Fighter Gains Respect for Refusing Bout : Taekwondo: Following custom, Fujii deferred to an older foe during team trials for Pan-Am Games, but wonders if he made the right decision.


He is the national champion of his weight class, the male athlete of the year in his sport. Yet for all the honors that have been bestowed on Scott Fujii for winning taekwondo bouts, he is perhaps most respected for a fight he refused to wage.

Last month, during team trials to determine the U.S. team for the Pan American Games, Fujii was to be matched against Han Won Lee in the finals of the bantamweight division.

Instead, Fujii bowed out--though healthy and injury free.

A fighter from another sport would probably be mocked for such a move, which could be construed as a show of cowardice.

Fujii was praised.

"He bowed out because of his respect for (Lee)," said Dae Sung Lee (no relation), the Olympic Committee taekwondo coach based at the sport's training center in Colorado Springs. "He gave his honor to him. In how many other sports would a person show such honor?"

For Han Won Lee, 28, a longtime competitor at the national level, the Pan-Am Games next month will be a grand finale. Even before the team trials, he had announced that he would retire at the end of the year.

Fujii bowing to Han Won Lee as his senior, an older and more experienced adversary, is a traditionally appropriate gesture in the ancient Korean martial arts form of taekwondo.

Fujii, 22, of Agoura, is considered a fighter just coming into his prime. And for now, that knowledge is his only comfort.

So while Han Won Lee prepares to attend the prestigious event, to be held in Havana next month, Fujii is left at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where he will be competing today in the Olympic Festival.

The American-born Fujii still wonders whether he made the correct decision.

"There were two sides to this," he said Thursday after a practice session at USC. "A lot of the judges and masters, they were impressed. But a lot of people who have been supporting me for a long time, like my family, they were kind of disappointed.

"They know I worked hard for so long just to get there and then I had to give up without a fight. It was a tough decision."

Actually, bowing to Han Won Lee was the idea of Hyon Lee (again, no relation), Fujii's close friend and training partner.

"(Hyon Lee) thought it would be best if I bowed out because (Han Won Lee) has been fighting for so long and this is his last year and he wanted to fight at the Pan-Am Games," Fujii said. "So I trusted his judgment and just hope that if I made the wrong decision that something good will come out of it one day."

That day could be coming soon, which is another reason why Dae Sung Lee, the USOC coach, is convinced that Fujii made the correct choice.

"What he did came from the heart," said Lee, a 13-time national champion. "He is young. His time will come and it will be long."

In May, Fujii, 5-foot-6 and 127 pounds at peak condition, won his first national championship and was the surprise choice as the United States Taekwondo Union's male athlete of the year. In three previous tries, his best finish at the nationals had been fifth.

Today's competition in the Dominguez Hills gymnasium marks Fujii's Olympic Festival debut, and he is happy it comes before a hometown crowd.

"Up until this year, I would come home from a major competition thinking I didn't do my best, which was very hard for me to accept," Fujii said. "My family was always there to support me. Now that I got over that, I feel good because I can give something back to them."

Fujii's mother, Irene, perhaps deserves extra credit.

Knowing her son had a hot temper and also aware that as a soccer player he was adept kicking with either foot, Irene Fujii set out to find a martial arts form with which Scott could successfully blend both characteristics.

Taekwondo, which in Korean means "the way of the foot and hand" became the answer.

"I had that temper and we lived in an all-white neighborhood and I used to get teased at school once in a while," Scott Fujii said. "My mother was afraid I would eventually get in trouble. And she knew I was going to be small when I grew up, so she didn't want to have to worry about me all the time."

Fortunately, Fujii has never been forced to make use of his skill in public.

"When I really got into it and started practicing every day, I developed quite a bit more self-confidence," Fujii said. "If a person made a smart remark, it was easy to walk away because I had nothing to prove."

At least not to just any loose-lipped smart-aleck. There is, however, a matter of proving himself as the nation's top bantamweight, even if coaches and friends already are confident.

"Right now he is the best," Lee, the coach, said. "He will be our man in 1992" where taekwondo will be a demonstration sport at the Olympics in Barcelona.

Fujii can only hope. Only then will he be convinced that his decision to pass on a chance to compete in the Pan-Am Games was correct.

There is talk that the eight weight classifications for competition may be trimmed to four for the Olympics.

"If that happens, people will be going up or down a division and that is going to make it twice as competitive," Fujii said. "So when I think about it now, I say, 'I should have fought.' My main goal this year was to gain experience and by bowing out I didn't do that."

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