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A Conversation with Jin Suh About Adapting and Never Giving Up

Jin Suh was born in Korea but came to the United States when he was five years old, first living in California and later New York. His father was a Taekwondo master in Korea, so the talent and will always resided within him. Suh began learning Taekwondo when he was only a toddler. Unfortunately, his […]

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Jin Suh
Jin Suh

Jin Suh was born in Korea but came to the United States when he was five years old, first living in California and later New York. His father was a Taekwondo master in Korea, so the talent and will always resided within him. Suh began learning Taekwondo when he was only a toddler. Unfortunately, his father passed away when he was 13 and he didn’t become serious about the martial arts until he was in his teens. 

After a four-year stint in the Marines, which included being stationed in Okinawa where he was able to continue to study martial arts, Jin Suh returned to New York and began training with a vision of one day making the U.S. National Team in Taekwondo. That vision became reality in 1998 and he represented the U.S. at the Pan-American Championships that year and the World Cup Championship in 2000.

In 1997, Jin Suh began to teach the sport of Taekwondo that he loved so much. He learned business on his own and through networking, trial and error, and being very resilient, he was able to start up an academy, High Performance Martial Arts to formally teach martial arts, with Taekwondo as his primary specialty. He has grown the academy to three locations on Long Island, New York, and it has become a family affair with his wife, oldest son and other children supporting him.

Why did you decide to create your own business?

I loved Taekwondo and I really feel it saved my life. All the training and teachings kept me off the streets, put me on the right path, and kept me there. After I got out of the Marines, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started teaching Taekwondo and it was very rewarding to see the impact that I could have teaching others. I felt if Taekwondo can change my life for the better, it could do the same for others.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I love being able to impact the lives of my students. I get to watch each student grow and become more confident, more focused, more respectful, more disciplined, as a person and as a martial artist.

What does a typical day consist of for you?

I do my training in the mornings. Because of the lockdown restrictions, our children are at home right now, so we get to spend a lot more time with them. 

At High Performance Martial Arts, we are doing our classes right now. In the beginning, business was shut down around mid-March, and right away we went to teaching on Zoom. I did not want to stop teaching and just give up. A lot of people didn’t want to teach on Zoom. They said it wouldn’t help anyone and it wouldn’t work. I saw a lot of people quitting, but that’s not the path I wanted to take. I wanted to keep training as much as I could to keep the kids involved. We did Zoom for a few months and then after a few months we went back to physical classes. Everyone was very thankful that we didn’t stop with our training because they were saying it was the only outlet they had during the lockdown. Taekwondo was the one thing they were looking forward to during the day.

What keeps you motivated?

My family and my students keep me motivated. I want to provide them with more opportunities in life. I have three young ones right now: they are 10, eight, and four months old. My children have been learning Taekwondo since they were born. They compete, and they help me teach. We try our best to live it as a way of life, not just when we’re at our schools teaching, but outside as well. It has really helped my children become focused at school. It helps them with their grades, their leadership skills, and their confidence. Their teachers are always telling us about how proud they are about the leadership they show in class. They’re always helping the teacher and are well-mannered and respectful. Knowing the impact martial arts can have on children’s lives inspires us and motivates us even more. 

 How has your company grown from its early days to now?

We started off with one location and grew to three. Every year we have been growing, constantly looking to expand our academies, and teaching as many students the art of Taekwondo as we can.  Of course, last year was tough for everyone with the pandemic and that really changed everything.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

One of the things I learned from my father passing away when I was so young was that I was determined to live a long and healthy life for my children. I try to use any negative situation in a positive way and to learn from good times and bad times. We can’t let the bad times defeat us and keep us down; they can inspire us to become better by learning from them.

 Who has been a role model to you and why?

My mother, because of her strength raising three sons on her own. She’s a symbol of strength and perseverance to me. There were a lot of other people along the way: My Taekwondo masters, as well as my Karate and Jiujitsu masters. My wife is also a major role model and positive influence in my life. She has been the most caring, loving and selfless person I’ve ever met and has helped me to become a better person. Without her our academies wouldn’t be where they are today.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I always try to adapt and keep growing and changing. I don’t want to stay stagnant. I try to keep an open mind about how things might look five years or 10 years ahead. For instance, martial arts is a very competitive field right now and it’s growing more and more in popularity. I saw years ago that with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on the rise in popularity that focusing solely on Taekwondo would not be enough. I felt like a lot of adults wanted to learn grappling. I always had a desire to do it too, so I thought about training in Jiujitsu. But there was one thing holding me back: I was a black belt in Taekwondo and my pride and ego made me not want to put on a white belt again. I feel like a lot of people in my position feel the same way and they let that stop them from continuing to grow as a martial artist.

I was finally able to overcome that. I decided to ignore those feelings and made the decision that I was going to do it. It turned out to be very liberating to put my white belt back on and learn a new martial art. It reminded me what it was like to be a white belt again and I think that helped me become a better teacher and more successful leader because it forced me to be more patient. I’m a black belt in Jiujitsu now. We’ve incorporated that approach into our school as well.

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

I had to overcome growing up in my teen years without a father. I grew up a lot faster and didn’t have any of that fatherly guidance. That’s why Taekwondo really saved my life. It gave me that guidance and direction that I didn’t get from my father. It helped me persevere, even when I was trying to make the U.S. National team and was close to giving up. I went in there really confident and I lost my first match and I said to myself, that’s it, I’m done, I’m giving up. But I didn’t. I kept going at it each year. I felt like I had to do it not only for myself but for my academy and students. I was finally able to do it.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

Never give up. That’s been one of my biggest strengths personally. I’ve overcome a lot of difficult situations in life. I’ve seen a lot of people who give up too easily and too often.  That’s one of the things we try to teach our students: never give up and always finish what you start.

Explain the proudest day of your professional life.

My oldest son is 29 years old. He made the U.S. National Taekwondo team like I did. That was one of the proudest moments of my life, when I was able to see after all that training and coaching that he made the team. I think we became the only father/son members of the U.S. national team. My son runs one of our academies now. He is doing a great job.

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