The Iron Butterfly

Way back in June I read The Iron Butterfly: Memoir of a Martial Arts Master by Choon-Ok Harmon with Ana María Rodríguez for the 48 Hour Book Challenge.
It is a powerful book and I wanted to tell you more about it. Because I normally review children’s books, just be aware that some of the events in Harmon’s life are traumatic, including a sexual attack, and it is for more mature readers.

The Iron Butterfly is a memoir by a woman who, against great odds, became a master of the Korean martial art, Kuk Sool Won. Born during the economic turmoil of post-war Korea, Choon-Ok survived an impoverished childhood where her family had to scrounge for food to have one meager meal per day. She was not allowed to attend school because her family had no money to pay the fees. When her family moved to the city, she wanted to study martial arts. She had an opportunity to learn when her sister married Chief Master of a school. Eventually she came to the United States via an arranged marriage to an American who studied the same form of martial arts. Yes, the two of them corresponded by mail and had only met once before she came to the United States to be married!

Once married, the two continued to hone their martial arts skills and also developed and still run adojang (a school) for Kuk Sool Won. Despite many obstacles, Choon-Ok Harmon was promoted to Ninth Dahn in 2008, making her the highest ranked woman in her field of martial arts.

The book is illustrated with numerous black and white photographs. Also included is a an appendix with “Favorite Korean and American Recipes,” more information about Korean female divers or Haenyo (Choon-Ok Harmon’s mother was one of these special divers), and suggestions for further reading.

Curious about the martial art Kuk Sool Won, I found this video. Based on the photographs in the book, it appears that both Choon-Ok Harmon and her husband are in the video, although they are not identified.


This memoir is an inspiring testament to the strength of one woman’s spirit that will stick with you long after reading it.

For more videos :
Interview with authors

Demonstration of Kuk Sool Won by the Harmons

Iron Butterfly book trailer

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Pelican Publishing (February 8, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781589808904
ISBN-13: 978-1589808904

3 Replies to “The Iron Butterfly”

  1. Dear Roberta:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comments about my books: “The Iron Butterfly”, “Austism Spectrum Disorders”, and “Secret of the Puking Penguins…and More.” It would be a pleasure to meet you in person one day.

    Ana Maria Rodriguez

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