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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 keeping with the Korean custom of gije (once-a-year memorial for family members members who have passed on), we choose time to keep in mind an extraordinary guy with an remarkable eyesight.

Lee grew up amid the hardships of the Japanese occupation of Korea and China. In the chaos of put up-Earth War II Korea, he began finding out taekwondo to discover self-safety. At 1st he properly trained informally, but in time he was invited to train at a Chung Do Kwan branch university in Incheon. Due to the fact he had normal ability and educated constantly, he immediately earned black belt rank and commenced instructing.

In the mid-1950s, Lee used his nationwide assistance in the South Korean military, hooked up to an intelligence unit based on Baengnyeong Island. His principal obligation was as the martial arts trainer for his device. Just after his discharge from the army, Lee inevitably wound up in Osan, top a Chung Do Kwan department faculty near Osan Air Foundation.

A single of Lee’s early college students was U. S. Air Drive airman Richard Reed. At initially, Reed experienced on the air foundation less than one of Lee’s assistants, but simply because of his capability and dedication was ultimately brought to Lee’s faculty in Osan. Inevitably, Reed turned just one of Lee’s very first two non-Korean black belts. It was to Reed that Lee to start with unfolded his eyesight of educating martial arts in the United States. Lee’s objective was not merely to set up a solitary college, but to touch so quite a few individuals with martial arts that his students would unfold in excess of the complete place. Although he was doubtful about no matter whether or not Lee’s aim could be obtained, Reed agreed to support Lee emigrate to the U.S. and to aid him however he could.

Lee first came to the States in 1962. Reed, continue to in the armed service, was stationed in Omaha, so Lee joined him there and commenced to instruct in the little college Reed had proven. Lee was a charismatic and gifted instructor, and he immediately attracted a pursuing. On the other hand, he experienced only been equipped to get a visitor’s visa, and in 1963 he was forced to return to South Korea. Right after a protracted hard work, such as intervention by one of Nebraska’s senators, Lee was granted a resident alien visa in 1965.

Immediately after Lee settled in Omaha, he concentrated on developing his martial arts faculties. He also started out the Midwest Karate Federation (MKF), an umbrella group for the escalating number of martial arts educational institutions his pupils ended up opening. Owing to Lee’s hard perform, the MKF grew promptly, and created a popularity for getting 1 of the greatest-structured martial arts groups in the place.

Lee’s accomplishment captivated the notice of Typical Hong Hello Choi, President of the Intercontinental Taekwon-do Federation (ITF). The Normal had set up the ITF in 1966 and experienced been performing tirelessly to create countrywide affiliates outside Korea. He observed the MKF as a beginning point from which to develop a prospective national governing overall body for taekwondo in the U.S. In late 1968, the Normal fulfilled with Lee in Omaha, ostensibly to explore the issue. What exactly was resolved was never ever recorded. Having said that, the Normal did devote four times with Lee, educating him the 1st 16 of the Ch’ang Hon sorts in the system.

A several months later on, in 1969, the American Taekwondo Affiliation (ATA) was shaped as the initial ITF affiliate in the U.S. The MKF formed the nucleus of this new group. While he was regarded as the driving pressure powering the establishment of the ATA, and thus deserving of the title “founder,” Lee was not permitted to be the first president of the ATA. This was for cultural factors, mainly in Korean tradition, seniority is quite critical, and the senior runs the group. As a sixth degree in his 30s, Lee was not even entitled to phone himself “master” at the time (in the ITF, you desired and even now need to be a seventh degree to have that title), and there by now a number of increased-ranking instructors in the U. S.

The trouble was solved when Lee’s primary instructor, Kang Suh Chong, was persuaded (most very likely by Choi) to relocate to the U. S. Kang was a senior 8 diploma with a considerable resume: he had martial arts seniority as 1 of the first Chung Do Kwan black belts, he had used 14 years running martial arts coaching in the South Korean navy, and he was (at the time) a Choi loyalist. Because of these components, it was felt he would attract some of the extra senior Korean instructors to be a part of the ATA. Kang settled in New York Metropolis and was mounted as ATA president. Lee was named Vice President and Main of Instruction, with his Omaha university serving as the ATA’s headquarters faculty.

