Tae kwon do grand master D.K. Shin, one of the first to popularize the Korean martial art in the Bay Area, has sparred with numerous fighters, broken boards 12 feet off the ground, helped train soldiers in two armies and had a truck drive over him during a martial arts demonstration.
But for all of his training, Shin, 57, is unprepared for his current battle, one unlike anything he's encountered before.
Over the past six months, vandals firebombed Shin's Redwood City studio three times, including one attack last month that caused several thousand dollars' worth of damage. Two and half years ago, his car was set on fire. He has been harassed by countless phone calls and has resorted to staking out his own studio in hopes of uncovering the culprits.
His detective work, however, has proved fruitless and left him making plans to move out. The grand master is retreating from a fight.
"I'm trained in martial arts. I know how to fight and take care of myself, but this is different," said Shin, a 9th-degree black belt. "I can't see the attacks coming."
The first attack occurred in October 2001, when someone torched and destroyed his car outside his studio on Roosevelt Avenue. On Dec. 18 of last year and again on March 6, vandals broke his front studio window and attempted to start fires with Molotov cocktails, which did not ignite. On April 8, someone threw a Molotov cocktail through the front window, causing a fire that burned the front merchandise and storage area. No one was injured during the attacks, which occurred after midnight.
Police and fire investigators have no clues and have not been able to identify any suspects.
"We're going through all the evidence and all the people, like we would on any investigation, and we're keeping an eye on the place, but there's no idea why this is happening," said Redwood City Police Detective Denise Randall. "There are no letters or notes to indicate why this is being done. It's somewhat random."
Shin said he has no idea who is behind the barrage of late-night attacks. He feels the vandals are not trying to burn down the studio but rather force him out.
"I don't have any problems with my students, I don't have any personal enemies, so I can't even guess why this is happening," he said. "This is not regular vandalism, this is like terrorism."
Shin has taken to casing his own studio, parking across the street in hopes of spotting his tormentors. His students have also volunteered to man the store well into the night to ward off any attacks. The situation has turned into a troubling preoccupation for Shin, who has known little other than tae kwon do all his life.
Growing up in South Korea, Shin began learning the martial art as a 7- year-old boy and started teaching the discipline in high school. After college, he was drafted into the South Korean army, and eventually he taught Korean and American troops during the Vietnam War.
After his military commitment, Shin moved to San Francisco in 1971 and opened his studio, Hwa Rang Kwan, in a storefront on Polk Street. There were few masters teaching tae kwon do at the time, and Shin faced an uphill battle getting people to accept it alongside karate and kung fu. Tae kwon do has since become one of only two martial arts -- the other is judo -- to be accepted as an Olympic sport.
Shin "is one of the pioneers of tae kwon do in the area," said Master William Kim, a former Pan-Am silver medalist who owns the Bay Area's largest tae kwon do studio, in Vallejo. "He laid the roots for tae kwon do in the Bay Area. At the time, there were other types of (martial arts) like karate and kung fu, but as far as tae kwon do, it was rare then."
Shin persevered and eventually opened up more than a half-dozen studios, or dojangs, around the Bay Area. During the 1980s, he taught tae kwon do to military personnel at the Army base at the Presidio in San Francisco. He eventually transferred ownership of all but one of his studios to his students and concentrated on his Redwood City dojang, which he opened eight years ago.
Though he had hopes of easing into retirement at his current location, Shin is now looking for a different place on the Peninsula in hopes of ending the attacks.
"As soon as I can find another location, I'll move out," he said.
The vandalism has also had an effect on the studio and its students. A handful have stopped coming since the attacks intensified earlier this year. Some who remain are angry and perplexed by the recent events.
"When someone does as much good as Master Shin does, the reasons for why someone would do this against the school escape me," said Michael Greene, 49, who has been a student at the dojang for four years and now volunteers as a teacher. "He works with children, he teaches about respect and integrity."
Melanie Cruz, 31, has been sending her 7-year-old son, Diego, to the studio for the last few months and was surprised by the news of the attacks. But she said it hasn't deterred her from sending her son, who enjoys this more than other sports.
"This place has been very good for my son," Cruz said. "Why they targeted this place, I'll never know. This is a place that helps children. It's a strange target."
Shin agrees. At this point, in lieu of answers, he'd just settle for some peace once again.
"I'm not a young man anymore. I don't want to have these problems anymore, " said Shin. "I can't sleep, thinking that someone will break the window again. "
E-mail Ryan Kim at email@example.com.
thats f'd up
I feel really bad for the guy. Why would someone target his school like that?
D.K. Shin, one of the first to teach the Korean martial art of tae kwon do in the Bay Area, works at his Redwood City studio
Tae kwon do grand master D.K. Shin shows the windows at his Redwood City studio that were blown out recently by a firebomb.