By Terry L. Wilson
TAE KWON DO TIMES, JULY 2001
At 13-years-old Kimberly, the daughter of Young Bo Kong, is truly a chip off the
martial art block. Trained in a very strict and traditional manner this
young lady is herself a black belt champion. However, her real claim to fame is
the way she uses her martial art training outside the dojang.
Kimberly is a budding classical concert pianist. Her flawless execution at the keyboard has put her in the winner
circle at some of the nations most prestigious music competitions. At the ripe old age of 10, Kimberly was the
youngest winner of the Duquesne Young Artist Competition and has also won grand prize in a world competition in 1998.
Before Kimberly turned 11 she had performed as guest solo artist with Westmoreland Symphonic Orchestra and the Pittsburgh
Symphony earning her the moniker of a piano prodigy. Even famed pianist Marvin Hamlish was drawn to the youngsters
powerful performance, so much that he twice asked Kimberly to perform with him in concert.
I started playing piano and studying Tae Kwon Do when I was five, said
Kimberly. My father thought Tae Kwon Do would be good discipline for me and I
could apply that discipline to my piano practice and school work.
Kimberly had a burning desire to master the piano and needed no prompting from
her parents to practice. In fact, often they must intervene and make her take
breaks or she would sit in front of the ivories all night long. This budding
young superstar of the concert hall credits her martial art training for her
musical work ethic.
I could play the piano all day if my parents would let me, Kimberly said
without taking her eyes off the black and white keys in front of her. Tae Kwon
Do has given me the discipline to sit still and practice for hours at a time.
Its also very important to be able to focus on the music and that is also
something I developed through my martial arts training.
While Kimberlys father continues to work with his daughter to perfect her kicks
and punches, Kimberlys mom, Mi, is constantly by her side at the piano. Mi is a
former Miss Korea and a very talented singer-musician. She helps guide her
daughter through the endless sheets of music that Kimberly memorizes for each
My daughter has an amazing memory, said proud father Young Bo Kong. When she
competes, Kimberly plays from memory. She has no sheet music in front of her and
her performance often lasts between thirty and forty minutes. However, it is the
emotion with which she plays that sets her apart from the others. Many famous
orchestra conductors have said that Kimberly is able to bring the notes to life.
One big reason for that is because her fingers are so strong from Tae Kwon Do
training. When she strikes the keys that strength is translated into her music.
Kimberlys father, Young Bo Kong, is a no-nonsense traditional teacher of Tae
Kwon Do. Trained in Korea, Kong moved to the United States in the 1970s where
he immediately demonstrated his skill by winning the grand championship at the
1973 Pam American Games followed by becoming the North American Champion in
1974 and the Middleweight World Champion in 1976. Many have called Young Bo
Kong the fastest kicker in the world. Although his flying feet have never been
officially clocked, at age 47, they are still a blur to the eye.
"People have told me that I am the fastest kicker they have ever seen, but I
don't know about that," Kong said modestly. "I train very hard and what
I do is the result of that training."
During his formative years it was common for Young Bo Kong to execute 4000
kicks a day in a single workout. For this the Korean black belt, a six
hour training day was not unusual or thought to be extreme. It was,
however, his focus on excellence that pushed him to be the very best in his
field. This is a train that's deeply embedded in the entire Kong family.
In addition to his speed, the Korean Tae Kwon Do master's power is awesome.
The combination of speed and power Young Bo Kong generates is evident in his
breaking demonstrations. Being able to break through solid objects tells
the kicker that his or her form is effective in a combat situation. According
to the eighth degree master, some students confuse power with force which
results in ineffective kicks.
One thing I see many people do is to push the bag when they kick it, said
Master Kong. A push does not have any power. It may cause the bag to swing
that is all for show. Such a kick would not severely injure an attacker. You
must have snapping power, using your hip to generate the kind of force that
will penetrate your target, not just push it. To perfect that kind of kick
requires much practice.
The benefits of Tae Kwon Do are not limited to the dojang; the same training
that Kimberly used to help perfect her skills as a concert pianist were also
used by some of the NFLs best known football stars to improve their game.
Superstars like Pittsburgh Steelers
Greg Lloyd, who was called by his
peers the toughest man in the game,
and Ravens star cornerback Rod
Woodson are but two of the many
top athletes who train under Master
Kong at his dojang in Pittsburgh.
They, too, have learned how to use Tae Kwon Do to improve their skills on a professional level.
Tae Kwon Do and Master Kong were directly responsible for
helping to extend my career in the NFL, said black belt Greg Lloyd. My
focus improved and the stretching I
learned greatly reduced my chance
of getting injured during a game.
The stretching was a big help to me during the game
day, said Woodson. Tae Kwon Do also helped enhance my hand eye
coordination and ability to focus. All of these things are very
important for a football player.
The youngest Kong brother is Master Young Joon Kong. He, too, was a national
and world class martial art champion who eventually translated his Tae Kwon Do
skills into another sport. In 1983 he was the AAU National Champion. The
ultimate honor for the youngest Kong brother came in 1988 when he was elected
Team Captain for the U.S. Olympic Team.
hate to admit it but my youngest brother is the strongest fighter in the
family, said Young Bo Kong. His legs are so strong that he can take two
steps, jump over a mans head and deliver a couple of kicks in the process.
