Morton Grove martial arts school wins fight to stay open
Master Duck-Keun Yoon works with 9-year-old Angelina Gambacorta, of Wilmette, during a tae kwon do class at North Shore Martial Arts in Morton Grove. | Brian O'Mahoney~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 8:40AM
As Duck-Keun Yoon leads his class of small children running around his martial arts school, each child jumps over a large equipment bag on the padded floor.
When one of the smallest girls can’t quite make it over, he pulls her back so she can try a second time.
When that attempt fails, Master Yoon — as he is known to his students — picks her up, lifts her over the bag and sets her back down on the floor laughing.
The children learning tae kwon do at North Shore Martial Arts are young, some just 4 years old. Keyed in on that, Yoon tries to keep the class entertaining while at the same time pushing his young students to succeed.
“When they come in the first time they are afraid of me,” Yoon said. “When I teach I want it to be fun. If I keep it fun, they can learn faster.”
Hearing that, Susanne Gilbert, mother of two of his students, says “he’s not always fun. It’s a fine balance.”
Watching a class for tots, though, Yoon clearly enjoys teaching the kids, and they enjoy the class.
As he has them practice punches, he encourages them as they shout with each punch. “Awesome, awesome,” Yoon repeats.
He has them perform a sequence of four punches while telling them to shout, “I love Master Yoon.”
“We’re going to practice that one 100 times,” he joked.
The Morton Grove martial-arts school has been open in a Dempster Street storefront just since mid-April. But Yoon has been teaching in Morton Grove for several years.
He taught classes at Bally Total Fitness until it was taken over by L.A. Fitness.
“Three days before thanksgiving we heard it was getting closed down,” Yoon said.
Gilbert added: “They abruptly shut down the school. We all were pretty devastated.”
Gilbert said the parents of Yoon’s students had previously just said hello to each other and not much else when they brought in their children. But when the school was closed they got together to look for a way to help him start his own school.
“We all decided we didn’t want to give up tae kwon do with Master Yoon,” Gilbert said. “Luckily, Master Yoon wanted to stay on.”
The parents worked with Yoon to start the business and find a new location. About 80 students followed Yoon when he had to leave the L.A. Fitness space.
Initially they rented space from the Morton Grove Park District at Mansfield Park Field House. That lasted just a short time before they moved to a space in Niles.
In April the school moved back to Morton Grove, where Yoon plans to stay. Only one more move is planned, Gilbert said, to a larger space two doors away. That’s expected to happen about the end of July when the space in renovated.
Yoon teaches both tae kwon do and hap ki do, both martial arts he learned in his native Republic of South Korea.
Tae kwon do combines defensive techniques with traditional Korean teaching methods that emphasize discipline, confidence, goal-setting and -attainment, teamwork and respect.
Hap ki do, taught to older students, is more of a fighting technique, Yoon explained. It offers a balance of defensive hand techniques, body throws and joint locks using pressure points.
Yoon, who studied martial arts in Korea, holds a sixth-degree black belt in hap ki do and a fourth-degree in tae kwon do.
He served in the Korean Army for two years as a presidential bodyguard, and was a leader and coach of the World Pro Hap Ki Do Demonstration Team for six years. He has won several awards, including Best Master of the Year in the United States in 2009.
John Frake, who has two children in the school, said Yoon is special because he is able to assess each child’s strengths and weaknesses, and use that information to help them improve. The classes, Frake said, have really helped his children develop discipline and leadership, as well as fitness and flexibility.
Lisa Gambacorta has four children in the school, including two teenagers who work as assistant instructors.
She said when Yoon came to Bally, because of his outstanding teaching ability, “he took it up a couple of notches.”
Gilbert said her daughter has been in classes with Yoon for about four years, and her son for about one.
“They both learned a lot of confidence,” she said. “Master Yoon has a real ability to learn quickly what each kid’s needs are and to determine their goals. They set new goals every two weeks and reach them.”
Setting goals and then achieving them, the parents said, is a key to the way Yoon teaches.
“He teaches the kids they can do things,” Gilbert said. “I think that really goes into everything, school, everything else in their lives.”
“My kids are going to be going to college,” Gambacorta said. “The discipline he instills, my kids have to have straight A’s. They bring their report cards to him.
“He’s almost like an extra family member.”
Gambacorta said it helps that Yoon has two children of his own.
“He knows how to take care of kids,” she said.
That is one of the things the parents like about Yoon that they know their kids will be well-cared-for in his school.
“Master Yoon creates a safe environment here,” Gilbert said. “The kids can be pushed to learn something new. They’re going to practice it until they succeed.”
The school has tae kwon do classes for children as young as 4.
Yoon said hap ki do students, even though they learn fighting skills, are taught to avoid fights.
“When I’m teaching hap ki do I tell them it’s not for a street fight.”
In addition to regular classes the school will hold summer-camp programs this year and students will compete in tournaments and give demonstrations at, among other places, the Morton Grove Farmers Market.
Yoon himself will be teaching a workshop in July at the International Tae Kwon Do Championship held by the United States National Tae Kwon Do Federation, which will be held at Triton College.
For more information on North Shore Martial Arts call (847) 777-9500.