Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee strived to make the world a better place by teaching the values of life through martial arts, and was one of the original pioneers to bring martial arts to America by founding the American Taekwondo Association, the World Traditional Taekwondo Union, and Songahm Taekwondo Federation, all of which preside over 300,000 members worldwide including schools in South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, United States, and Canada.
The students of Eternal Grand Master Lee include over 60,000 black belts and over 3,000 certified instructors in more than over 1,000 schools and clubs in the U.S. alone and more than 1,500 internationally.
Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee passed away on October 5, 2000 after a hard fought battle with cancer. He left his legacy to the hundreds of thousands of Songahm students across the world.
Bio & Philosophy:
Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee was born in Manchuria, China on July 20, 1936, with his family relocating back to Korea soon after World War II. Beginning his martial arts training in 1953, he received his first degree black belt in 1954. He graduated from high school and entered the Korean Army as a Taekwondo trainer for special troops in 1956 retiring from the army three years later to open a Taekwondo school at Osan Air Force Base.
While teaching at his school on the military base, Eternal Grand Master Lee met and trained American serviceman Richard Reed. When it came time for Reed to return to the states, he invited Eternal Grand Master Lee to join him. Eternal Grand Master came to the United States in 1962, established himself as a Taekwondo instructor in Omaha, Nebraska where he and (now) Chief Master Reed became partners in a martial arts school, and became a U.S. citizen in 1973.
In 1969, he founded the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). Taekwondo schools began opening all over the country. During his years in Omaha, Eternal Grand Master Lee wrote the first instructor manual, which was introduced in 1973. This manual provided information and procedures that standardized the inner workings of each ATA school.
With the growing number of schools in the ATA, Eternal Grand Master Lee recognized that to help support all the new school owners and to enhance their ability to succeed, business support was going to be very important. In 1978, he introduced the first ATA School Operations Manual and started to provide more professional and complete business support. This support has continued to grow and expand through the years.
Through the early years of the ATA, the Chang Hun style of forms (used by the International Taekwondo Federation) was used as part of the curriculum. Even though this style was widely accepted in the Taekwondo community, Eternal Grand Master Lee knew that these forms were strongly influenced by the Japanese style of martial arts and did not truly reflect Taekwondo or the strength and beauty of its kicking techniques. After much research and input from association seniors, Eternal Grand Master Lee introduced the Songahm style of Taekwondo to the world. It was a very early Saturday morning, August 13, 1983 atop Songahm Mountain in Arkansas that Grand Master Lee taught the first group of 300 masters and instructors Songahm #1 (white belt), Songahm #2 (orange belt), and Songahm #3 (yellow belt). He continued to develop and improve the complete curriculum of Songahm Taekwondo throughout his life.
In 1990, then Master H.U. Lee, tested before his Songahm family for the distinguished rank of 9th Degree Black Belt. A petition was signed by over 100,000 members of the ATA for Master Lee to be honored with the title of Grand Master. The year of 1990 was significant because it marked the completion of the development of the 17 Songahm Taekwondo forms that would take a student from White Belt through testing for 9th Degree Black Belt. It had taken Grand Master Lee 20 years to complete this part of his vision for traditional Taekwondo. Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee is now heralded by the world to be the first and only Master in history to acquire the rank and honor of 9th degree Grand Master under public documentation.
Under the direction and dedication of Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee, the ATA supported (and continues to support) numerous charitable organizations, especially the Muscular Dystrophy Association. For three consecutive years – 1987, 1988, and 1989 – the ATA received the Muscular Dystrophy Association Award and has donated over $1.5 million to help fight the illness. Other non-profits supported by ATA and its licensees have included Autism Speaks, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, D.A.R.E. and Special Olympics. ATA fund-raisers are also held for the D.A.R.E. Program, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and Arkansas Special Olympics. Grand Master Lee is was also involved in the Sister City Program between Little Rock and Hanam City, Korea. Grand Master Lee and the ATA are workeding with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in their fight against breast cancer.
In 1988, Grand Master received the High Profile Award from Arkansas Business. Through the years he also received other honors including Key of the City Awards from Omaha, Nebraska; Corpus Christi, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Evansville, Indiana; Tallahassee, Florida; and Panama City, Florida. Because of his support of the city of Little Rock with his many civic activities and the impact that the Songahm Taekwondo World Championships has on this city, the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau presented Eternal Grand Master with the Kaleidoscope Award in 1994 and the Crystal Award in 1996.
Eternal Grand Master Lee was presented with the most prestigious Highest Profile Award of any Korean outside of Korea by the President of the Republic of Korea (1996); and was the recipient of the Korean Broadcasting System’s Cultural Promotion Award (1997) which is valued at approximately $100,000. In November of 1997, Grand Master Lee was named to the Arkansas Athletic Commission. In 1999, after being a nominee for several years, the ATA and Grand Master Lee were awarded the prestigious Arkansas Business of the Year Award by the state of Arkansas. In 2011, HU Lee was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame – the first martial artist to be recognized by a sport hall of fame.
In 1999, Eternal Grand Master Lee acted on his motto, “Today not possible, Tomorrow possible,” when he escorted a group of instructors to the communist state of North Korea. He is recognized by state officials as being one to help bring peace between the two Koreas. The President of Korea, Dae Jung Kim awarded Grand Master Lee with the highest Humanitarian Award possible, and the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, sanctioned close advisor, Mayor Jim Dailey, to messenger a personal letter to the family of ATA at Grand Master Lee’s funeral.
Grand Master H.U. Lee’s personal motto, “Today not Possible, Tomorrow Possible,” made him successful in many ways. The international media recognized his prestigious feats as a human being and his humanitarian efforts. The Korean media has produced many shows and full-length documentaries, including the award winning “Success Story,” by KBS on the life and achievements of Grand Master Lee. In the United States, he made appearances on many news programs and talk shows including “Live With Regis and Kathy Lee!,” The Jerry Lee Lewis Show, and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” His son, Taekwon Lee produced and finished a full hour documentary film on Grand Master Lee’s life and the story of the ATA titled “Today Not Possible, Tomorrow Possible”.
After 64 years of humanitarian efforts and achievements, Grand Master Lee passed away on October 5, 2000 after a valiant battle against cancer. Over a thousand students and members of his international family gathered in his beloved hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas to wish him farewell at his beautiful funeral ceremony. Eternal Grand Master Lee is survived by his wife Mrs. Sun Cha Lee and four children, David, Flora, Lisa, and L. Taekwon. Many Grand Masters of martial arts including Grand Master Joon Rhee and Grand Master Bong Soo Han, gathered to pay respect to Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee They formally sanctioned a petition to elevate the Songahm Grand Master to 10th degree black belt, Eternal Grand Master, the highest position attainable outside the philosophy of Songahm Taekwondo