This is a short biography of the Grand Master who introduced Taekwondo to Canada in 1964. How did this small immigrant conquer such an impressive geographical territory with his art? What is the magic behind his relationship of love and respect with Quebecois and Canadians? The following lines will provide some answers.
Chong Lee (Jong Soo Lee) was born on April 19 1938 in Korea, the only son of a family of four children. Against his father’s wishes, a black belt second dan in Judo, he started to learn Taekwondo with Grand Master Chong Woo Lee tenth dan. His young uncle paid for the lessons.
For a young boy of ten, it was not easy to keep such a secret. There were many difficulties to overcome. He had to hide his uniform in the trunk of a tree or in a secret place. Obviously it was out of the question to wash his uniform at home. When he was lucky, he was able to wash it at a friend’s home. Sometimes, when the unpleasant smell drew mean looks from other students, he risked bringing his uniform to wash it, hoping not to be discovered.
He was a ten year old child with a fighting spirit, driven by uncommon determination and courage; a young child who trained without any encouragement from his family, and ready to pay the price to follow his heart.
In order to keep his secret, he bent to his father’s will and studied Judo, first at home and than officially in a school, at the age of twelve. He eventually obtained his red belt and would undoubtedly have carried on with Judo had his father not discovered his secret.
After four years of training and two failed exams, Chong Lee earned his black belt in Taekwondo. In spite of this success, he still could not bring himself to face his father with this fait accompli. His father learned the truth accidentally, when Chong was obliged to bring his uniform home to wash it. The harsh reprimand was a small price to pay to see the pride shining from his father’s eyes. At that time, very few people earned their black belt at such a young age. Subsequently, his father accepted that he abandon Judo and focus his efforts entirely on Taekwondo.
While learning his art Chong Lee, had yet another dream: to leave Korea to study engineering in the United-States. This time, he informed his family of his plans. In those days, no one was authorized to leave Korea with more than a 100 dollars cash. In other words, it was a crazy idea and few people would risk it. Once again, without the encouragement of his family, and after long and difficult preparations, he succeeded in fulfilling his dreams.
In 1962 he left Korea. Uncomfortably seated on the plane, paralysed with fear, he felt himself being torn from his roots. He was flying towards the unknown to face his destiny without fully comprehending the depths of his determination. He was surrounded by strangers speaking an unknown language. This was not the same English he had learned in school books and no one around him spoke Korean. This was not like those American movies so often watched in Korea. This was the frightening beginning of a new life.
He landed in Washington, in the district of Columbia, where he attended University and worked on improving his English. He took whatever work was available to ensure his survival: farmhand, dishwasher, waiter, etc. He spent his free time talking with children who make excellent language teachers. In 1964 a series of circumstances brought him to Quebec and in Chicoutimi he discovered the warmth and hospitality of the Quebecois.
Climate aside, Canada enjoys an international reputation for quality of life. Knowing this, Chong Lee settled in Montreal for a fresh start. He studied French and became familiar with Quebec and Canadian culture. Once more he accepted what work was available and devoted his evenings to introducing and implanting Taekwondo in Quebec.
Introducing a new martial art in Canada was not an easy task. Martial arts were almost unknown in the occidental culture, often lumped together and mistakenly identified as Karate in spite of their difference in nature and philosophy. To help clear some of the confusion, competitions were organized where “Taekwondoistes” and “Karatekas” fought each other. It is interesting to note that they did not use any protective gear, fighting only with their bare fists and feet. The size of the bruises and the winner’s prided were often matched.
As the years passed and Chong Lee’ students accumulated victories, the Master and his art conquered the heart of Quebecois. Passing from combat between styles to combats between provinces, his students were the first Canadian champions. In 1977, during the first Canadian championship, Chong Lee’s students won gold medals in nine of the ten divisions. They were proud of their performance and more then ever motivated to improve their training. This was followed by the Pan-American and the World Championships in the junior and senior categories. With Grand Master Chong Lee as their coach for twenty tree consecutive years, the Canadian team could boast of a long list of victories.
Integrated with Canadian society for thirty-six years, Chong Lee has become a symbol of international performance in the sector of athletic competition. His teaching is renowned around the world and on a par with the Korean tradition. His school is represented throughout Canada, the United-States, Mexico, Lebanon, Spain, Greece and Africa, making it hard to know just how many individuals have actually benefited from his teaching. It is estimated that there have been at least one hundred thousand students in Canada with more than three thousand black belts. At least ninety-five schools in Quebec display his crest.
One of the keys to Chong Lee’s success is his extraordinary capacity of adaptation. His acclimatization to the Quebec culture was a question of survival and he quickly understood the same would hold true for Taekwondo.
Taekwondo teaches and promotes the Korean cultural values. In Korea, devotion to the Master is capital. Respect for one’s seniors builds strong ties between members of the society and helps to maintain a certain unity. With their experience, seniors earn the right to lead by imposing their decisions with authority. In Korea, this way of life is a given and has its merits. However, attempting to transfer this system to Canada might have been interpreted as dictatorial. Although very attached to his culture, Grand Master Chong Lee recognized the aversion which Quebecois feel towards the domination of one individual over his juniors. By learning Canadian history, he was able to measure the depths of this aversion. At the same time he was discovering the North American style of democracy. Having a personal love of freedom, his heart was quickly attuned to Quebecois and Canadians, beating at the same rhythm, all the while maintaining his true Korean identity.
