Martial-arts school hurt kids, pupils

Denver Post/February 29, 2000
By Sean Kelly

Feb. 29, 2000 - In a promotional brochure, Tiger Kim's Academy promises to build self-confidence and respect.

Former students say they instead learned fear and humiliation, suffered physical and sexual abuse and watched helplessly as children were physically punished.

One of the largest martial arts studios in Denver, Tiger Kim's Academy is more of a cult than a school, former students said, claiming they were forced to fall to their knees and call the owner "Hananim," Korean for God. "I am so tired of watching kids cry, looking at that fear in their eyes," said former employee and student Janet Roach, her voice choked by sobs. "It's pretty pathetic that they have to run a school based on intimidation and abuse." The owners of Tiger Kim's Academy have not commented on the allegations, instead referring all questions to current student Mark Sutherland. He said the accusations are all false.

"Nothing like that has ever gone on to my knowledge, and I've been a student for 20 years," Sutherland said. "I wouldn't let my children go to school here if I had seen anything like that." Since Roach, a former secretary and student, and a few other former students came forward last week with allegations of physical abuse and sexual harassment, several more have come forward with similar stories.

Now totaling more than 10 former students, they allege they were abused by Jung Kil "Tiger" Kim and his son, Sung Kim. They also level a litany of other charges against the school, including racism and financial impropriety, and say Tiger Kim misrepresented his credentials and made outlandish promises.

"They scare the hell out of kids. They pee their pants because they're afraid to ask if they can go the bathroom," said Teresa Hamilton, who attended the school with her son over four months in 1998. "I don't like to hear my child scream." Roach and Hamilton said they now live in fear and have been harassed by the Kims since going public with their charges. They said they've been followed and someone broke into their house last week. Several other students did not want their names used for fear of retaliation.

The students joined Tiger Kim's for a number of reasons: self-defense, exercise and to build self-esteem. The Kims, they said, told students the academy was "one big happy family" and demanded absolute loyalty. "It was a system of manipulation and worship. I would call it a cult," said one former student.

Denver police say they are investigating the matter, particularly allegations by the mother of a 5year-old boy. She told police the boy was physically abused and was forced to hold a concrete block over his head as punishment.

The Kims, through Sutherland, said the charges were made up.

"They're ridiculous. They're being made by a disgruntled former employee looking to get back at them," Sutherland said of Roach. "And the people supporting her are her friends." Roach says she quit working at Tiger Kim's on Feb. 15. More than a week later, she received a letter from the academy telling her that her services were no longer needed. She says the letter, postmarked Feb. 22, is a late attempt by the Kims to discredit her story. "They really don't want me to talk," Roach said. "But I feel I have to for the kids that are still there." Located at 3200 E. Colfax Ave., Tiger Kim's has specialized in the Korean martial arts tae kwon do and tang soo do for more than 20 years.

But despite the defensive nature of the arts, Tiger Kim, 62, would often hit students as punishment, Roach and the others said. He would use an oak "bo," or stick designed for fighting, on the backs of students' legs, they said. Roach said she was abused by Sung Kim. The 24-year-old instructor would choke her, hit her, stab her with darts and systematically use pressure points to intimidate her.

One time Roach tried to kick back, she said. Sung Kim "absorbed the blow and bloodied my nose," she said. She is still paying bills from a knee injury she said was caused by Sung Kim.

"All this didn't happen in class. They thought beating up on me made them look good," she said. "Like father, like son." Young students also were forced to curl their toes under the balls of their feet and stand like ballerinas, said Douglas Anderson, who earned his black belt at the school. "I love this sport. I love the martial arts. But I saw things I shouldn't have," Anderson said. "I'm sorry I ever took my kids there." Children were often taken into a back room, Roach said. When they came out, "they were shaking like a leaf," she said.

Several students said they feel the Kims misrepresented themselves. Their promotional brochure shows photos of Tiger Kim with actor Chuck Norris and Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. A spokesman for Shanahan said the coach does not know Tiger Kim and the picture was used without his knowledge or approval.

