When Byung Yul Kwak walked into the banquet hall at St.
Helena's Church Dec. 4, he had no clue what awaited him on the other
side of the door.
The taekwondo grand master walked in to find
himself surrounded by students past and present, representing the
thousands of lives he has touched across the region over the past 40
"It was a surprise," he said. "I didn't know."
the celebration, the grand master received a plaque from his students,
along with resolutions signed by the three county commissioners and
state Sens. Bob Mensch, R-29, and John Rafferty, R-44.
surprise gathering celebrated Kwak's unique approach to self-defense
that he has shared with countless people across the years and looked
back on the long road that brought him to where he is today.
Kwak was born in Kimhae City, South Korea. From early on, he was an active child.
"I liked a lot of sports — judo, boxing, soccer, swimming," he said.
It was at age 9 that Kwak started taekwondo, which he would stick with for
the rest of his life. In fact, it later proved to be the sport that
shaped his life.
In 1962, he joined the South Korean Air Force.
major job was radar technician and teaching taekwondo to the armed
forces," he said. "We had to practice an hour every morning during the
Following the 1968 capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, Kwak's base became the home for many U.S. troops.
U.S. government sent over to my air base many American Air Force
reserves," he said. "They requested to learn taekwondo to my base
commander. I became a U.S. Air Force taekwondo instructor."
For two years, Kwak continued to teach U.S. troops, and this connection paved the way for his move to America.
"Because of that experience teaching the U.S. armed forces, I
had the chance to come to the U.S.," he said. "One of my students gave
me an affidavit of sports to come to the United States of America as a
At age 27, Kwak arrived in America Nov. 7,
1970, settling in the local area. He immediately began teaching
taekwondo and hasn't stopped in the 40 years since.
his first martial arts club in Souderton before moving it to
Phoenixville in 1971. The next year, he taught taekwondo at Montgomery
County Community College.
In August 1973, Kwak opened his own studio in Blue Bell, where it remains today.
Kwak's Taekwondo/Karate, located at 1510 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell, in the
Whitpain Shopping Center, has been one of the top places for people to
learn taekwondo, karate and other martial arts since it opened its
doors, with thousands training under Kwak.
"Some of my early
students are bringing their grandchildren," Kwak said. "I'm very happy
to see the people are changing through the taekwondo training.
Kwak said he believes his teaching has been effective and popular with
students because he has a unique philosophy on teaching the martial arts.
"It's simple: being a better human being in every aspect — self-discipline, respect," he said.
He said what he teaches goes far beyond just martial arts moves.
"I try to teach them how to be a better human being," he said. "That's the
best self-defense you can have. He who conquers himself is the greatest
warrior. Self-defense is a daily job. It's a lot more than physical
kicks and punches."
Kwak said he hopes by teaching these lessons
to his students, there's a ripple effect and they are also passed on to
family, friends and the community as a whole.
A large part of
that community gathered together Dec. 4 to celebrate the 40th
anniversary of Kwak's move to America and, more importantly, the impact
he has made during those four decades.
Looking back on his time in America, Kwak said he has enjoyed finding a new home and his own niche in the community.
"I love it," he said. "I think I changed the society because
thousands of people have been here. I affected it some way —
hopefully a better way."