Han dies at 73
Korean martial arts master Bong Soo Han, who helped revolutionize Hollywood’s understanding of martial arts by creating fight sequences for modern American films, died Jan. 8 of complications of cancer in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 73.
Han, who held a 9th degree black belt and the title of grand master in Hapkido, dedicated his life to spreading the martial art that combines the kicking and punching of Taekwondo and the joint locks and graceful throws of Judo.
Han was discovered by Hollywood in 1969, shortly after he arrived in the United States, while giving a Hapkido demonstration at a park near Malibu. Actor Tom Laughlin saw him perform and asked for help with his action film “Billy Jack.”
Up to that time, most martial arts scenes in movies were portrayed by actors with little martial arts training. Han choreographed fight scenes for the film, now a cult classic, and served as a stunt man, demonstrating a level of martial arts skill rarely seen before.
“Grand Master Bong Soo Han was one of the first men to pioneer martial arts in the movies with the film,” recalled Chuck Norris.
Han also worked on the 1988 thriller, “The Presidio,” as well as other action films and was featured in Wesley Snipes’ 1998 documentary “Masters of the Martial Arts.”
He began studying martial arts as a boy in his native Seoul and trained under the founder of Hapkido, Young Sul Choi. He opened his first school in Seoul in 1959 and later taught self-defense to U.S. forces in Korea and in Vietnam before coming to Los Angeles, where he set up his own school and frequently offered seminars for FBI agents.
Survivors include a daughter, a son and a grandson.