middle school, Park keeps a frantic peace attending and helping organize a wide variety of academic and athletic activities. Still, even on the most hectic days. Park puts aside time for God. He begins each morning with personal Bible study and retreats to his office at the Tae Kwon Do school several times each day to read more passages. A member of St. Luke Catholic Church since 1974, Park regularly attends mass and serves as an usher. He also participates in weekly interfaith Bible study groups.
Carroll: The study of Christianity, especially reading the Bible, is a big part of your life. How would you refute a charge that your deep involvement in Tae Kwon Do, a practice that involves punching and kicking, is a contradiction to the peaceful teachings of Christianity?
SUNG JAE PARK: In my teaching, especially with children, I try to get students to build their confidence, coordination and self-discipline. I try to achieve that through care and effort, emotions stressed repeatedly in the Bible. It is important to love your fellow man and I try to show my love in my devotion to teaching. In religious terminology, love is the true meaning of Jesus. His 33 years of life in this world were based on the love of people and the people who were not respected by society. Jesus wanted to bring justice and righteousness to society, and I try to instill those same values in my students. Righteousness, like love, is important in the Bible. It is mentioned 32 times in the Book of Romans. When you teach children, if you don’t teach them with the basics of justice and righteousness, you can’t teach them anything. If they don’t understand justice and righteousness, they might take advantage o their Tae Kwon Do and become bullies. But if you teach it to them, they will use what they learn to help society and protect the weak. In the Bible, a man got robbed and many people passed until the good Samaritan Stooped and provided help. A true martial artist should act the same way when he or she sees someone in trouble.
C: Whether warranted or not, there’s still that image of violence attached to the martial arts. Does that bother you?
SJP: It bothers me very much. We have a lot of people in this country who has drawn their opinions about martial arts by watching professional full-contact karate, and even more so, the movies, Both are based on physical contact. What they see on television and in the movies is not a true picture of the martial arts. It’s violence and I don’t find value in that characteristics in his teaching-physical training and mental development. The mental development has failed if the student developes a violent attitude. His teacher also failed.
C: What about a student who comes to you with obvious violent intentions? Namely, he has the desire to fight better, as opposed to better defending himself and others. Do you turn him away?
C: It is clear you believe martial arts teachers have a responsibility to instill good character traits in their students. But can an instructor go too far and practice mind-control?
SJP: Many parents come to me ask for help in creating discipline in their children. Those parents sometimes are single mothers, or they’re parents who both work and are so busy they don’t have enough time to instill self-discipline on their own. I try to help them by working with their children in class. I want those children to work heard and be respectful and use those same attitudes in school and at home. But I never try to replace the parent, and I never try to intimidate the child. That would be wrong and would be an example of mind-control. There’s a word in Korea-Sabu-that I follow in my school. It means teacher, or master in martial arts ‘bu’ means father. I treat all students as though they were my own while I’m teaching, meaning I try to instill strong discipline in the student and also use a lot of caring. But I must emphasize that I act as a father only while I’m teaching. When class is over, it’s the parent’s role only. With adults, I try to help them strive to reach their goals in martial arts and perhaps give them tools to pursue goals outside class. Sure, students need to practice respect at my Tae Kwon Do School, but I do not want it to exceed respect-a student should not worship the instructor or master. That would make the martial arts school more like a cult.
C: Returning specifically to the Bible one of its strongest massages is turning the other cheek. Don’t martial artists often strike the other cheek, or at least the other ribcage?
SJP: I believe practicing Tae Kwon Do means the sharing and exchanging of skills. It should not involve trying to hurt your partners. If someone leaves himself open the goal is not to rush in and hurt him. It is to help that person learn not to repeat that mistake.
I mention justice again because it is so important. One thousand years ago in Korea, Japan, and Chine, there were no schools and formal education as we know them today. But ethics were taught and emphasized. The villages had ethics committees made up of senior citizens 60 years old and older. If someone hurt someone else, the ethics committee would decide the punishment. A person might be kicked out of a village or even physically punished. People were not allowed to take advantage of the weak. Of course, there are no punishments in my Tae Kwon Do school, but students know they cannot take advantage of those who are weaker.
C: From hearing your comments and seeing the books that line your shelves, it is apparent you are well read in Eastern studies and philosophies. Do those teachings contradict those of Christianity?
SJP: No, quite the opposite. Ancient religions like Buddhism hold many of the same rules for living. Confucianism is based on love of the other person, and in Buddhism, caring for others is not even allowed to kill an animal. Many people who say they Christians attend church one day each week, but then they don’t practice where thy learned in church. Many followers of Buddhist or Confusician beliefs display more Christian behavior than many people who say they are Christians. At the end of some adult classes, I have a philosophy lesson. I try to teach my students the practices of some of these Eastern philosophers. But it is not a religious lesson. I’m a Christian, but I don’t preach Christianity or any other religion in my Tae Kwon Do school. I try to set a Christian example. When I give philosophy lesson, I’m not preaching Buddhism or Confucianism; I’m sharing beliefs that are good and wholesome and seek righteousness.
What is life? Where it is coming from.
What is death? Where we go after death.
Life is like a cloud rising from the Earth;
Death is like a cloud disappearing from the sky.
A cloud in the sky is not a real entity itself.
A life from birth and death is like a cloud.