Seven young Taekwondo students from Master Gunsoo Kim and Master Kwangjin Ha’s World Champion Taekwondo studio in Fairfield performed punching and kicking demonstrations for a group of children enrolled in classes at their new studio in Century Plaza, 535 Monroe Turnpike in Monroe, Saturday afternoon.
The seven students of varying ages split wood boards in two, whirling through the air with spinning kicks. They smashed boards with their fists, struck pads with their feet and performed fluid movements in choreographed dances. All of the student performers are state champions and two are national champions.
“This is your future,” Kim, dressed in a white dobok, told the children seated on the blue mat in front of him. “There are a lot of white belts here. All of these students started as white belts.”
First Selectman Ken Kellogg and members of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce attended a grand opening celebration for the new Taekwondo studio.
It included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and the masters asked Kellogg to use his fist to split a piece of board. (Watch the video to see if the first selectman succeeded.)
Written on the board was, “Bully-Free in Monroe.” The studio promotes anti-bullying programs in area schools.
“I’m really happy I can make another taekwondo community here, so people can know and help each other, while learning as a family,” Kim said. Of hosting town officials at Saturday’s grand opening, he added, “we have another family in this town with a lot of Monroe and Trumbull students here. I’m very honored to have them here to celebrate this great program.”
Taekwondo is a form of martial arts that began in South Korea. Tae means “foot”, kwon means “fist” and do means “way” or “discipline”. Translated, taekwondo means “the way of the foot and the fist.”
World Taekwondo Monroe places a special emphasis on the “do” so lessons on the mat extend to young people’s lives. The backs of children’s doboks have the messages, “discipline” and “be a buddy not a bully”.
At every class, students recite the motto of CRISP Determination: courtesy, respect, integrity, self control, perseverance and determination.
On its website, the studio describes its mission this way: Through Taekwondo training, we strive to develop the full potential of our students, enabling them to embrace the challenges of life more successfully while setting the highest standard of excellence.
Our classes are a combination of discipline, respect, and fun.
Kwangjin Ha, known as “Master KJ” by his students, grew up in South Korea and moved to the United States with his family as a teenager, enrolling at Fairfield High School.
Gunsoo Kim, who also grew up in South Korea, emigrated to the U.S. as a college student. He graduated from the University of Bridgeport as a martial arts major, earning a scholarship for all four years by wearing the UB logo on his uniform while winning taekwondo tournaments.
“He won numerous medals in U.S. Opens in Las Vegas,” Ha said. “He won the gold medal all four years.”
Ha, who also won medals at competitions, met Kim in Fairfield, where they started World Championship Taekwondo at 85 Mill Plain Road together 22 years ago.
“We started elementary school age taekwondo,” Ha said.
Outside the studios, Kim and Ha said they taught classes at every public and private school in Fairfield. Now they also teach at Daniels Farm, Jane Ryan and St. Catherine of Siena schools in Trumbull, and will soon teach at Fawn Hollow Elementary School and Lemon Tree Academy in Monroe.
“My goal is to make my students lives change through taekwondo,” Kim said. “In taekwondo training you not only learn skills for punches and kicks, but all life skills.”
For example, he said young students learn perseverance during endurance kicks.
“It’s hard to breathe and you’re tired,” Kim said. “They learn to never give up and when to stop. Don’t stop when you’re tired. Stop when you’re done.”
Enoch Sean Choi, 16, of Trumbull, has be involved in taekwondo since he was a toddler and has trained under Master Kim at World Championship Taekwondo in Fairfield for the past eight years.
“We have a national Poomsae Team and travel around the country,” Choi said. “I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic for the Pan Am Taekwondo Championships.”
In 2021, Choi won the national title in the male, age 15-17 category at the Taekwondo Championships in Houston. A U.S.A. National Team member in 2022 and ’23, he is a third-degree blackbelt, on his way to becoming a four-degree blackbelt with a chance for a master title.
“Once you’re on the national team, you can compete in international championships,” he said. If he makes the national team again, Choi will travel to China for the World Championships of Taekwondo in 2024.
Choi praised Kim and Ha for the training they provide to the young students at their Monroe and Fairfield studios.
“They are amazing teachers, always so supportive of me,” he said. “I’ve had ups and downs in my career. They encouraged me and pushed me. They never gave up on me. They want you to work as hard as you can toward your maximum goal — even outside taekwondo. They always tell me to do well in school and respect my parents.”
Jake Ha, 12, the oldest son of Master Ha, is also on the national team. He has a poom belt, half red and half black for students with the skills of a blackbelt, who are age 14-and-younger.
It goes from white to yellow, orange, green, purple and blue up to black, where there are different degrees.
Jake competed in the Pan Am Taekwondo Championships in 2023 and took first place for the male, age 12-14 category. His younger brother, Kayden, 9, is also a national team member.
Choi recommends taekwondo training for young people in the area.
“It takes time and effort and discipline,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. We all started as a ‘none belt’, which means no belt.”