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Confidence builders

Martial arts instructor Heungki Kim during class at KTigers Taekwondo in Coeur d’Alene  Oct. 27. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Martial arts instructor Heungki Kim during class at KTigers Taekwondo in Coeur d’Alene Oct. 27. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Martial arts school teaches life lessons, not just fighting, instructor says

Jack and Max Peed prefer their new school because it makes them “feel powerful.”

As the uniform-bedecked 9-year-old and 7-year-old brothers, respectively, jumped into single-file line with fellow classmates to practice some high-flying kicks into the instructor’s awaiting practice pad, their mom Julie watched from a corner of the KTigers Taekwondo facility with a smattering of other parents, where she offered her own opinion on her fondness for the recently opened martial arts school.

“I like it a lot because I think it gives them confidence,” she said. On top of that, she added, owner and instructor Heungki Kim “is really good with kids. He teaches them discipline and respect. That is something I think that’s lacking in our society.”

At the KTigers (Korean Tigers) Taekwondo studio, which opened in mid-September in a 2,600-square-foot suite just west of the Highway 95 and Neider Avenue intersection, husband and wife co-owners Heungki and Gwen Kim offer a variety of classes for ages 4 to senior citizens, with low-impact aerobics emphasized for the elderly students. The family-oriented martial arts school takes training beyond the confines of the dojang and applies them to the “real world,” Heungki said, helping each student achieve their personal goals and find balance in their lives.

“Taekwondo is like life, it isn’t just about fighting. I try to teach my students about life, about never giving up and I always tell them to be positive,” Heungki explained. “We believe that to advance oneself physically, mentally and spiritually through the study of martial arts, a combination of diligence, dedication and proper training are key. KTigers Taekwondo promotes physical fitness and positive social interaction in a courteous and fun atmosphere. Our greatest responsibility is to instill in our students a sense of discipline and a code of ethics to inspire them to lead exemplary lives as leaders in the community.”

Headmaster Heungki, who began training at 7 in his hometown of Seoul, South Korea, under the guidance of his uncle, a grandmaster in the martial art, holds a fifth-degree black belt and has trained and taught in Korea and throughout the U.S. He served as former director of the world-renowned KTigers Demonstration Team, which travels around the world performing in competitions and exhibitions, before visiting various Taekwondo schools along the East Coast to learn about starting his own business.

“I want to teach taekwondo to people who don’t know about it, who don’t know what it really is,” he said.

For example, Heungki offered, taekwondo is a combination of three words in the Korean language. It translates as tae, to jump, kick, or strike with the foot; kwon is to strike with the hand; and do is the way of the art. In that regard, he tries to instill a self-defense technique in students that transcends throwing punches and kicks to ascend the 11 different-colored belt ranks.

“We don’t give new belts, you have to earn them,” he explained, by living by several core principles. Those lessons include eating healthy, showing respect for parents and elders, making good friends and exercising every day, Heungki said.

After the “Tigers” class ended, with each little boy bowing to each other, the instructor and saluting the American flag, Jack Peed said he’s enjoyed learning the martial art over the last few weeks. “I like it because you can have a good time and it helps with good discipline.”

Heungki, who also holds a degree in aerospace engineering, has wanted to open a taekwondo school for years. However, it wasn’t until he met his wife, a Coeur d’Alene native with South Korean heritage, that the two decided to establish a martial arts school in North Idaho. KTigers is the first official KTigers dojang within the U.S.

Heungki said his decision was made even easier since he fell in love with the area while studying English at Gonzaga University in 2003.

Looking out at the handful of pint-sized students in white uniforms in the padded gym area, Gwen said Coeur d’Alene is an ideal place to open a martial arts school. With only a few open in the area and a high volume of families calling Kootenai County home, she hopes enrollment will continue to grow.

“We love it here,” she offered. “It’s a great place for kids and families.”

As the students advance in the sport – they don’t spar until several months into training – they may join the school’s black belt club and travel to area competitions.

Whether the student’s goal is weight loss and physical fitness, to learn self-defense, or parents are simply looking for a wholesome family activity, KTigers has a class to match their needs, the owners said.

Reach correspondent Jacob Livingston by e-mail at