Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 16 News List

What it took to make a taekwondo champion

Chen Shih-hsin won the country's first gold medal in taekwondo, but owes much of her success to her father and his gym

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Students at the The Lin-sen Taekwondo Gym go through their paces.

PHOTO: CHANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Ever since Taiwan's athletes won two gold medals and one silver medal at the Athens Olympics, taekwondo has become the highest profile sport in Taiwan, almost more popular than baseball.

For the Oct. 10 National Day events, taekwondo athletes were exhausted by a punishing schedule of performances. In the morning Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) -- the nation's first gold medalist -- sang the national anthem. Then, groups of high school students performed, breaking boards and practising combat sequences on the square in front of the Presidential Office. In the evening, they were invited to attend the National Day reception party, performing taekwondo for guests and dignitaries.

In the past month Chen has appeared in at least four advertisements, as well as endorsing products such as Olympics memorial stamps, moon cakes and stumping for anti-piracy. She has been dressed up in a gaudy-looking kimono to promote the massage chair brand Osim. She wore a policewoman's uniform to encourage registration for volunteer firefighters.

According to local media, for each appearance as a public speaker, Chen is paid NT$100,000. For a TV ad, she charges NT$1 million.

The Lin-sen Taekwondo Gym (林森跆拳道館), or dojang (道場), which she trained in as a kid, has become a hot spot for young taekwondo learners. It's a 30 year-old gym opened and run by Chen's father, taekwondo coach Chen Wei-hsiung (陳偉雄). It's a rooftop house in a four-story apartment in Shihpai, on the outskirts of Taipei.

It's not a spacious gym and the decor is not fancy. On the wall of the apartment is a giant signboard saying "First Olympic Champion!" (奧運第一金). The sign is so big it can be spotted from the nearby MRT station.

"I learned taekwondo here since the age of five," Chen said, while having her make-up done, before rushing to another promotional event.

Inside the gym, dozens of young children are going through their weekly lessons. Most of them are elementary school students and just a few are in junior high school.

"It's true that in the last two months we have seen more parents sending their kids here to learn taekwondo. We have had an increase of students of at least 10 percent," Chen Wei-hsiung said.

One of the students is Lee Shin-hang (李欣航), a six year-old girl who started at the dojang two months ago. She just upgraded from white belt to yellow belt. "My mom drives me here, twice a week," she said. She said she likes taekwondo because it's fun.

Ten-year-old Lee Mu-fan (李慕藩) has been studying for a year now and is a red-black belt. "I like to spin and kick because it's easy," he said. "Also, learning taekwondo helps me with my computer game techniques."

Chen Wei-hsiung is a strict coach. A 1m-long wooden rod symbolizes his severe training style. "Anyone misbehaving will be punished by this rod. Shih-hsin has suffered from it a lot, she was beaten on the hands," he said.

Obviously his strict methods work. In the past 30 years his dojang has played a crucial part in developing young taekwondo talents. "I teach students as they grow up. And when they are married and have kids, they send their kids to learn from me as well," Chen said.

Taekwondo originated in Korea and was introduced to Taiwan in 1966, as a combat skill for the military. Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), Chiang Kai-shek's son (蔣介石) was the minister of national defense at the time and chose taekwondo because he thought boxing lacked the traditional Chinese spirit. He did not choose karate because he was said to be anti-Japanese.

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