Jhoon Rhee helped make TaeKwonDo into one of the most popular forms of martial arts in the world. Having originated in Korea, and spread across the globe, it has worked its way from small villages to the Olympic Games.
Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee is widely considered to be the father of American TaeKwonDo. He was the first one to bring the ancient art to the United States.
It was the diligent work of a young man, with a passion for the art of TaeKwonDo, who against all odds brought himself – and his art – to the United States of America. Lets find out more about him.
The Early Life of Jhoon Rhee
Jhoon Rhee was born in a small village in Korea, called Sanyangri, Asan, on January 7th, 1931. It was a time of turmoil for the nation, as it was still occupied by Japanese Colonial rule. His mother a housewife, and his father a clerk at a local shop, Jhoon Rhee as born into humble beginnings. But, as his mother knew, he would grow to become a tiger.
9 months before the birth of Jhoon Rhee, his mother had a dream. Her dream was of a palace, and a roaring tiger. When she awoke, she knew that this dream meant something. Jhoon Rhee was a small boy, much smaller and weaker than other boys his age.
But Jhoon Rhee had the heart of a tiger, and he resolved from a young age to train his body and lift weights. At the age of 6, he was already determined to become stronger and faster than anyone ever dreamed of him.
Jhoon Rhee had a dream of studying the martial arts, and despite there being no schools in his village, he would do whatever it takes to train. Already, as a young boy, he was beginning to show signs of the tiger in the palace that his mother had dreamed of so long ago.
By the age of 13, Jhoon Rhee had moved to Seoul to study. This was just before one of the greatest shifts in his life would take place. It was when Jhoon Rhee had turned 14, in 1945, that Korea had earned its Independence from the rule of Japanese colonials.
This would ark the turning point for many Korean lives. Prior to this day, the Japanese rule had worked hard to suppress any and all Korean arts – martial arts among them.
When Korea had earned its Independence, a man by the name of Wan Kook Lee began to teach the ancient tradition of Korean martial arts once again. Jhoon Rhee, had finally received his chance to learn the martial arts he had always dreamed of.
When Rhee had turned 15, he enrolled in Chung Do Kwan, a TaeKwonDo school in Seoul run by Wan Kook Lee. However, Jhoon Rhee kept his training a secret from his father. for even though martial arts were no longer prohibited, they carried with them a heavy social stigma. But Jhoon Rhee would not be stopped.
In addition to martial arts, there were other forms of art and expression that were now legalized after Korea regained Independence. Cinema was among them.
Cinema was another passion that Jhoon Rhee had discovered, and would frequently sneak in to see the wonderful American movies. Falling in love with all of the wonder and beauty of American culture, Jhoon Rhee resolved that he would one day move to America himself. In order to pay for his dream, he decided that he would open his very own TaeKwonDo school in the United States.
Conflict In Korea
After years of devoting himself to the martial arts, and studying English, Jhoon Rhee had decided that he would attend University in order to further his education to pursue his dreams. However, that would all come to a halt when war in Korea broke out. Jhoon Rhee and his brother were forced to flee south, in order to hide from the North Korean Communists who were forcing their way across the country.
Jhoon Rhee would find his way to his grandfather, 90 miles south, and would take refuge underground. He hid, because he knew that he would be forced, as a young man, to fight for the North Korean Communist army. However, when the American army arrived, and pushed back the North Korean forces, Jhoon Rhee was able to emerge from hiding. He would then resolve himself to fight alongside the Americans and the British, as an English interpreter.
Arrival Of Jhoon Rhee in America
Jhoon Rhee had carved quite a bit of respect for himself in the 101st battalion of the Korean army. And after the war had ended, he decided that he would go into weather and aircraft maintenance school to further his education at last.
Just a little over a year into his education there, he heard of an opportunity to study aircraft maintenance in the United States. He couldn’t believe his dream might actually come true.
In June of 1956, Jhoon Rhee would land in San Francisco. He would then travel to Gary Air Force Base in San Marcos, Texas. It was there that he would engage in his new found studies, and slowly meet new friends and absorb into the community. Jhoon Rhee even joined the local Methodist Church. He was truly loving the life, and culture of the United States.
And, to his great luck, before his education ended and he would be forced to move back to Korea – Jhoon Rhee found an elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. Bunting, who agreed to sponsor him to stay within the United States. His stay would no longer be limited to his education, now Jhoon Rhee could stay as long as he wanted.
Jhoon Rhee Becomes The Tiger
In 1962, in Washington D.C, Jhoon Rhee finally accomplished his dream of opening his very own TaeKwonDo School. The Jhoon Rhee School of TaeKwonDo. Jhoon Rhee’s life would become far greater than he ever dreamed or imagined soon after.
From his school reaching untold success, to his own personal friendship with martial arts icon Bruce Lee, Jhoon Rhee had found success in the new world far beyond what he could have ever imagined.
Jhoon Rhee would eventually become known as one of the greatest practitioners of TaeKwonDo in the world. His legacy and memory would be honored by Grandmasters and students of the sport due to his continued pursuit of excellence.
No one had worked harder to bring TaeKwonDo to the world, than Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee. From a dream of a tiger and a palace, to becoming the tiger who built his own palace of TaeKwonDo, Jhoon Rhee ensured that he would be remembered forever.
At the age of 86 years old, on April 30th, 2018, 10th Degree Grand Master Jhoon Rhee passed away. Although he is gone, the roar of the tiger will always live on in his legacy. Without him, and his determination to become stronger than the small boy in the small village, American TaeKwonDo would not be what it is today.