Eternal Grandmaster Haeng Ung Lee

27 May 2001

Grandmaster Haeng Ung Lee died in October 2000, after losing a battle with cancer. Some call him a visionary -- I don't really know if I'd call him a visionary or not. But the results of his life's work are certainly impressive.

Taekwondo is a very modern martial arts style. It's existence is not even 50 years old (at the time of this writing). It is a mixture of previously existing Korean styles, and draws heavily upon Japanese and Chinese arts. In many senses it is certainly a mongrel.

Grandmaster Lee recognized that TKD needed its own roots -- something to truly distinguish it from the other styles. So he created the Songahm teaching style that exists today. [Yes -- he had help from others in creating the parts, but he appears to have been the originating and driving force. In that he may have been a visionary.]

He re-created TKD from something borrowed and bastardized into something original, effectively transforming a mongrel into a purebred.

He built two impressive things -- Songahm Taekwondo the art, and Songahm Taekwondo the business. I can't say for sure whether the business grew out of the art or the art grew out of the business.

Either way, Grandmaster Lee left his mark on the world. His passing dims the light. I wish I could have met him.

23 January 2003

Nearly two years have passed since I recorded my first thoughts regarding the Eternal Grandmaster Haeng Ung Lee. [Note: Haeng Ung Lee is commonly referred to as the "Eternal Grandmaster" to distinguish him from In Ho Lee, his brother, who was elected the new grandmaster to replace him.]

I have changed my mind about him. I was quite wrong on one major point: Grandmaster Lee was a visionary!

We have studied his origins in the Professional Instructor Training Program, and taken a look at where Songahm Taekwondo started and where it is now. I have a much better view of Taekwondo and the Songahm corporation.

As I wrote above, Taekwondo was really a mongrel when it started. It was often referred to as "Korean Karate", and in many ways it was barely distinguishable from Japanese Karate. The forms were "borrowed" from Japanese and Chinese sources, and the techniques were not really all that different, with the exception that kicking was emphasized.

But Taekwondo has evolved during its nearly 50 year life span. The kicks have gotten much more involved and complicated, and the strength and balance required to do some advanced kicks makes all the basic kicks that much more powerful.

What does this have to do with my view of the Eternal Grandmaster?

A lot. While Taekwondo as a whole was evolving, he evolved his part of it faster. He rejected the "traditional" forms and built his own. He replaced the "traditional" methods of teaching with a new system that made teaching easier, both for the instructor and for the student.

[When I say that "he" did these things, it doesn't mean Grandmaster Lee did them all by himself. He had the assistance of his masters, but his was the vision and the driving force.]

Lots of martial arts leaders imprint their own mark on what they teach. Sometimes they improve things. Often it is done merely to sooth their egos. [Yes -- the martial arts world certainly has enough overwhelming ego trips!]

But Grandmaster Lee had a vision, one of a much better future for Taekwondo. Instead of just putting his mark on the existing wheel, he completely reinvented it. His wheel was so new and improved, that while it did the same job the old one did, internally it was so different and improved that it almost couldn't be called a wheel.

Gone were ...

So what replaced all this?

Yeah -- the Eternal Grandmaster was certainly a visionary. His vision carried him from a poor village in Korea to become the founder and leader of such a large organization.

Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas