The Jhoon Rhee Story

Jhoon Rhee

Part 9: Spreading the Word (2000 – Today)

Rhee began the new century by adopting new technology, launching in March of 2000 as a way to reach an even larger audience with his philosophy of Tae Kwon Do. Within 45 days, the new website was the world’s most popular online martial arts community.

In April of 2000, a month after his arrival on the Internet, Rhee was selected by the National Immigrant Forum, in conjunction with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as one of the 200 most famous American immigrants of all time, sharing the honor with American icons like Albert Einstein and Knute Rockne. Rhee was the sole immigrant of Korean ancestry to make the list.

Representative Nick Smith

Representative Nick Smith.

In U.S. Representative Nick Smith’s Congressional Record Tribute for the honor, he praised Rhee’s message as “a philosophy grounded in the principles of the martial arts, but applicable to everyone. It calls for people to build confidence through knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart, and strength in the body, and then to lead by example.”

Three years later, Rhee was also honored by his adopted city, when Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, DC, declared June 28, 2003 as Jhoon Rhee Day, in commemoration of the founding of the first Jhoon Rhee School on June 28, 1962, and to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do in the Capitol area.

Rhee performs with the Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra

Rhee performs with the Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra on March 30, 2005.

The new century also presented more opportunities for Rhee to share his love of music. He had served as a Board Member of the Washington Symphony Orchestra for several years, and when the Orchestra was deciding on a fundraising event in 2000, Rhee volunteered to perform a Harmonica Concerto in the French Embassy Auditorium. His practice since age six served him well—he used eight different harmonicas of different keys to play Strauss’ “Blue Danube.” Five years later, the Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra invited Rhee to join them and perform another Harmonica Concerto, broadcast from the KBS Music Hall.

Until 2004, despite Rhee’s busy schedule, he maintained an exercise regimen that included both Tae Kwon Do training and 1,000 pushups a day. Then, at age 73, Rhee had to undergo 11 hours of heart surgery. Rhee had been living with a heart murmur since he was born, and during the procedure he suffered a stroke. Still, within two years after the surgery, Rhee was able to break boards again and do 100 pushups in 62 seconds.

Clearly, Rhee is not slowing down. His activities during the last few years include a five-day trip in June of 2007 to Taiwan as State Guests of President Chen, Shui Bien. While there, Rhee gave several speeches to government agencies, universities, and business groups, as well as a private Tae Kwon Do demonstration for the President.

2007 was also the year when Rhee spoke at perhaps his impressive venue yet: the United Nations. Vice Ambassador Joon Oh of the Korean United Nations Mission had heard Rhee speak earlier that year at a Chinese New Year Party for Wall Street dignitaries; he was so impressed with Rhee’s message that he invited Rhee to speak at the UN on April 10 before an audience of 200 ambassadors, vice ambassadors, and their staff members. Rhee’s speech was entitled, “Mending Our Troubled World through a Philosophy of Action.”

This same philosophy of action was central to Rhee’s message when, two years later, he conducted a five-day conference for OVAL (Our Vision for Asian Leadership) on Jeju Island in 2009. In attendance were about 80 elite university students from Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul.

Today, Rhee is more committed than ever to a philosophy of action. His message remains consistent with the principles of Tae Kwon Do that have always guided his life, but it has grown much larger, into a way of thought that he believes can not only help each of us lead happier, healthier lives, but also make our world a better place.

It has been more than 80 years since Jhoon Rhee’s mother dreamed of a tiger roaring in the jungle. The tiger is still roaring. And still leading by example.