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CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — The 8th Army command will investigate making South Korea’s national sport, tae kwan do, compulsory for every U.S. soldier stationed on the peninsula, officials said this week.

The martial art, which was founded in Korea and incorporates kicks and punches, has been a compulsory part of physical training for 2nd Infantry Division soldiers since November 2000.

Eighth Army spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan said Command Sgt. Maj. Troy Welch is investigating a proposal to take compulsory tae kwan do South Korea-wide. Currently, individual units make their own decisions about sports programs.

Welch will assign appropriate people to look into the proposal’s feasibility, Boylan said.

Korean tae kwan do grandmaster Kim Mu-nok, who oversees the 2nd ID program, brought the proposal to Welch. Kim, assisted by eight other masters in teaching Area I soldiers, said 2nd ID personnel devote at least one hour-long physical training session to tae kwan do each week.

Since the program began, 30,000 soldiers have earned their yellow belts in the martial art and 100 U.S. soldiers and 200 Korean augmentees to the Army have obtained black belts, Kim told senior officers and soldiers participating in the tae kwon do program at Camp Red Cloud Tuesday.

“When soldiers come to Korea and study tae kwan do, they learn Korean culture and they learn strength, speed, and confidence useful in combat,” he said.

“It makes them warriors. That is really second to none. Hoo-ah!” he said, combining the 2nd ID slogan and the now-ubiquitous Army grunt of agreement.

Kim said four of five Koreans learn tae kwan do. The sport, like eating in Korean restaurants, speaking Korean, or shopping for Korean goods, is a way for U.S. soldiers to relate to the local culture.

“We want to expand tae kwan do all over Korea over all U.S. Army installations in the next year. We have enough masters. There are tae kwan do schools near all of the U.S. installations in Korea,” Kim said.

Maj. Gen. John Wood, 2nd ID commander, said tae kwan do is inspiring to his soldiers and sets a good example of “how to work and develop and how to grow as men and women in this division. The sport gives an understanding of the culture of Korea that ties us in a strong alliance” but also “ties us person to person.”

Wood described Kim as a “big chief” when it comes to tae kwan do.

“Our goal is for every soldier in the division to have the chance to train for the yellow belt. The shock for the Koreans is how successful we have been. They never expected this degree of commitment,” Wood said.

Spc. Lewis Davis, 2nd ID’s middleweight champion, said tae kwan do should be compulsory Army-wide.

Davis, who asked to be posted to Korea so he could be close to the birthplace of his chosen sport, said cultural exchange is one of the martial art’s most important aspects.

“A lot of people have preconceived notions about martial arts. People think it is just about fighting, but a lot of Korea’s history is intermixed with the martial art, as with most Asian countries,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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