11 March 2022

The Grand Master Interviews: Mr Jack Rozinszky

Mr Jack Rozinszky is a man who needs no introductions. Considered by many as the godfather of Taekwondo in Australia, Mr Rozinszky was an early pioneer in martial arts and now a well-respected Grand Master with a 9th Dan Black Belt Jidokwan and 9th Dan Kukkiwon, and a member of the World Taekwondo Hall of Fame.

While the history of Taekwondo in Australia is a little vague and with many individuals having their own interpretation of how Taekwondo came to be, there is no denying that Mr Rozinszky has played an enormous role in the development of Taekwondo in Australia.

Mr Rozinszky has played an enormous role in the development of Taekwondo in Australia.
Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

Escaping communist Hungary during the 1956 revolution at 16 and migrating to Australia two years later, Mr Rozinszky arrived in Melbourne and integrated into the local Hungarian community. With a strong interest in wrestling and gymnastics, Mr Rozinszky sought a place to train in martial arts, which was relatively unknown in Australia at the time.

With training options limited, Mr Rozinszky came across a Jujitsu and Karate club called the Silver Top Taxi Club. As the name suggests, the club was frequented by Melbourne taxi drivers who were seeking ways to defend themselves, with many being mugged during their shift.

"I came to Australia after the revolution. We started training ourselves without any instructors. It was self-defence, karate style, exercise, and then I decided I'd learn," said Mr Rozinszky.

"We would practice for at least three hours a day or night; we practised blocking, kicking, and punching techniques because that's all we had. There was no competition; it was only self-defence."

The Silver Top Taxi Club was where Mr Rozinszky had his first taste of martial arts in Australia. Mr Rozinszky, who was always keen to spar, would often scout the local shipping docks searching for overseas martial artists and invite them to train at the Silver Top Taxi Club.

"The Silver Top Taxi Club was the beginning of martial arts in Melbourne; it's where everything started. The Japanese were here in the early days and all the karate instructors that you can name, the best ones, were on the ships, and we got to fight them. We didn't know what the hell karate was. There were no rules to protect us, nothing, we just needed our hands and feet, that's all."

In 1962, Mr Rozinszky opened his own club in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda and the first Taekwondo club in Australia. Club patronage grew quickly, and before long, larger premises were required.

"We had 30 members on the floor, and everybody practised together, from beginners right through to seniors. The instructors then encouraged me to open a club in the city because we were operating in the local church hall."

Mr. Jack Rozinszky with Grand Master Lee Chong-Woo Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

Korea sought to expand Taekwondo across the world. Mr Rozinszky was one of the early adopters to visit Korea to train at the Jidokwan, one of the original nine schools of modern Korean martial arts. During this trip, which was on his Honeymoon with his new wife Valerie, he met Grand Master Lee Chong-Woo, the head of Jidokwan.

"When we got to Korea, I wanted to find a club. We were staying at the YMCA and the staff said there was a Taekwondo association headquarters within walking distance. So, I've walked in there and said I was from Australia and would like to practice Taekwondo. Mr Beyong Ro happened to be at the headquarters and said, come with me, I'll take you to a club and introduce you to Grand Master Lee Chong-Woo."

"From there, I started training. It was the middle of summer, and I was training in 39 degrees and 99 per cent humidity. I trained in three classes, one after the other, with different people, and you had to survive. We had to fight everyone. The first week I kicked so hard my knee came apart. I couldn't bend it, and I had to fight on one leg."

"There was no drink break either, so three hours without the drink break. I'd run back to the YMCA and there was a young Korean who used to sell ice blocks and watermelon in the tub, and I'd buy the whole lot and drink it; I was that thirsty."

During this trip, Mr Rozinszky found himself undertaking a demonstration in Seoul at the US Military Base. He was graded a 1st Dan Black Belt during this trip, which was presented to him by Grand Master Lee Chong-Woo. The Korea Taekwondo Association also issued Mr Rozinszky a Registered Gymnasium Licence and the first in Australia.

Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

Upon returning home to Australia, Mr Rozinszky started teaching Taekwondo at his club. By 1970, the club had opened as a full-time school at a permanent location in the heart of Melbourne, with a second school following soon after in Camberwell.

The popularity of Taekwondo grew steadily and the coming together of instructors, who met regularly, saw the Australian Taekwondo Association form in 1974. Two years later, Mr Rozinszky was awarded a citation for Taekwondo development from the World Taekwondo Federation and graduated from their international referee course. By 1979, Mr Rozinszky was graded a 4th Dan Black Belt, the first in Australia, and recognised as a Head Instructor who was able to grade his own students.

By the early 1980s, Taekwondo had expanded significantly across the western world. The first World Games were held in California, which featured sports that were not included in the Olympics, such as Taekwondo. Mr Rozinszky, who was the team manager, led the Australian Taekwondo team and saw Australian athletes compete in eight of the ten weight categories.

Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

By this time, Mr Rozinszky had received his Kukkiwon 5th Dan Black Belt and the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre had become one of Australia's largest and most successful clubs. In 1988, Mr Rozinszky was awarded a Graduate Certificate from the World Taekwondo Federation for Poomsae and Referee Training, plus a citation for the Olympic Games in Seoul for his outstanding contribution to the development of techniques and promotion of Taekwondo as a world sport. Taekwondo made its first Olympic appearance as a demonstration sport at Seoul. In 1992 at the Barcelona Olympics, Melbourne Taekwondo Centre had a club member in the heavyweight division.

Mr Rozinszky continued to travel with the Australian Taekwondo Team to Championship events worldwide and continued to invest time into his referee education. By 1994, eleven years after he gained his Kukkiwon 5th Dan Black Belt, Mr Rozinszky progressed to a 6th Dan.

With the new millennium looming, Mr Rozinszky ended the 1990s as Blitz Magazine's Instructor of the Year, induction into the Australian Taekwondo Hall of Fame and awarded Jidokwan 8th Dan Black Belt to become the highest-ranked non-Korean born Taekwondo practitioner in Australia. By now, Mr Rozinszky and the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre had formed strong ties with Korea and offered students the chance to experience authentic Korean training.

Over the past 30 years, Mr Rozinszky has been privileged to have guided several of Australia's top athletes who have progressed to the world stage and competed at World Championships, Asian Games, and Olympic games.

"I'm proud of our club, the results speak for themselves. We have three World Champions across all three disciplines; able body, Para-Taekwondo and Technical Taekwondo, no one in the world would have that."

Fast forward to 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 hit Victoria and a State of Emergency declared, Mr Rozinszky celebrated his 80th Birthday. The Melbourne Taekwondo Centre organised the 806 event which recognised Mr Rozinszky's 80th year and six decades of the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre. Over 500 Black Belts come together in one place, members past and present, including those who started with the club in the early 1970s, to celebrate two incredible milestones in Australian Taekwondo history.

Melbourne Taekwondo Centre's 806 event in 2020. Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

Today, Mr Rozinszky reflects fondly on his journey and what Taekwondo has brought to his life. "I think the most significant moment was when I received my Black Belt from Grand Master Lee Chong-Woo. We had a three-hour grading and all the instructors in the club at that time had to watch, and then he corrected every movement at the time. All the other instructors were very envious because I was the only one he put the belt around. That was the greatest moment in my life, in terms of Taekwondo."

Three generations. Mr. Rozinszky with son Andrew and granddaughter Eleah. Image supplied © Mr. Jack Rozinszky / Melbourne Taekwondo Centre

This belt presentation tradition has followed through at the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre, with this moment inspiring a practice that was used until 2019, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

While Mr Rozinszky's proudest moments in Taekwondo have been receiving his first 9th Dan Black Belt and the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre's 806 event, family has been the most important thing, and Mr Rozinszky is incredibly proud to see three generations of Black Belts at the Melbourne Taekwondo Centre, son Andrew and granddaughter Eleah.

"Having a family and Andrew now taking the rains has been the biggest thing; that's the most significant. I feel a very fortunate man to have met and been around so many beautiful people."