Bartlett couple Sara and Choung-Soo Ko run a successful martial arts academy in Atoka for more than a decade. Choung-Soo has achieved the rank of Senior Master in taekwondo recently winning two world championships in Little Rock, Ark.

Bartlett resident brings world championships back to Atoka dojo

Bartlett couple Sara and Choung-Soo Ko have run a successful martial arts academy in Atoka for more than a decade. Choung-Soo has achieved the rank of Senior Master in taekwondo, recently winning two world championships in Little Rock, Ark. Photo by Thomas Sellers Jr.

ATOKA – Maybe the sweetest world championship for Sr. Master Choung-Soo Ko came in 2006 for a competition where he didn’t physically participate.

Ko has brought back several American Taekwondo Association World Championships since he started competing nearly 20 years ago, including a pair earlier this month. But watching his student Michelle Willemssen reached her dream of participating in the World Championships 12 years ago is one of his biggest success stories.

“She asked me, ‘Can I do it? Can I become a world champion?’” Ko recalled. “Of course I said, ‘You can do it.’ I am her instructor. What was I supposed to say? I had the confidence in her. And she had the confidence.”

Willemssen came to Ko out of shape and lacking the confidence to deal with her everyday life. After she talked the taekwondo instructor into giving her private lessons at his newly owned Master Ko’s ATA Martial Arts in Atoka, Willemssen kept improving. She dropped more than 100 pounds and developed skills to reach a competitive level.

Ko had the opportunity to train Willemssen for nearly three years because he made the decision to buy the training facility he started 19 years ago on July 19.

“I first came to the United States in 1999,” he said. “I came to Millington, Tenn. I first worked under Mr. Stewart Howard. Then later I took over his school and then I started teaching here.

“I could not let the students that were already here down,” Ko added. “I had to stay here for the students at that time.”

Ko moved from the original Atoka location to the current home of Master Ko’s ATA Martial Arts at 100 Commercial Drive off Highway 51 North.

With more than 40 years in the discipline, the Bartlett resident brings his knowledge of taekwondo to about 100 students ranging from four years old to more than 60.

The staff of instructors includes his wife, Sara Ko. Their children, SunMi Ko and HamMi Ko, are assistant instructors. Also teaching at the academy are Joseph Gueary, David Reynolds, Noah Duenas and Zakia Canada.

Ko said he has a wonderful staff with various backgrounds that relate to anyone interested in joining. Personally, he loves the chance to share his knowledge, training and even stories of how he grew up.

Anyone learning under Ko will gain knowledge from a master of the martial form and a multiple-times world champion. In 2017, he brought home five titles.

At this past ATA Martial Arts World Expo in Little Rock, Ark., held July 11-15, Ko was the winner of Traditional Form and Traditional Weapon. He took silver in Sparring.

The World Championships feature more than 2,100 participants over the four days.

Ko said about half of his students in Atoka are competitive. But all of them benefit from his main mission of teaching the discipline.

“First of all, no matter what age they are, it builds their confidence,” he said. “It’s not about fighting or somebody hitting. It’s about living life with confidence. They’re training mental, physical and emotionally.

“If they build up confidence, they can be better at school, their job and at home,” Ko concluded. “It’s all about building confidence. Then there is discipline.”

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to