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Taekwondo Pioneers: Haeng Ung Lee

Taekwondo Pioneers: Haeng Ung Lee

Oct 5, 2010, was the tenth anniversary of the passing of Haeng Ung Lee (1936-2000), founder of the American Taekwondo Affiliation. In holding with the Korean tradition of gije (annual memorial for loved ones members who have passed on), we just take time to keep in mind an amazing person with an incredible vision.

Lee grew up amid the hardships of the Japanese profession of Korea and China. In the chaos of publish-Entire world War II Korea, he began studying taekwondo to study self-defense. At to start with he trained informally, but in time he was invited to educate at a Chung Do Kwan branch university in Incheon. Due to the fact he experienced purely natural capability and qualified consistently, he quickly gained black belt rank and began training.

In the mid-1950s, Lee expended his national support in the South Korean military, attached to an intelligence unit dependent on Baengnyeong Island. His most important obligation was as the martial arts coach for his device. Right after his discharge from the military, Lee finally wound up in Osan, major a Chung Do Kwan department school in the vicinity of Osan Air Base.

One of Lee’s early learners was U. S. Air Force airman Richard Reed. At to start with, Reed educated on the air base below one particular of Lee’s assistants, but simply because of his capability and determination was ultimately introduced to Lee’s faculty in Osan. Eventually, Reed became one particular of Lee’s 1st two non-Korean black belts. It was to Reed that Lee initially unfolded his vision of training martial arts in the United States. Lee’s objective was not only to create a one faculty, but to contact so lots of men and women with martial arts that his college students would spread over the total nation. Even though he was doubtful about regardless of whether or not Lee’s intention could be attained, Reed agreed to aid Lee emigrate to the U.S. and to assist him nonetheless he could.

Lee first came to the States in 1962. Reed, however in the military services, was stationed in Omaha, so Lee joined him there and started to teach in the modest faculty Reed experienced established. Lee was a charismatic and gifted instructor, and he promptly attracted a pursuing. On the other hand, he experienced only been in a position to get a visitor’s visa, and in 1963 he was forced to return to South Korea. Immediately after a protracted effort and hard work, together with intervention by one particular of Nebraska’s senators, Lee was granted a resident alien visa in 1965.

Just after Lee settled in Omaha, he concentrated on developing his martial arts educational facilities. He also began the Midwest Karate Federation (MKF), an umbrella business for the rising number of martial arts universities his pupils ended up opening. Thanks to Lee’s really hard work, the MKF grew speedily, and developed a status for getting just one of the ideal-arranged martial arts groups in the state.

Lee’s results attracted the interest of Standard Hong Hi Choi, President of the Worldwide Taekwon-do Federation (ITF). The General had set up the ITF in 1966 and had been operating tirelessly to build nationwide affiliates outside Korea. He saw the MKF as a starting off issue from which to create a potential countrywide governing physique for taekwondo in the U.S. In late 1968, the General met with Lee in Omaha, ostensibly to focus on the concern. What particularly was determined was hardly ever recorded. Having said that, the Standard did devote four times with Lee, instructing him the initial 16 of the Ch’ang Hon sorts in the method.

A number of months later on, in 1969, the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) was shaped as the initial ITF affiliate in the U.S. The MKF fashioned the nucleus of this new organization. Whilst he was deemed the driving force behind the establishment of the ATA, and as a result deserving of the title “founder,” Lee was not permitted to be the first president of the ATA. This was for cultural explanations, primarily in Korean lifestyle, seniority is quite essential, and the senior runs the business. As a sixth degree in his 30s, Lee was not even entitled to connect with himself “grasp” at the time (in the ITF, you required and however will need to be a seventh diploma to carry that title), and there by now a number of better-rating instructors in the U. S.

The problem was solved when Lee’s authentic instructor, Kang Suh Chong, was persuaded (most very likely by Choi) to relocate to the U. S. Kang was a senior 8 degree with a significant resume: he had martial arts seniority as a single of the initial Chung Do Kwan black belts, he had expended 14 several years operating martial arts instruction in the South Korean military, and he was (at the time) a Choi loyalist. Since of these aspects, it was felt he would attract some of the additional senior Korean instructors to sign up for the ATA. Kang settled in New York City and was installed as ATA president. Lee was named Vice President and Chief of Instruction, with his Omaha school serving as the ATA’s headquarters faculty.

