Chung Koo Nam hopes to mine for Olympic gold at his martial arts center off Route 108 in east Columbia, and its companion center in Ellicott City.
The tae kwon do master, who has been practicing the traditional Korean martial art since he was a child, is training American youngsters, some of whom he believes may be contenders when tae kwon do becomes an official Olympic sport four years from now.
Nam has gained such a following that students from outside of the county are willing to travel many miles to take his classes.
"He's a great master," said 11-year-old Sunny Yang, of Towson, who won two gold medals in the 9 to 10 age group at the 16th annual U.S. Junior Olympics Tae Kwon Do Championships in Orlando, Fla., in July. He trains exclusively at Nam's Columbia center.
Said Nam, who began studying the martial art at age 8: "I never stopped because my father pushed me."
Tae kwon do -- a Korean sport that has fascinated Americans since the Korean War -- is growing in popularity and will be an official Olympic event in 2000.
"It's a sport that has grown," said Robert Fujimura, executive director of U.S. Tae Kwon Do Union in Colorado Springs, Colo., which sponsors the Junior Olympics. He said 4.5 million people in the United States practice tae kwon do.
During a break recently in his trophy-filled office in a Columbia office park, Nam discussed his attachment to the sport. A former Korean Army soldier and Korean Combat Police SWAT Team member, Nam in 1985 became a tae kwon do master, undergoing a series of grueling performance and written tests. He also is certified through the World Tae Kwon Do Federation.
He has a six-degree black belt in tae kwon do and a six-degree black belt in hap ki do, a martial art that manipulates the joints.
In 1986, Nam left Korea and moved to Randallstown to join his family. Five years later, he opened Nam's Martial Arts in Ellicott City, opening the center on Route 108 in July 1994.
And this past March, the 35-year-old tae kwon do master became a certified tae kwon do international referee. That's a feat in itself, Fujimura said, considering not many are invited to participate in the grueling four-day seminar to be certified as referee.
As an instructor, Nam has had eight Junior Olympics champions in the 6 to 16 age category. At the 16th annual U.S. Junior Olympics Tae Kwon Do Championship in July, five of his students won medals out of a pool of more than 4,500 competitors.
At Nam's Columbia center last Friday, Nam commanded Raymond Kang, 9, of Columbia's King's Contrivance village, and Albert Seong Min Koh, 10, of Long Reach village, to spar. Kang had won his first medal -- a bronze -- at this summer's Junior Olympics.
Inside the dojang, or the workout area, the two boys stood barefooted on the red and blue floor mat and bowed to one another to show mutual respect. When Nam gave the order to commence, the boys, dressed in their white dobok, or martial arts uniform, demonstrated their kicking and punching abilities.
After a couple of minutes, Nam yelled: "Time." The boys separated and again bowed to each other.
Such sparring can prepare students for tournaments. It helped Sunny Yang pick up two golds at this summer's Junior Olympics.
Yang's sister, Hanna, 6, won a gold, too. She was the youngest competitor.
But Sunny Yang has his eyes set on Olympic gold. Already a black belt, he has so many trophies and medals, "that I can't even count," he said.
When he started studying tae kwon do at age 4, Sunny Yang trained at a center in Baltimore. But he and his parents, who also know tae kwon do, heard that many tournament champions were enrolled in Nam's class, so they enrolled their son in his school.
His teacher, meanwhile, has high hopes for him.
"He'll be ready in 2004," Nam predicted of the repeat Junior Olympics champion for the last four years. "He can win the gold."
Pub Date: 8/13/96