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Global Taekwondo organization from Korea chooses Texarkana for its first USA school

Nov 1, 2019

A global Taekwondo organization from South Korea called the "ITU - International Taekwondo Union" has chosen Texarkana, Texas as its first USA location and has now opened a school here.

After an exhaustive nationwide search and trips to states such as Maine, Colorado, Montana and even cities such as Anchorage, Alaska, ITU chose our gracious city of Texarkana as its first location in the United States. The school boasts big talent, including a former USA Taekwondo National champion and gold medalist.

That's why it is somewhat unbelievable that one of the most exciting local news items of 2019 has not been told — until now.

So here is the story of the founding of the first location of ITU in the United States known as "Team USA Taekwando Texarkana" located on about seven acres of open property at 5535 Pleasant Grove Road.

Grand Master Nam - global Taekwondo's "King of King" 

Before discussing how ITU found Texarkana, it's essential to give a little background on the high level of Taekwondo talent involved with the new local Taekwando school.

The ITU was founded in 2009 by Grand Master Nam, also known as Dr. Seung H. Nam in South Korea. It is the only Taekwondo organization that has received official approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the South Korean government.

Grand Master Nam in action: VIDEO

Grand Master Nam is one of Taekwondo's most famous names and is even known as the only "King of King" in the sport. This is a reverential title reserved for only Grand Master Nam, who was also an original member of the Taekwondo demonstration team of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Dr. Nam is also an educator who has been a professor at universities in South Korea and America (Iowa State) for 25 years. He has also traveled to more than 80 countries for his exciting Taekwondo exhibitions.

Grand Master Nam enlisted former US National Taekwando Champion Wan Kim, known as Master Kim, to help find a location for the first ITU location in the USA.
Grand Master Nam in Texarkana, USA (2019)

Even though Grand Master Nam is from South Korea and does not live in Texarkana, he has already shown a commitment to the area by sending his son to college in Texarkana, Texas. 

Master Kim - the "nicest guy" you'll ever meet

Wan Kim, more well known as "Master Kim" or "Dragon Kim," has been in the USA since 1984 and had been living in Texas when he was asked to join the International Taekwondo Union (ITU) by Grand Master Nam.

The employee who introduced us to Master Kim described him as "one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet." And he was definitely right about that.

The Taekwondo master exudes sincerity, passion, and respect for both the sport of Taekwondo and his new home of Texarkana.

Master Kim began competing in Taekwondo events at age 10 and is a gold medalist and 7th Dan Black Belt. He is married to wife, Hui C. Kim, who is also involved in Taekwondo (2nd Dan).

The couple has five children who are homeschooled and also proficient in Taekwondo: Jae Kim (2nd Dan), Kevin Kim (2nd Dan), Angelina Kim (1st Poom), Annabelle Kim (1st Poom), Levi Kim (Little Dragon).

"My children were brought up in an environment of martial arts," Master Kim said. "So everything is normal to them as long as they have their schooling and also have the Taekwondo school."

He said the family homeschools because it makes it easier for the family to travel since they can take their education with them.

The Kim family has become involved with the Korean Baptist Church of Texarkana, and the family is also trying to find more ways to bring local Korean community members together.

Finding Texarkana

So how did Master Kim discover Texarkana in the first place?

While the search for locations for the first ITU location in the USA progressed, Master Kim kept Grand Master Nam informed about the stops he made as he traveled across America.

As mentioned previously, Master Kim and his family visited several states that might be appropriate for the first ITU location in America, such as Alaska, Maine, Colorado, and Montana.

It was just by chance that Master Kim found Texarkana. Indeed, his trip to our city was just a quick travel stop for gas and food that thousands of people from all over the country make every day.

"As we were driving to Dallas, we stumbled on a town called 'Texarkana,' because we needed a place to rest," Master Kim said.

The unique name "Texarkana" sparked a thought in the mind of Master Kim, and he decided to take a more in-depth look around the city with his family.

First stop: the famous downtown Post Office and Federal Courthouse building that straddles Texas and Arkansas.
Grand Master Nam and Master Kim and family at the famous sign in downtown Texarkana.
Master Kim said finding out that Texarkana is a well-known place made him take an even closer look at the downtown area.

"I learned Texarkana was a famous place where two states meet," he said. "When we were visiting downtown, I could see there were some good locations available."

