Grand Master Lee, Won Kuk

Grand Master Lee, Won Kuk

Chung Do Kwan was officially formed in 1944 by Grand Master Won Kuk Lee (April 13th 1907 – February 2nd 2003). The name Chung Do literally translates to ‘The Way of the Blue Wave’, Kwan translates to simply, club. According to sources Master Lee came up with the name whilst sitting on a beach watching the ocean. The name symbolises calmness and control until disturbed at which time destructive power is unleashed. The word DO (probably the most important in Taekwondo) means correct way both in teachings and life.

Many more kwans were developed after 1944 however, Chung Do Kwan is the oldest. Chung Do Kwan was and is respected for producing the most technical students and for being the most disciplined. Grand Master Lee was concerned that many Koreans associated martial arts with organized crime, so he would not accept troublemakers or criminals into the Chung Do Kwan, and enforced a strict code of conduct on his students.

From the beginning:

Grandmaster Lee, Won Kuk was born April 13, 1907. As a young man he always had a love for the martial arts however, due to the Japanese occupation of Korea, it was forbidden to teach or study any martial art. Outside of Korea though was a different story and Grand Master Lee, started his martial training whilst studying at the Central University law School in Japan.

Whilst he was there during the 1920’s he studied what is now known as Shotokan Karate-do with Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan system. After graduating from college, Lee settled in Japan and although experimented in other martial arts, Shotokan remained his primary focus, and he eventually reached the rank of fourth degree black belt (at the time, the highest rank was fifth degree, which only Funakoshi himself held).

After achieving his black belt Grand Master Lee decided to return to Korea and show his people the martial arts he had learnt under the name Tang Soo Do later to become known as Tae Kwon Do.

“I practiced Tang Soo Do and came to realize this type of skill was very important to have. I became aware that our Korean national history and legacy of martial arts were being kept from us. I felt very bad about this.”(Master Lee)

In 1944 Grand Master Lee was forced to leave Japan due to the ongoing American bombardment of Toyko. He returned back to Seoul and applied to the occupation government to be permitted to teach the martial arts. The Japanese had allowed Koreans to study arts such as judo and kendo under Japanese instructors beginning in 1943, but they were cautious about approving a school led by a Korean, and Lee was refused twice. However the third time, he was approved with the help of the Japanese Governor General Abe.

It was a dark time for Grand Master Lee as he was truly regretful for having a relationship General Abe. Though it may not have been the way Grand Master Lee would have liked it, he taught the art of Tang Soo Do for the first time in Korea at the Yung Shin School Gymnasium in Sa De Mun, Seoul. This was the first of many dojangs to be opened.

Grand Master Lee was a popular instructor, and the Chung Do Kwan grew rapidly. However, his long residence in Japan and the fact that he had run a Japanese-sanctioned organisation during the war caused many to view him with suspicion. In 1945, he was charged with being a Japanese collaborator. Although was acquitted, and his popularity remained relatively unaffected, the allegations of collaboration would be used against him later.

By the late 1940s, the Chung Do Kwan had over 5,000 students and because his dojang was located not far from the Korean National Police headquarters, he had attracted many police officers as students. His popularity as an instructor and his strong ties with the police caught the attention of Yi Seungman (South Korea’s first post war president), who offered Grand Master Lee the position of Minister of Interior. Lee refused, feeling this was an attempt to force him to approve the party in power, and fearing his students would be pressed into service as “muscle” for the regime. In retaliation, President Yi brought back the old charges of being a Japanese collaborator. He was declared an enemy of the state and imprisoned. In 1950 Lee was released and fled to Japan, where he lived as a political refugee.

When he left Korea, he appointed his senior student Yoo Ung Jun to succeed him as Kwan Jang of the Chung Do Kwan. Yoo instead became a supporter of North Korea and eventually the position went to Son Duk Sung. Son was succeeded as President of the Chung Do Kwan by Uhm Woon Kyu in 1959.

(Grand Master Uhm continues as the Chung Do Kwan President to this day and also serves as President of the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters).

In 1976, Grand Master Lee immigrated to the United States, where he continued to teach taekwondo and was eventually promoted to tenth degree black belt.

In an era when millions of people practice taekwondo, it’s easy to forget that this martial art would not have evolved to where it is without the effort of a small group of courageous and determined pioneers. Grand Master Lee Won Kuk left a huge legacy. Many of his students went on to found their own kwans in Korea. Some, like Jhoon Rhee, were directly responsible for bringing taekwondo to other countries. Lee’s students were major players in the founding of both the World Taekwondo Federation and the International Taekwon-Do Federation. In the United States, such major organizations as the American Taekwondo Association and the United States Chung Do Kwan Association have direct roots in the Chung Do Kwan. From the founding of that one small training hall in 1944, Won Kuk Lee’s influence has extended to literally millions of taekwondo practitioners, making him a key figure in the art’s establishment and growth.