Artur Chmielarz, President of the Polish Taekwondo Federation

“It’s like that African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We’re just starting to see some results from the interest that we’ve been shown by the federation, the Polish and Korean governments, and the Kukkiwon.”

On January 10, Korea Economic Daily TEN-Asia sat down to speak with President Artur Chmielarz (52) of the Polish Taekwondo Federation (PTF) at the Holiday Inn in Warsaw, Poland. When asked about the secret behind the success of the federation in Poland, which has been performing remarkably well recently, the above is how he responded.  

Last year, PTF successfully held the 2018 European Under 21 Taekwondo Championships, which was promoted by World Taekwondo Europe. After successfully bringing over and holding its first intercontinental event since its establishment, PTF was praised for elevating its position within the world of European taekwondo.

Polish Taekwondo Federation

The conferences that PTF has held for years, as well as the cultural event that the federation holds along with the Polish and Korean governments and the Kukkiwon, have played a huge part in helping PTF garner national interest. PTF holds a nationwide conference twice a year, and they have also put themselves at the forefront of the spread of taekwondo in the country by performing a demonstration every year at the annual “Korea Festival.”

The secret to Chmielarz’s success has been to establish solidarity by embracing leadership. PTF holds a conference every year in April and November that is attended by over 1,000 people including IOC members and taekwondo instructors, judges, and athletes from various places around the country.

The conference has established itself as one of the leading conferences in the European taekwondo world by bringing the federation’s executive office, local federations, and governmental agencies together to share information about competitions, judges, poomse, and doping and to discuss various topics regarding the spread and revitalization of taekwondo.

President Chmielarz is the leader that stands in the center of it all. Chmielarz is one of the figures in the European taekwondo world who has formed the closest ties with Korea. However, he did not start out on his taekwondo journey with South Korean taekwondo.

Chmielarz, who served as the vice president of PTF under the World Taekwondo Federation for two years from 2010, was a taekwondo athlete and medalist who competed in sparring and power breaking with the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) – which was once referred to as North Korean taekwondo –  from 1992 to 1998.

In the year 1998 while he was still a competing athlete himself, Chmielarz found himself taking his first steps into the world of sports administration when he was tasked with managing a technical committee. ITF’s closed administrative style and his longing to work with the Olympic taekwondo style, which is the global standard, led Chmielarz to switch over to the WTF. After serving as PTF’s vice president, Chmielarz was appointed as the president of the federation in 2012.

Since Chmielarz was appointed as the president of PTF, Polish taekwondo has made remarkable progress. There are approximately 15,000 to 20,000 registered taekwondo practitioners in Poland, and it is estimated that there are about 150 clubs in the country. These numbers are twice as high as the figures from the year after Chmielarz became the federation’s president.

“In the first year after I became president, I focused on coming up with ways to bring together the taekwondo practitioners that were scattered everywhere and have them work together. It wasn’t an easy feat since ITF held a high status in Poland at the time. The support we received from the WTF and Kukkiwon was a huge help,” recalled Chmielarz.  

Cultural exchanges also played an important part. “Years ago, the South Korean embassy in Poland and the cultural center started holding an event called the ‘Korea Festival’ every year in June. The K-pop performances and taekwondo demonstrations that take place during the festival at one of Warsaw’s public squares bring in crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 people, and they have made the festival a landmark event,” he explained.

The people of Poland have a great deal of knowledge about Korean culture and products, and they hold a positive opinion of Korean companies. As a result, a K-pop program has become a part of the regular programming on a public radio channel and has been wildly popular.

When asked what the most notable characteristic of taekwondo in Poland is, President Chielmarz responded that it is the fact that taekwondo is “learned and enjoyed by the entire family, regardless of gender or age.” This characteristic is connected to the reason why the federation has been holding the “Family Poomse Competition” for years, along with the 2016 WTF World Para-Taekwondo Championships.

“You’ll often see fathers and sons practicing together in Poland or grandfathers learning poomse with their grandchildren and going out to competitions. I will continue to work for the betterment of competitions and the spread of taekwondo.”