A son of a lawyer, Kyung-Ho (Ken) Min was born in 1935 and grew up in Onchun, North Korea. Today, he is an icon in his homeland. He began his Martial Arts career in Judo, training throughout junior high school and high school. Although he was introduced to Taekwondo in high school, his primary focus was Judo and soccer. Later, he formally trained in Taekwondo in the military, and was even a member of the Korean Special Services during the Korean War. During the time of his Taekwondo training, there was no organized competition—it was strictly martial arts: “kill or be killed.” Because the sport aspect of Taekwondo was not introduced until the early 1960s, Dr. Min competed instead in Judo and was a formidable competitor. Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964 and Dr. Min could possibly have tried out, but instead he left for the United States to continue his studies. In the States, he competed in U.S. tournaments, and was the runner-up in the 180-pound division of the 1964 National AAU Judo Championships in New York. Still, he was unable to represent the United States in the Olympics because he was not a U.S. citizen at the time. Dr. Min studied physical education at the Korean Yudo College (now Yong-In University) in Seoul and later came to the United States to continue his graduate studies at the University of Georgia. He had planned to return to Korea to teach in a university as a physical education professor. He never expected to become a Taekwondo master, but while in the United States, in order to earn tuition, he taught Taekwondo and Judo, for which he was extensively trained. It was then that his life took a different path. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Dr. Min went to the University of Montana in 1966 and taught Taekwondo, Judo and wrestling. There, he founded the martial arts program, which continues there to this day. He left in 1967 to teach at Eastern Montana College in Billings, where he founded the Northwest Taekwondo/Karate Association. In 1969, Dr. Min headed to UC Berkeley after having taught Taekwondo at four colleges and universities.
History in the Making
Upon arriving at Cal, Dr. Min had to contend with various unofficial Taekwondo (then called Karate) clubs operating on the campus and providing instruction to Cal students, but being taught by outside instructors who used the Berkeley campus as a satellite for their private schools. There was no administrative control and all competed with each other for recognition by the campus as being the official UC Karate program. The university recognized the need for organization and, by hiring Dr. Min, they empowered him with the authority and leadership necessary to implement policies that would provide Martial Arts instruction to Berkeley students in a safe and organized environment. At that time, all sports were part of the Department of Physical Education and the Martial Arts
Program grew out of the basic physical education instructional program. But Dr. Min’s desire was to raise Martial Arts, particularly Taekwondo, to a national level of competition. An early obstacle was that the Intercollegiate Athletic Department at UC Berkeley did not accept Martial Arts as part of their program, placing more emphasis on traditional collegiate sports such as football and track and field. As an alternate course, Dr. Min established a sports club for Taekwondo under the direction of the Intramural Sports Program—a unique idea at the time. It was Dr. Min’s vision that the sports club would establish a continuum between the basic instructional program and top-level competition, which today forms the structure of true amateur sports. Within this structure, beginners and top-level competitors train together within the same club and receive equal attention and instruction. Today, the concept of sports clubs within existing collegiate athletic programs is a very popular practice not only in Berkeley, but in many other colleges throughout the country. The university even modeled much of their athletic and recreational sports programs on Dr. Min’s innovative ideas.
Soon after his arrival at Cal, Dr. Min introduced a collegiate Taekwondo instructional program. He also did this at a few other campuses in the Bay Area. His next step was to start organizing tournaments right away since Taekwondo was unorganized but very popular among the students. Dr. Min had tremendous energy and drive, and he had a vision that the Taekwondo practitioner could one day be recognized and rewarded just as swimmers and boxers in the amateur sports world by becoming an official program of the Olympic Games. It would take 30 years before his vision would become reality, but it was not without a lot of sacrifice. The early days were taxing. Even though Dr. Min was hired as a Martial Arts specialist, he was still also a P.E. instructor required to teach other classes such as weight training. In addition, he had organized a Taekwondo club on opposite dates from the Taekwondo class, a tradition which is still carried on today so that the club could accommodate the students unable to enroll in the P.E. classes. He worked long days teaching all the P.E. classes as well as the private clubs he created. Furthermore, in order to recruit students and to promote martial arts to the public, he organized and performed in Taekwondo demonstrations when he could. On weekends, Dr. Min attended tournaments to organize Taekwondo instructors throughout the Bay Area and then the state to bring together practitioners of the art. He felt that someone had to promote the proper Taekwondo image to the public to minimize misunderstanding and over-exaggeration of the art and sport through the media. His dedicated efforts paid off.
In 1970, under Dr. Min’s leadership, UC Berkeley hosted the first UC Open, a Taekwondo tournament that would become an annual event and eventually one of the largest Taekwondo competitions in California and the oldest in the country. As the UC Open grew (helped by growing worldwide interest in Taekwondo), the Berkeley campus became the Mecca of sports Taekwondo. Aside from being an exceptional instructor and administrator within the UC Martial Arts Program, Dr. Min was also a pioneer of the Martial Arts on a national level, spearheading the amateur Taekwondo movement and collegiate Judo program in the United States. Dr. Min believed that the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) would supply the foundation for nationally organized martial arts programs and at the same time create more opportunities for students to receive national recognition. Judo was recognized by the AAU as early as 1952 and Karate in 1972. Finally, after the UC Open became the first Taekwondo tournament sanctioned by the AAU, the 1st AAU Taekwondo Invitational was held at UC Berkeley under Dr. Min’s direction in June 1974. Dr. Min was honored with the creation of the Annual Ken Min Award. This tournament gave Taekwondo an auspicious start in the AAU. With the support of the AAU Judo Committee, the tournament also gave dozens of Taekwondo master instructors a firm foothold in the AAU organization. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Min became the first president of both the National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) and the National Collegiate Judo Association (NCJA). With the leverage afforded him by these positions, Dr. Min could better promote and support the growing Martial Arts program at UC Berkeley. At the same time that Taekwondo was growing within the program, the Karate program was experiencing a similar growth. Campus interest in Karate grew to the point that it sparked off protests in 1970 when there were simply not enough resources to offer enough P.E. classes to meet the demand. In the 1970s, Cal’s Judo program was at a similar high point. The interest in Judo grew initially out of Jujitsu classes that were offered and accelerated upon Dr. Min’s arrival, allowing Cal to build a program that would take the National Championship in the mid1970s. When collegiate interest in Taekwondo became sufficiently large to hold a national championship, the first such tournament was held in 1977. The University of California then hosted the U.S. National Collegiate Championships in 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1992. It also served as the location for the 1st World University Taekwondo Championship in 1986, California State Taekwondo Championships in 1989, and the 1990 National Collegiate Judo Championships. Taekwondo gained recognition as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, as well as in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. After many years of dedicated effort from individuals like Dr. Min, the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia showcased Taekwondo as a full-medal sport. After having built an unrivaled martial arts program, Dr. Min was able to ask for, and receive, two large rooms built to his specifications in 1984 when the university constructed the $19.9 million Recreational Sports Facility. One was the Martial Arts Room, complete with fully padded floors and walls, mirrors, four kicking bags, and space enough to fit two fullsized (12 x 12 meter) Taekwondo competition rings with some room to spare. The other was the Combative Room, a room of the same size with a hardwood floor.