Lee’s placement meant he essentially ran the ATA’s working day to day functions. He produced it his individual task not just to expand the ATA, but to make it the typical for remarkable taekwondo education. Also, the financial hardships of the early times in Omaha — in 1962, Lee’s school’s regular gross was about $160 — had certain Lee that a martial artist must not have to are living in poverty to educate entire time. Consequently, with the support of Richard Reed, he established about developing a aid structure that would enable martial artists to operate educational facilities comprehensive time and make a good dwelling. Amid the innovations have been business enterprise education for faculty proprietors, a printed instructor manual, and a standardized teacher certification program.

The 1970s were a challenging time for South Korea, and for Korean martial arts in the U. S. It is out of the scope of this report to discuss the shifting political landscape and the alliances and loyalties that ended up proven and damaged through that turbulent time. By 1978, the ATA seems to have damaged with the ITF. Suh Chong Kang left the ATA to grow to be ITF Vice President, using a variety of the remaining seniors with him. Haeng Ung Lee assumed the workplace of president.

About the time he took about the ATA presidency, Lee bought his college in Omaha to a single of his learners, and moved to Very little Rock. When requested why he selected that distinct metropolis, Lee replied that the geography reminded him wherever he grew up in Korea, but devoid of the cold winters. He acquired a setting up on the south aspect of town that grew to become what is right now the unique wing of the ATA Headquarters facility.

In the 1980s, Lee’s improvements continued. For illustration, he founded a computerized databases containing the scholar records of all ATA associates, which one of the very first automated information methods to include color belt college students as nicely as black belts. The most important innovation, however, was the institution of the new Songahm type technique. Lee experienced prolonged felt the Ch’ang Hon method of sort patterns did not adequately emphasize kicking in the lessen belt forms, and that there had been as well several sophisticated hand strategies. He also wished kinds that could be matched with step sparring and sparring combinations that made use of identical kicks this would form a unified curriculum for every single belt, a little something not doable less than the Ch’ang Hon process at the time.

By the late 1980s, Lee was suitable for marketing to ninth degree black belt. Instead than only assuming the rank as so a lot of other organization leaders experienced finished, he required to show that he was worthy of the promotion and the grand learn title that came with it. There experienced been some controversy when he grew to become ATA president, and he likely wanted to keep away from the similar troubles with an elevation to the grand mastership. So Lee outlined a nine phase system to develop into grand master. The initial of these actions was acceptance by the ATA membership and frustrating share of ATA associates signed the petition to grant him promotion. With the membership’s loyalty confirmed, Lee concluded the remaining eight techniques in the procedure, and was acclaimed Grand Grasp in 1990.

For the up coming ten many years, Lee presided over an ATA that was encountering explosive expansion. The quantity of active ATA educational institutions grew from the 200s in 1989 to about 1,000 by the year 2000. These kinds of supplemental innovations as weapons schooling for black belts, an early childhood martial arts system, and a book and DVD series on the Songahm varieties were being illustrations of the ATA top the field with its improvements.

However, by the late 1990s Lee started to knowledge wellness problems. He was sooner or later identified with cancer, and underwent procedure. For a time, his health improved, but the most cancers returned in March 2000. This time, the prognosis was poor, so he commenced to established his affairs in get, together with preparing for a transition in ATA leadership. On October 5, 2000, Lee missing his battle with most cancers.

In June 2001, Lee was memorialized with a posthumous promotion to tenth diploma black belt, with the title “Everlasting Grand Grasp.” The advertising documents ended up signed by a selection of legendary practitioners of Korean martial arts, these kinds of as Jhoon Rhee and Bong Soo Han.

The legacy of this amazing man is a testomony to the taekwondo tenets of perseverance and indomitable spirit. In the space of forty a long time, his eyesight of a multitude of faculties in the U. S. grew from a mere strategy to the fact of the contemporary ATA. The politics of martial arts and post-war Korea and fluctuations in the U. S. economic climate did not stop him from bringing that eyesight to reality. In this, he was effectively served by his extraordinary charisma and humanity. He had the potential to make complete strangers sense as while he experienced acknowledged them for yrs. Simply because of the terrific personalized loyalty he had built with so many, he was truly mourned on a deeply particular level by individuals he had touched.

And so to honor the tenth anniversary of Haeng Ung Lee’s passing, we say, “Suseung-nim, khamsa hamnida.”