Ban Ki-moon Awarded 10th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Usually if we cover something at the UN on this program it's going to be pretty bleak: the situation in Syria, or Security Council attempts to stop genocide. But today at the UN, fun. Fun that hasn't been had since, well, since Secretary General Ban Ki-moon danced Gangnam Style with Psy last year. And again it's Ban Ki-moon having the fun. He's now a new holder of a 10th degree black belt. The World Taekwondo Federation, or WTF, offered the South Korean Secretary General the black belt in recognition of how closely matched the WTF's values are with the United Nations. Bruce Harris is the CEO of USA Taekwondo, the Olympics national governing body for Taekwondo here in America. He's also an experienced competitor and referee. So Bruce, the values of the WTF are closely matched with the UN. I can only ask you, WTF?

Bruce Harris: Well, WTF, of course, is the World Taekwondo Federation, and that's the international governing body for Taekwondo, the Olympic sport, around the world. And the values of Taekwondo are very simple but very powerful. They include courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance, and indomitable spirit, and all of those qualities are embodied in large part by the UN.

Werman: And where does beating your opponent come in to those values?

Harris: Well, that's self-discovery.

Werman: Oh, that falls under self-discovery?

Harris: Of course.

Werman: Yeah. I mean this is symbolic of course, Ban Ki-moon is not actually a 10th degree black belt in Taekwondo. But can you tell us how rare 10th-degree black belts are?

Harris: Well, normally they're given posthumously for accomplished Taekwondo martial artists that have been very prominent in our martial art, or people who found a branch of Taekwondo. So this is very rare indeed. It's an honor given, again, usually posthumously, but since Dr. Moon is not dead yet, it's a rare honor.

Werman: So have there ever been any 10th degree black belts who get the honor while they're still in the sport?

Harris: No, usually it's politicians or high-level people such as presidents. Ban Ki-moon is Secretary General of the UN, so it's usually to influential politicians, but not people within the martial art.

Werman: What level are you?

Harris: Well, I'm [xx] for my eighth [xx] in another month.

Werman: So, you know Vladimir Putin has a black belt in karate and a red belt in judo. If it were Vladimir Putin with his belts, and I've seen him in action, he looks pretty daunting, versus the symbolic black belt with Ban Ki-moon, who wins?

Harris: Well, I think they would discuss it and not fight.

Werman: Wow, you're a diplomat too.

Harris: Part of being Taekwondo.

Werman: Bruce Harris is the CEO of USA Taekwondo. He spoke to us in an airport, busy airport. Thanks for sharing a few minutes of your day with us, Bruce.

Harris: Sure, no problem.