Grand Master Soon Ho Lee sits at the head of the country’s largest single system martial arts organization, the American Taekwondo Association. His historic inauguration to the esteemed position of Grand Master of Songahm Taekwondo brought people from around the world to the ATA’s World Championships in June, 2002. Since that day he has traveled the world to honor his pledge to dedicate his life to the more than 300,000 Songahm Taekwondo members worldwide; the same Songahm family that signed a petition in his honor.
During his first year as Grand Master he has not only trained literally thousands of students and instructors in over 16 countries around the world, he has also come to a higher level of understanding for the sacrifice his brother, the late Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee made each day to care for the worldwide Songahm Taekwondo family.
Songahm Taekwondo and the American Taekwondo Association Songahm Taekwondo is the foundation of the American Taekwondo Association’s rank curriculum and teaching system. In addition, the ATA has developed a 300-hour intensive internship for martial art instructor development and certification. The American Taekwondo Association or ATA, as it is recognized around the world, was originally founded in 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska. Since the first ATA school was opened by the ATA’s founder and Grand Master Soon Ho Lee’s older brother, the late Grand Master H.U. Lee, over 300,000 men, women and children from ages 3 to over 70 have made ATA training a part of their lives.
Today Grand Master Soon Ho Lee oversees an organization with over 1,500 schools and clubs in more than 16 countries worldwide. Headquartered out of the International Songahm Taekwondo office located in Little Rock, Arkansas, he directs and mentors over 100 Songahm Masters.
Coming to America
In 1969, Grand Master Soon Ho Lee joined Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee in the United States. Grand Master Soon Ho Lee’s original goal was simply to expand his academic opportunities. He actually had no intentions to make martial arts a career, but felt duty bound to help his brother and became just as passionate to build this new organization of professional martial arts instructors. Though he was extremely talented, his older brother would push him each day to improve both physically and mentally. Looking back he now knows even at the early stage of training his brother was preparing him for what would become his life, his love and his destiny as Grand Master of Songahm Taekwondo. After only a short month and a half, his brother pushed him to open his first club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact as Grand Master Soon Ho Lee recalls, his brother just told him one day “let’s go” and it was only after they arrived in Milwaukee his brother told him of the goal to open his first club. This one club became a school and soon thereafter grew into three schools.
In 1978, he would move his family to Panama City, Florida and build what was at the time an 8,000 square foot state of the art training facility, which would include a complete fitness center and Taekwondo training center.
That training center was the center point of growth for the southeastern part of the United States. It would also become an international training center for instructors from Korea, South America, and many other international instructor development programs.
The success of his Panama City, Florida location allowed him to travel both nationally and internationally as needed for the initial push needed for the future growth of the ATA.
Looking back at each new obstacle and challenge from those early days helped him to develop the patience and mindset that would be required of him in his position as Grand Master.
Accepting His Destiny and the Nine Steps to Becoming the Grand Master
Though he realized it was his destiny to accept the position of Grand Master of Songahm Taekwondo, the news of his older brother’s illness hurt him deeply. Grand Master Soon Ho Lee explains, “My brother was my hero, my mentor, and my best friend. He was the Grand Master! He could not be ill, he surely could not die! My brother was like Superman to me and I knew he always trained hard, ate right and took great care of himself. We had traveled so many miles together and still had so many miles to go.”
As with the opening of his first school in Milwaukee, he soon found himself promising his brother that the vision would continue. He would leave his home in Panama City, Florida and dedicate his life even further to keeping the ATA and the worldwide Songahm family moving forward.
He would now have to complete the same Nine Steps his brother had some 10 years earlier when he became the first Grand Master of Songahm Taekwondo.
The following includes the Nine Steps Grand Master Soon Ho Lee completed and a short explanation of each step:
Step 1: The Grand Master notifies the Master’s Council in writing that he will be stepping down from the duties and responsibilities of Grand Master. In his letter, the Grand Master would make a recommendation for his successor. If the Grand Master cannot decide on a nomination, the nomination would come from the Master’s Council.