He immediately thought his new Taekwondo school could add value to the downtown area, which he said was obviously being revitalized.

"I believed that we could be part of the effort to improve downtown Texarkana," Master Kim said.

After that, Master Kim said he went home and searched Google for Taekwando schools in Texarkana. To his great surprise, he said he could find none.

"I found some martial arts, but no Taekwondo," he added.

Why choose one state, when you can get four?

Master Kim continued to find out more about Texarkana. He discovered two colleges in Texarkana: Texas A&M University Texarkana and Texarkana College.

And he only recently learned about the University of Arkansas at Hope-Texarkana since the college officially added "Texarkana" to its name in 2019 after Team USA Taekwondo Texarkana after the Taekwondo school had already opened.

The educational opportunities here were a major selling point, according to Master Kim, because the leader of ITU (Grand Master Nam) believes so strongly in education.

While he was learning more about the Twin Cities, Master Kim had a moment of inspiration.

"It dawned on me that instead of choosing one state, we could actually choose all four," Master Kim said. "Texarkana is conveniently located with four states all in one place."

Master Kim began telling Grand Master Nam about the city, but the ITU leader wanted to visit before everything was official.

Apparently, Dr. Nam also fell in love with the Twin Cities, and it was decided that Team USA Taekwando Texarkana was moving forward supported by South Korea's ITU - International Taekwando Union.

Another benefit of the Texarkana location was the proximity to another well-known Taekwondo organization named ATA, which has its world headquarters in Little Rock.
Grand Master Nam and Master Kim at ATA headquarters in Little Rock

An unexpected hometown connection

Grand Master Nam is very famous in the global Taekwondo community since he was part of the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 and a celebrated member of exhibition teams in the 1990s that traveled throughout the world.

However, Master Kim has only known the Grand Master for a few years.

In 2017, Master Kim was an honored guest at an exhibition in Korea, and he met this energetic man who really impressed him.

"I met Grand Master Nam not knowing who he was, and he didn't know who I was," Master Kim said. "Then, I found out."

Later, the pair made a startling discovery.

"We found out we were from the very same small town," Master Kim said. "It's a small, humble town, but it is well known."

Master Kim said he and Grand Master Nam found many things in common with each other since they were only about 9 years apart and Taekwondo was a significant part of their lives.

"We began to have a stronger bond and started working with each other.

Master Kim said he probably would have instantly recognized the Grand Master except that he had been competing in the USA and Dr. Nam was older and traveling globally at the time.

However, the two realized that their paths had crossed in the past due to a fantastic discovery by Grand Master Nam.

"I have photos of all my competitions on the wall at the Texarkana school," Master Kim said. "While Grand Master Nam was visiting, he pointed to a picture on the wall of an event when I had won the gold medal on August 7, 1993, in Green Bay, Wisconsin."

What Master Kim didn't know is that Grand Master Nam was in the photo of his 1993 gold medal win.

Master Kim then realized that Grand Master Nam — the man he was now working with — had been with him on one of the most momentous days of his life in 1993, and it was only discovered due to to the picture on the wall in Texarkana!

The perfect location in Pleasant Grove

Once Texarkana was chosen as the site for the first ITU school, a suitable place had to be found in the city.

Master Kim first thought he wanted the school to be right in the heart of the Texarkana in the downtown area.

However, while he was driving through the Twin Cities, Master Kim found a popular local community called Pleasant Grove.

He liked the area and soon saw some property that immediately caused him to think about locating the Taekwondo school in the Pleasant Grove area.

"We saw land with a big open field and a single building," Master Kim said. "And it had a 'For Sale' message on a sign. So I said let's check this out."

Upon further inspection, the property was "made to order" for the new school.

"It was the ideal location with a big open field of 7 acres," Master Kim said. "We wanted to start something here in Texarkana, and this was the place."

A side benefit of the property is that Master Kim said the Grand Master loved wide open spaces and natural surroundings that would not have been possible in a more urban school setting.

"We wanted to help others rebuild downtown and be in the heart of the community, but the Pleasant Grove site was the right choice for the first school."

The vision

Master Kim said the school signed the documents for the property in late January, and Dr. Nam wanted the school to begin promoting themselves to local schools

However, Master Kim said it was awkward timing, and the school realized they would need to wait until fall to go into schools. So a decision was made to make a significant push beginning in August 2019 as school started.

