Five Questions With... Master KJ
FAIRFIELD — Kwangjin Ha, better known to his students as Master KJ, recently brought home two gold medals from the Pan Am International Tournament in Mexico. But the owner of World Championship Taekwondo said he was more proud when one of his students, Brian Meagher, came in 11th at a recent competition.
The Korean native, who came to the U.S. at age 15, graduated from the University of Connecticut’s business school. While at the Storrs campus, he started a taekwondo club that competed under the university’s banner.
His taekwondo dojo has been in Fairfield for 15 years, moving from the Post Road to its current location in the Sportsplex on Mill Plain Road nine years ago. Students recently participated in the USA Team Taekwondo Nationals, and in June participated in demonstration in New York City’s Time Square.
Ha, 35, recently sat down to answer some questions from the Fairfield Citizen.
FC: What is the difference between taekwondo and other martial arts?
KH: Tae means foot, kwon means fist and do means the way of the martialist and discipline. Foot is kicking we teach punch, block, strike and we also teach everybody here discipline and respect for others. To be humble, have courage. It’s a combination of body training, but also mind training.
FC:What are the benefits of taekwondo?
KH: For Americans, it’s flexibility. In Asian culture, we sit on the floor, so we do a lot of stretching. Here, everybody sits in the chair, they get too used to sitting in the chair. They don’t get enough stretching in their daily routine.
We always sit on the floor with crossed legs. We try to teach them to sit on the floor with their back straight, their neck straight.
FC: What advice do you give to your students before a tournament?
KH: There are a lot of things. But sometimes, the rules change at the tournaments. There are 20 rings and five refs at each ring. It’s judged by a person’s perspective, so as a coach, I try to find out what they’re looking for. Some are looking for more flexibility, some more power and speed. Then I have to tell my athletes this, either be more powerful this time, or be more flexible. Also, do it like it’s a practice. I try and make them feel more comfortable, that’s the most important thing.
FC: Why did you decide to become a teacher?
KH: I’ve done this for a long time, since I was seven. I came to the US when I was 15 and went to 6 different high schools in four years. My mother’s a pastor and she was at three churches in Kansas. There were not enough Korean speaking pastors so she had to go to different churches. Then we moved to California and then Connecticut. I tried out for different sports, like soccer and basketball and made the teams, but it was very challenging for me, especially since I was not born here. But still, I had been doing taekwondo. It was something I could train by myself. No matter where I live, I could always practice taekwondo. Many times I cried when we moved, but taekwondo could motivate me to do the school years and make new friends.
FC: How does it feel when your students do well in tournaments?
KH: I won first place in a tournament and it was the first individual gold medal for me. FOr the last four years, I’ve gotten second or third place. But I was more happy to see my student’s 11th place. It was the first time I showed my tears to my students. Brian, when I saw him perform, we knew he performed better than he practiced. I just know much of the emotions he’s feeling, it’s the same as when I’m performing. I have a better connection with my students because I’m still competing. I think they understand me better. We have a very special bond and connection.