SEOUL, Nov 8 – Head butting stacked tiles, smashing a slab of granite on your chest with a mallet, breaking light bulbs with one finger. All vital qualifications if you want a job protecting the elite of North Korea. Propaganda footage from North Korean TV shows a staggering array of physical feats, using taekwondo and other martial arts. Visually impressive — although it’s not certain how the skills would keep an armed assassin at bay.
Lee Young-guk was bodyguard to the late Kim Jong Il for 10 years until just before he took control of North Korea. He says he went through very similar training before he was considered fit to protect a leader. “It’s tough training,” says Lee. “But why do it? It’s to build up loyalty. A handgun won’t win a war and taekwondo serves nothing but the spirit, but it creates loyalty.”