Why Are There So Many ITFs?

Dane Canton, III Dan, Southern Cross Taekwon-Do Academy

I remember being in my first year of high school in June 2002. I arrived home to the news that General Choi Hong Hi, Founder of the International Taekwon-Do Federation, had passed away. Although not entirely unexpected, General Choi had been sick for a long time, I was shocked at the news. My 13 year old mind didn’t really know what would happen next – does this mean the end of Taekwon-Do? Will club still be on tonight? In reality, the day-to-day club trainings hardly changed at all.

For the ITF, however, things would change drastically.

Today, there are many different organisations claiming to be the true ITF, with three having perhaps the strongest claims. The legitimacy of each of these claims depends on your personal point-of-view, however, here is a brief, and hopefully easy to understand, overview of how the three biggest ITFs came to be.

Here is the big disclaimer: The events surrounding the splintering of the ITF vary depending on your source. Perhaps the true story is lost to history. So take all of this with a grain of salt.


The Long Version:

Let’s go back to when General Choi was still alive. In 2001, at the ITF congress, members of the ITF voted on who should be president for the following six-year term. It was decided that General Choi would remain ITF president for part of the term and would be succeeded by his son, Master Choi Jung Hwa. Exactly when General Choi would be succeeded by his son depends on who you talk to. Some say it was to be after two years, some say after four years. Shortly afterwards, perhaps due to pressure from North Korea, a special congress was held and the decision was reached that Master Choi Jung Hwa would not succeed his father and General Choi would remain as ITF president for the full term. It’s not clear if this emergency meeting was in line with the ITF constitution as some senior ITF members were apparently barred from attending. Understandably frustrated, Master Choi Jung Hwa left and established his own ITF organization with its headquarters in Canada. The headquarters would later relocate to London, England. This ITF organization is sometimes called ITF-C.


Less than 12 months later, General Choi passed away. Shortly before this, there was a gathering of a handful of high ranking members of the ITF at the bedside of General Choi. There, General Choi apparently told the people that he wished the ITF to pass into the hands of Professor Chang Ung, a member of the International Olympic Committee. After General Choi’s passing, a special meeting was held in Pyongyang to ratify Professor Chang Ung as ITF president. There were only a handful of representatives so many people believed the special meeting to be against the ITF constitution and non-binding. According to the ITF constitution, in the event of the president’s passing, the vice president would assume the role of acting-president until such time that an election could be held. In this case, the Honourable Russell MacLellan became acting-president. This caused a rift between the people who recognised Professor Chang Ung as president and those who saw Hon. Russell MacLellan as acting-president. The following year, two sets of World Championships were held. The Hon. Russell MacLellan-led ITF held theirs in Poland. It was there that congress was held and then-Master Tran Trieu Quan was elected as ITF president. Simultaneously, the Professor Chang Ung-led ITF held their World Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece. At the subsequent congress, Professor Chang Ung was ratified as the ITF president. This lead to the development of two different ITFs being formed; ITF under Master Tran Trieu Quan, sometimes called ITF-V, and ITF under Professor Chang Ung, sometimes called ITF-NK.

While many smaller organisations exist, the so-called ITF-C, ITF-V, and ITF-NK are the biggest.


The Short Version:

Having read all of that, I completely understand if you are still a little confused. Here is the shorter version:


July 2001 General Choi re-elected as ITF president with Master Choi Jung Hwa to succeed him part-way through.
2002 Special meeting held and Master Choi Jung Hwa no longer to succeed his father.
2002 Master Choi Jung Hwa leaves and establishes “ITF-C”.
<15 June 2002 On his deathbed, General Choi declares his wish that Professor Chang Ung succeeds him.
>15 June 2002 Meeting of seniors is held in Pyongyang, North Korea where Professor Chang Ung is declared the ITF president. This becomes “ITF-NK”.
>15 June 2002 Those that do not recognise the legitimacy of the meeting in Pyongyang, put forward vice president, Hon. Russell MacLellan as acting-president as per the ITF constitution. This becomes “ITF-V”.
June 2003 Master Tran Trieu Quan is elected “ITF-V” president at the ITF congress in Warsaw, Poland.
June 2003 Professor Chang Ung is ratified “ITF-NK” president at the ITF congress in Thessaloniki, Greece.


The Three ITFs:


President: Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa

Headquarters: London, England (formerly Toronto, Canada)




President: Master Ri Yong Son (formerly Professor Chang Ung)

Headquarters: Vienna, Austria




President: Grand Master Pablo Trajtenberg (formerly Grand Master Tran Trieu Quan)

Headquarters: Benidorm, Spain (formerly Vienna, Austria)



Final Word:

As with many organisations, and even many families, people do not always see eye-to-eye. The death of General Choi put many events in motion. Those events can never be undone and personally, I don’t believe we will ever have a “unified” ITF again. On a personal level, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing. No matter which organisation we are affiliated with, as Taekwon-Doin, we are all unified through our martial art. I have had the pleasure of meeting many different Taekwon-Doin, with many different affiliations, however they were all welcoming and bridges were easily built over the river of ITF politics. While it is important to know our history, it should not stand in the way of the personal connections that we can make through Taekwon-Do.