The brochure also claims that Tiger Kim once taught martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, a dubious claim since Lee practiced kung fu rather than tae kwon do, said local fifthdegree black belt Ghassan Timani. As secretary general of the Colorado State Taekwondo Association, Timani said he has heard stories about certain studios, including Tiger Kim's, using such physical punishments in violation of widely accepted standards. "People need to know that Tiger Kim's is the exception and not the rule," said Timani, the instructor at Korean Academy in Aurora. "This one example is giving a black eye to everybody in the martial arts, and that's not right." Timani also said Tiger Kim's pulled out of the Colorado State Taekwondo Association more than six years ago. In the promotional brochure, Tiger Kim's claims to be the Kukkiwon Taekwondo headquarters, even though the Kukkiwon - the sport's governing body - recognizes only the state association through the United States Taekwondo Union.

A number of former students also accuse the Kims of racism. They claim the Kims often charge different monthly rates based on race and appearance - with non-Korean Asians, blacks and whites paying the most. Hispanic women and Koreans paid the least.

The Rev. Eric Pearman, a black belt whose daughter was enrolled at the school, claims the academy also hid testing fees from new students. These fees, which reach $1,000 for a black belt, are mandatory and were not disclosed until students had signed long-term contracts.

Several students said they were failed on tests for higher belts or had their belts stripped so they would have to re-test and pay the fees again.

Selecting A School

Tips on choosing the right martial arts school:

  • Watch a class. Instructors should allow parents and prospective students to sit in on a class.

  • Talk with other parents. Are other parents pleased with the atmosphere and their child's development?

  • Ask to see the qualifications of the instructor. A martial arts teacher should be well-trained, at least a fourth or fifth-degree black belt for tae kwon do classes.

  • Check the contract closely. Review all testing fees and ask for a short trial period before signing any long-term contracts.

  • Make sure the school has a quality facility. The floor should be padded, and the school should have adequate safety equipment.

    Martial arts teacher's case dropped

    Denver Post, March 26, 2001
    By Ryan Morgan

    A Denver martial arts instructor accused of mistreating his students said he feels vindicated now that prosecutors have dropped the assault charge against him.

    "It's nice that everything has finally gotten corrected, because nothing like that has ever happened here," said Sung Kim. who was charged last year with assaulting a former employee and student at Tiger Kim's Academy.

    "The reputation of the school was hurt a lot just from the accusations."

    Kim was charged with third-degree assault in an incident involving Janet Roach. The charge was dropped this month.

    "The prosecutor to whom the case was assigned felt that there were some challenges to the case that could not be overcome," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman with the Denver district attorney's office.

    Kim, who owns and operates the school with his father, Jung Kil Kim, said the accusations, wrongly put his on the defensive. "It's much harder to be innocent than it is be guilty," he said.

    Roach, a secretary and student at the tae kwon do school, went to police last February. She said Kim had physically abused her for more than a year and gave her injuries ranging from a black eye to a ruined knee.

    Witnesses also came forward who said Kim abused other students, especially children.

    The Rev. Eric Pearman, a black belt whose daughter attended the school and other parents said Kim forced one boy to hold a concrete block on his head to discipline him.

    "I have really lost faith in a system that would allow that kind of physical abuse to go on," Pearman said.

    But Mark Sutherland, who has attended the school for 20 years, called the claims made by Roach and Pearman "ridiculous," and said Kim should never have been charged.

    "I think it was inevitable that when the glare of the TV cameras kind of died down and the prosecutors looked at the case, they could see it was baloney," he said.

    Kim also denied all of the accusation and said Roach was just a disgruntled former employee. At least two of the other people who spoke out against him, he said, were Roach's roommates. He said his accusers teamed up hoping for financial gain.

    "It was just someone who was trying to gain some money out of a business that's been around forever," Kim said. "The people who know the school, know that nothing like that would ever happen here."

    Roach could not be reached for comment.

    Note: On August 6, 2001 Janet Roach withdrew all claims (Civil Case No.:01 CV 151) against Tiger Kim's Academy and its owners. She then testified under oath in Denver District Court after settlement discussions were completed. Before Judge Doris E. Burd Ms. Roach retracted any and all claims of wrongdoing or misconduct regarding her former employer Tiger Kim's Academy and its owners. She then advised that any allegations made to the Denver Police Department had likewise been withdrawn. Ms. Roach apologized in court publicly for any injury or damage she may have caused the reputations of those accused. Roach then agreed to pay expenses incurred by the defendants concerning the lawsuit she had filed against them. Defendants Jung Kil Kim, William Challans and Jung Kim accepted her apology and the counterclaim they had filed against Janet Roach was then dismissed with prejudice.

    To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.