By Alyssa LaDuke

Recently, United States troops have been aiding in training and planning defense operations in South Korea as a precaution against recent threats from North Korea, according to news reports. Fifty years ago during the Vietnam War, South Korean soldiers had different training aid: A martial arts Grand Master.

From 1963 to 1965, Grand Master James SunHwan Chung taught martial arts to the South Korean and South Vietnam military during the Vietnam War. The main focus of his teaching was confidence. He says believing in oneself is very important because with confidence a person can do almost anything. He wanted the soldiers to have the confidence to fight for their country and not fear death, Chung said.

“South Korean soldiers need to be ready anytime to fight back,” said Chung about the current situation in South Korea.

Chung has been teaching martial arts in the Kalamazoo area for more than 42 years. He is a ninth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Hap Ki Do and Tang Soo Do. He has dedicated many years to teaching others martial arts and believes that it is something everyone should learn. In the 1960s, Chung taught South Korean and South Vietnam soldiers martial arts. Today, he is still teaching students at his martial arts business, Chung’s Blackbelt Academy in Richland and Kalamazoo.


Though he has adapted to many American customs, Chung still welcomes students to Kalamazoo-area class with Korean tradition. He begins class with an ordered starting routine that includes stretching and momentary meditating, which Chung says helps with mastering mind over matter techniques.

While they stretch, he uses Korean numbers and terminology, which the students must learn, to count and stretch. As the children begin to line up to practice forms, punches, and kicks, Chung begins asking the children (some as young as 4) to define a few words. The first one is “confidence.” Chung goes through multiple students asking them the same definition and once one of them states the definition, he tells all of the students in a soft, encouraging voice that, “Confidence is believing in oneself.” Then he moves on to self-esteem and common sense.

After practicing the rest of their forms, kicks, and punches, Chung then asks the children the definitions again. He does this each class so that they remember to have confidence and courage. He finds self-esteem of students to be the most important thing in teaching martial arts.

Grand Master Chung

On an April day, Chung, who is in his 70s, was in his crisp white martial arts uniform that displayed his business name on the back. He wore a black belt containing one red stripe down the middle and nine vertical gold stripes around his waist. While Chung, who is of average build, doesn’t do amazing stunts anymore, like walking on broken glass with 75 pounds of water in buckets hanging from his neck or lifting heavy weights with his mouth, he still very good with his tae kwon do techniques and sparring.

Richland location of Chung’s Blackbelt Academy. After years of training, competitions, and awards he now owns his own martial arts schools around southwest Michigan on 6060 S. 12th St. in Kalamazoo, on 9703 E. M-89 in Richland, and the location where his wife primarily teaches at 7612 S. Westnedge in Portage. Chung teaches a system he has created and written about which he calls Moo Sool Do that he says is now taught at martial arts schools around the world including in the United States, Korea, Bermuda, and England. Chung tries to make it to Korea once a year for several weeks to teach and visit family and friends.

An Inspiration

“Grand Master inspires me to do whatever I want to do in life and to do it to the fullest and to surround myself with something I love, much like he did,” said Justin LaPorte, an employee and new yellow belt at Chung’s academy.

LaPorte says that as an instructor, Chung wants to be sure his students not only understand the techniques and how to properly perform them but also that his students understand the deeper meaning of martial arts and how it will help them and what it does for their bodies.

Importance of Martial Arts

Martial arts are very important to learn especially for children, said Chung, who is also a parent of five grown children. It teaches discipline, which helps with behavior in school and at home, and it teaches the self-confidence and self-esteem that many kids and even adults lack.

“They are really understanding and don’t make you feel bad when you make mistakes or have a hard time with something, they encourage you to keep working,” said Sara Conrad, student of Chung and his wife, Teresa, 55, who is a fifth-degree black belt. Conrad, who is also an employee at the Richland location, thinks that Chung and his wife strive to make students feel comfortable. Many adults, like Conrad, are nervous before class because they fear embarrassment from doing something wrong or not knowing what to do, said Conrad, and the Chungs are good about not creating an atmosphere of trust.

Despite receiving many awards, Chung feels that his greatest accomplishment is teaching the art of moo sool do to children. He enjoys watching his students grow into successful adults because of the confidence they had in themselves.

“When I see that they are successful and achieving goals; that is my accomplishment.”

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