Young Bo Kong went on to say that his baby brother also has a mean streak that
often left his opponents laying flat on their backs.
Young Joon has a mean streak in him whenever he fights, said the elder Kong.
I remember when he was fighting in the U.S. Nationals and his opponent threw
a roundhouse kick to my brothers chest. Joon jumped over his head, spun
around in mid-air and landed a hooking kick to his head and knocked him out.
Even with all of the protective gear, his opponent could not withstand my
Like the Kongs entire family, brother Joon has a strong desire to win, but
even if winning is not in the cards, quitting is never an option. This
never-say-die-attitude was clearly demonstrated in the final match of the 1988
In the semi-final round my brother broke his ankle, said Young Bo Kong. It
was so painful that he was unable to stand, let alone fight, but he refused to
quit. Instead of forfeiting, Joon stood there and let his opponent beat him
up. He thought it was better to do that than to just give up. The guy he was
fighting just tore Joon apart and he lost the match but, in doing so, he
demonstrated the true spirit of Tae Kwon Do and the spirit of our family.
Shortly after breaking his ankle Young Joon Kong decided to hang up his black
belt and pick up some golf clubs. Although he had never played a hole in his
life, the Tae Kwon Do champion decided he wanted to become a golf pro and that
was that. Joon approached the game with the same dedication that made him a
martial arts champion.
We could not believe he wanted to stop Tae Kwon Do to be a professional
golfer, recalled Young Bo Kong.
He would spend ten to twelve hours a day on the greens learning the game.
Three years from the day he began golfing, Joon returned to Asia and turned
pro. He did not think he was good enough to compete in America so he went home
to begin his new career. Two years later he was a leading player in Asia. In
1998, he won the Asian PGA tournament and every year since he has been rated
in the top ten.
Master Kong went on to say that the skills his brother learned in Tae Kwon Do
greatly helped him in his new profession.
As a martial arts champion, Joon was not intimidated by others so that was in
his favor when he played against better known golfers. And Tae Kwon Do gives
you good hand to eye coordination and focus. That, and good balance are all
part of martial arts training and all of those things my brother has used to
become a winning professional golfer.
Although martial arts have been practiced by the Kong family for generations
both Young Bo Kong and Young Joon Kong agree that they owe all of their
success to their big brother, Grandmaster Kong Young Il. It was under his
watchful eye that he guided his siblings down the path of Tae Kwon Do whether
they wanted to go or not. Young Bo Kong recounted many times he did not want
to train, but his big brother insisted and both he and brother Joon followed
The elder Kong began training at age nine. His first teacher was General Woo,
a strict individual who taught traditional Tae Kwon Do in the old-fashioned
Training was very strict, recalled Grandmaster Kong Young Il. For more than
a month I was only allowed to clean the walls and floors of the school. We had
to prove that we had proper discipline to learn Tae Kwon Do before he would
Eventually Grandmaster Kong was able to put down the scrub brush and began
training in earnest. He stayed with General Woo until he entered college. At
that time, Kong became captain of his universitys Tae Kwon Do team. His
fighting skills earned him the title of National Champion of Korea, an honor
he held and defended from 1963 to 1966. During that time he also became the
Tae Kwon Do instructor for the famous Korean Army ROK team.
Leaving his homeland for the United States in the late 1960s, Grandmaster
Kong was one of the first to introduce Tae Kwon Do to America.
There was no Tae Kwon Do in the United States when I first came here, said
Grandmaster Kong. I was the first one to use the Tae Kwon Do sign. I
never-ever used Karate, only Tae Kwon Do sign.
Americans had no knowledge of our Korean martial art, recalled Grandmaster
Kong. When I told people I was teaching Tae Kwon Do they thought it was some
kind of Asian cooking class. So, I had to do many demonstrations to introduce
Tae Kwon Do to Americans.
His demonstrations were a smashing success that resulted in the brothers
operating the largest martial arts organization in the United States at that
time. However, when his master, General Choi Hong Hi, requested that Kong put
on a series of worldwide demonstrations to promote Tae Kwon Do, Kong complied;
unfortunately, his chain of schools suffered in his absence.
I traveled from 1973 to 1975 touring more than 100 countries doing
demonstrations and promoting Tae Kwon Do, said Grandmaster Kong.
Unfortunately, my school did not do well without me to oversee them. I
eventually moved to Los Angeles where I now have a large school.
Over the years, Grandmaster Kong has made numerous contributions to his
traditional art, including the revision of Tae Kwon Do hand techniques.
When I trained (in) Tae Kwon Do in Korea we would always kick and never used
our hands very well, said Grandmaster Kong. However, after spending some
time in the United States I began to see how effective boxing techniques were.
In Tae Kwon Do, our hands were so stiff and we always chambered our fists on
the hip; same in Karate. This was not effective. Why punch from your chest? I
learned that it was better to punch from the chest and to stay relaxed until
moment of impact; same with the kick. So, I began teaching a different way to
punch: Relax the entire body then, at the last moment, put your whole force
into the target.
Striving for excellence is a family attribute that is genetically built into
the Kong family. The foundation for their drive to achieve and succeed is all
attributed to the physical, mental and spiritual foundation of Tae Kwon Do.