OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- At 80 years old, Grand Master Mun has spent over half his life training service members at Osan Air Base in the art of self-defense. He has certified more than 4,500 black belt students in the time-worn aerobics room of the base's fitness center. Many of those students have continued on to train others in the ancient art of Tae Kwon Do, but only one has continued on to inspire others around the globe.
Carlos Ray "Chuck" Norris joined the Air Force after high school, with aspirations of a career in law enforcement. One night on duty, Norris realized that he couldn't arrest a rowdy drunk without pulling his weapon. It was in the Air Force, while stationed in Korea, that Chuck was introduced to martial arts.
In a statement from his publicist to 35th Air Defense Artillery Public Affairs, Chuck Norris confirmed that Grand Master Mun, the tireless Tae Kwon Do instructor at the Osan Gym, was one of his teachers many years ago.
"Grand Master Mun was one of several Korean black belts I trained under but Jae Chul Shin was my primary instructor," said Chuck Norris.
Shin was drafted into the Korean Army in 1958 and served as a martial arts instructor to Korean and American service members stationed at Osan. After Shin and Norris' military service, the two continued to train and their friendship remained until Shin's death in 2012.
"I have always attributed much of my success to my time in the military along with my introduction to the martial arts from my Korean Masters," said Norris.
Norris trained under the instruction of Do Sik Mun in the late 1950s while stationed in South Korea with the U.S. Air Force.
Mun said that he remembers training the young airman and was impressed with his enthusiasm for learning martial arts.
"The principles that Tae Kwon Do teach are vital to those who are serving in the military," said Mun. "It makes your body stronger and your mind sharper."
Other militaries tend to agree as Israel, Thailand and Japan have incorporated martial arts training into their military readiness drills.
While completing his obligated military service for South Korea, Mun served as a Tae Kwon Do instructor to keep troops fit as they patrolled Gyeonggi Province.
"I was prepared to defend myself as I served in the Army at Panmunjom from 1965-1969," said Mun. "The higher levels of Tae Kwon Do is all about mind control, patience, philosophy and psychology. I used all of these things to preserve myself, and to protect South Korea."
Mun said the utility of self-defense is why he continues to teach martial arts to U.S. forces and others within the community.
Pfc. Ronald Sharpton, an air defense artilleryman and first-degree black belt, has studied the art of Tae Kwon Do with Mun since November 2014.
"There are plenty of places to go if you want to learn about martial arts, but [Grand Master Mun] has been teaching for 45 years and can still demonstrate blocks, kicks and movements better than anyone I know. It really makes me humble about my skills," Sharpton said. "He has taught me more than just self-defense; he's taught me about respect and about striving to be the best."
Mun has taught this philosophy to thousands of service members who have transitioned in and out of Osan over the years, as well as civilians, including his son who now trains alongside his father on Osan Air Base.
"There is a sense of ownership and pride that comes from training [service members]," said Mun.
"The skills that we teach extend far beyond defending a country; they become a way of life," he said. "There's no greater joy than watching someone develop physically and mentally. They become stronger, more confident and I think it is what encourages them to give back to others like Mr. Norris has in his career."
Perhaps another martial arts megastar will rise from the mats at Osan Gym like Chuck Norris did during his stint here at Osan 55 years ago.