By Keith M. Stillwell
Grand Master Soon Ho Lee
9th Degree Black Belt
Dae Sah-Boo Nim of ATA/WTTU/STF
Martial arts history is being made in the largest centrally-administered martial arts organization in the world, the American Taekwondo Association (ATA), founded in 1969 and based in Little Rock, Arkansas, since 1977. The power and glory of the international association's top position - and its awesome responsibilities - will soon be passed from one capable leader to another. A great vision was originated long ago by Korean immigrant Haeng Ung Lee, who in the year 2000 was posthumously honored with the title of Eternal Grand Master and unique rank of 10th Degree Black Belt. The vision of sharing Songahm Taekwondo worldwide has been faithfully and honorably carried forward in the past decade by Grand Master Soon Ho Lee. He will soon become the association's first Grand Master Emeritus, passing the mantle of leadership to younger brother Chief Master In Ho Lee.
In a year-long epic of personal challenges and traditional ceremonies spanning four continents, Grand Master Soon Ho Lee, 9th Degree Black Belt, is currently training, counseling and guiding Grand Master Nominee Chief Master In Ho Lee, 8th Degree Black Belt, to meet or exceed the many requirements of the esteemed rank and position. Presiding over roughly a quarter million Taekwondo students and thousands of Masters, instructors and school owners across the globe demands the Grand Master maintain pristine physical and mental condition at all times, no easy feat at any age. He or she must serve as the martial arts system's ultimate teacher, ambassador and role model, leading a chaste but hectic lifestyle inspiring all students to follow 'The Way' of traditional Taekwondo.
Though Eternal Grand Master crafted and fulfilled the original nine (9) steps required for advancement to the title of Grand Master Instructor of Songahm Taekwondo, and though he had always trained his right hand man and brother, Soon Ho, no one was ready for him to pass away. "Eternal Grand Master helped his whole family and many others succeed, which ATA now does for many more. He struggled and sacrificed much along the way. I was dedicated to him in a support role, but when he passed I didn't feel worthy or prepared. Everyone was grieving our big loss. The transition was difficult, but helped along by the Masters' Council and other instructors," recalls Grand Master Soon Ho Lee. "I have been working to make this (upcoming) transition go more easily, and of course Chief Master In Ho is a truly great follower and leader."
The history of the Songahm Taekwondo organization is an incredible saga recounting an original 20th century American Dream, forged in the cold fires of calamitous world events, by conquest of unique opportunities, collaboration of industry pioneers, the brilliant mind, tough body and boundless heart of one visionary legend, and certainly by Providence. It's a wonderful story still unfolding, full of possibilities. As Grand Master Soon Ho Lee prepares his successor and reflects on the growth of both family and system under his watch, his natural humility is tempered with a hint of pride.
While he looks forward to a slightly more relaxed pace upon official retirement in June, Grand Master Soon Ho Lee expresses neither desire nor intent to lessen his dedication to the Songahm family or his work . "As long as the body is moving, it must be serving and helping," he says. "I am so grateful for the experiences of my life and career, but my dream now is only to keep helping. I want to stay healthy and to make an even larger contribution to the Songahm family (owners, instructors and students), to keep showing them the way as long as possible." Such genuine passion for humble, dutiful giving, for creating leaders who make other leaders, could be the apex of a life lead in the Songahm spirit, a noble, indomitable spirit that pursues an everlasting vision of Songahm Taekwondo shared with all people.
Read a recent profile of Grand Master Soon Ho Lee.