Bong Soo Han As I Knew Him
My good friend, Hapkido Master, Bong Soo Han, was terminally ill for some time, and just passed away last night, January 8, 2007. Master Han and I met by chance at the Santa Monica Building Department in 1984 when he was remodeling his Santa Monica studio. I owned some bungalows on the Santa Monica beach and he asked be a question about the plans he had. I told him he wouldn't want my advice because he probably didn't like me. He had no idea who I was and looked shocked, then told me he liked everybody.
"You don't like the Tracy brothers," I told him.
He nodded and said, "Well I like most everyone."
He had just said that when one of the people in the office called me, Mr. Tracy, and his eyes got wide. Yes, I was one of the Tracy brothers. We had never met before and he had never met my brothers either, so Bong Soo Han invited me to have lunch with him. It turned out that we had many friends in common, Ed Parker, of course, Joe Hyams, Pat Strong and Evan Kim to name a few.
I've known Joe Hyams since 1957, when I first began training with Ed Parker. Years later, Joe would come to my beach house on the Santa Monica Promenade every Sunday and we would cycle twenty miles down the beach Promenade to the Cliff House for brunch. (Hey, brunch can be a man thing!) A day or two after I met Bong Soo Han, Joe Hyams told him that I was a screenwriter, and he Bong Soo Han asked me to look at his script, Snow Tiger. We became close friends, and he asked me to rewrite the script for him and he wanted me to give him the "Tracy Karate Secrets."
I told him the secret was in teaching private lessons to everyone, and he asked me to show him how it worked. So for about three months I interviewed and taught all his new students. His enrollment nearly doubled, but I was teaching Kenpo, not Hapkido, and neither he nor any of his student instructors wanted to continue with teaching private lessons, so I told him I had given him the business plan, and it was up to him to make it work.
Bong Soo Han had brought another Hapkido master over from Korea, Mr. Kim, and had opened a school for him in Loma Vista, which was about 50 miles away. He wanted me to run the school for him, but I didn't have either the time or the interest, so I had Michael Chong, whom I had first taught in San Francisco back in 1962, when Michael was only twelve years old. Michael and I had worked together off and on for some time, and I had him manage one of my studios in Vancouver, Canada, back in the early 70's when I was producing a film I had written, "Tong." The screenplay was later bought by G. David Schine, (of Joe McCarthy fame, and The French Connection). Michael was an aspiring actor at this time, and would stay in one of my bungalows on the beach in Santa Monica when he was working in Hollywood (To Live and Die in LA) and agreed to run Bong Soo Han's school for him. But the "Tracy Karate Secret" requires hard work, and even though Michael could teach the beginning lessons and sign students up, Mr. Kim could not make the business program work, and the studio failed.
Our relationship was more than business. Bong Soo Han and I were friends, and he invited my two older sons, Steven, who is now in Hong Kong, and Michael, who is now a very successful attorney, to have dinner at a restaurant in Korea Town. The boys were 14-15 at the time. This was an elegant restaurant, and Bong Soo Han knew the owner (the former head of the Korean CIA) and spoke Korean to him. I have a working knowledge of Korean, and understood what he was saying. When the waiter came to take our order Bong Soo Han ordered in English.
"Start with the squid brain," he said, "Then the pig intestines, some lamb testicles, dog meat, cat meat, and if you have some, the octopus stomach."
The boys were horrified, but I told them it would insult Master Han if they didn't eat everything he offered them, and they could not even make a face when eating the food.
I had eaten at the same restaurant with Bong Soo Han before, and he and Mr. Kim had tried to fool me with the Korean hot sauce. They dipped their chopsticks into the sauce and then put it on the meat before eating it, and nodded for me to do the same. But I dipped the meat into the sauce and ate it. They waited for my reaction, but got none. I could see the sweat beading on their foreheads from the hot sauce, but I was unphased, and repeated eating until the sauce was gone, then asked for more. They were amazed. What they didn't know is when by brother Al, and I were bad as kids, our mother would sprinkle Tabasco Sauce on our tongues. This went on for several years, until one day she came in and found Al and me drinking the Tabasco Sauce out of the bottle.
When the food came I told my sons to remember what I had told them. Steven picked up the dog meat with his chopsticks and took a bite, "Hey, this dog meat is really good," he said.
Michael had taken the cat meat, and replied, "You think that's good, wait until you try this cat."
Bong Soo Han could hardly keep a straight face, and this was a man who never smiled except with close friends. When we got home the boys raved to their mother about how great the dog meat and cat meat was, and how we needed to get so lamb testicles, and so forth. She spoiled the whole thing by telling her sons the cat meat was really chicken, the dog meat was beef, the lamb testicles were Korean radishes. The boys would have rather believed Bong Soo Han.
Bong Soo Han was not just a gifted and great martial artist, and master of Hapkido but a friend, and I will miss him.
© 2007 by W. Tracy. All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without permission.
The Law Offices of Michael Tracy.
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