Lee’s position intended he in essence ran the ATA’s working day to working day functions. He produced it his private activity not just to mature the ATA, but to make it the standard for exceptional taekwondo coaching. Also, the economic hardships of the early times in Omaha — in 1962, Lee’s school’s regular gross was about $160 — had confident Lee that a martial artist should not have to reside in poverty to educate comprehensive time. As a result, with the assistance of Richard Reed, he set about constructing a guidance framework that would enable martial artists to run educational facilities entire time and make a good living. Amid the improvements had been enterprise education for school proprietors, a printed instructor manual, and a standardized teacher certification technique.

The 1970s had been a difficult time for South Korea, and for Korean martial arts in the U. S. It is out of the scope of this short article to discuss the shifting political landscape and the alliances and loyalties that had been proven and damaged in the course of that turbulent time. By 1978, the ATA seems to have broken with the ITF. Suh Chong Kang left the ATA to grow to be ITF Vice President, using a range of the remaining seniors with him. Haeng Ung Lee assumed the business office of president.

About the time he took around the ATA presidency, Lee offered his school in Omaha to one particular of his learners, and moved to Minimal Rock. When requested why he selected that certain metropolis, Lee replied that the geography reminded him wherever he grew up in Korea, but with out the cold winters. He obtained a constructing on the south facet of town that grew to become what is now the unique wing of the ATA Headquarters facility.

In the 1980s, Lee’s improvements continued. For instance, he recognized a computerized databases containing the student information of all ATA customers, which a single of the first automated records systems to incorporate coloration belt pupils as effectively as black belts. The most sizeable innovation, having said that, was the institution of the new Songahm sort system. Lee experienced extended felt the Ch’ang Hon method of kind styles did not adequately emphasize kicking in the lessen belt sorts, and that there were much too quite a few complicated hand strategies. He also wanted types that could be matched with phase sparring and sparring combos that made use of equivalent kicks this would variety a unified curriculum for just about every belt, anything not probable below the Ch’ang Hon method at the time.

By the late 1980s, Lee was suitable for promotion to ninth diploma black belt. Relatively than just assuming the rank as so many other group leaders experienced completed, he desired to display that he was deserving of the advertising and the grand learn title that came with it. There had been some controversy when he became ATA president, and he possible wished to prevent the exact same troubles with an elevation to the grand mastership. So Lee outlined a 9 step method to develop into grand learn. The first of these actions was acceptance by the ATA membership and overpowering percentage of ATA users signed the petition to grant him advertising. With the membership’s loyalty verified, Lee concluded the remaining eight measures in the method, and was acclaimed Grand Learn in 1990.

For the following 10 yrs, Lee presided over an ATA that was going through explosive progress. The quantity of lively ATA colleges grew from the 200s in 1989 to in excess of 1,000 by the year 2000. This kind of extra innovations as weapons training for black belts, an early childhood martial arts system, and a book and DVD series on the Songahm types were being illustrations of the ATA main the market with its improvements.

However, by the late 1990s Lee commenced to encounter wellness problems. He was at some point identified with most cancers, and underwent procedure. For a time, his health and fitness enhanced, but the most cancers returned in March 2000. This time, the prognosis was very poor, so he began to set his affairs in purchase, together with organizing for a transition in ATA management. On October 5, 2000, Lee dropped his battle with cancer.

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

The legacy of this amazing man is a testament to the taekwondo tenets of perseverance and indomitable spirit. In the room of forty years, his eyesight of a multitude of schools in the U. S. grew from a mere plan to the truth of the modern ATA. The politics of martial arts and post-war Korea and fluctuations in the U. S. economic system did not protect against him from bringing that vision to fact. In this, he was nicely served by his amazing charisma and humanity. He had the ability to make entire strangers feel as though he had recognised them for years. Mainly because of the excellent own loyalty he experienced crafted with so many, he was genuinely mourned on a deeply own degree by all those he had touched.

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

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