Grandmaster Won Kuk Lee

Today there are millions of practitioners of the martial art known as Tae Kwon Do.  The man most responsible for this tremendous popularity is the one who started it all, Won Kuk Lee.  He is considered the Father of Tae Kwon Do because his school was the first to openly teach martial art toward the end of World War II and the Japanese occupation.  His school, the Chung Do Kwan, was also the learning ground for many who would later form their own Kwans (or schools).  Because of his efforts, martial art training exploded across Korea and, soon after, Tae Kwon Do would swallow the globe.  Often martial art history can be sketchy because of inaccurate stories or misplaced loyalty but it undediable that Won Kuk Lee was the genesis of the Tae Kwon Do movement.  

Lee, Won Kuk was born April 13, 1907. As a young man he had an interest in the martial arts but the occupying Japaneses government banned any martial art practice or instruction. It is probable that he did practice in secret as a teenager because he told this author that when he first started training he and his first teachers would not exchange names due to possible consequences if someone got caught. In 1926, at the age of 19, Lee left Korea for Japan where he enrolled in the Law School  at Chuo University. We know that during those college years Won Kuk Lee alson enrolled in the Shotokan and studied with the great Karate pioneer Gichen Funakoshi. Sources differ as to what rank Lee attained but most point to 3rd Dan Black Belt. Also, beginning about the same time, Lee traveled around Okinawa, Japan, and China visiting many different martial arts schools including Shaolin Temples in Shanghai and Henan. His interest was in finding out other points of view about martial art training and philosophy. It seems obvious that his aim was to return to his homeland with this knowledge and begin teaching a type of martial art that emphasized good basic technique as well as an intellectual and educated approach.


                 Won Kuk returned to Korea and, in 1944, applied to the Japanese occupational government for a license to open a martial arts school. His application was turned down and so he applied again only to be rejected again. Finally, after his 3rd attempt (and partly due to a friendship with Japanese Governor General Abe), Lee was granted permission to open and begin teaching a martial arts school.  Because of this success in this many later thought that Lee was a Japanese sympathizer. In September of 1944 Won Kuk Lee began teaching his martial art system in the Yung Shin School Gymnasium. This was located in Sa De Mun, Oh Chun Dong District of Seoul. His vision was to create a martial art style of purity and depth that had an irresistable and unstoppable force. Therefore he coined the name Blue Wave Institute  (Chung Do Kwan in Korean language). Blue symbolizing a pure and deep body of water (body of knowledge) while the Wave connoted the kind of relentless energy he wanted for his teaching. He called his art "Tang Soo Do" which is the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese Kanji characters for Kara-Te (Karate). This he did, no doubt, in deference to his teacher, Gichen Funakoski.


                 In 1945 Korea gained its independence and Won Kuk Lee was immediately put on trial for his association with the Japanese. During this time of hardship his Chung Do Kwan was temporarily closed but reopened again when Lee was acquitted a short time later. When the Chung Do Kwan reopened in 1946 Won Kuk Lee became very involved with the Korean National Police in helping rid the country of gangs and organized crime. Because of this tight alliance his school became known as the National Police Martial Art Academy.

Won Kuk Lee went on to lead the Chung Do Kwan to prominence in Korea. In addition to having the first school, he also had the biggest with many sources citiing tthat he had over 50, 000 students in his Main school and affiliated branches during the high point of the Chung Do Kwan. And, in the 1940s and early 1950s his teaching was considered to be the best and most authentic. A large percentage of the other Kwans (Schools) to follow were founded by former students of Won Kuk Lee. Nearly every other style or form of Tae Kwon Do has been influenced in some measure by Grandmaster Won Kuk Lee and his efforts in pioneering Korean martial art. In 1951 Lee retired from active teaching-handing the reins of leadership of the Chung Do Kwan to his student Duk Sung Son. He spent the next years traveling and visiting his many students, including Yong Taek Chung, who were now Tae Kwon Do Masters spreading this knowledge all over the world. One highlight for Grandmaster Lee was a friendship with General William Westmoreland and acting as the martial art instructor to U.S. troops during the Vietnemese War. This association led to Westmoreland inviting Won Kuk Lee to move to the United States and so Grandmaster Lee and his wife settled in Arlington, Virginia in 1976. Lee lived in and around the Washington, D.C. area for the rest of his life.