**In instances of death, illness, or in the cases of expulsion, the three highest-ranking members of the Master’s Council would perform all duties, providing that they are not the nominees for Grand Master.
Step 2: The Master’s Council must approve the candidate 100%. Once approved, the Grand Master candidate would be asked to have a complete physical. Not only must he or she pass, but also their fitness level should place them in the top ten percent of their age group. Once a candidate is approved and has passed the physical, step two would be complete.
Step 3: As Grand Master H.U. Lee did, the new nominee must circulate a petition signed by 300,000 students, or sixty percent of the current Songahm membership. Every Songahm Master, Instructor, School Owner, Club Owner, and Member would participate in the process of gathering signatures. A complete list of all signatures would become a part of the permanent record, and would be displayed with the first letters so that all will know that step three has been completed.
Step 4: As Grand Master H.U. Lee did, the candidate will fast for twenty-one days during the preparation. Preparation will be broken down into four training quarters: fasting three days the first quarter, six days the second quarter, nine days the third quarter, and three days the fourth quarter just before the Grand Master ceremony. Each quarter, fasting will be documented and confirmed by a member of the Master’s Council. These documents will be placed in the museum as each quarter is completed.
Step 5: The Grand Master candidate must spend three days at the same Korean temple as Grand Master H.U. Lee did prior to his Grand Mastership. The candidate must participate in the same rituals and meditations, with silence as the goal for the nominee during these three days. A Master’s Council member will be there to document the first words spoken by the future Grand Master. These first words will be spoken from the same special rock used by Grand Master H.U. Lee at the Palace of the Warriors. It was on this rock, selected by Grand Master H.U. Lee, that he and most Senior Masters made a personal pledge of dedication, sacrifice, and focus on Songahm’s future.
Step 6: To ensure a “Strong Body and Clear Mind” the candidate will train daily, both physically and mentally. In addition, the candidate will train one day as a student with each member of the Master’s Council. The candidate must be able to fully appreciate the role of both student and instructor. Not only will the candidate gain new knowledge, but he or she will help create a tremendous force of synergy to help ensure a clear path for the leaders of the organization. The Council will train all future Masters in the name of Grand Master H.U. Lee.
Daily training will include the following: The candidate must master a Pro-Tech weapon of his/her choice. The selection will be announced and documented by the Master’s Council with a letter to be displayed at the museum. This weapon must become a part of his/her daily routine.
The candidate must learn and practice the ninth degree form that Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee performed for his own testing and promotion to Grand Master. The form is to be practiced in its entirety ninety-nine times throughout the year.
Step 7: The candidate must perform the ninth degree Grand Master form at Songahm World Championships. He/she must also perform a personal demonstration with the weapon of choice and breaking. The demonstration must be performed with great ceremony and humility.
Step 8: The previous Grand Master or the complete Master’s Council shall preside over the coronation and testing of the new Grand Master. Part of the ceremony will include the reading of all previous Grand Master names, and years holding the position, even if in the future there are hundreds of names in a thousand years. This list should start with Grand Master H.U. Lee. We cannot truly see the future without complete and accurate knowledge of the past.
Step 9: The presentation of the new Grand Master in his new black uniform by the current Grand Master, or by the complete Master’s Council to the family and students of Songahm shall take place at the beginning of the Master’s ceremony.
All steps having been completed, Grand Master Soon Ho Lee was elevated to the esteemed position of Grand Master during a special ceremony and inauguration attended by VIP’s and special guest from around the world.
The Vision Tour: “There is always more to Learn”
Grand Master Soon Ho Lee has set out on a Vision Tour across the country and eventually around the world. His goal is to touch as many members of the Songahm family as possible. This tour includes special training for students, instructors and masters focused on traditional values and building better leaders for the future. Grand Master Soon Ho Lee believes there has never been a time in history when the need for positive people and strong leaders has been greater as it is now.
His brother changed the lives of all those he touched by making them believe “Today not Possible, Tomorrow Possible.” Grand Master Soon Ho Lee is working to continue that philosophy by adding “That as long as we know there is always more to learn tomorrow, anything is possible.”