In this month’s “Useless Facts” article I was originally I was planning on continuing with some additional interesting tidbits about Judo. (Like how it influenced Sherlock Holmes!) But I realized with belt graduation coming this Saturday, this is a great time to talk about Jhoon Rhee.
Jhoon Rhee was born in South Korea in 1932 and began training in Tang Soo Do; the style of Tang Soo Do that he taught was later known as Taekwondo. Rhee moved to the United States in 1956, and although he began a thriving martial arts club in Texas, he opened his first U.S. based commercial school in Washington D.C. in 1963. “I fought the Korean war side by side with American soldiers who came to defend my motherland,” Rhee said. “That touched me. I wanted to pay this nation back with what I do best: Taekwondo.” For his tireless work spreading the art of Taekwondo throughout the United States, at a time when there were very few schools in the country, he became known as the “Father of American Taekwondo.”
Other Interesting Notes about Jhoon Rhee:
In the 1960’s, Jhoon Rhee befriended an up and coming movie star by the name of Bruce Lee. The two trained together extensively. Bruce Lee was credited with improving Rhee’s punching skills and speed, while Jhoon Rhee is often credited with improving Lee’s high kicking skills (a trademark of Taekwondo).
Jhoon Rhee met Muhammad Ali and shared with him the punching skills that Bruce Lee had taught him. Ultimately Rhee served as head coach for Muhammad Ali’s fights with Richard Dunn, and Antonio Inoki.
Rhee started the “Congressional Taekwondo Club” where he taught for 45 years. Lawmakers from both parties and from the House and Senate rose before dawn, to train with Rhee three days a week. Over the decades he taught over 400 congressional students.
Jhoon Rhee created and developed the first “dipped foam” padded gloves that allowed for semi-contact fighting and sparring. Although they evolved somewhat over the years, they are largely the same gloves and boots and we use in sparring class today!
Jhoon Rhee created a series of forms called “Martial Ballet.” This included a number of katas or forms that were set to music. Rudyard Kipling said, in his poem The Ballad of East and West, that the “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Either inspired or challenged by this quote, Jhoon Rhee felt that he wanted to marry his Eastern culture with this Western nation he loved so much. And so in his Martial Ballet series he created a form called “The Marriage of East and West.” It is a Taekwondo form (an Eastern creation) he set to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (classical music being a Western creation). At the upcoming graduation on November 9th, you can see our black belt students perform The Marriage of East and West!