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Ken Olcott, of Woodburn, earns a rare honor, reaching the rank of 8th Dan taekwondo grandmaster

LINDSAY KEEFER - Ken Olcott (right) leads one of his taekwondo classes in warmups at Counter Point Martial Arts in Hubbard. Olcott recently returned from a trip to South Korea, where he received the rank of 8th Dan taekwondo grandmaster.COURTESY PHOTO: KEN OLCOTT - Ken Olcott (left) receives his rank certificate of 8th Dan taekwondo grandmaster from Jidokwan President Sung Wan Lee during a ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.A Woodburn resident has been decorated with honors in South Korea for skills he has been honing for nearly 40 years.

Ken Olcott returned last month from a trip to Seoul, South Korea, where he received the rank certificate of 8th Dan taekwondo grandmaster. To put that into perspective, Olcott has received the second highest honor possible in the 72-year-old taekwondo tradition, a black belt to the eighth degree. There are only 1,600 individuals to ever reach 8th Dan.

"It puts me in a position to have a little more authority in the organization," Olcott said. "It's so significant. The way we were treated (throughout the trip) was fantastic."

Olcott, chief instructor of Counter Point Martial Arts in Hubbard, traveled to Seoul with a group of American masters and grandmasters honored by taekwondo school Jidokwan (translated "house of the way of wisdom"), one of the nine original schools of Korean martial arts at its annual world conference.

"It was a really big honor," Olcott said. "President (Sung Wan) Lee was there, and high-ranking officials, so that was really cool to be recognized among hundreds of other martial artists."

Olcott and part of the group of honored Oregonian recipients — Matt Vinson, 6th Dan, and Doug Hanson, 7th Dan — met with the president of World Taekwondo at the headquarters in Kukkiwon, toured the Royal Palace in Seoul and had several special dinners with the secretary generals of both the Jidokwan and another famous house, the MooDukKwan.

Olcott first started taekwondo in 1979 at the Hubbard School of Karate.

"I joined because I was getting beat up in school," he said frankly. "I was 14 at the time and I've been doing it ever since."

He said that, back then, karate was a more well-known term than taekwondo. Taekwondo — which roughly translates to stomp (tae), fist (kwon), and way or discipline (do) — is a relatively new art form, forming after World War II by martial artists with backgrounds in Korean, Japanese and Chinese martial arts. It didn't get it's modern name until close to 1960.

Over the years, Olcott has been an instructor around the Willamette Valley, helping found Counter Point Martial Arts in Hubbard with Ted Woolhiser 17 years ago. He has been instructing there ever since.

Olcott received his black belt (or 1st Dan) about 20 years ago, but noted that to advance beyond that, experience (or age) is just as important as skill.

"They expect not just physical achievement but mental as well," he said. "As you get older, your body ages but your wisdom increases. You have to show your dedication to the organization."

It's rare to see someone in their 50s still practicing, but Olcott still finds joy in it — a joy he's passed on to his two daughters, who are also now black belts.

"It's kind of an outlet," he said. "I walk through that door and it becomes a different planet. I'm happier, my body doesn't hurt as much. And when the kids come (for class), it's just great."

Being an instructor holds Olcott accountable for maintaining his own skill level, he said.

"It keeps me moving; it's meditation in motion," he said. "I'll do it until I die."

To see a demonstration of the martial art, mark your calendar for Thursday, Aug. 16. That's when the Hodori Tiger Cubs team, which is made up of junior black belt 8- to 14-year-old champions from Seoul, will perform at Mt. Hood Community College from 5 to 10 p.m. The event, coordinated by the same two grandmasters who organized Olcott's recent trip, will feature traditional martial arts along with modern acrobatic board breaking, martial art forms routines and a wide variety of entertaining demonstrations.

For information about upcoming shows and opportunities to participate, or about Counter Point Martial Arts, which instructs ages 5 to adult in taekwondo, ryukyu kempo and hapkido, contact Olcott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-201-9368.

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