Time flies, even for a Taekwondo master.
Master Inkwon Jang opened his renowned studio, JP Taekwondo, 10 years ago this past spring above what is now City Feed on Centre Street. In that time, he and his wife, Soo Kwon, and their family have built up a community of children and adults who have not only learned this martial arts technique, but also have developed long-lasting relationships.
It is that aspect over the last 10 years that actually brought out quite an emotional moment for Master Jang and his family during an interview last week – as they expressed how grateful they are to everyone in JP for welcoming them and helping to make a dream come true.
“Even though it’s been 10 years – and the time has flown by – it’s always a new beginning,” said Jang. “I’m always going back to the beginning anew every day. Every day I start with the beginner’s mind. When we started, it was originally our dream, but now there are many people who share this dream whether for physical health or some other aspect. This has become a community of people living and breathing and working together. We want to continue to nurture the school and help it to progress further.
“I also want to express how grateful I am to have this family of students,” he continued. “I emphasize that word ‘family’ to share in building this community.”
It has been an incredible journey for Master Jang, whose skills and accolades could have qualified him to open a successful school almost anywhere. He is now an 8th degree black belt in Taekwondo, having earned the 8th degree in 2017 after a rigorous review process in Korea. He is also a 4th degree black belt in Hapkido. Master Jang has practiced Taekwondo since he was 5 in Korea. However, at one point he quit around middle school age. It was then – once it was gone – he realized how much he loved it. He took it back up and discovered that when he practiced, he was getting much better – and others were taking note too. He eventually went to Kyunghee University – a school for promising Taekwondo practitioners in Korea – and was the valedictorian of the class. That set him up for a professional career, and he was the World Champion in 1997. Later, in 1999, he competed and won the World Taekwondo Hanmadang – which is the coming together of all world champions to compete for the ultimate top spot. He also trained other professional athletes in Taekwondo, and prepared them for rigorous competition as the Technical Expert at the World Taekwondo Headquarters in Korea.
Then he made a turn and decided to open up a school for all levels in JP.
“I love the community and I love nature and JP has both,” he said. “There is the Arboretum and the Pond and the community here is very unique compared to other cities and places…One thing I really appreciate about JP is everyone has their own unique character, but at the same time people know how to respect and work with others.”
Master Jang’s school teaches children as young as 3.5 and he has classes all the way up to adult levels. The younger kids he focuses on movement and helping them learn to have fun while doing Taekwondo. With the older kids and adults, it’s a different method of teaching mind, body and spirit. That’s where the close relationships have been formed, and they are something Jang cherishes more than the passing on of technique or skill.
“There are so many students that came in as a child and stayed with us until they went on to college and earned their black belts,” he said. “To share this time and relationship with them, especially at such a critical time in their development, has been a blessing and a gift to us…The most important thing for me is to form a positive and lasting relationship, and that’s been an amazing thing. There are countless people in the world who have this opportunity and to form that bond is special. Forming that relationship has been the most important thing I cherish. Passing on technical skills comes second.”
Celebrating 10 years was something Master Jang had hoped to do all along, but COVID-19 forced the school to close down in March. After a crash course in Zoom and outfitting his teaching area with cameras, he has been teaching online for four months now. He said he had never heard of Zoom before last March, but he said the technology is something he has embraced and hopes to use moving forward to reach out to his students and families.
“I had to adapt and move forward and take care of my family and JP Taekwondo,” he said. “That was a very strong motivation for me. The main thing that motivated me when COVID-19 hit and we had to close was to keep those relationships with students. Moving on to a new technology and using that for teaching was different, but I accepted it as an opportunity and not an obstacle. I am now excited there is this new platform to communicate.”
He said he sees it in the future as a way to help people live less complicated and stressful lives, helping them to achieve more rich and emotionally fulfilling life.
The hope is to be able to open in-person classes again this fall, but Master Jang said that will all be up to the data and the state restrictions. They have already prepared the school for such an opportunity. As well, he said they will have a 10th anniversary celebration when it is safe and appropriate, but he isn’t sure when that will be.
One thing he said he is certain of is that time has flown by for him, but it has been a fulfilling 10 years.
“It is true that 10 years flew by,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll look at photos of past students and looking at these photos and having these memories of so many people makes it so worthwhile.”