The birth of Spyder Korea and the success of black belt athletes such as Wanki Chae and Iseong Jang have alluded to South Korean jiu-jitsu’s potential in the past, while the recent rise of Kira Sung in out sport’s global scene has clearly defined of how far submission grappling has grown and how far it can go in the future.
The country itself has a very long history in combat sports, being the place of birth for taekwondo, as well as the All-Time #3 judo nation in the world with the 3rd most Olympic medals in this grappling style, to which we can add a history in Olympic boxing – albeit a painful one for Roy Jones Junior fans.
Given South Korea’s terrific track record as a nation and its dedication to BJJ, it was only a matter of time until breakthrough competitors started emerging with consistency. Kira Sung seems to be the one leading the pack as the first International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World Champion produced by the Asian country, a title earned in 2018 as a purple belt, going on to place 2nd (silver medal) at the 2019 event after her wins at the European Open, Asian Games (JJIF) and bronze medals at the Abu Dhabi World Pro (brown and black belt division), IBJJF NoGi World and Pan Championship.
Born and raised in Seoul, Kira’s incredible career started at the age of 16. Her boxing coach at the time was also a jiu-jitsu purple belt and watching him train sparked Sung’s interest for grappling. The appeal, however, did not come from the savviness or creativity she saw in jiu-jitsu’s techniques, but because of how it looked: “I just wanted to wear a gi” the brown belt jokingly explained to BJJ Heroes in an interview taken on May 2020.
Starting out at a local Gracie Barra academy, Kira moved to Myung Hoon Choi’s TNT Academy where her development as an athlete started taking a more serious approach. Sung started traveling around the world to compete and doing her first training camps outside South Korea, beginning a close relationship with Atos Jiu-Jitsu Academy in San Diego, where Sung claims to have met many “good influences” for her career, particularly Angelica Galvão, whom the young Korean has in very high regard.
Her travels to the United States led Kira to different grappling institutions such as Cobrinha’s academy in California and Unity in New York, among others. With the positive experiences gathered both on the competitive mats and on the training rooms, Sung opted to follow grappling as her full-time occupation by the time she was a purple belt.
It was also while challenging the world in the purple belt rank that Kira Sung chose to switch teams and join Hyuk-il Kwon’s Seorae Jiu-Jitsu. There she conquered her first world title and was later promoted to brown belt. We are currently unable to see this talented 23-year-old development given the current world situation, but as South Korea returns to competition this month, expect Miss Sung to be back on the mats, getting ready to put the middleweight division in check.
Kira Sung vs Buyandelger Battsogt