As June comes to a close, I am reminded of how the life of a remarkable martial arts master's life came to a close this month 17 years ago.
From James Dean to Jimi Hendix - and yes, Bruce Lee - some people die all too young while leaving behind a legacy that often grows into legend.
Grandmaster Lee Hyung Park, known around here as Lee H. Park or simply Dr. Park around the Southeast Missouri State University campus, died in June 1988 leaving behind just this sort of legacy.
The Japanese arts judo and karate were the first Asian martial arts to really take hold in most parts of the U.S. in great part due to American soldiers returning from occupation duty in Japan. Following Bruce Lee's stellar film career, Chinese Kung Fu also became more widely available.
But in this area it was - and still is to this day - Korean taekwondo.
In 1969, Park joined Grandmaster He-Young Kimm here in Southeast Missouri. Kimm was invited in the winter of 1963 to teach hapkido, yudo (Korean judo) and taekwondo at Southeast Missouri State University by Dr. Mark Scully, SEMO's president at the time.
Kimm left after six years but Park remained to teach at SEMO and establish his Moo Sul Kwan chain of schools.
Many who attended Southeast Missouri State University during the '70s and '80s still vaguely remember a "Chinese guy" who taught their college judo class. The last time I visited the athletic department at SEMO, Park's picture was still prominently displayed.
Park himself promoted 100 students to the rank of black belt in hapkido, taekwondo and yudo before his death. It is said that his love for teaching the martial arts was so great that he taught from a chair up until the last days of his life.
I am among the first generation of black belts from Park's Moo Sul Kwan schools who never got the opportunity to meet Park having joined the organization three years after his untimely death.
But the stories I have heard are the stuff of legends. Park grew up in a volatile and violent period in South Korea, and it was there, on the streets, that his techniques were put to the test - no rules, no referees.
He was greatly respected not only by his students, but by his Korean grandmaster peers as well.
I am proud of the techniques I have learned from Park's students and the intense level of training I endured to learn them. When it was my turn to demonstrate what I had learned for the grandmaster of the school where Park learned taekwondo, the late Nam Suk Lee of the Chang Moo Kwan, I was unashamed. I'm no mind reader, but I believe I saw pride in Lee's eyes as he watched me execute techniques he had passed down to me through Park's students.
But, most of all, I am thankful for the legacy that was passed down to me and that I hope to pass on to those who follow me: the legacy of training hard, of driving yourself beyond what you think you can do.
This ethic goes beyond kicking and punching to encompass a person's entire life, their way of doing things. And while the taekwondo I have learned is very "jutsu" in nature (techniques practiced for use in actual combat), it is this quality of imparting benefits to all aspects of my life that make it a "do" (pronounced "doe") and worth much more than simply learning how to fight.
This ethic, this legacy, can be summed up in two words passed down from Park and embraced by thousands of martial art students: "Keep pushing."