Those who know Master Chong Lee are familiar with his natural curiosity and his respect for individual freedom. Though the national sport of Korea, Taekwondo as implanted in Canada, knows no linguistic or racial preferences. The fighting that occurs within the sport has nothing to do with such barriers; the importance lies in good communication between the masters and their students. Chong Lee has transplanted the best of Korean wisdom to our Canadian soil. Taekwondo possess its own culture and everyone must transcend their own to join the big family.
Since 1964 Taekwondo point to has evolved in Canada and around the world. Its techniques have evolved and become extremely popular. More then a hundred and eighty countries are members of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), recognized by the International Sport Federation, and now recognized by the International Olympic Committee. With the next Olympic games in 2004, Taekwondo’s popularity will continue to grow as it displays an increasingly refined mastery of its style and skills.
Philosophy Behind Taekwondo, According to Grand Master Chong Lee
From the point of view of a lay person, Taekwondo may seem violent. As, the person practising Taekwondo becomes conscious of the potential for violence within him, he learns how to control it. It would be unfounded to assert that Taekwondo develops violence in the person practising it. An education based on its philosophy will discourage any participant who is looking to nourish the violence within him. Instead, it will teach him the road towards self-control.
Fighting sports are a good channel for aggressivity and encourage and nourish the development of positive personality and an individual’s abilities. Fighting also confront us with our physical, emotional and other limitations. To deny these or to learn to accept them comes from an individual choice.
For most adepts, Taekwondo is a means of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development. It stimulate the development of self awareness because it is only when confronted by our limitations that we can perceive the presence of bigger things inside of us; spirit and conscience, our real identity.
Finally like any education which allows the development of a certain power Taekwondo show us the way to confrontation, the ultimate test in which only a few will succeed, at least in the first try. We are talking about the choice between the love of power or the power of love. We are talking about humility, self- respect, respect of others, devotion and self-giving. These are the principal values on which Taekwondo philosophy is based.
It is because of Taekwondo’s philosophy and values that Grand Master Chong Lee hopes it might be introduced into the Quebec system of education.
The rate of suicide among the Quebec youth is the highest in the world. There are many causes and one of them is the loss of individual and social values. Taekwondo teaches the lost values: humility, respect, positive attitude, attention, concentration, patience, self esteem, discipline, authority, hierarchy, self control and so on. The implantation of Taekwondo in our schools can happen when a person with a decisional position understands the beneficial effects that our children can get from practising the art.
There is already some progress: In Quebec a high school in Jonquière and the CEGEP at Joliette give Taekwondo as an option in the sports program. Other elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities teach it as an extra-curricular activity, while some municipalities offer it in their leisure programmes. In Montreal there are pilot projects organized, subsidised and guided by the police and the YMCA. The project brings together teenagers from ten to sixteen years of age whether or not from a criminal environment, but living in neighbourhood considered at risk. The education of Taekwondo is the principal activity establishing a healthy and educational relationship between teenagers and adults (policeman, social worker) all of whom participate in the project as students. This changes the perception of authority, making it more accessible and more human. Teenagers see it as a way to ensure the success of the project by maintaining unity rather than domination.
There is still a lot to be said about this captivating subject but there is even more to experiment. The art is not only for the champion or for the individual who likes sportive fighting. It can be extremely important to any one who understands that the greatest victory is the one we win over our-selves.
In conclusion, we wish to thank Grand Master Chong Lee for the quality of his teaching, his devotion and the everlasting example he gives us. He is for us a living proof that, more than a martial art, Taekwondo can be a way of life which strengthens this individual to live with a strong ethical code. Our society, even our world, needs people like this. Taekwondo is only one humble means, along with many others, able to help a person to reach this goal and to maintain it.
Young Chong Lee’s trip in 1962 brought him way beyond the United-States. It was the beginning of an inner journey of self mastery, and the lessons of wisdom which he drew from it could fill a book. On behalf of Taekwondo enthusiasts, I ask Master Lee to allow his biography to be written. It would not only be of great interest to the general reader, but also a source of inspiration to all who have decided to embark on an interior voyage of discovery.
Black belt fifth dan
*This text is the result of several interviews with the Grand Master Chong Lee, ninth dan.
The Grand Master Chong Lee has been the national Canadian coach for the following events:
1977 3rd World championship TKD Chicago, USA
1979 4th World championship TKD Stuttgart, Germany
1981 1st World Games California, USA
1982 5th World championship TKD Guyaquil, Equator
1983 6th World championship TKD Copenhagen, Denmark
1984 4th Panamericain championship Surinam, South America
1986 5th Panamericain championship Lima, Peru
1986 World cup Colorado Spring, USA
1987 10th Panamericain games (Olympic) Indianapolis, USA
1990 World cup Madrid, Spain
1991 7th Panamericain championship Puerto Rico
1991 11th Panamericain games (Olympic) Havana, Cuba
1992 8th Panamericain championship Colorado Spring, USA
1993 World cup La Haye, Netherlands
1993 11th World championship New York, USA
1994 World cup Cayman, Cayman Island
1995 12th Panamericain games (Olympic) Argentina
1998 World cup Stuttgart, Germany
1999 13th Panamericain games (Olympic) Winnipeg, Canada
1999 13th World championship Edmonton, Canada
1999 Elimination of the Olympic divisions Florida, USA
2000 World cup Lyon, France
2000 9th Panamericain championship Aruba