Currently, the school offers an after-school program at Pleasant Grove Elementary and is looking for more local school district opportunities.

But the founders of Team USA Taekwondo Texarkana also have other big plans for Taekwondo in the area.

"Our five-year vision is to have a big space to build a decent-sized facility that could host other countries and promote Texarkana," Master Kim said.

Indeed, this is precisely what is happening with the ATA headquarters in Little Rock. The ATA organization's headquarters brings millions of dollars to Central Arkansas every year.

Becoming part of the community

Master Kim, who started the sport at age 10, is a very modest man who would never say this himself. But he is a shining example of the longterm benefits of being respectful and honoring your community within the framework of a life involved with Taekwondo.

"The biggest obstacle is I don't think people know that we have a world-class martial arts instructor in Texarkana," Master Kim said. "So we want to let people know we are here."

Master Kim is right, and it's certainly almost unheard of to have the level of Taekwondo talent in a city the size of Texarkana, and that's why community outreach is vital to Master Kim and Grand Master Nam.

And Team USA Taekwondo USA is working hard to do that. For instance, the school will be appearing at two National Night Out events in Texarkana on October 1.

Also, the weekend before National Night Out, Grand Master Nam will be making an appearance in Texarkana as well.

ITU recently met with Texas A&M University in College Station, and Master Kim said the ITU had agreed to be involved in instruction there.

"There was a meeting at Texas A&M in College Station that came out perfect," Master Kim said.

"We are putting a single credit hour in Taekwondo training."

He said ITU would also like to be involved with instruction for credit hours at Texarkana-area colleges as well. Already, the Taekwondo school offers scholarships to local college students who attend Texarkana College and Texas A&M University - Texarkana.

The gold medal winner also has other goals for 2020. He hopes to have an event in Texarkana for members of the Taekwondo community visiting from South Korea.

"I think Texarkana would be very welcoming to our visitors from Korea."

More Taekwondo schools possible in Texarkana

Master Kim already has a couple dozen students this year, and he said 50 students is the ideal number for Team USA Taekwondo Texarkana's Pleasant Grove Road location.

He believes Texarkana could house up to four schools with a few dozen students each in different parts of the Twin Cities because he does not want the Taekwondo school to be overcrowded.

"The ideal number for each school is about 50 students. That is because you don't want to become a business —  you want it to be a learning facility," Master Kim said.

The benefits of Taekwondo

With the sport of Taekwondo, Master Kim said it is never too late to start.

"We have grandmasters over 80 years old., and people are intimidated by them," Master Kim said.

He said it is not 100% necessary to kick high or learn to fight, and Master Kim said it is also suitable for families to "kick together."

"Taekwando is all about discipline and how to show respect for others," the gold medalist said. "That's something society is missing out on right now."

"To start, all you have to do is walk in and see the facility. It's that easy," Master Kim said.

Unlike some forms of martial arts, Master Kim said Taekwondo focuses on education more than sports.

"We believe “'the pen is mightier than the sword," he said. "Taekwondo is not about learning to fight but to discipline oneself and learn how to use your knowledge to defend yourself."

He added: "Our focus in Oriental Martial Arts started not in the gym but in the classrooms."

That focus, he said, is put forth by Grand Master Nam, who values education.

Master Kim said the goal of Team USA Taekwondo USA is to provide area children and the community with the knowledge they can use for the rest of their lives.

"We want to instill the art of discipline and respect and would like to start our programs at an early age beginning with the local school districts in Texarkana," Master Kim said.

"In Taekwondo, it is never too early or too late to start," Master Kim said. "Just start and the 'Art of Way' will open for you."

However, Master Kim knows that he needs the local community to help get the word out about the school in both Texarkana and the Four States region.

That's because the goal of Grand Master Nam and Master Kim at Team USA Taekwondo Texarkana is to become part of the fabric of the Texarkana.

Plus, they want to promote positive values that make the community attractive to more organizations and businesses like theirs, so they will make their home here.

Master Kim said he welcomes anyone interested in Taekwondo to visit the facility.

He said Taekwondo is the art of "kicking and punching," and he encourages people to start training their minds and body with him and his seven-strong family of Black Belts.

Editor's note: Team USA Taekwondo Texarkana is located at 5535 Pleasant Grove Rd, Texarkana, TX 75503.

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