Seoul, Korea 1968
This is the last family photo taken before Grandmaster Kim left for the United States. The caption on the bottom left reads "Memory for leaving for USA - 1.16.68"


by Erin Sloan, 1st Dan, Houston, Texas

Look at this photo and imagine.

Can you imagine what it would be like to leave everything you know and love behind in search of a better life for you and your family? Can you imagine walking away from everything familiar and known into everything unfamiliar and uncertain? That is exactly what Grandmaster Kim Soo did in 1968. He left his school, friends and family in order to promote Chayon-Ryu and find a better life.

This one photo tells a very real story. Grandmaster Kim, his wife and two year old son, Sean, said goodbye to each other on the day this photo was taken. Within an hour, he was alone on a plane headed to a strange land. With only $100 and a B-2 temporary visa in his pocket, he would survive on his burning desire and his confidence, confidence he had gained through Su-Ryon (sincere martial arts training), to promote Chayon-Ryu and spread the word.

Grandmaster had been witnessing increasing unrest and corruption in Korea and knew he had to do something to get out. Family and friends thought he was crazy. They thought there was no way he could go to the United States and become successful. They were wrong. He not only challenged the status quo, but also took a big risk with his life. He dared to make things better.

As was traditional at that time, Grandmaster Kim paid a professional photographer to take a formal portrait on what could have been the last time he and his family would see each other. Families who were facing separation or who had loved ones going off to war or facing death often gathered together for one last time to document the moment. It was a very sad moment… very different from how we gather today in family portraits.

Grandmaster Kim says the emotion of that day was overwhelming. He had feelings of hope and excitement mixed with sadness, anxiety and fear. With almost nothing to hold onto, he was leaving behind everything he knew for the dream of a better life in the United States.

After much hardship, Grandmaster made a very successful life for himself and his entire family here in the United States. Three years after he had left Korea, he returned for a visit. Everyone was in shock. Rumors surrounded him… did the Korean CIA enlist him? Did he have connections in the American Mafia? No one could believe that he had truly made it on his own.

As it turned out, this photo was not the last time he would see his family, but is a testament to his courage, determination and resilience.