Obtaining a black belt in the martial art of Taekwondo is hard enough, but when Paul Bozman took his promotion test to attain his the circumstances were almost cruel.
It was 1985 and Paul had just travelled to South Korea, partly through his master’s suggestion but more as part of a backpacking excursion that took him through the exotic east; featuring Nepal, China and Korea.
Awaiting him was the toughest trial he’d ever face as a martial artist and it took the form of a Korean military soldier in his mid-to-late twenties and trained extensively in Taekwondo.
“I was 33,” Paul said.
“He was the Seoul City Champion and he was helping out at the school I was training at … it was difficult in the sense that I could speak two words in Korean and the instructor could probably speak two words of English so I had to watch him and copy.”
Eventually Paul sparred with the impressive soldier and earned his black belt (called the “first dan” or first-degree black belt), but not without some repercussions.
“I remember the bruises,” Paul recalled.
“[I remember] licking my wounds in the hotel room afterwards, asking myself, is this worth it?”
He must have found his answer there in his ice bath, because in the almost 30 years since Bozman has become one of the most respected and revered masters of Taekwondo on the West Coast.
Born in England in the mid-1950s, Paul came to Canada in 1965.
In 1973, he saw his first formal Taekwondo demonstration in Vancouver from the founder of the Korean art (known loosely as “the way of the foot and the hand”).
It would be almost 10 years later that he would take up his first lesson in Kitimat in 1982.
“I was never a sports kind of guy in school; it just didn’t appeal to me. But I always had an interest in the martial arts,” he said.
Originally through Karate and Aikido (the Japanese martial art known as “the way of unifying with life energy”), and later through Taekwondo, Paul said the martial arts have given him a sense of confidence and the mindset to achieve what he’s wanted with the proper gumption.
“[I trained with] a Canadian guy, Darryl Douglas [in Kitimat], but I only trained with him for a year and a half, then I moved to Edmonton to train with Grandmaster Jay Park,” said Paul.
It was through Park that Paul really found his footing with the art and it was Park that suggested he try his hand at obtaining his black belt in Korea, the homeland of Taekwondo.
Paul arrived back in North America at the Los Angeles airport in the Fall of 1985.
“I landed at the airport with two dollars in my pocket – just enough to call my brother in Edmonton to pick me up. I was flat broke,” he said.
The master moved to Prince Rupert in 1987 for work.
“I worked here in construction in the early ’80s on Ridley Island and then after that I got married. My wife was in China and expecting a baby and I thought I may need to stop construction and get a steady job so I got a job at the grain elevator and then my wife came about a month later from China,” said Paul.
He started teaching Taekwondo at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre as a public program, and did so for 21 years before he found he had outgrown some of its limitations.
“There were some issues with the civic centre management back then and it was just getting harder to teach such a broad spectrum of kids in one class. I thought maybe I should start looking for a designated facility,” he said.
In 2008, Paul opened his own facility.
“Not having to share the place with basketball players and big events; it’s a lot better. You can teach more effectively,” he said.
Paul’s son, Nigel, 26, helps with the training of the popular Prince Rupert Taekwondo and Martial Arts Centre on Second Ave. West and the instructor has found that there’s always been something about Taekwondo that resonates with the people of the city that has made it so popular.
“It seems to have more high kicking [elements] and the kids seem to like it. It’s a little more dynamic than other martial arts,” he said.
Now, Paul has seen a multitude of his students go on to become extremely successful both in B.C. and internationally.
Kendall-Leigh Beal, a Prince Rupert student until she moved to Osooyos, has started her own club, Outlast Taekwondo Ltd., and two of Bozman’s former students earned bronze medals in the 2008 Commonwealth Games. Another is a Rhodes scholar.
“[One of the most fulfilling things as an instructor] is seeing the skill level [my students] attain. [The scholar] wrote a letter to me thanking me for teaching him Taekwondo when he was young,” Paul said.
“[Taekwondo has helped] all of them purse their goals.”