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Father and son building a tae kwon do legacy

Tae Kwon Do University owner Henry Giles, right, is recovering from a kidney transplant but will still test for his eighth-degree black belt. His son, Henry Giles Jr., left, says his dad has been an inspiration.


Tae Kwon Do University owner Henry Giles, right, is recovering from a kidney transplant but will still test for his eighth-degree black belt. His son, Henry Giles Jr., left, says his dad has been an inspiration.

Times Staff Writer


Inside the office of Tae Kwon Do University, owner and instructor Henry Giles has boxes full of framed certificates waiting to be hung. They're awards for advancement in the Korean martial art.

Most are his, but some belong to his son, Henry Giles Jr. The father-son duo hopes to add to the collection as they take part next weekend in an unusual feat: the elder will test for his eighth-degree black belt; the younger for his fifth.

It usually takes 40 and 15 years, respectively, to reach such levels, said Dan Levenson, Henry Giles' longtime training partner and test organizer.

"It's rare, that out of all the people who even start tae kwon do, that anybody even comes close to reaching fifth degree, saying nothing about eighth degree," said Levenson, holder of a seventh-degree belt.

The elder Giles, 63, is considered a grand master at his Brandon school. With his next belt he will earn the same title throughout the sport, something he says doesn't happen often in the United States.

Most Americans quit when they get older, "not realizing that the whole reason for starting it in the first place was to make it a life-long endeavor," said Giles, who began tae kwon do in the late 1960s.

He trained in Vietnam while in the Air Force and became the military world champion in 1973.

Aside from the fact that the father and son will test together at the master level (fifth degree and above), what's unique is that the elder Giles can't perform the test's physical portions because he is recovering from a kidney transplant that took place in July.

Because Giles has physical limitations, the World Taekwondo Federation will allow his students and Levenson to assist him. About 40 black belts from local schools will demonstrate his effectiveness as a teacher.

Normally, he would have to break stacks of bricks and stones with his hands.

"Which I'm capable of," he said, "but I better not do because it requires so much body torque."

He already completed one part of the test. Using his engineering background, Giles wrote a thesis on science in tae kwon do. He has an engineering degree from the University of South Florida.

Giles Jr. will demonstrate some of the more complex motions his dad once mastered. During his test, he'll do a series of kicks and breaks, in addition to sparring, or fighting.

Along with his siblings, Giles Jr. grew up around tae kwon do. He started at age 3 and went on to win national competitions as a kid. Now 25, he is the lead instructor at the family's school.

Testing together for another black belt is just one way he's trying to continue his father's legacy.

"Not too many people get to experience this," said Giles Jr., who ran the school while his dad was hospitalized during unexpected follow-up operations. "To see him rebound from it is awesome."

If not for his physical shape, Giles doesn't think he would have survived the complications after his transplant. Eventually, he could get back to normal activity, but in the meantime he'll keep teaching.

"It's hard because I like to be active," he said. "I still do the kicks with the class, but I do it gingerly, not like I used to."

Kevin Smetana can be reached at or (813) 661-2439.

fast facts

If you go

Henry Giles and his son Henry Jr. will test together for their next black belts in tae kwon do. The elder Giles, 63, is up for his eighth-degree belt, while the younger, 25, goes for his fifth. The tests, which are open to the public, are at 5 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Boys & Girls Clubs, 1301 N Boulevard, Tampa.

About the Giles' school

Tae Kwon Do University, open to kids and adults, is at 3320 S Kings Ave., Brandon. (813) 657-9000.

Father and son building a tae kwon do legacy 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:30am]
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