History of Taekwondo in the USA

Taekwondo was introduced in the United States by several Koreans during the 1950’s and 60’s, mostly through demonstrations and training to U.S. Soldiers at various military bases in America. At that time, other Martial Art systems of Judo, Japanese Karate, and even Kung Fu was popular in the U.S., and servicemen from WWII, had brought much of that back from Japan and China, along with their Asian instructors who immigrated to America. After the Korean War (1950 – 1953) the same thing happened with Taekwondo. Master Jhoon Rhee was considered the first Korean to establish an organization in America, and he was originally a student of the Chung Do Kwan in Korea. Grandmaster Sell began his Chung Do Kwan Academy in Trenton, Michigan in 1967, and it grew into the United States Chung Do Kwan Association. Haeng Ung Lee was a student of the Chung Do Kwan, and he co-founded the American Taekwondo Association in 1969 with Great-Grandmaster Suh-Chong Kang (also a high ranking graduate of the Chung Do Kwan). The ATA spread like wildfire across the U.S. during the 1970’s as franchised schools were created, and failing Karate schools were adopted, and labeled as ATA branches.

As the term “Taekwondo” became well known throughout the 70’s and 80’s in America, more and more Korean Taekwondo Masters of all Kwan backgrounds established their stronghold in various states from the East Coast (New York) down to Florida, to the Midwest (Chicago, Illinois), out to the West Coast in the state of California. Taekwondo schools of one association or another sprang up in virtually every city in every state of the Unites States. Where the phone books used to show multiple Karate, judo, and Kung Fu Dojos, suddenly there were only a few of those, and the phone books listed dozens of Taekwondo Dojang.

Unfortunately, with the popularity, there was a need and consumer demand, but no legal regulations. Anyone with minimal to no training at all could open a school and claim to be a “Taekwondo Black Belt.” When that didn’t attract enough attention to them, it was nothing for them to start claiming to being “Masters” and “Grandmasters” of their own Taekwondo organizations. Even if someone had been a certified instructor in the ATA, ITF, or some other recognized organization, many of them quit before reaching a Master’s level, and started their own independent associations and federations, often uniting with other wayward schools who had done the same thing. Now there are more improperly run, uncertified schools, than legitimate ones, but a few associations have created strong organizational structures, with well-established Black Belt curriculum, and Instructor training and certification courses.

By Chief Master Darwin J. Eisenhart – Taekwondo 7th Dan with the United States Chung Do Kwan Association