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A Korean legacy in Léogâne: Taekwondo

27 December 2012
2012-12-27_MINUSTAH_Taekwondo_680.jpg
Léogâne's unique heritage: Taekwondo (Photo: UN Photo/MINUSTAH)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (MINUSTAH) — For more than a year, members of ROKENGCOY, the Korean military engineer contingent of MINUSTAH, taught Taekwondo, an Asian martial art, to some fifty teenagers of Léogâne, Haiti.  On December 22, as Blue Helmets left Haiti after spending 34 months under the UN flag, some of their young apprentices reflected on what they had inherited from the Korean soldiers.

“Taekwondo taught me to be wise, disciplined and, especially, respectful of myself and of others,” explained Bolivar Saintilus, strapped in his white cotton kimono.

Since the beginning of training sessions in October 2011, the young 18 year-old man from Léogâne has learned a lot.  In fact, he has been selected among some 50 of his comrades – a group that includes about 10 girls – who practice Taekwondo every week under the Blue Helmets’ leadership, to attend an internship in Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

Bolivar was chosen “because of his performance”, explains Choi Chung Il, one of ROKENGCOY’s five teachers, who has been based in Léogâne since February 2010.  “Not only did we teach Taekwondo; we also introduced Korean culture through songs and dances”, underlines Mr. Choi, member of the Korean Marines.

Bolivar, who has impressively already earned his black belt and 1st dan (an indicator of advanced proficiency in Taekwondo custom), already sees himself as a teacher or “master of the house” at the New Mission Christian School, where classes were taught three times a week.

“I feel ready to assume leadership, because everything that they taught me is well anchored in my memory,” declared the teenager who has earned his spurs.  When asked about his instructors, he affirmed that they “were very proper, armed with patience and goodwill”, and that he felt grateful that they chose to share with them their knowledge of the discipline - one that unites self-defense and meditation.

Marc Joel Jean Gilles, the school’s censor, noted for his part that, among the 80 youngsters who subscribed to and attended the first classes, 50 managed to complete all steps necessary to get access to the free courses offered by the Korean Blue Helmets.  He further introduced Bolivar as one of the most “patient, hardworking and wisest” student of the school where the yard has turned into a dojang*, by virtue of its space, shadow, and soft grass.

« To me, Taekwondo is nPhoto: © UN Photo / MINUSTAHot a game or simply a sport; it is a craftsmanship and a livelihood.  This is why I strive to be the best and keep giving the best of me while I practice.  It is a pity that some people consider that it is only entertainment,” noted this 9th grade student who leaves his house as early as 7 in the morning in order to attend school classes till 1:00 pm, and who joins in Taekwondo classes from 2 to 5 in the afternoon.

Bolivar, who dreams of opening his own Taekwondo school soon, encourages fellow young adults and teenagers to practice this sport that involves many types of exercises that are “very important to maintaining good health and physical condition”.

In addition to completing multiple infrastructure works and training tens of students in the field of computer science and the handling of heavy machinery, Korean Blue Helmets have left behind, in the aftermath of the earthquake that shook the Haiti in 2010, a heritage of Taekwondo, a discipline that Léogâne’s youth does not intend to forget.  According to one of the departing teachers, local devotees are in search of a new Korean instructor.  For his part, Bolivar is ready to preserve the transition...

* dojang: the site where people practice Korean martial arts


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