Grandmaster Won Kuk Lee died on February 2, 2003 from pneumonia at nearly 96 years of age.  The eulogy at his funeral was given by his student, Yong Taek Chung.














Sabu Nim Yong Taek Chung

Yong Taek Chung was born in Seoul, Korea on March 3, 1921.  While his family had been highly respected and part of the educated class they lost everything during the Japanese occupation and, like most during that time, struggled for survival.  Master Yong Taek Chung became interested in martial art as a child.  However,  it was illegal at that time to openly teach or learn martial art in Korea.  Not until he was a young man, at the age of 19, did Master Yong Taek Chung begin to train in the art of  Tang Soo Do under the instruction of Won Kuk Lee.  Some time later, after martial art training became legal, Master Yong Taek Chung became the 7th student to graduate and earn his Black Belt in the Chung Do Kwan.  Many stories and legends about Master Yong Taek Chung circulated among the later Chung Do Kwan students and he was to become almost a mythic figure because of his exploits.  Especially his involvement in helping rid Korea of organized crime and also aiding in the anti-communist effort.  Mr. Chung was to remain one of Lee's top students and keep a close relationship with his instructor for the rest of his life.  After Won Kuk Lee retired and moved to Japan Mr. Chung soon followed his teacher, settling in Tokyo and opening the first Chung Do Kwan Branch Club outside of Korea.  In 1955 the Chung Do Kwan (like all Korean martial arts schools) officially adopted the name "Tae Kwon Do" for their martial art curriculum and so Master Chung found himself in Japan teaching a Korean martial art.


                 Yong Taek Chung quickly established himself as a major figure in the Tokyo martial arts community serving as president of the All Japan Tae Kwon Do Association.   In 1959, while still in Tokyo, Master Chung won the prestigious Tournament of Masters. This was an extraordinary feat since Masters of other martial arts styles from all over the world were invited. 

In 1974 Master Chung decided to bring his expertise to the United States. After looking at several potential cities he decided that the midwestern area appealed to his taste most and so Yong Taek Chung settled in Kansas City, Missouri and opened Chung's Karate School at 514 West 75th Street.  Later, Master Chung opened a second location in Overland Park, Kansas.  In addition to teaching at his two mains school he oversaw branch clubs all over the Kansas City metropolitan area.


                 During Master Chung's time in Tokyo as well as in Kansas City he would regularly receive visits from his old instructor, Great Grand Master Won Kuk Lee.  It was during one of these visits in 1984 that Master Chung received the rank of 9th Dan Black Belt as well as the official title of World Wide Director of the Chung Do Kwan from Great Grand Master Lee.  In 1988 Grand Master Chung retired from teaching, turning his schools over to his students, and moved to Garden Grove, California.


                 Not one to remain inactive Yong Taek Chung often travelled and would visit his students' schools in Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri for belt exams, workshops, camps, seminars, and tournaments.  He eventually began to prefer the title "Sabu Nim" which simply means "Teacher." But this unassuming title understated his depth of skill and experience.  Even in retirement Yong Taek Chung spent the next 19 years helping students, instructors, and Masters continue developing their skill and understanding of Tae Kwon Do.  As one of the few 9th Degree Black Belts world wide Yong Taek Chung devoted his entire life to the mastery and teaching of  Tae Kwon Do.  With over 50 years of teaching experience and literally thousands of students to his credit, Grandmaster Chung has directly affected the lives of many who will always be in his debt.  It is because of his lifelong efforts that we are here today. We thank you, our Teacher!


Yong Taek Chung passed away in Fountain Valley, California on November 11, 2006.



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Kwanzaa Martial Arts

Kwanzaa Martial Arts Academy

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