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Korea’s Legendary Breaker

Kim Hong-yul, better known by his stage name, Hong 10, became a professional b-boy as a teenager and has never looked back, winning multiple world titles. Now he has his sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Kim Hong-yul's picture1

Participants cheer on Hong 10 as he shows off one of his signature moves, supported just by his fingers, during the Red Bull BC One Camp Poland, held in Gdańsk in 2021.
ⓒ Lukasz Nazdraczew, Red Bull Content Pool

2023 was a banner year for Kim Hong-yul, better known as Hong 10, the face of Korean b-boying. Despite an injury suffered the previous year and the rust of the subsequent layoff, he managed to win a silver medal at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Weeks later, he triumphed at the Red Bull BC One World Final, the largest and most prestigious international breaking competition.

The Red Bull title was Hong 10’s third at the event, adding to his 2006 and 2013 championships. The victory etched his name in the record books alongside Menno van Gorp of the Netherlands for the highest number of wins accomplished at the elite competition. This achievement effectively means that Hong 10 now ranks among the world’s top b-boys (break-boys).

Breaking developed on the streets of U.S. cities in the 1970s and 1980s. By the next decade, it had grabbed the attention of Korean youth, including Hong 10, a middle schooler at the time. He invented his stage name after hearing b-boys from abroad struggle to pronounce the last syllable of his given name. He chose “10” because it is a homonym for “yul,” the native Korean word for “ten.”

Professional breaking requires an extreme blend of strength, balance, and flexibility, and a dash of innovative flair. The signature moves of the highly inventive Hong 10 include the “Hong 10 Freeze,” an inverted headstand with his legs moving quickly to the music, and the “Two-finger Freeze,” an upside-down position supported by only two fingers of both hands. Top gymnasts must possess similar athleticism, as their floor exercise and pommel horse events resemble breaker moves. Most of them retire by their mid-20s but Hong 10, who is already 38 years old, continues to push forward. The injuries have been adding up, but he hopes to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

How did you feel after winning your third Red Bull BC One crown?

After finishing second in 2016, I had the feeling it might be difficult for me to ever be champion again. That’s why I chose to take a break from competing for a while. I was invited again in 2022, but since I wasn’ t in perfect shape, there was no way I could go. Making my comeback last year after being away for so long felt great in and of itself, but being able to win on top of that made me very happy.

Kim Hong-yul's picture2

Weeks after winning a silver medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023, Hong 10 took first place at the Red Bull BC One World Final. The championship put him alongside Dutch b-boy Menno van Gorp for the most wins ever recorded in the prestigious competition.

Please describe the Red Bull final.

I wasn’ t feeling my best then, either. I had been dealing with a knee injury before the competition, and I still had some lingering fatigue from participating in the Asian Games only two weeks prior. Strangely enough, though, I was in such a great mood throughout the whole competition that I didn’t feel nervous at all. In the final, I faced off against Phil Wizard, a fellow member of the Red Bull BC One All Stars team and a good friend of mine. Competing with him allowed me to enjoy myself, which must have had a positive impact on my performance.

What got you into breaking?

I developed an interest after seeing some friends break in my second year of middle school and decided to give it a try myself. One thing I like about breaking is the sense of exhilaration you get when you manage to pull off a technically challenging move. When I first got started, I found great pleasure in learning all sorts of new moves, but as time went by, I felt the urge to develop my own style. This led me to start creating my own moves, and since it was a lot of fun, I just kept at it.

How do you invent new moves?

Creating your own moves comes with its share of challenges. There’s no fixed formula. It’s difficult to invent something different. And even if you can come up with a great idea, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be physically capable of executing it. That's why it isn’t easy to even one or two new moves a year. I always jot down ideas before experimenting with them, but this rarely ever leads to success. You just need to persevere and keep trying regardless of the outcome. I think the only reason I’ve been able to keep at it for so long is because I enjoy the process of creating something new.

Have you ever been in a slump?

I briefly stepped away from b-boying in 2003. The previous year, I had participated in famous international competitions, including the Battle of the Year and the UK B-Boy Championships, events I had known only through videos and ended up winning. It felt like a dream come true, and I found myself wondering what to do next. I took a break and worked a part-time job for about six months. Then, some friends came up to me one day to ask me to join their team for an upcoming competition. Preparing for that event allowed me to rediscover my profound love for breaking. Since then, whenever I feel that I’m in a downtrend, I redouble my efforts to improve myself rather than taking time off.

Please tell us about your Asian Games medal.

Initially, I didn’t grasp the full scale of the Asian Games, so I didn’t attach much importance to being selected to represent South Korea. However, once the competition got underway, I realized the seriousness of the event, and I began to feel mounting pressure and expectations. Unluckily for me, I had suffered a bad knee injury only two weeks earlier, and despite my best efforts to recover in time, it wasn’t enough. I had no choice but to push through with the help of painkillers.

The competition took place over two days. On the first day, my only goal was to survive, and I did just that. On the second day, the first opponent I came up against was Amir Zakirov (stage name Amir) from Kazakhstan, who was considered one of the favorites to win it all. I decided to focus on executing the routine I had prepared instead of thinking about winning, and that gave me the boost of confidence I needed to come out on top. I went on to face Nakarai Shigeyuki (stage name Shigekix) from Japan in the final but had to settle for second place after losing by a single vote, leaving me a bit disappointed.

strikes a pose during a practice session at a rehearsal studio in Seoul’s Hongdae

Hong 10, a member of the FLOWXL crew, strikes a pose during a practice session at a rehearsal studio in Seoul’s Hongdae neighborhood. A breaker since his mid-teens, Hong 10 has been in the international b-boy limelight for over two decades.

How are you preparing for the 2024 Olympics?

If I want to make it to the Olympics, I’ll need to do well in the qualifiers that take place in May and June. Only by securing a spot in the top ten will I be eligible to compete in Paris. That’s why my current focus is on achieving a good result in the qualifiers.

How much longer do you plan to compete?

The roots of breaking are found in a combative culture. To quit would mean no longer participating in battles. Even if I continue to stay involved in breaking — for instance, as a judge — I’ll have to stop competing eventually. If I ever started battling simply to enjoy myself rather than to win, I think that could also be seen as a form of retirement. I’m not sure how much longer I can continue showing up in battles, but I’d like to keep breaking for as long as I can. That said, considering how hard I’ve been pushing, I’d like to take a little break after the Olympics.

What do you hope your legacy to be?

I hope people will remember me as someone who did his best to change the breaking scene in Korea. Compared with other countries, we don’t have as many young b-boys here. I’m thinking about ways to attract more young people to the sport. While I don’t have a concrete plan yet, I’m on the lookout for new ideas. I also have my own signature moves like the Hong 10 Freeze, which I hope will live on long after people have forgotten about me. That’s the most I could ask for.

Yun DanwooDance Critic
Heo Dong-wuk Photographer


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